When heading south on the East Coast of the United States, you are faced with two choices: ICW or going Offshore.
You many be wondering why someone would chose one route over the other. The ICW offers many scenic views and towns to stop into along the way while the ocean offers none of this.
Having done a little bit of both at this time, it seems that the biggest difference that could sway your decision on course is above all else: time.
Storms, weather, and scenery are all secondary to time. If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, the straight line non-stop path is always going to be the quickest way to go. Sailing offshore grants you the ability to relax and enjoy the ocean as your yacht powers through the seas in steady and consistent wind around the clock, ticking off many miles a day towards your destination. There are no obstacles, no detours, and no traffic to worry about as you sail right along.
When calculating your voyage duration, it is common practice to plan 100 miles per day. This means that Norfolk to Florida is about 7 days!
The alternative to the offshore path is to go the ICW. This is the inland waterway that cuts down the east coast. Here, you can not sail around the clock, as there are many obstacles in your way. It is crowded, shallow, there are bridges, and strong currents to contend with. We have been sailing an average of 20 miles per day down the ICW, and only on days when conditions are good. The wonderful part about the ICW though, is when conditions are not good, you just stay anchored until they improve.
The waterway is so small and narrow that waves can not form, meaning that the worst you will contend with are currents and wind. Both of these are easily overcome by a strong anchor and lots of chain!
Having a 6.5 foot draft though has meant many a groundings. Our first day consisted of three groundings. Our second day consisted of one.
The channels are well marked and if you stay in them, you will not run into trouble. The problem stems from when you venture off the dredged path in search of an anchorage. The water gets shallow very quickly, and letting out enough rode for the scope will usually result in the keel meeting the bottom.
Having a full keel prevents any heartache, as we simply sit on the bottom for a while until we float off with the next tide.
The ICW is very pretty, but it is slower than offshore. The advantage is you get to rest and relax as you make your way down. If you were in a hurry, the ICW would be torture, so make sure you know what you really want before you choose your path. Making a choice for the right reasons will ensure that you enjoy your cruise to its utmost potential.