The ICW, also known as "the ditch" is a narrow cut of water that runs along the East Coast of the United States. It is famous for being long, straight, and boring. This all holds true, but it does offer one huge advantage, you get to stop for a good meal and a good nights rest every night!
The waterway is rather narrow, and when heading south after Cape Fear, the tide becomes rather dramatic. 6 foot tides are common, and that means that a lot of water will flow through the inlets creating a very strong current.
We decided to continue heading south through the ICW instead of going offshore for two reasons:
1. It's really cold outside in January.
2. Weather in the ICW is not important.
Rather than going offshore from Cape Fear to re-enter at Georgetown, we decided to continue mucking along in the ICW because of winter weather.
Today, we had sustained winds of 20 knots with gusts over 35 knots in the ICW while the waves were only around 3 inches tall. Yes, flat water and 20+ knot winds! Oh, and it was in the low 40Fs today too.
When we passed the inlets, we could look out at the ocean, where the winds are stronger since there are no trees or houses blocking the wind, and the waves out there were massive, from the mouth of the inlet to as far as the eye could see. The ocean looked like a sea of white caps, while we continued on peacefully in the calm and tranquil waters of the ICW.
The best part of it all, when we get tired, we simply pull over to the side of the channel and drop the anchor. This lets us relax, eat, and sleep well knowing that we are safe and sound. If we were offshore tonight, we would be freezing as we struggle through the night watch, hoping to reach the next inlet.
While the ICW might seem like a cake walk, it does have one strong feature that will dictate any motion you try to make: the currents. It is common to see a small wake form behind your anchor chain as it exits the water, as the current will be ripping through the waterway. If you have the current in your favor, you will cover many bonus miles that day, while if you are fighting the current, you will face an uphill battle.
Be sure to check the tides to decide when you will move and when you will anchor, as the currents will be your biggest concern in the waterway.
Once you leave Southport at Cape Fear, you will only have four inlets to contend with, and only 3 of them are serious inlets. This means that once you pass the last inlet (Little River Inlet), you will have over 60 miles of gorgeous waterway with no more inlets creating confusing tides. Everything will be easy to calculate as you make your trek with the tides all the way to Georgetown!