Anchoring in the ICW

The ICW is a narrow waterway that cuts down the East Coast of the United States. The channel in the middle is dredged to a controlling depth which varies with state, getting shallower as you get closer to Florida and deeper as you approach Virginia. Once you exit the channel, you are at the mercy to the local depths, and these can be rather treacherous.

Many places of the ICW are dredged sections of extremely shallow waterways. It is not uncommon to be cruising in 12 feet of water and see on the chart plotter that it is 1 foot deep next to the channel. Such a shallow depth will not be conducive to business of marinas, so they do their best to establish themselves in deeper areas and maintain these depths to remain in business. 

While this may be the case, we have noticed that most of these places only have about 4 feet of water in them at low tide, making it very difficult for someone with a deep draft to anchor or tie up for the night. 

We have a 6.5 foot draft and find ourselves relegated to the sides of the channel for anchoring at night. This is far from ideal, as we are exposed to the weather and traffic all night long. 

The traffic might seem like a concern, but lets face it, the average person traveling the ICW is also a cruiser and they will also stop and anchor for the night. We have found that as the sun begins to get low on the horizon, everyone around us disappears as they enter marinas and anchorages for the afternoon and won't emerge until the next morning. 

Protection from the weather might be a concern, except that the ICW is protection in itself. The waterway is so small, narrow, and shallow that actual waves can not form! We have experienced winds in excess of 30 knots on the waterway and when it blows across the ICW, the surface remains completely flat as there is no fetch to generate waves. When the wind happens to be blowing directly with the ICW, which can provide the wind many miles of straight line fetch, the waves only form into small chop no taller than 1 foot in height in the middle of the deep channel. 

Concern about wind and weather exposure should be ignored as the entire waterway is a perfectly protected area and nothing like the same conditions on the open ocean! 

Back to anchoring. The waterway is narrow and shallow, meaning that aside from designated anchorages (which are also shallow) your only option to stop for the night is to anchor on the side, just outside of the channel.

This works, as the channel ends and there is about 40 feet of water that rapidly gets shallower until you reach the natural shallow water depth of the area.  This may seem like an acceptable compromise, as you are outside the channel and off to the side, but when you factor in the scope for anchoring, you might feel concerned about drifting into the channel while you sleep and becoming a navigational hazard in the dark!

This fear can be put to rest. The winds can be rather strong on the ICW, but the pale in comparison to the power of the currents that rip through the narrow waterway. Regardless of the wind, your boat will lay parallel to the channel as the current will point your bow into the direction the water is flowing from. To further ensure that you will remain out of the channel, you can actually turn your rudder a bit so that you will actually turn away from the channel.  

Even though you are anchored, there will be around 3 knots of current flowing over your rudder and this will actually give you very responsive steerage. Having the boat steer farther from the channel will further offer protection from traffic and keep you out of the way during the night. If you time it properly and anchor as the tide is going out, you will soon find yourself grounded on the side of the channel and held in place until the tide comes back in. When you start floating, you will then be turned closer to the channel and into deeper water where you can safely raise anchor and continue on your way. 

If you do not feel comfortable with adding a little rudder to your anchoring protocol, you can always center your rudder and let the current keep you in line with your anchor through the night. 

Anchoring on the side of the ICW may not seem like a dream come true, and honestly it is far from a dream, but it will give you a place to stop along the way as you slowly sail towards your next anchorage.  

Bottom Cleaning

When people imagine cleaning a boats bottom while in the water, they probably picture a diver that is swimming along the bottom of the boat and knocking off barnicles with a scraper or a spatula. This is because you will typically see divers in marinas doing just this!

The thing is, you don't need to be a diver to clean the bottom of a boat, and you certainly don't need to use a scraper! When a boat is in a slip, it is probably pretty close to a pier and getting around the boat is not going to be easy as access is limited. When you are anchored, however, there is plenty of space all around the boat! This will let you access the bottom of the boat from all sides and will let you clean the bottom without even getting wet. 

To do this, you will need a few items: a dinghy, a broom, and a hoe. 

The dinghy is obvious, as this is how you will get around your boat close to the waterline without actually getting in the water. A stable dinghy is preferred as this will be your working platform for the job. 

The next thing you need is a broom, not a scraper! If you clean your bottom frequently, you will only develop soft growth and a brush is all you really need to wipe them off your hull. A brush would work fine, but you would then need to hop in the water and swim under your boat. Mounting the brush on a long handle (broom) you are able to clean far deeper underwater from the surface!  

Cleaning the bottom is very easy, all you need to do is brush the growth off the hull as you work your way around the boat. It is ideal to clean from waterline to keel on the boat as you work your way around. Having some scum at the waterline helps denote where you have reached should you need to look away and come back to your job at any point. 

While a broom is awesome, you will never be able to "scrub" a barnacle off your hull. This is where the a scraper comes into play. Just like with the brush, if you mount the scraper on a long handle, and then rotate it so that the blade faces the hull in the turn of the bilge, you will end up with a hoe. A hoe is very useful for knocking off hard growth from the surface of the water. If you do decide to dive on your hull, a hoe will still help protect your hands from barnacle cuts as it keeps your fingers far and away from the scraping action. 

You might be wondering why even bother with a broom and just go straight to the hoe. The problem with a hoe is that it is sharp and you are probably not able to see what you are doing from the surface, especially if the water is murky. Gouging or over scraping are very easy to do with a sharp object from a far, and this will wear down your ablative bottom paint faster. A brush is much more gentle, and will not take off as much paint as an unguided hoe would. 

Cleaning your own bottom is a great way to keep your speed up while sailing and is easy to do yourself from the comfort and convenience of your dinghy.

Comprehending Tides

Tides occur every day. They happen all around us and they are a constant.  

I grew up in Puerto Rico where the tide was only around 1 foot. Every so often, we would get a "Rip Tide" as we called them where the tide would go really low and the reefs would come out of the water. My sister and I loved it because we could run across long expanses that used to be covered by a few inches of water at low tide. (This is when we found the really cool seashells) 

Then I moved to Baltimore, MD where I started living aboard. The marina I lived in had floating piers and the tide was only about 2 feet. During severe winter storms, the tide would go out several feet, but this was an anomaly.  

The thing that really kept me from comprehending the tides was the fact that I was tied to a floating pier, so the relationship from deck to pier was always the same, no matter the tide. The only time I noticed that the tide was up or down was when I walked the gangplank from the pier to the parking lot. As you can imagine, this was a very small portion of my day and it never really sunk in how powerful the tides really are. 

Then we went cruising and always anchored out. We have anchored in places with profound tides, but it never impacted us since we were anchored. I simply set enough scope so that we would be 7:1 at high tide and ignored the movement of the water from there. When we would go ashore, we would carry the dinghy up the beach and lock it to a tree. The most we would notice of the tide is how it affected the distance we needed to carry the dinghy from waters edge to the tree. 

We are now in Carolina Beach, NC tied up to a marina near Snow Cut. The tide here is around 5-6 feet and the piers are floating. I figured that we would simply float up and down with the tide and the relationship from pier to deck would remain unchanged, but this marina has a rock breakwater. 

We arrived at the marina during high tide and the breakwater looked like a very insignificant structure. It was a mere collection of stones sitting a few inches above the waters surface, with each stone creating a wake as the current pushed through. 

Then I went out at low tide to walk around the marina and what I saw completely blew my mind! 

The tiny stones that broke the surface were only the tops of giant boulders that are now completely exposed! Worse yet, the boulders are taller than I am! To think that so much water passes through this waterway on a daily basis is incredible. The sheer number of gallons of water that need to flood and ebb this waterway everyday is unthinkable!  

Tides truly are a force of nature! They occur regularly and they occur quietly, but they should not be underestimated as they are a constant powerful force that happens beneath our keels everyday. 

ICW Bridge Etiquette

While transiting the ICW, you will encounter many bridges that need to open for you to pass. The bridge is controlled by a single person who has to operate the entire bridge and manage the flow of cars and yachts through this transportation intersection.

Bridges monitor VHF channel 13, and will always respond when called upon.  It is a good idea to call the bridge when you are several miles away that way you can adjust your speed to arrive at the next opening and reduce the amount of time you need to hover at the opening while you wait for the bridge to open.

When calling a bridge, they don't care what your boats name is, so don't bother telling it to them. Simply identify yourself as "North-bound or South-bound" and "Motor or Sailing Vessel". So if you are on a powerboat heading North, you would be "North-bound motor vessel" and if you are on a sailboat heading South, you would be "South-bound sailing vessel." 

When you call the bridge, call them by their name, and the name is written on charts. 

Calling the bridge is simple, you simply get on VHF Channel 13 and say "This is South-bound sailing vessel calling Surf City Swing Bridge." Then you wait for them to answer "This is Surf City Swing Bridge, go ahead." 

At this point, you can ask them what their opening schedule is. "What is your opening schedule." And to this, they will respond with the times they open "We open at the top of the hour" meaning that they open at 10am, 11am, noon, etc. 

With this information, you can simply set the bridge as the destination on your chart plotter and adjust your speed so that you will arrive about 10 minutes before the bridge opens.  

At this point, you can radio the bridge back and let them know what time they can expect to see you. Sometimes, you might not be able to make the next opening and letting the bridge tender know this will be helpful since they won't hold the bridge open for longer trying to let you pass through and hold up traffic only to find out that you are not even able to make the bridge in time.

When you get to the bridge, radio the tender and ask if you are close enough or if they want you to wait even closer. This lets them know that you are there and ready, and they will usually radio you again right before they open it so you can get into position. 

Once you have made it through the bridge, radio the tender to let them know you have cleared the bridge and thank them for opening the bridge for you.  

Above all else, remember that the bridge tender is a person and they are a kind person. If you are unsure about protocol, just ask! They appreciate honesty and kindness over tempers and egos. Don't be afraid to ask a question you have, and always be nice to them so they will be nice to you too! 

Mooring vs. Marina

When we leave the boat for an extended period of time, say a week or a month, the question always arises about how we should leave the boat. Should we build a mooring or should we tie up in a marina? 

While the cost of tying up for a night is very expensive, the cost for a monthly slip is not so horrendous (if you shop around). We have found that most marinas will price their slips so that the break even point between daily transient rate and monthly rate is around 10 days. This means that if you tie up for 9 days, it will be cheaper to pay the daily rate. If you tie up for 11 days, it will be cheaper to pay for an entire month.  

When we leave the boat for an extended period of time, we factor this cost into the decision. Usually, for us on a 45 foot sailboat, the cost is somewhere around $500 for a month.  

When we leave the boat, it will be alone and in a foreign port where people don't know us, and don't know our boat. We worry about our boat since no one would be watching it, and since if something were to happen to the boat and we were called, we would be about a day of travel away so we wouldn't be able to get to the boat in a timely manner to fix any problems that might arise. 

If we could find the perfect protected anchorage, with a friend close by that would keep an eye on the boat and check the bilge periodically for us while we are away, we would feel more comfortable leaving it on a mooring. Since we are going home to visit family and work (to earn money that will keep paying for us to cruise), the price of peace of mind comes into question.  

At my job as a dentist, I can earn $500 relatively quickly. This means that I will be able to pay for the marina with ease. I will also be more relaxed about the boat because I know people in the marina will be watching over it. It will also be plugged in so the batteries will stay charged up and it will be out of the way of other boats that might bump into it in an anchorage. 

All in all, the price of peace of mind makes it feel like $500 is worth it for us. We can tie up and comfortably leave the boat in the marina until we get back. When we return, she will be tied up and ready to keep cruising. If $500 seems a bit steep of a price, one last point to consider is this: Is $500 worth ending your voyage? If something were to happen, say the anchors drag or someone hits you and you sink while you are away, your entire adventure would end with that incident. Is that worth $500 to you? 

Even in places where the prices seem ridiculous to tie up, a few miles away there will always be a reasonable marina. We were anchored in a harbor where the best price we could find was $4,600 for the month; so we kept looking and found a marina 10 miles away that wanted $450 for the month. The answer you seek is always out there, you just need to find it!