Friday, June 18, 2010

Entering the Intercoastal Waterway

Our hope was to arrive in Bristol, RI on or before April 29th so that we could celebrate my birthday on May 1st with my brother and his family.  On April 10th , we were still in Cape Canaveral and thus needed to travel approximately 1200 nautical miles in 20 days to make it in time.  We knew that this would be possible if we took the outside route and were able to sail at night but a number of depressions moving through the area forced us to take the intra-coastal waterway for much of the journey.  The Atlantic Intra-coastal Waterway (ICW) is an inland route that spans from Key West, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.  Due to the shallow waters and many bridges with limited opening hours we were not able to travel along the waterway at night and were thus limited to a maximum of 50 miles per day.  

We entered the waterway in Cape Canaveral and in our first day we crossed through 2 sets of locks and under 12 bridges (10 of which needed to be opened for us).  The ICW in the south of Florida is a pretty and narrow channel with occasional shallow bits.  In the swamps along the way we saw many dolphins, alligators, eagles, ibis and many other birds and beasts.  Sadly, we did not see any manatees but the area is well known for them and there are several signs along the way to ask boaters to take care of them.   

Another attraction along the route are the many boats grounded and trying to free themselves from the ever-shifting muddy bottom of the ICW.   Techniques range from rocking the boat, putting out the anchor and dragging yourself to deeper water,  hoisting a sail, waiting for high tide and sitting and swearing until the tow-boat comes to pull you out.  It is a very good thing that the ICW is so lovely as one of us needs to be behind the tiller at all times to follow the narrow channel and avoid other boats.  The charts are frequently inaccurate (or the dredging situation has changed) and we have been grateful for the guidance from other boats who have warned us against travelling in the middle of the buoyed channel (generally the advisable route) in specific areas after having run aground themselves.  This makes for highly interesting, entertaining and slightly nerve racking days.  We ran aground five times on the ICW (each time in the middle of the channel) but were able to free ourselves without external help each time, using a variety of the techniques outlined above.

Houses along the waterway have enormous mosquito netting structures attached to them to cover up a porch, tennis courts, the swimming pool and sometimes great portions of the garden. We were glad to be in the area in the early spring and not in the warm summer months when the mosquitoes reach legendary size and number. 
Our only other city visit in Florida (other than Cape Canaveral) was a stop in St. Augustine where we spent 2-days wandering about the old streets and enjoying the superb services of the St. Augustine marina.  St. Augustine was founded in 1565, making it the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States.  The old quarter of St. Augustine offers quaint 'Spanish' galleries, caf├ęs, the oldest schoolhouse in the US and a tiny well-preserved Spanish village/ museum offering demonstrations from the blacksmith, carpenter and musketeer as well as a very good herb and vegetable garden.  This was all greatly enjoyed by the monkeys although Macsen was quite startled by the musketeer.

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