A month on the ICW

I confess – I have really dropped the ball on this blog thing. I can blame it on the fact that I have a 14 month old. And a series of part time jobs, including a writing assignment that eats up every bit of brain power and sucks the creativity out of me. We also live on a sailboat, which means it takes some extra work to grocery shop, stock the ice box with blocks of ice, fill the water tanks, and refill our cooking fuel (more on that another day). But the biggest barrier has been the internet. During our trip down the ICW we planned stops just to use the internet. I had a deadline for a writing assignment and so searched out the best coffee shop to spend $5 on a latte and sit at a sticky table surrounded by the rumble of other conversations.  It has been brutal, but no one said they went travelling for the excellent internet connections.

So, let’s back track a little. If you have been following the blog, you know that the last entry ended with us running around in Carolina Beach. We were pulled off quickly, and [spoiler warning] we didn’t run around again. AT ALL! With a 6 foot draft I’d say that’s pretty lucky. But we were PARANOID the entire time. We spent hours every day pouring over charts, reading blogs on our phone, checking the tide tables and the weather forecast, planning anchor spots and doggy breaks. It was exhausting.

Sure we were safe inside the ICW, protected on all sides from waves and wind, but we obsessed over “trouble spots,” especially in Georgia where the tide difference was eight feet. That is a big tide, especially when a spot on the chart reads 5 feet, and you’re motoring past it on a falling tide.

But it wasn’t always that way and we got to see some beautiful spots. We woke up with the sun. Bruce would raise the anchor and start motoring south, while I made coffee and breakfast. We had such an easy routine throughout the day – meals and naps took up most of the baby’s time, and the in between hours we played with Summer’s toys, or did laps around the boat wearing her harness.

S/V Laurel (far right) leaving St. Augustine at sunrise

Sometimes we were anchored out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by tall grass and hundreds of birds, with only the sunset for company. On those nights we drank cocktails and read books. We found interesting small towns such as Southport, North Carolina and Isle of Hope, Georgia. On the Waccamaw River in South Carolina, we fueled up in Bucksport, where dockage was only $0.75 per foot! We passed that up for an anchor spot about a mile away and were so happy we did. It was by far the best anchor spot on the trip. After the sun set the sounds of the forest all around us were deafening. The next day the guidebook (and a fellow cruiser) convinced us into stopping in Georgetown, where we paid for an overpriced marina that was shadowed by a huge smelly factory. After our pristine night in the Waccamaw River we were pretty disappointed. In St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, we spent four days with our friends Cliff and Lisa Woodman. They loaned us their truck and gave us a tour of the beautiful island, including a stop at Southern Soul, which was the best barbeque I have ever tasted (and I’m from Texas). We found a great beach on St. Catherine’s Island, but like the rest of Georgia and South Carolina it was plagued with no-see-ems, causing us to plug up every dorade vent and opening on the boat.

St. Catherine's Island

But our favorite stops were Charleston and St. Augustine. We crossed the harbor in front of Charleston on a beautifully calm day, escorted to the city by a pod of dolphins. As we got closer you could see the mansions of Charleston rise up before us, but Bruce pointed out the history of the beautiful houses: “Slave money, slave money, slave money…” The (free) anchor spot across from the coast guard was uncrowded and ideal. When we got to shore, we walked into town in search of a happy hour spot.

Bruce found two college boys walking by and asked, “Where’s a good spot to have a beer?”

“Our house!” They answered. Then, looking down at his shirt, he pointed to the Queen Street Grocery. “Oh, you should go here! Follow us.” Turns out it wasn’t even his work uniform. He just loved it enough to wear the t-shirt. And we agreed, it was perfect. The old town setting of Charleston is so romantic. It didn’t hurt that we had blue skies and 75 degrees. We decided right then to stay an extra day.

Queen Street Grocery

St. Augustine was another city filled with old world charm. From the water, the city sky line looks like a European village. As the oldest settlement in America, it has retained its historical accuracy with cobblestone streets and stone buildings. Part of the town looked like a fairy tale, and part of it looked a little bit like Disney World, but walking the streets never got old. We had dinner at Nonna’s Trattoria, which was the best meal I have had this year, if not ever.

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The best part of St. Augustine was the friend we made at the dock next to us. Denis is the captain of Summer Wind, a classic Carriacou wooden sloop painted bright yellow and blue. He had just arrived after a difficult trip from New England. Bruce and Denis instantly found a lot in common, and we still keep in contact hoping to meet up this spring in the Bahamas. Read more about his story here.

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The rest of Florida was uneventful. We found plenty of spots to anchor and even got to sail a bit down the Indian River. We finally left the ICW at West Palm Beach, and not soon enough. The bridge tenders of southern Florida are a tad grumpy, and timing the bridges gave us a headache. We enjoyed seeing the skyline of Fort Lauderdale and Miami from the Atlantic Ocean. We passed many fishing boats and dredging operations in the Miami Harbor, until we finally reached the keys. The last three days down to Key West we raised the sails and enjoyed some fairly smooth downwind sailing. We landed in Key West on Sunday, November 16 at 1 pm, exactly four weeks after we left Carolina Beach.

Sunset in the keys

Motoring down the ICW was not on my bucket list and was not without its share of stress, expense, and frustrations. We also felt the whole time like there was a pressure to just get to Key West, and to get on with it already, so with a more relaxed schedule we may have enjoyed it even more. But in retrospect, it was the perfect adventure to break us into boat life, introduce Summer and Bonnie to cruising, and shake down the boat. We made some friends, like Pam and Ed who invited us aboard their totally outfitted and spacious catamaran for dinner. We saw some new parts of America, as well as thousands of birds and dolphins. Like Mark Twain said: “I’m glad I did it. Partly because it was worth it but mostly because I shall never have to do it again.”

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