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Old 12-09-2012, 09:29   #1
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ICW Cruising Primer

For those of you planning on cruising the ICW, there were some items I found essential for the trip, and many more that were nice to have. While it isn't like being out in the blue water, it does require quite a bit of preparation. Maybe others can add useful information on trouble spots, how to avoid getting hung up on snags and other pitfalls. Reading a guide (I used Kettlewell's guide which I practically wore out during the trip) is essential but I would have liked a loooonnnng thread that I could study and use to make notes in the guide margins.

The first day of my trip- with a 100 degree heat index, in the Chesapeake from Princess Anne to Tangier Island, I was attacked by hordes of biting house flies... they were immune to insect repellent and vicious! Not exaggerating I believe I killed a thousand of them and gave another 800 a concussion. By nightfall, I was exhausted (maybe blood loss?) and the flies were so distracting it was difficult to pay attention to navigation, I couldn't even keep up with sunscreen (got sunburned) and in retrospect would gladly have paid hundreds of dollars for insect repellent clothing like hunters use. Without a fly swatter (which I brandished constantly like Johnny Depp brandished a sword in Pirates of the Caribbean) I would have abandoned ship. Finally, when I laid down to rest and realized I had discarded the PO's homemade bugscreen for the deck hatch because it seemed a little ugly, I got the worst leg cramps of my life adding insult to injury. There were many beautiful sights along the way and the trip was a bit of an adventure in that I barely set foot on land for six days, but the first day was a rocky start! More pitfalls (and some beautiful sunrises) to come!

Most of the items are self-explanatory except the zebra striped magnifying lighted viewer, it was helpful to read the teeny tiny print in poor light, for example to see what channel marker is coming up next. The hand held VHF is mandatory for hailing bridge operators on Channel 13 if you are single handling.
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Old 12-09-2012, 10:56   #2
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Re: ICW Cruising Primer

A mast light is not very useful, when you are in the typical ICW anchorage there are often numerous small boats traveling at dusk or even after dark (people coming back from water skiing etc) and they will buzz right through the anchorage- they can't see a mast light as it blends in with the night sky and stars, but a head level anchor light is very useful. I connected one with a length of wire to two convenient output posts on my charge controller and zip tied it to the bimini. With solar I just left it on during the entire trip so I wouldn't forget to put it out. It was bright enough to light up the entire cockpit and very visible.
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Old 13-09-2012, 10:02   #3
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Re: ICW Cruising Primer

Finding a suitable anchorage will be high on your list of priorities as the day progresses. It is reasonable to predict you can make 50 miles in a day (one day I made 90 miles, arriving in Oriental for the night, but it was a long day and I motored the entire time at 7.3 mph) but at the end of the day you will be tired and the last thing you want to worry about is whether your boat is safe, or for that matter your own safety. There are HUGE barges the size of football fields being pushed up and down the ICW by gigantic tugboats which can't slow down or turn very easily or quickly. At night you don't want them to run you down while they are reading the newspaper as they steer. On the third night I stopped at the recommended anchorage off Deep Point at the mouth of the Alligator-Pungo River Canal, I pushed hard to make it by nightfall and would have made it but stopped to take a decent shower before my "solar shower" water cooled off and had to crawl along the last six channel markers in complete darkness. Thankfully I have done that before in waters that I knew like the back of my hand, but it is very disorienting in unfamiliar waters and I would recommend only doing it with a strong spotlight and a chartplotter and even then only as an alternative to anchoring in the channel. I could only pick one device since I only had one cigarette lighter outlet to plug into so I picked the chartplotter and it was nerve wracking at 2 mph- once I was about 3 feet from an unlit channel marker before I saw it even though I knew it was there from the chartplotter. Notice the picture below, a beautiful place and very peaceful right? I hadn't seen another boat for six hours, no cell phone coverage but I could get a radio station. I put the boat as far out of the channel as I dared and fell asleep like I was in a coma. About 3 am the boat thrashed like a bucking bronco and scared the daylights out of me, until my head cleared enough to look out the porthole and see the huge barge that had just gone by. Even though the water wasn't very deep and there was land close by, I wore a whistle around my neck and the waterproof VHF in my pocket in case I fell overboard somehow, even though I didn't feel the need for a life jacket.
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Old 14-09-2012, 09:09   #4
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Re: ICW Cruising Primer

Don't underestimate the effect of fatigue on your judgement. During my younger days it was nothing for me to pull a 38 hour shift and feel competent and clear headed throughout the shift. This is a trait that diminishes with age and with physical condition, even though I can still run 8 minute miles and do lots of pushups. During the second day of my trip from Tangier Island to Hospital Point at the beginning of the ICW in Norfolk it was windy and choppy, with 3 foot seas and a very short wave interval. Sheltering near the channel at Tangier Island, I had to backtrack from the shortest track down the western side of the Chesapeake several miles. The next morning on the charts it looked like I could cut the corner off the route by going more directly south than going out to the channel marker I had turned into on the approach the night before if I avoided the shoal off the southern tip of the island. Further I was tempted when a trawler went in the same direction I was contemplating. Well, that didn't work out and my sonar was reading 4 feet (I draft 5) when I turned back to the east to go around the very lengthy shoal which was very narrow (a few feet.) The only thing that saved me was "reading the water" and seeing the faint change in the surface that marked the shallow water of the shoal. Before the trip I had "secured" an LP gas tank behind the mast with several large bungee cords thinking I was going to be diddling along in calm water and would make a decent locker for it later when I had more time, halfway through the day it was gone (sank like a rock) and the bungee cord hooks were bent. Another lesson, don't put anything on the deck that isn't lashed securely enough to survive a hurricane unless you want to lose it and never trust a bungee cord for anything. About the same time, a 25 mph gust blew my $65 Tilley hat off my head because I hadn't pulled the sissy strap around my chin, I wonder how many times that will happen to me in my life before I learn my lesson lol. It was a real pain to turn around and fish it out with a boathook with the waves, wind and limited steerage of a sailboat with 24HP. For this section of the trip I did wear an inflatable vest at all times. Arriving in Norfolk at a reasonably early time, 7ish I pulled into the anchorage to a calm night with almost no wind. Still, there were big ships around so after I threw out and set my lunch hook plow anchor, I got the idea I should get the huge Danforth that appeared brand new out of the locker and pitch it out as well with a long length of rode. It had no chain whatsoever and not thinking I just threw out off the stern, thinking that if the plow drug it would catch me. There was hardly any wind but the next morning the sailboat was sailing a bit on the long scope I had put out with the bow anchor, after making coffee I pulled in about ten feet of anchor rode that was cut off at the end, probably from sailing across the propeller. Damn, why didn't I take the time to put the anchor further out like I should have! Zeehag was right, never trust rope rode over chain! Aha, I thought, I will put on my snorkeling gear and find my anchor in the 7 foot of murky water. First, it was a little cold for a morning swim, second the strap on one of my fins broke from disuse of two years when I pulled it on, I just had to laugh at myself at that point. So, with one swim fin (great for swimming in circles) and a mask I spent 30 minutes trying to find my anchor to no avail as the boat was on a different angle to the wind on the long scope, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Well, the swim was good exercise but now I was going to have to make the rest of the trip without a decent large anchor. My plan was to pick up some cheap ground tackle from my diving buddies in Beaufort who have large anchor and chain collections. But I was encouraged that I didn't have a girlfriend or a large brood of children with me to witness my antics. Oh, another thing... I was so disconcerted that I forgot to pull up my swim platform and drug it in the water behind the boat for a few miles which didn't do major damage but did loosen one of the hull attachment points so I will have to repair that. Now when I go off the boat for a swim I tie a line from the steering wheel to the ladder so that I can't forget to haul up the swim ladder, new boat, new routines.

Here is a picture of early morning fog at the anchorage at Deep Point. Taken from the anchorage, you can imagine an immense barge threading this needle in the dark, especially as the channel takes a decreasing radius curve as viewed left to right.
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