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Old 04-12-2014, 09:49   #1
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ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

Don't know if this is the right forum for this question, as I posted this same inquiry last week and got zero replies. Any help would be appreciated



My wife and I are getting somewhat bored boating on one ot the inland Texas lakes near home and would like to expand our horizons somewhat and cruise the ICW from Galveston to St. Petersburg, FL then possibly on to Key West. We would trailer our boat to Galveston and launch in the Kemah area.

Our boat is a 1997 Chaparral 260 Signature Sport cruiser with 7.4 Merc Cruiser and Bravo Three drive with around 350 hours. The only electronics are the radio and depth finder. Also for nav aid is a magnetic compass. Boat has been in fresh water its whole life and kept in a slip. It has the requisite bottom paint required for fresh water. Water circulation pump impeller replacement, along with complete lower unit overhaul and new anodes has just been completed. Boat is not equipped with a radar arch. Boat sleeps four, and we don’t plan to travel at night or foul weather if we can help it.

That being said I have the following questions:

01. Size wise, you think this boat is suitable for the trip?
02. What electronics should be added.?
03. I plan on attending a USCG school or equivalent to get familiar with the ICW buoy system, nav aids and how to read a chart. Any suggestions here?
04. Are any maps and or charts available that show gas stops, marinas, hotels etc along the way?
05. Recommended Smart Phone Apps.
06. Approximately how many miles is it from Kemah to St. Pete and St. Pete to Key West?
07. How long, in hours should this trip, to St. Pete, take figuring 20 – 30 mph average speed?
08. What should we be on the watch for and what precautions should we take?
09. Should we take any pre-cruise maintenance for salt water and what about post cruise?

We are rookies as far as cruising goes, so any additional information would be appreciated.

Hotshoe
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Old 04-12-2014, 10:34   #2
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

I would plan on 50 -70 mile DAYS not 20 - 30 MPH. Way to fast. ICW is very busy with traffic. Don't plan on zipping about.

I would get a chart plotter, mainly for the ability to add AIS. AIS is great on the ICW, it lets you see boats around the bend, and there are plenty of bends.

Lots of guide books out on the ICW. Definitely get one. The more recent, the better. They will give you the low down on anchorages and fuel.

Skipper Bob - Cruising the Gulf Coast

ActiveCaptian is also very helpful.

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Old 04-12-2014, 13:15   #3
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

Well, there is a lot to know if you plan on getting to the Keys from Galveston. Start by picking up a Waterway Guide (Southern Edition). It is a pain though, since it works from east to west, so you have to work backwards for this trip.

One caution...you need to change out your zincs if moving from fresh water, to saltwater.

Size wise, I don't see a problem for most of the cruise. Not sure what you plan on doing past Apalachicola? Most of us cross from there, or Carrabelle, to Tarpon Springs or Clearwater Beach. That's at least 150 miles across the Gulf. You can probably work your way around the Big Bend, but that isn't an option with a deep draft sailboat.

Electronics- We just have a VHF and small Garmin chartplotter.

For gas stops, marinas, and hotels, as well as mileage....it's all in the Waterway Guide. Note that the ICW is marked every 5 statute miles - for instance at Galveston where you enter the ICW, it's 350 WHL. Or 350 miles west of Harvey Lock.

The only smart phone app we use is Navionics, for backup.

How long in hours is simple. How far do you want to go / boatspeed over the ground (which accounts for current).

Precautions- Weather, obstacles, floating debris, channel markers out of place, other boats (especially ones many times bigger than you).

Maintenance? Check with other power boat cruisers.

Hey, you can do it, and have a very enjoyable cruise *if* you study and plan before leaving the dock. It's very different than just hopping in your car and driving cross country.

We've done the trip twice, so take a look at our blog to see what is ahead of you.

Ralph
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Old 04-12-2014, 13:35   #4
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

To me, that sounds like a fun trip.

I would enjoy it, but some may find it monotonous. Especially the return trip.

So I would make a point of taking some fishing gear. Stop and do some fishing or crabbing along the way. Then travel further. See the local sights.

And I would check into the costs of shipping your boat back, just up in case your crew or spouse decides that one way is enough.

I don't know your boat, but I would also look into some kind of Bimini or sun shade, as many hours at low speed in the sun can be no fun. A little shade makes the voyage nicer.
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Old 04-12-2014, 14:27   #5
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

I would highly recommend a chart plotter. I am located on the west end of the GICW, and we just finished relocating our IP31 from Rockport, TX to Port Isabel, TX. A word on chart plotters..... make sure the chart that you use is up to date!! We had quite an adventure because of the out of date chart plotter map. also I would recommend a bimini, and just be aware of the shipping traffic around you. Also I am not sure past Galveston, but be aware of where you are, in regards to the channel some places are extremely shallow out of the channel and the mud is very thick. But anyways, that's my two cents.
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Old 04-12-2014, 17:15   #6
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

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Originally Posted by Steady Hand View Post
To me, that sounds like a fun trip.

I would enjoy it, but some may find it monotonous. Especially the return trip.

So I would make a point of taking some fishing gear. Stop and do some fishing or crabbing along the way. Then travel further. See the local sights.

And I would check into the costs of shipping your boat back, just up in case your crew or spouse decides that one way is enough.

I don't know your boat, but I would also look into some kind of Bimini or sun shade, as many hours at low speed in the sun can be no fun. A little shade makes the voyage nicer.
Not monotonous at all, really. The scenery is ever changing. Shipping should not be an issue with a 26' powerboat....just go get the truck and trailer.
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Old 04-12-2014, 18:47   #7
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

The size of the boat is fine as far as being seaworthy for the trip. I took a 25' Wellcraft all across the northern Bahamas and to Bimini several times and had no problems at all. Of course check the weather before venturing out.

As mentioned by RTB, there is a gap in the ICW so you have to make sure you have the fuel range to make the jump and here especially check the weather.

The other question is how well is the boat set up for your comfort on the cruise. If you're OK with that you're good to go.

Chartplotter would be very nice to have but if the budget doesn't allow a hand held GPS will work just fine. VHF radio would be an essential.
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Old 04-12-2014, 20:41   #8
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ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

If you want to use an IPad or IPhone there are three good apps. I use Navionics and INavX for navigation and route planning. If you get a DigitalYacht IAIS unit, then it will wirelessly send AIS data to your Ipad using INavX. Use Sailflow for weather. Get the Pro version and watch weather. Waves are the problem , not wind, but the wave heights are directly related to wind speed. Waves will make your trip out of the ICW very uncomfortable in the boat you are using. A good rule of thumb I was told was don't cross from Appalachicola to Clearwater, Tarpon Springs if the forecast at the West Tampa buoy is over 10 knots and wave heights of two feet. We waited for those conditions both ways and had a very uneventful crossing last fall and returning in the spring.

The Garmin App is what I use for Active Captain, it is an online cruise guide that is very useful. I have a Verizon Myfi I use for Internet. With 4g and LTE it will work as an onboard router for connecting up to 10 devices. In 3G territory, it will connect 5. Get a plan with a lot off data. I averaged 1 GB per day, 30 GB per month.

Depending on how you choose to go, the GICW runs out at Fort Myers. You can make your way around the coast to Marco Island, down to Indian Key, Shark River and then on to Key West or you could,go direct to Key West from Fort Myers.

If you only have one engine, I would recommend you get a satellite phone and an Eprib for safety. There is no communication offshore and cell phones don't work very far offshore either.


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Old 04-12-2014, 20:52   #9
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

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Originally Posted by J Clark H356 View Post
If you want to use an IPad or IPhone there are three good apps. I use Navionics and INavX for navigation and route planning. If you get a DigitalYacht IAIS unit, then it will wirelessly send AIS data to your Ipad using INavX. Use Sailflow for weather. Get the Pro version and watch weather. Waves are the problem , not wind, but the wave heights are directly related to wind speed. Waves will make your trip out of the ICW very uncomfortable in the boat you are using. A good rule of thumb I was told was don't cross from Appalachicola to Clearwater, Tarpon Springs if the forecast at the West Tampa buoy is over 10 knots and wave heights of two feet. We waited for those conditions both ways and had a very uneventful crossing last fall and returning in the spring.

The Garmin App is what I use for Active Captain, it is an online cruise guide that is very useful. I have a Verizon Myfi I use for Internet. With 4g and LTE it will work as an onboard router for connecting up to 10 devices. In 3G territory, it will connect 5. Get a plan with a lot off data. I averaged 1 GB per day, 30 GB per month.

Depending on how you choose to go, the GICW runs out at Fort Myers. You can make your way around the coast to Marco Island, down to Indian Key, Shark River and then on to Key West or you could go direct to Key West from Fort Myers.

If you only have one engine, I would recommend you get a satellite phone and an Eprib for safety. There is no communication offshore and cell phones don't work very far offshore either.


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Old 05-12-2014, 05:52   #10
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

I can't help with that route, but having done quite a bit of cruising on a similar-size boat with a similar propulsion, I'll offer some tips from that angle.

Merc outdrives are known for galvanic corrosion. Make sure you have all the required anodes, and that they're the right ones for salt water. Don't take the salesman's word for it, look it up in the manual or on the Merc site and get the right ones. If you don't have a galvanic isolator already, install one now. Don't allow any copper bottom paint within one inch of the outdrive.

You can buy an MFD with a radome that will give you a dedicated chartplotter and radar. Good option for a smaller helm. Garmin is probably the most bang for the buck, but check out comparable brands and pick the one that works best for you. You won't like the price of the radar option, but if you need it just once, you'll be glad you have it.

You can link your radio and MFD so that your location shows up at the receiving end if you ever have to hit the distress button. I strongly urge you to hook this up, and to register for an MMSI number. If your radio is showing its age, you can buy some really nice radios with all kinds of features built in fairly cheaply nowadays. Plus having a backup VHF is a good thing. Buy one with an AIS receiver and you can see commercial shipping right on your MFD.

An EPIRB is probably a must-have for any long-distance cruising, but today you might want to look at a DeLorme InReach as a viable alternative, especially if you're not sure you'll be going off shore a lot.

In these waters, you will want a good bottom paint. I won't open that can of worms here, but seek advice from locals and take differing opinions with a grain of salt.

There's absolutely no reason that boat won't be plenty big enough for a couple. I assume it's already rigged the way you like, in other words, sufficient sun shade if that's what you like, open cockpit or sunpad if that's your thing, etc. Remember though that on a cruise, you can't pick the weather. There will be "indoor" days that can make an open boat feel VERY small.

Both the Power Squadron and USCG Auxiliary have some very good classes on navigation. They're harder to find than the general boater safety class. I'd strongly recommend that you try to find the "long version" class, which usually runs one night a week for 2-3 months, and covers a ton of material in some depth. The short 8-hour version is just a safety primer. Helpful, but woefully incomplete.

To me it sounds like your biggest challenge is navigation. Learn all you can about paper charts and piloting; it makes understanding all the things your chartplotter can tell you so much easier. This isn't like a car GPS where you can get in and have it tell you what to do every step of the way. Your primary navigation instrument is your brain. The electronics are all just inputs.

Buy a few cruising guides, browse through ActiveCaptain, and think about what you like to do. Marinas? Night life? Quiet anchorages? Shopping?

Understand that you won't be going full-throttle most of the time time. Narrow channels, crowded shipping lanes and sea conditions will have you running at what will seem like a painfully slow speed after being on a lake. But those few days when you can open it up and make 100 or more miles are nice. Just don't count on them.

There are a ton of apps. On Android, I've found my go-to app is MX Mariner. Full nautical charts, I can load all my routes and waypoints to it, as well as off-line ActiveCaptain data. There are others, but this (or the iOS equivalent) is the must-have. There are a few good anchor alarm apps, and a ton of crummy ones. I've been using one called Sailsafe with good results. You probably want a good weather app and tide table app, too.
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Old 05-12-2014, 08:03   #11
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

Thank you all for your very helpful responses. Now all I have to do is plan the trip. Will probably invest in some electronics as well as attending a USCG class on ICW buoy system. Our boat has a bimini top as well as full camper canvas even though it is not a 100% seal but should keep us somewhat dry in a rainstorm. Looking to make the trip in spring or early fall and avoid the summer heat and crowds.

Thanks again,
Hotshoe
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Old 05-12-2014, 08:51   #12
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

Research weather forecasting and have a plan. Since you mentioned "circulating" impeller I am assuming that you have a "radiator" and are not cooling via raw water pickup (also has an impeller) as is standard inland?
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Old 05-12-2014, 11:54   #13
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

It looks like the collective advice you have received so far covers most things I would suggest. My list of essentials would include:
- guide book
- spare impellers for any critical pump
- chart plotter
- smart phone it tablet for back-up with app such as Navionics or iNavX

Items which we carry that are great to have include:
- 2-way satellite communicator such as Delorme or Spot (particularly for crossing Big Bend area)
- AIS ..... it's real nice to know what's out there or around the next bend!
- Active Captain App

I would also consider joining AGLCA (www.greatloop.org). - good tips on where to stay, discounts, and a couple of members provide excellent weather forecasts for the Big Bend area.

Good luck!
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Old 05-12-2014, 12:01   #14
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

Thank you. More good advice, especially about the Great Loop membership. This might be a good alternative to the ICW as it would minimize the boat's exposure to salt water.

Thanks again
Hotshoe
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Old 05-12-2014, 12:05   #15
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Re: ICW Gulf Coast Cruising

Thanks for the reply. I do not have a radiator system and rely on fresh water circulation. That is why I keep a spare impeller on board. It also gets changed every two years whether it needs it or not. We got caught out on the lake late one night due to impeller failure and resultant high temp alarms going off. Had to be towed by local PD back to slip.

Regards,
Hotshoe
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