Vinni (my wife) and I have been cruising the US for 9 months. It is rare to see foreigners impressions of the US here on CF. This post may encourage other non-americans to spend time there.
First let me say that we enjoyed our cruising immensely and met, almost to a man, only very friendly and helpful people. We fly our Danish flag from the stern, and of course that meant we quickly ended up in conversations at the docks.
“Danish? Or What flag is that? Did you really sail that small boat
all the way over here? (Capri is 40 feet). Just the two of you? When did you leave?” Etc.etc. etc.
As I noted, a great conversation starter.
has a draft
of 7 feet, fully loaded for extended cruising
, she’s about 7 feet 3 inches and then add a couple of inches for sailing in fresh water
(ICW), so while we cruised the US we were sporting closer to 7 ˝ feet than 7. That meant that finding anchor
spots was typically a challenge – especially along the ICW
, which meant we ended up in marinas
most of the time. Finding marinas
that could take us was also a challenge. More about that further down.
started in Fort Lauderdale
and went up the ICW
and coast to New York
then further up the Hudson
to the Catskills, back down the coast, across the C&D canal
and then the Chesapeake, where we spent a couple of months, before heading back down the ICW.
I lived in the US when I was younger, but Vinni has never lived there. She has visited a number of times, but on vacation
with me and on business trips – so everything was not new to her. I had told her that sailing up the coast we would be exploring “small town America” is truly an adventure. I don’t think she really believed me until we had done it. I mean, she’s been to the US a number of times, how could small town America be vastly different?
Well it is. We were both surprised at just how helpful and nicely inquisitive everyone was. We can’t count the times that we would be walking back from the supermarket (for some reason supermarkets are not built close to marinas or dinghy
docks), dragging our trollies filled with food
when cars would simply stop in the middle of the road and ask if we needed a ride.
That’s generally not something you experience in northern Europe
. Other times we asked for directions to the supermarket and the person we asked would say – “well that’s a couple of miles away – you can’t walk that – let me drive you there” When we protested and said we liked to walk, they said that needed to go to the store anyway and hop on in – they would also shop and wait for us and drive us back.
This happened more than once.
We had many similar experiences, but the above sum up nicely the attitudes of the people we met along the way.
One of the very interesting points of cruising the US via the ICW is that you see another part of the towns that you don’t get to see if you drive. Let’s face it – most American towns are pretty boring when you drive into them. Both sides of the road are filled with shopping
malls and centers, all selling pretty much the same things at pretty much the same prices. I mean how can so many drugstores (there are more drugstores than bars) make any money
? Driving around in the US you see thousands of Walgreens and whatever else the other brands are. This means that once you get off the interstates, you end up driving along more or less one continuous row of Walmarts, Walgreens etc.
Pretty boring stuff and generally most non-americans shake their heads at it.
The ICW, on the other hand – runs through the older parts
of these same towns and far away from the shipping
centers (which is a boon in several ways – not the least that it means cruising sailors have to walk a couple of miles to go shopping
– great exercise, which is something we all need more of). Many of these towns struggle with declining population and lack of employment
opportunities. A lot of them are trying to fight back by restoring the downtown areas and buildings. Obviously, not every town can survive by trying to market the “George Washington
slept here” historical aspects, but a number of them do a good job at it.
Well, after reading all the posts on CF during the years about “Can I run the ICW with a 5 foot keel
?” and the like, we were a bit tense when we entered it the first time in Charleston (an absolutely charming city by the way). The morning before we left, Vinni had been doing some laundry
and talked with a couple of “old salts” (or so they claimed). They told her in no uncertain terms that there was no way we would ever be able to run the ICW with a 7 ˝ foot draft
. One told her he had tried it the year before with a 6 foot draft and given up.
Well, it is not a problem – watch your tides and be careful and you can do it without issue – we went both ways and while we bumped a few times – we didn’t have any real problems (nor did we have to use our towing insurance).
Vinni and I agree that the ICW is an unbelievable sailing experience and one that is completely unknown outside the US. Certainly, almost no one in Denmark
has heard of it. It snakes through incredibly beautiful landscapes and countryside. So beautiful that we have been wont to describe it on our website. We saw deer, wolves, bear alongside the waterway (and alligators in it), and had hawks, buzzards and eagles soaring overhead most of the way.
Let me tell you – this is a nature experience that is not readily found elsewhere. Vinni and I have been fortunate to travel most of the world and this is unique. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world and if nothing else – this alone made our 9 month US cruising worth every minute of the time spent here. We’ve written a longish article for the Danish Ocean Cruisers Association magazine describing this fantastic sailing experience. We hope it encourages other Danish cruisers to take the 6 months or so necessary and cruise
We did most of the touristy stuff also. Annapolis
is everything everyone has said about it – great town and they do like sailors there. We were impressed with the fact that at the end of every street that ended on the harbor – there was a dinghy dock
. Not usual most places and something that most towns could easily emulate. I went to school
in the US and since I’m a history
buff, knew a lot of US history
. Vinni knew almost nothing since American history is not a big subject in Danish schools. But she learned a lot. The ICW flows right through both the Revolutionary War area and the Civil War area (War between the States to you southern types). She has become so interested that we bought an abbreviated “History of the United States” so she can read more (Vinni is generally not a history buff per se).
We sailed up the Potomac
, which we’re told not many cruisers do – a mistake on their part. Lovely countryside – fine anchorages
all along the way and best of all – a mooring
ball right in the middle of downtown Washington
for only $35. That is cheap
. A couple of blocks walking and you’re on the National Mall with all the museums and monuments. We spent almost a week exploring and didn’t even come close to seeing everything on the Mall. Being foreigners – we were unable to tour the White House – but did do the Congress.
I won’t get into a description of New York
except to say that back when I lived in the US (60’s and 70’s) New York was crime ridden, dirty and not terribly nice. Well – that has changed – the city is clean, New Yorkers have become friendly and the crime rate has dropped to almost nothing and is still declining. One of the greatest thrills we’ve had in our almost 2 years of full time cruising was sailing into New York Harbour.
It was foggy as all get out and as we came in we literally couldn’t see anything. Finally, some grey smudges appeared in front of us, that turned into grey cylinders and then the Manhattan skyline came marching out of the fog
towards us. There was a flash of green off to port and The Statue of Liberty materialized out of nothing. Both Vinni and I got completely choked up. This is such an iconic sail that we finally realized that – yes we’ve done it – we’ve sailed over 10,000 nm and 1/3 of the way round the world
on our Capri
Just the two us.
That sail into NYC
will be a cherished memory for the rest of our lives – it is one of a kind.
Ok – some words about American sailors. I noted above that we sailed into NYC
in dense fog
. If you want to find out if you know your Colregs – just sail through NYC harbor in fog or at night (or in the daytime for that matter). If you know your Colregs – you’ll be fine. If you don’t, you’ll be a nervous wreck by the time you pass under the George Washington Bridge. In the harbor there is every single
type of vessel you’ll ever see – sailboats, ferries, high-speed ferries, tankers, tow boats pushing and towing huge barges, kayaks, rowboats and anything else you care to name. The only thing we did not see was a “Wing on Ground” vessel – although we did see one both land and take off up in the Catskills.
It is our impression that most American sailors don’t know their Colregs. Especially the motorboaters. They simply have never learned them and you can never be completely sure what action they will take. Most will try to go behind you – even when they should maintain their course and speed. Very disconcerting and it takes some getting used to – especially when they are high speed motorboats. Many also have no conception or simply do not care what the consequences of their wakes are.
We’ve also found that a lot of boaters apparently think a VHF
is a tool to be used for ordering pizza and the like.
balls don’t seem to exist over here – or at least no one hoists them. This is a fabulous business opportunity for someone – get the Coast Guard to start enforcing the Reg saying you need to hoist one and you will sell millions of them. A fair number of US boaters also don’t seem to know what an anchoring
light is - or else they are all trying to save electricity. Some areas we were the only boat
showing a light.
As I noted – anchoring in the ICW with 7 ˝ feet is more than a challenge and we did spend quite a few nights in marinas. Generally, we found them to be expensive – very expensive. The facilities were of almost every standard you can think of – from excellent to absolutely shoddy and considering what they charged for a night – they should be hauled up in front of a judged charged with fraud – they were that bad.
With our 7 ˝ feet – we were always checking the pilot book for water depth
both approaching and inside the marina. We quickly learned to call ahead ask if the reported 8+ feet of water really was there, because lots of times it wasn’t. The book would say 8 feet or more – but when we got there, the entrance or harbor hadn’t been dredged for years and it was only 6 feet. Worst was at Half Moon Bay on the Hudson
– the fellow there told us that he had a deep water marina and 10 feet. When I questioned him he arrogantly told me that he had been doing this for over 30 years and I should just trust him. Told make a long story short – when we got there – he had 3 feet of silt over rock bottom 8 feet down. We were seriously annoyed.
– well what can one say? I won’t name the boatyards
because they can’t defend themselves – but our experiences with them are difficult to describe. Suffice to say they are ungodly expensive and I had to check every single
piece of work
they did for us to ensure it was done correctly. Virtually every single time, I found mistakes
or shoddy workmanship.
They charge enough – how hard can it be to do things right?
US Customs and Border Protection
As a foreign boat
, we are required to report our coastal movement to the US CPB. The penalties for not doing this are draconic. First time – a written warning – second time $5000 fine (yes, that is correct five thousand dollars). The law is interpreted differently all along the coast. In Charleston SC, they are totally by the book. Friends of ours (Brits) arrived at 4 in the morning from a long and hard passage
up from Florida
, docked, had a drink and hit their bunks – thinking they could call in the morning. They called at around 9 a.m. and when the CPB asked what time they arrived – they told them the truth – 4 a.m. SLAM. A written warning for not having reported IMMEDIATELY, as the law requires. When we arrived in Charleston the first time, a CPB officer happened to be on the dock
. We were still tying up the boat at the fuel
dock (and I mean literally tying up the boat) when he appeared and asked if we had called in yet. I noted that we weren’t even really docked yet and he said we needed to call immediately.
Funnily enough – every other jurisdiction was completely different. The jurisdictions are state lines. The rest were more or less unconcerned. They were all polite, thanks for calling and when I called back the next day to report that we had moved – they asked “why are you calling me again? You only need to call in once when you enter a jurisdiction”. I even had supervisors tell me this (it is wrong if you interpret the law to the letter and any cruiser should be absolutely sure to get either a name or badge number of the officer they talk to).
We were only boarded once and that was by the Westchester County Police on the Hudson. They stopped us to check our papers, cruising permit
etc. They didn’t really board us – no safety
check – the officer noted that he wasn’t going to bother – ocean going cruisers like us were always filled with every piece of safety equipment
he had ever heard of plus some he hadn’t. The Coast Guard passed us any number of times and never looked twice at us.
A long post – but we were here for 9 months and there is a lot to talk about – I could have written many more pages. Thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
So to sum it all up. Did we enjoy our little sojourn? Damn right we did. Would we do it again? Damn right we would. Although next time we would like to have a boat with less draft. Would we recommend this to other cruisers? Damn right we would. Cruisers would need to realize that the ICW is motoring – not sailing. The only area where you really can sail is the Chesapeake – the rest is iron jenny.
We’re on our way back to the Caribbean
and from there, we’ll exit through the Canal
and cross the Pacific – so from here on in, it will be mostly island hopping – at least until we get to New Zealand