“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


The ICW Miles 0 to 200

If your boat has a shallow enough draft and a short enough mast you can get from Norfolk, Virginia to Miami, Florida without being in the exposed Atlantic waters.  This route is known as the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the ICW for short.  Some will refer to this as “doing the ditch”.  Essentially it’s a system of canals, rivers and sounds that have been connected in the name of interstate commerce.  There are little towns, cities and deserted anchorages along the way that can make this a really fun way to explore America by boat. Luckily our almost 5 foot draft and 49 foot air draft lets us explore this route.

We picked up the ICW after leaving the free docks in Portsmouth, Virginia.  The first decision we had to make on the ICW was to take the Dismal Swamp or the Virginia Cut.  A couple we had met on s/v Grace in Bohemia River told us that after five trips up and down the ICW they would only do the Dismal Swamp.  We took this advice and made the sharp right turn at mile marker 10.


We were following a new cruising friend, Nathaniel on s/v Disco Sandcastle, who we had met on the free docks in Portsmouth, VA. He was from New Hampshire and heading for a warm spot in the Caribbean with lots of rum bars, sun and sand.  Nathaniel was traveling solo and we offered to let him raft up to us in the lock if that would be easier. As it turned out, this offer was unneeded thanks to the great lock operator Ed.

This was our first lock experience.  This lock would rise us 8 feet in elevation to be even with the Dismal Swamp.  Ed had everything under control and gave great, clear instruction and helped everyone get secure for the lock operation.

ICW 0 to 200 VA to Beaufort

After you get through the lock and the first bridge (also operated by Ed who has to get in his car and drive down to open it), you are in a narrow, shallow cut that is beautiful and creepy at the same time.


Due to the tannins from the vegetation along the swamp, the water looked like iced coffee.


Along the way you may encounter what are referred to as “dead heads”.  These could be anything from logs that have washed into the canal from high water, trees that have fallen into the canal or the stumps from trees that were cut down.  We hit three along the way but luckily had no damage.  We think we hit them because the boat in front of us had a slightly deeper draft then us and was stirring up things on the bottom.

About halfway down the canal you cross over into North Carolina.  Now it was really start to feel like we were heading south!


Shortly after crossing over into North Carolina, we arrived at the Dismal Swamp Visitors Center. This was where we planned to stay for the night.  We were able to get the last few feet on the dock and we rafted Disco Sandcastle up to us.  This was noted as a great stop between the two locks if you didn’t time it to do the whole swamp in one day.  We were a little surprised to find that it was just a rest stop on the highway that happened to be along the Dismal Swamp.  Still, it was a nice stop with a dock, a visitor center, across the canal was a board walk and it proved to be a great meeting area for cruisers.


We went for a walk on the boardwalk with Summer and saw this guy.


We were surprised he didn’t run away from the sent of Summer.  Some other cruisers reported seeing coyotes along the boardwalk too.

The next morning we got up at dawn and headed for the next lock and on to Elizabeth City.

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On our way to Elizabeth City we needed fuel and there was only one option.  Part marina, part trailer park, part roadside store and grill and all down the sketchiest channel we had ever transited.

PVC pipe as channel markers.

PVC pipe as channel markers.

After filling up we were on to Elizabeth City.  A cute looking town that is trying very hard to be cruiser friendly.  They have room for about 20 boats on their free docks! For a modest fee you can use newly installed showers.  They will even greet newly arriving boaters with the Rose Buddies Ceremony and a social hour with beer, wine and cheese and crackers hosted by the former mayor.  Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of what cruisers look for in the water front area of Elizabeth City.  There are a couple of expensive restaurants, a museum and an art gallery.  There are little to no stores where you can reprovision, hardware stores or marine stores.

Luckily for us, we have relatives in the area.  Stacey’s uncle Mike, aunt Jill and cousin Rachel live just outside of Elizabeth City (her cousin Ryan is away at college). Jill came down to see us the first night we got into town.  We had some supplies shipped to their house from Amazon and Defender and she dropped them off.  There was an east wind making it very bumpy at the dock and not very good for socializing. We made plans to meet up the next morning.  Jill picked us up the next day and took us around to show us the city and do some reprovisioning.  We hung out at their house and took advantage of fast wifi to backup photos and update our various electronic devices.  Jill taught my Bride how to cut my hair since I refuse to pay $20 for that on our budget.  Jill also made us a nice dinner.  It was great catching up with family.

The next morning Mike took us on a tour of the US Coast Guard Station in Elizabeth City where he is stationed.  Its a large base that specializes in major overhauls of aircraft and their systems.  It was really great to see how some of the systems we have on the boat integrate with the search and rescue operations for the USCG.


This is the head on a USCG aircraft. I won't complain about the head on Smitty again!

This is the head on a USCG aircraft. I won’t complain about the head on Smitty again!

Mike and Jill even lent us their minivan for the afternoon.  We were able to bring some of our cruising friends to store so they could get provisions as well.

After 3 days in Elizabeth City we headed off down the Ablemarle Sound for the Alligator River. It was a nice day with good winds and we were actually able to sail.  But the Ablemarle Sound is shallow (the max depth we saw was 20 feet) and the winds can whip up the water pretty quick.  The flat seas we started with were soon 4 foot chop following Smitty as we crossed the sound.  We left with Hullabaloo, Calista and Wildcat among others.

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We spent the night with Hullabaloo and Calista in the South Lake anchorage. Most of the area surround the Ablemarle Sound and Alligator River is swamp. So finding a place to anchor where you could take a dog to shore was difficult. Thanks to Active Captain, we had found a place to anchor where we could access a boat ramp to walk the dogs.  Only this wasn’t a boat ramp like we think of them.  This was a redneck, duck boat, backwoods boat ramp.  We could only find the entrance to the canal to access the ramp thanks to Google Earth.  Once you get down the canal we found a little patch of mud where boats could be launched.  The whole thing was very weird and I kept thinking to myself “run if you hear banjo music!” My Bride was afraid that an alligator would eat Summer.

ICW 0 to 200 VA to Beaufort3

The temperature was a little cold to truly enjoy it but the stars at this anchorage were breathtaking.  We could see so many stars and see the constellations so clearly since there was nothing on land to pollute the view.

The next day two days were again filled with canals and rivers as we made our way to Oriental. We went through our first swing bridge. Again we traveled with Hullabaloo and Calista during the day but due to the cold just stayed on our own boats once we got into the anchorages. We anchored in the Pungo River. We made it into Oriental, NC to find the free town docks full but room in the anchorage for all 3 boats.  As we were pulling in we saw Disco Sandcastle getting towed by two dinghies into a nearby harbor.

ICW 0 to 200 VA to Beaufort4

Some rain was coming in for the next couple of days but the temperatures had come up into the 70s.  Oriental is a very cruiser friendly town but there is not a lot here.  We walked the little down town harbor area that consisted of two restaurants, a marine supply store and a create coffee shop called the Bean.  They do have a dragon.


We walked up to the grocery store. Well we tried to. A Walmart Express (grocery only) moved in about a year ago and drove the local store out of business. So we had to go there. It had started to rain pretty hard but a nice guy gave us and Skelton Crew a ride back to the docks in his pickup. We also walked to a great hardware store with a large marine section. We tried to go to the marine consignment store a couple of times but could never make it there when it was open. One day we walked over to visit Disco Sandcastle who was on the hard working to repair his stuffing box, transmission coupler and a few other projects.  Skelton Crew found a place were we could buy fresh shrimp right from the fisherman. We had a great night eating fresh shrimp on Hullabaloo with the crews of Calista and Wild Cat.  (Check out Wild Cat’s blog Climate Odyssey.  They are sailing with a cause and have some cool stuff reading.) I may or may not have ended up swimming back to Smitty after falling off Hullabaloo at 1 am.

After 3 days in Oriental we took the short day down to Beaufort.  That took us down to just passed Mile Marker 200 on the ICW.  This short trip was great because it was filled with dolphins and even a pirate ship.

ICW 0 to 200 VA to Beaufort5



Why would you Travel North to Go South?

We planned our trip down the East Coast of the U.S. with minimal exposure to overnight passages and open water passages. In order to do this, we would transit North up the Delaware Bay/River, West across the C&D Canal (Chesapeake-Delaware Canal) and then South down the Chesapeake Bay.

I admit, the mouth of the Delaware is much larger then I had envisioned. In my mind I was comparing it to Buzzards Bay which is 8 miles wide and 28 miles long, but, the Delaware is more then twice as large at 17 miles wide from the southern most point of New Jersey (Cape May) to Lewes, Delaware and is 52 miles long.

We stopped in Lewes, Delaware in order to tour the Dogfish Head Brewery. I would say this is one of my top three favorite ports I have been to on the East Coast (so far). The historic district and city dock is so quaint with lots of nature trails and cute little restaurants and the people are so incredibly nice. The entrance to this town is a narrow channel and canal with not-so-deep water (about 10 feet at most with many more shallow spots and we like to have at least 6 feet), but it was worth the trip in. Especially when you get to watch dolphins on the way.

Lewes, Delaware:  The lighthouse marking the Harbor of Refuge, the Historical district, and Cheers! at Dogfish Head

Lewes, Delaware

After a couple of days in Lewes, we headed North up the Delaware with neither the current or wind in our favor. Unfortunately, we would have had to wait several more days in Lewes if we wanted more favorable current (I mean, I love Lewes but I really wanted to get moving, it is October, and, as we all know – Winter is Coming). So, we picked out an anchorage that looked to be sheltered from most wind directions. What we did not consider was the amount of crab pots that we would have to maneuver around in order to get to the anchorage we wanted. I cannot begin to adequately describe how many there were – I am just happy that we came in with enough daylight left to see them. For those of you that have not dealt with crab or lobster pots before: the basket that catches these delicious critters sits on the water’s bottom, then there is a long line that is pulled to the top of the water’s surface with a float. If we were to hit one of these, we can potentially wrap the line around the propeller on our boat. Jesse would then have to dive into the water and try to untangle us or cut the line (the water is freezing cold – thus why Jesse would be doing this).

Based on our experience with the Cape Cod Canal (CCC) we planned our transit of the C&D Canal to have the current in our favor. A go-slow boat, like our Smitty, will always try to transit the canal with the current because the current can be quite strong . To go against the current would be a very slow, long day since we normally only average 5-6 knots (about 5.8 – 6.8 mph). Often when we transit the Cape Cod Canal we can almost double our hull speed (so move about 9 knots) when traveling with the current…the C&D Canal – not so much. Unfortunately, we never really experienced the “turbo boost” from the current that we were expecting. The other difference with the C&D compared to CCC is the width and commercial traffic. The C&D is maybe about 1/2 has wide of the CCC – which was very interesting when we were passed by “Terminator” – one of the largest ships that I had ever seen (not it’s real name – this is what Jesse and I were referring to it as we were hoping it would not make the turn into the canal behind, but then it did – yikes! – we really did not have fun dealing with sharing the canal when it passed us). Once we were through the canal, we were back on track heading south.

Delaware Bay/River, C&D Canal, Bohemia River

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Next stop – Annapolis! We had planned the timing of our departure and the first month of our trip around arriving in Annapolis between October 8 – 12 in order to go to the Annapolis Boat Show. We arrived in Annapolis on…ready…wait for it…drum roll… October 13 – one day late of the boat show..wah-wah. 😦 ’Tis the sailors life. Waiting out the potential arrival of Hurricane Joaquin and for seas to calm off the coast of New Jersey, cost us too much time and we missed the boat show. However, Annapolis itself is a really cool destination. We anchored in Weems Creek and were once again in good company with Ron and Jackie on s/v Hullabaloo (blog: Skelton Crew) and Chris and Jim on s/v Radio Wave (blog: Mangoes, Marley, and Mermaids). We then made new friends: Vicky and Ed on s/v Elara (blog: Catch the Horizon), and Lauren and Brian on s/v Nightingale Tune (blog: Sea Biscuit). While here, we toured the Naval Academy, historic downtown Annapolis and had some beverages with a fellow Bostonian also making the journey south (also in a 2001 Catalina 310) at the infamous Davis Pub.

Annapolis:  Weems Creek, Ego Alley, US Naval Academy Sailing Team, Military Blimp, Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Annapolis: Weems Creek, Ego Alley, US Naval Academy Sailing Team, Military Blimp

Annapolis:  United States Naval Academy

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Continuing on South down the Chesapeake Bay, we headed to Saint Michaels. The Chesapeake is an amazing body of water – it’s so large that at times I felt like we were in the middle of the ocean. There are so many large rivers and and creeks and harbors on the Chesapeake that you could spend a lifetime here and never see them all. Just about every house that we saw had a boat and a fixed dock (the tidal range here is only about 2 feet). Also, everyone has a boat lift that holds their boat out of the water, at the dock, when not in use – even for sail boats! Unfortunately, this means that most of the waterfront is private with little or no dinghy access to get to shore – which proved challenging when looking for a good spot where we could bring Summer to shore. Sailing the Chesapeake was challenging as well, the Marine Weather indicated a “small craft adversary” every day – I am still not sure why because the waves and the winds were never as forecast.  Due to these challenges, we were pretty disappointed with the Chesapeake area.

Saint Michael is a cute little town. We checked out the local craft brewery (this is really starting to become a theme) and Blue Heron Coffee – a really good, inexpensive coffee shop. We toured the Maritime Museum that was complete with a lighthouse that has log books dating back to the 1800’s. We also went to Foxy’s – anyone that has been to the British Virgin Islands is most likely familiar with the famous Foxy’s there.

Saint Michael, Maryland:  Foxy’s, Maritime Museum, Historic Downtown, San Domingo Creek, Eastern Shore Brewery


Our final stop in Maryland: Solomon Islands. Friends advised us that this was one of their favorite stops; I was really looking forward to staying here a few days. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. We stayed at a marina here (super cheap at $1/foot and had a complimentary loaner car) – but that’s all that was around – marinas. There were not any nice parks or anchorages and there really wasn’t much around at all. We borrowed the marina’s Mercedes to check out the town and get provisions – this thing was the biggest piece of crap – I had to drive because the seats no longer could be repositioned and I could fit more easily then Jesse – but the car looked good from the outside – and hey – it was free. While here, both Smitty and Summer got long overdue baths.

At this point it was starting to get pretty cold and I was more then ready to be in warmer weather – so we have decide to really kick it in gear and get south. We had actually bought a heater while in Annapolis that we were now using;  it was so cold that I even wore my ski gear on one of our sails. We flew through Virginia with a stop over in Deltaville. It was fun to again catch up with the Annapolis-Weems Creek crews and I got my first grounding under my belt – yup – that happened while I was at the helm – but Jesse still has more then me. 😉

New boating friends that we have met along our journey (and stalked on FB and their blogs). ;)

New boating friends that we have met along our journey (and stalked on FB and their blogs). 😉

Our last stop before we officially start the InterCoastal Waterway (ICW) and head into the Dismal Swamp was Portsmouth, VA. We had dinner at a great little German Restaurant, Bier Garden. Jesse’s Umi would have put the stamp of approval on this place – very tasty. As for our dock – I do not understand why the south insists on fixed docks…when I got up in the morning to take Summer for a jog, the dock was almost a foot under water! So, back into the boat I went to put on rain boots and then had to figure out how to get on and off the boat with Summer (since there was a large gap between the boat and fixed piles and dock…needless to say, it was projecty and I do not care for projecty, especially in the morning pre-coffee. Oh well, this was just yet another random learning experience as we continue on our adventure. 🙂

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