1 LiveBloggin' the ICW: September 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Update on the ICW 2016

I'm currently heading north to Annapolis for the sailboat show, and due to the winds being out of the north - despite the ongoing lies from the NOAA weathermen about south winds - I've been plugging along at about 70 miles per day on the ICW. That pace forces me to break all those great rules I give people at the boat show seminars... you know the ones - pace yourself so you don't overtire, arrive at the ICW trouble spots at half tide or better, work the currents when you can....all those tips that make the ICW an enjoyable passage.
As a result, I've been getting into parts of the ICW at less than optimal times, and observing the ICW at less than its best.
The news isn't all bad actually, but there have been some surprises. The biggest one is South Carolina, which I'll come to in a bit, but first, an overview. Since I'm going north, you'll get this in reverse order....
Florida of course presents no problems, other than Matanzas, a few miles south of St. Augustine, and it's no big deal. Although it feels scary, just stay well over towards the beach, about 20 feet or so off the buoys and watch your depth sounder. Even at low tide, you shouldn't see much under 8 feet of water. As you come out of the inlet going south, start moving over towards the center of the channel, again watching your depth sounder so you don't move over too quickly.
Coming into Georgia, the big three are still the big three - Hell's Gate, Little Mud River and Jekyll Creek. Of the three, Hell's Gate is the one that's most likely to cause you trouble, not because it's any more shallow, but because of the currents there.
Go to the buoy in the river when you enter - don't shortcut it. Aim for the buoys you see ahead of you, staying to the center of the channel. Look behind you frequently to check you're still in the channel, not being pushed out of it, as the current will be on your beam, not ahead or behind as is usual. The buoys here feel rather far apart, so a close watch is critical.
Most importantly, if you draw over five feet, don't enter Hell's Gate at low tide - give it an hour or so. There's typically 7- 9 feet of tide in this location, so every hour you stand by will add another foot to the depths. Best is to enter at half tide and rising, so that if you do get pushed out of the channel and aground, the tide will rescue you.
Little Mud River is, as usual, a mess. It shallows out to under five feet, so again, you don't want to be coming through it on a falling tide. Waiting until you're an hour into the tide will give you a foot or more extra water under the keel and that will be adequate for most boats.
I found that the best depths were to the east (left side going south!) of the magenta line, and since I was on a rising tide, I zigged and zagged looking for better depths - there weren't any! Again, remember the mantra - Half Tide Rising - it'll get you through.
Should you arrive in this area and the tide isn't in your favour, there are several spots you can anchor out nearby, or you could trek 8 miles up the Darien River to the free dock at Darien. It's a nice town with a couple of decent restaurants nearby. Just remember, you'll have to come those 8 miles back and if the tide is against you, it's a looong 8 miles. For a taste of Darien, check out this video I made when last there...

 Jekyll Creek actually seemed better this trip through, despite a report on Waterway Guide I read calling out three foot depths - which I didn't find - so that skipper was clearly out of the channel. I touched once at five feet, but plowed through the silty mud and found that had I zigged over to the left about 40 feet or so, I'd have had 6 feet beneath me. It seems as if the currents have cleared this channel out a bit, but I'd still not try it on a falling tide.
South Carolina was a surprise. I've been finding the water to be overall somewhat more shallow than in the past, and I don't think it's just that I've been pushing through.
The good news is that the bad patch at Isle of Palms, just north of Charleston, has been dredged. There's still lots of shallow water in the area from the Ben Sawyer bridge to Isle of Palms marina, but it's not the problem it was last year and the year before.
The 1.5 mile stretch just south of Mclelandville is shallowed out to about 4 - 5 feet in places, so again, most cruisers will be wanting a rising tide to get through. There's a shoal patch at red 42, and it's dodgy from 39 to 42 - it's very difficult to discern any sort of a channel in the area. Further south, it runs about 6 - 7 feet for a considerable distance.
Again - go with half tide rising! The good news is, if you arrive at low tide, the creek into the Leland Oil Docks has been dredged and you'll find 7 - 8 foot depths all the way to the marina.
Two good sources for up to date information on ICW conditions are the above mentioned Waterway Guide, and the Salty Southeast Cruisers Network. Both of these websites feature cruiser submitted reports, and both vet all reports before posting them. Just remember - the boater might be in error, as the Jekyll Creek post shows - so take all warnings with a grain of salt.
What about the rest of the ICW you ask? That will be my next blog post, I've got to get there before I can report on it! In the meantime, if you'd like to see my full webinar on transiting the ICW, you can view the trailer to the video below...lots of great tips to make your trip easier.
Have you purchased your tickets for the Sail to the Sun Cruising Seminar yet?
This day long event will be held at the Annapolis Maritime Museum on October 10, the Monday of the boat show. Featured speaker is Lin Pardey. Also speaking are Jeff and Jean Grossman, Dave Skolnick, Greg Knutson and myself. Topics to be covered will be cruising the ICW, effective couples' cruising, effective anchoring techniques, crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, and cruising the Bahamas. There will also be a round table question and answer session following the seminars, giving everyone the chance to ask their own questions of the group. It will be a lively session, I assure you.
As noted, it's an all day seminar with a lunch, and a happy hour following, and you won't want to miss it. For more information and for tickets, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sail-to-the-sun-cruising-seminar-tickets-26973144401
Finally, due to a cancellation due to illness, there is one remaining spot on this year's Sail to the Sun ICW Rally - and about three couple's hovering over it wondering if they should join.
If you're interested in having the best time on your trip south this year, check out the details at the Sail to the Sun website, and request a brochure.
If you're seriously interested, don't hesitate, because one of those three could make up their mind at anytime and grab that last spot!