I figured poor GB could use a break after doing a very intensive 11 days of boat work on the hard in Green Cove Springs, Florida, during early January 2013. (That's him on the ground in pic on the right, painting the last of the bottom paint on the underside of the keel just before we splashed.) Instead of my preferred strategy of sailing offshore for a night or two, I planned a slow, 10-day trip northbound up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), going only about 10 miles/day so that we both had plenty of time to recover and enjoy the marshland scenery of northern Florida/southern Georgia. Due to the extensive marshes in this area, it is less developed and has much less boat traffic than southern and central Florida. It certainly has its share of McMansions anywhere the ground is solid enough to build a foundation, but you also see stretches of wooded hammocks which support birds like heron, egrets, osprey and even the occasional bald eagle. Which is nice.
Mind you, this by no means makes me a fan of ICW travel. Our 6'2" keel is considered "deep draft" on the US East Coast. The ICW - aka The Ditch - is a fairly narrow channel and is not regularly dredged. The tributary rivers and creeks along its length tend to deliver sand and silt to the lowest points -- meaning, the ICW fills in and becomes shoal in many areas. The sides of the ICW channel are generally vertical, meaning that if you deviate very much from the 40'-50' wide channel you can hit bottom very suddenly. Even boats with 4' draft run aground from time to time. For The Fox's draft, travel along the ICW means that viable anchorages are few, several areas can only be traveled at high tide, and the margin of error is very slim. You continuously check the chart plotter, the locals' reports of new shoals and hazard areas, and the depth sounder. Always the depth sounder. You cannot lose your concentration for a second. I find prolonged exposure to such factors, stressful. But hey: 10 miles a day, means I can do every day at high tide. Full of win, right?
I investigated some relatively nice anchorages and marked all the latest shoaling areas using my favorite paper charts, the spiral-bound "The Intracoastal Waterway Chartbook," 5th ed., John & Leslie Kettlewell, eds.; updated with the latest information from Active Captain's Interactive Guidebook online. The travel went quite well. It was The Fox's systems that started giving us trouble.*
*In literature, this is called "foreshadowing."
The toilet packed it in almost immediately. We were both OK with the traditional maritime "bucket-and-chuck-it" method -- despite knowing that we'd be doing it for 10 days or so until we reached the marina in Brunswick, Georgia. Our wind generator was already offline because we'd lost a blade in that merry mishap during haulout in Green Cove Springs. And the galley's faucet was beginning to leak.
Travel Day 1: We drove about 2 hours downriver on an outgoing tide from Green Cove Springs through downtown Jacksonville to an anchorage just NW off of the St. Johns River about 3 miles from the inlet, called Little Marsh Island (~30deg.24'N/081deg.30.5'W). Good holding, good depth, strong currents, average wind protection, no wake from large vessels on the river, just from occasional small-boat wakes.
Travel Day 2: Departed Little Marsh Island, rounding into the ICW northbound near high tide. Entered Fort George River on second attempt to find good depth. Anchored in 8'-10' at high tide, in a hole right in front of the Kingsley Plantation's main building (30deg.26.450'N/ 081deg.26.283'W). Strong currents and heavy small-boat Sunday traffic, but good holding. Details of Kingsley visit to follow in a future post.
Day 3: Left Fort George River on a high tide. Many areas would be shoal for our draft if we attempted this at low tide. Anchored slightly off ICW at Alligator Pass anchorage (~30deg.34.5'N/081deg.28.3'W) in about 18' depth, in middle of marshland. Good holding in southerly breeze at 10-12 knots; would be poor wind protection in stronger weather. River dolphins pass by; no-see-ums hang around. We discovered the watermaker was busted.
[Next post: Days 4 through10]