The Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, is a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States. It runs from Boston, Massachusetts, south along the Atlantic coast and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas.
The ICW allows boaters to travel the east coast of America without having to entering the Atlantic Ocean.
Itâs a rather narrow river, or canal, thatâs protected from the ocean. The best boats to travel down the ICW are motorboats or sailboats with a mast no higher than 64â or a keel not too much deeper than 5â.
Thereâs a stretch of the ICW that will, however, allow boats with tall masts (over 64â) and deeper keels (7â or so) running from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. All the bridges within this stretch open up.Â The depths are around 13â for the whole passage (or so the charts stay). In other parts of the ICW the bridges are 65â high and donât open.
After spending loads of time in the Atlantic swell we thought weâd have a go in the flat calm waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. The plan was to stay one night at the Palm Harbor Marina in Palm Beach where we exited the Atlantic Ocean.
After our nightâs stay we found a restaurant dock that would allow us to dock overnight.
The Two Georges, located north of Del Ray, had a jetty with a depth deep enough for our 7.5â keel. And our solo sailing companion, Michael on s/v Entitled would be able to âraftâ onto us. Rafting means that weâd tie ourselves to the jetty (side-to) and then Michael would tie Entitled on to us. And failing the Two Georgeâs, there was an spot that allowed for anchoring with the depth we needed not further on.
In the end, we ran aground four times, couldnât stay at the Two Georgeâs due to a big power boat taking up the whole dock (the Captain tied on right smack in the middle of the dock) and couldnât find a place to anchor until it was pitch black at night. We were suppose to go through four bridges and stop and I think we finally found a place to anchor after 13 bridges or so?!
Needless to say, it was a brilliant journey.
If a you’re going to sail to Florida consider motoring along the ICW. Here are 10 reasons why:Click To Tweet
Here are the 10 reasons a sailor should take a journey down the ICW
1. Boaters donât follow any rules. Boats go as fast or as slow as they want. And regarding speed, as long as the boat is not in a âno wakeâ zone it can fly by. And for the most part, the âno wakeâ zones are only around the bridges. Itâs a rather lawless canal where huge mega yachts cruise through at 30 knots and small sail boats putter along at 3 knots. You have to experience it to believe it. Thereâs no etiquette.
2. The architectureÂ is eclectic and thereâs loads to look at. There are no duplicates. All the properties are different. Some are ginormous palaces and others look like inner city apartment blocks. Youâll see traditional homes and super, super modern fortresses. One plot will have a shack and the next will have a 50 million dollar mansion. Thereâs so many properties to look at, thereâs never a dull moment.
3. The boats that youâll see along the journey are eye-catching! Some of the mega yachts are larger than the mega homes. Others are flat out interesting to look out. There are gold pimp-yatchs and four story moving islands. There are tour boats and even a floating tiki bar to check out. If youâre not ogling over the homes, youâll certainly ogle over the boats.
4. Thereâs no swell – errrr, thereâs no constant swell. The Atlantic swell can really get a sailor down. Every few minutes the boat shifts from left to right, left to right, left to right indefinitely. Itâs annoying. For those that experience seasickness itâs down right debilitating. In the ICW, however, thereâs only a swell when a boat larger than you passes by. Sure, there were many boats passing us through our passage but the swell was only temporary!
5. The atmosphere is electric. Thereâs always something happening. One bridges is opening and another is about to close. A super yacht is trying to pass. Youâre trying to pass a slow poke. A bunch of silly teenagers are jet skiing within inches of your bow. A tiny motorboat is pulling a tuber. Bars are turning out loud live music. You run aground. Itâs crazy.
6. Thereâs nature to admire. Interestingly, amongst all the mega yachts, mansions and hubbub thereâs a massive amount of birds, mangroves, natural areas, green areas and sea life. If you get out of your cockpit and away from the constant chatter on the VHF, there are parts of the ICW that are actually quiet and peaceful.
7. Thereâs an awesome sense of camaraderie. During our two day passage we enjoyed saying âthank youâ to the bridge operators for opening and hearing their âthank youâ back. And at one point of our journey there were five sailboats in a convoy. The first boat, a boat that we didnât know, would VHF the bridge operator and give the names of all the boats in the convoy. Although it was a crazy waterway there was a sense of kinship with the people we had to interact with and travel with.
8. Bridges. Even if youâre not a keen bridge lover itâs amazing to see each and every bridge. Theyâre all different! Some open faster and others slower. Some have really awesome gears. Others are broken and only one side opens – providing the captain a very narrow gap to maneuver (watch my video below)!
9. A sense of adventure – especially if you have a deep keel! The charts are not accurate. We ran aground four times. Each time only spending a few minutes being stuck. Itâs not ideal to run aground but it certainly adds a bit of spice to the journey. Ever time we ran aground it was more of a slow stop. We were only going a slow speed so no damage was done. And eventually the tide would rise if we got really stuck.
10. Stories to tell. Perhaps our journey wasnât typical? I can only speak for ourselves but I felt it was a very fulfilling experience. There was loads to see and take in. Yeah, we ran aground which isnât ideal but we found a way off. It was an adventure. One that I will always remember.
So there you have it. Ten reasons to take a journey down the Intracoastal Waterway. Watch our video below to gain a tiny insight to our journey Perhaps after weâve had enough of sailing (if that ever happens), Simon and I will buy a motorboat and do the Great Loop.
The Great Loop is a system of waterways that encompasses the eastern portion of America and part of Canada. Itâs made up of both natural and man-made waterways. These include the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Rideau Canal, and the Mississippi and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Amazingly, the entire loop is approximately 6,000 miles long.
More Information on the Great Loop
Britican does the Intracoastal Waterway – Video
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