I always thought that someday I would retire, buy a boat and travel down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) with my wife. Even though I’m not retired yet, I bought a 3470 Glacier Bay Catamaran, Almost There, in September 2013, and the opportunity to take the trip became a reality. I traveled from Baltimore to Key Largo, Florida with my two retired friends, John and Denny, both of whom readily volunteered once they found out they wouldn’t have to pay for fuel. Instead of writing my story about the food I ate and things that broke on the boat, I would find more interesting things along the way. 1,350 miles, 1,600 gallons of fuel and 80 engine hours later, this is the tale of our journey.
DAY 1: Baltimore, Maryland to St. Michaels, Maryland
There were a few things to organize before we left, such as power cords and hoses, but that was simple compared to figuring out which switch did what. We cruised around 15-17 knots, which is a nautical term for slow, making our way to St. Michaels Marina located on the Miles River. They have a terrific Maritime Museum, where they restore and display a variety of boats used by watermen of the Chesapeake.
DAY 2: St. Michaels, Maryland to Portsmouth, Virginia
We re-entered the Chesapeake Bay from the Miles River to a glowing blue sky with John noting that we were, “as lucky as a twodollar hound dog on Elvis Presley Day.” We did see a slew of fishing boats in the shallows of the Chesapeake, an abandoned ghost ship fully out of the water and a lot of water …
DAY 3: Portsmouth, Virginia to Coinjock, North Carolina
Most of the bridges that we would have to go through, including the Great Bridge Lock in Chesapeake, Va., are timed perfectly so that you can go through one and then just miss the next one. It would take all day to go 50-miles! The heat grew, and as we wilted, we decided to test the generator. Good thing we did. The generator was overheating and had no coolant in it. When it still wouldn’t work after filling it, we had a good drill closing and reopening the boat to try and cool off. Just as we decided to speed up so we could get a breeze, we hit a no-wake zone and finally arrived at Coinjock.
DAY 4: Coinjock, North Carolina to Morehead City, North Carolina
This is one big state. When we awake tomorrow we will still be in North Carolina. Just before entering the Pamlico Sound, which runs just inside Cape Hatteras, we saw a huge school of bait being chased by a pod of Porpoise.
DAY 5: Morehead City, North Carolina to Southport, North Carolina
Upon arrival into Morehead City, we tried the generator again. It ran a bit rough but we thought that it would be OK until we noticed smoke. Now we have the interest of everyone in the marina. It seems that if there is a boat with something wrong, everyone shows up to help you. With some help we were able to rescue the generator so we started the next run outside from Beaufort Inlet to the Frying Pan Shoals, a long shifting area of shoals off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.
DAY 6: Southport, North Carolina to Beaufort, South Carolina
Departing out of Cape Fear Inlet, we progressed southwest on the ICW, and we passed Charleston Harbor, where Fort Sumter was flying the flag at half-staff for 9/11. To make up for lost time, we traveled the 200 miles to Beaufort.
DAY 7: Beaufort, South Carolina to Fernandina Beach, Florida
Departing Beaufort, we were on our way past Parris Island and into the Atlantic Ocean. The seas were flat as we hummed along for hours. We passed though a Right Whale Conservation zone, where you are not to approach any of the Right Whales within 500 yards. The reason they were named Right Whales was because they were the “right” ones to kill back in the days of the whaling industry. We soon arrived at St. Mary’s Inlet, and docked in Fernandina Beach.
DAY 8: Fernandina Beach, Florida to Ponce Inlet, Florida
We departed from Fernandina Beach and decided to stay on the ICW. After hours of no-wake zones, we managed to get to the outside, where the running was faster. After 1,000 miles of traveling on the ocean, we pulled into the Ponce Inlet and docked at the Inlet Harbor Restaurant & Marina just north of New Smyrna Beach. A half-mile walk brought us across the island to the beach, where we went for our first swim.
DAY 9: Ponce Inlet, Florida to Miami, Florida
Off we went, and every couple of hours we would check our distance and fuel levels. The flat seas allowed us to choose any inlet, so we refueled in Jupiter, Florida. 200 gallons of fuel and a half hour later, we were back in the ocean. Record time!
DAY 10: Miami, Florida to Key Largo, Florida
On arrival into Government Cut by the port of Miami, I felt as if I had lost steering. We anchored right inside the west side of Star Island when we noticed the completely broken steering arm. This coincided with a “catastrophic failure” (the manuals words not ours) of all throttle and controls. After an elaborate rigging of lines, we were able to hold the throttle and steering on both engines to run at cruising speed. We didn’t slow down or move anything until we were 100 yards from my home canal in Key Largo.
The only thing I learned from our 10-day voyage was that I was wrong. Not about how much fun the trip would be, the friends who joined me or the boat I bought. I was wrong thinking I wouldn’t write like every seaman’s eventful journey — about the people I met, food we ate and how we managed the breakdowns in between. In the end, it’s about similar experiences that help bind you to the marine community.