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Ditchin’ the Ditch

Posted by on April 2, 2013

In the past we have entered and exited the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) at Morehead City, NC, making the jump to Fernandina Beach, FL or vice-versa. The ICW from Norfolk to Morehead City is well traveled since it cuts off going around Cape Hatteras where the weather can change quickly. Normally it takes us about 3 days to cover this ICW distance across North Carolina and Virginia. But this spring, due to weather and U.S. Customs, we entered at Charleston, SC, adding 3 days of ICW transit to our trip – basically doubling our time in the ICW!

Heading north from Charleston we enjoyed the South Carolina low country but after we cleared Myrtle Beach the ICW became an intricate path of unmarked shoals and shifting sand bars. We ran aground 3 times in the channel but were able to free ourselves each time. The last time we ran aground I called Towboat US to ask where the channel was but they didn’t know. The Coast Guard called me and described where to find the channel, which was strange because I was aground in that exact spot…. After that point our trip became nerve-wracking, constantly watching the depth sounder to see if the channel was meandering, trying to visually reconcile how sand might have shifted during the winter storms. (It didn’t help that we were heading north so early that maintenance crews hadn’t had time to dredge the areas or shift channel markers to better indicate the shoaling.)

It’s well known that this stretch is a problem area. The numerous inlets and shallow bays lead to the shoaling, and that’s why we’ve always skipped it in the past. In fact, dating back to our first journey on JV, (just after we bought her in Wrightsville Beach, NC) we’ve always skipped this portion of the ICW. Counting a journey on a friend’s boat, that’s 5 times we’ve gone outside, versus this one time on the inside. In the future, I’ll continue to use the stretch from Norfolk to Morehead City, but I’d have to think long and hard about ever continuing south from Morehead City inside.

At long last we finally anchored in Norfolk on Easter evening. For Easter dinner Sabrina prepared ham, asparagus, potatoes, and had carrot cake ready for dessert. We fueled up the next morning and it felt great as we motored out into wide open expanse of Chesapeake Bay. Even dodging cargo carriers and tug boats on our way out of Norfolk was better than puzzling over un-known shoals.

I have come to the conclusion that ICW doesn’t stand for Intracoastal Waterway, but instead I Can’t Wait (to get out of here!)

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