USA Travel Guide
For the purpose of this website, I will be talking about my time on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), which has an Atlantic segment and a Gulf segment. It is made up of manmade canals connecting natural bays and rivers used to help facilitate the safe movement of ships and goods up and down the coast. The benefit of having such a route that was safe from both natural (weather) and manmade (warships and pirates) hazards was recognized very early in the history of the USA. It was first discussed in 1802….only 26 years after the country was formed.
The Atlantic ICW officially starts at Norfolk, VA and runs down to Key West, FL and can accommodate mast heights up to 65 feet (except for one bridge between Fort Lauderdale and Miami). If you want to travel north of Norfolk you can stay in protected waters all the way to Boston by using the Chesapeake Bay, C&D Canal, Delaware Bay, New Jersey ICW (bridge heights around 35 feet), Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and Cape Cod Canal.
The Gulf ICW runs from Brownsville, TX to Carrabelle, FL and another segment from Tarpon Springs, FL to Fort Myers, FL. On the Gulf ICW you will find a whole lot more commercial traffic as chemical companies transfer good back and forth. Here the bridge heights are extended to 73 feet high (except for 2-3 between Pensacola, FL and Destin, FL). One odd aspect of the Gulf ICW is that the official starting point is New Orleans and the mile markers are X miles east or west of that point.
After spending 9 months south of Houston, TX living on the boat, getting to know it, and making improvements, I left the dock on January 20, 2010. My best friend and I spent a week cruising the Gulf ICW to New Orleans, where we arrived two days before the Saints won the Super Bowl. I stayed in New Orleans through the Mardi Gras season before continuing eastward along the Gulf Shores.
I traveled as far up the ICW as Newport, RI and took a ferry over to Nantucket, MA. On my way back south I spent two weeks exploring New York City and a month relaxing in Annapolis, MD. By Christmas time I was south of Miami, FL and ready to jump across the Gulf Stream and start exploring the Bahamas.
Likes, Dislikes, and Recommendations
A lot of people do not like the ICW, but it is super convenient and you can travel almost anytime regardless of weather. Plus, if you get a favorable sailing day you can jump out to the ocean for a day sail and come back in by evening, because it seems like there is an inlet every 40-60 miles.
I loved my year cruising the ICW with the many bays, historical sites, cities, towns, and cruising friends I saw and met. But, my top stops were Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the sponge fishing in Tarpon Springs, the Dry Tortugas at the end of the Florida Keys, Kennedy Space Center, Cumberland Island in Georgia, Charleston, Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, New York City, and Nantucket.
One of the biggest questions I get is about anchoring in the ICW. Apparently within the cruising community the East Coast has a reputation that you have to stay at marinas all the time. This is simply not the case as there are anchorages everywhere and you will be hard pressed to not find a place within 5-10 miles of the last one. In fact, my biggest recommendation is to get the Skipper Bob Cruising Guides. These simple and cheap books lay out each bridge, anchorage, sight, and more in order you come to them and tell you the mile marker each is at. You will have no problem navigating with these books and your charts.
The other recommendation is to not think of your trip up or down the ICW as a way to get somewhere, but to enjoy your travel and explore the many communities (both big and small), historical sites, and natural beauty.
Below you can get even more helpful hints by watching the travel videos I made for the Gulf and East coasts of the USA. Just click the upper left corner of the player to see the playlist. Also, you can read what all I did in my blog posts located below the video.