Navigating the ICW in South Forida, or Ed, you’re the MAN!

March 8 &9: If you have ever run the ICW (that’s the Intercoastal Waterway) in south Florida, you can skip this blog but if not, you just might find this challenge interesting reading. I hadn’t thought about it, but in many ways it is similar to auto rallying in my book.

First, South Florida is heavily populated which means lots of bridges and lots of boating traffic both which produce their own set of challenges for anyone transiting the area. Remember for the transient, (that’s what boats running the ICW are called) you have to stay in the channel between the red and green markers. The distances between markers varies and you have to keep a sharp look-out to find them. Getting out of channel might just mean going aground. Our March 8,from Ft. Pierce to Palm Beach, we saw a sailboat aground on the west side of the channel. This was a particular difficult grounding since we had 20 kt. winds from the East, pushing him further aground. Nothing we could do to help as we passed him, but I’m sure he had to be towed off and this costs a bundle.

OK, so not only wind can push you out of the channel, but other boats can and South Florida has lots of small power boats-big ones too which don’t seem to pay much attention to the “slow no-wake” zones. The wake from these big engines rock a sailboat around and push you off course.

Views from the ICW

So, now we are dodging boats and trying to make the bridge openings. Make that Ed is. I don’t take the helm much under these circumstances. March 8 we had  three bridges that open “on signal”, meaning you call the bridge on your radio and ask for an opening. Most bridge tenders are very cooperative, but sometimes they make you wait for other boats to catch up so they can open only once for several boats. Once, the bridge had to delay because an ambulance was coming and that took priority. But, here’s the real problem with this. We had five additional bridges with opening schedules. That might mean on the hour and half-hour, or 15 and 45 minutes after the hour, or on the hour, 20 and 40 minutes after the  hour. Missing even one of these openings can put you behind schedule for any where from 1/2 to 1 hour. Ed’s job and captain and chief helmsman, is to calculate the distance and the time it will take us to make each opening on time. But you can see, any delay, even a 2 minute delay in the “on signal” opening, frequent”no wake zones” which means reducing speed or navigating around other boats causes problems down the line. This is much like delays in car rallying that you can’t anticipate-like trains, traffic lights, stop signs and road traffic. In both cases the point is to make your time.

Day 1, Ed made every bridge and we were in Palm Harbor Marina earlier than anticipated so that we could shower and walk to a nice French Bistro for dinner. (For those of you who know Ed, there is nothing like a good restaurant at the end of the day to motivate him!)

My helmsman

Day 2. From West Palm Beach to Ft. Lauderdale. Normally we do this “on the outside”, meaning running down the ocean to Ft. Lauderdale. Weather did not permit this, we were anticipating 15-20 knot winds from the south and seas 6-8 feet. So once again the ICW. this time, 15 bridges on a schedule and 2 more on signal. Much more work for Ed. The anxiety of the challenge beats boredom according to Ed’s philosophy and he was up to it a second day. I think I took the helm only twice as there was hardly any time between bridge openings. I need to add one more thing that adds to this challenge. As you might guess, when we got to a bridge, we were  not the only boat going through. This means maneuvering Silver Girl while waiting on the opening. Now, sailboats with one engine don’t back easily and don’t sit still in the water. This is one time when power boats with dual engines have a big advantage. Several times Ed had to keep turning Silver Girl in slow circles, dodging other boats and keeping the position north of the bridge. I just sat with taking pictures.

Sights on the ICW

Why were we doing all of this? Well, the weather forecast was just a one day weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. That day was Saturday and we wanted to catch that window. More of that our my next blog, but to let you know, it is Sunday and we are comfortably docked in Old Bahama Bay Marina on Grand Bahama Island.

If you think this blog was written by a great fan and admirer, you bet it was! I can’t let Ed read this one before I post since he will consider it bragging on his skills, something he is not prone to do. Well it is bragging. And Iwrote it not Ed!


P.S. We are collecting more incidences for our next novel, Night Watch and in fact saw a boat in Palm Harbor named Night Watch!


About ejhowle23

Authors and adventurers, participated in the World Race 2011, an automobile rally from New York to Paris, crossing three continents and 14,000 land miles. Following much the same route as the setting for our debut novel, The Long Road to Paris. This blog describes our own adventures and challenges. And now you can follow our Bahamas sailing adventure that provides the setting for our second novel, Night Watch. Our rally, the African Safari Challenge, crossed five countries in South Africa in May 2014 and in 2015 we participated in the second Trans-American rally this time from Nova Scotia to San Francisco. Spring of 2016 we travelled 28 days around Australia with friends from previous rallies and in the fall participated in our most exhausting rally through Argentina, Chili and Peru- the Rally of the Incas. We were awarded the Against All Odds award. We're still not sure if this was for us or our car. Stewball never broke down and we hardly did. We will soon take on Iceland as a self-drive tour and in the fall of 2017 we will participate in the Odyssey Italia and then back to Africa for a do-over (almost) of the Africa Safari Challenge.
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3 Responses to Navigating the ICW in South Forida, or Ed, you’re the MAN!

  1. TBC says:

    New header, we see! And scheduling can be really challenging, that’s for sure, so kudos to Ed’s timing (which, as we all know, is everything!)

    I can remember leaving our anchor or mooring at a very specific time so we could catch the tides going through the Cape Cod Canal under sail at night under the stars. Spectacular! Dad’s timing was always impeccable!

    Even with the modest engine on the sailboat, the currents going through the canal would have made passage nearly impossible. With sailboats, it’s either with the tides and currents under those circumstances or forget it.

    Enjoy your time in the Bahamas. You deserve it, and it has certainly been challenging finally getting over there.

    Hugs from ussuns here,

    TBC and Arnie

  2. Lynnea says:

    I am reminded of Mark Twain’s descriptions of navigating the Mississippi River. Had no idea sailing was so complicated. Hope you can work some of that into Night Watch.

  3. Cathy says:

    Interesting reading, Jan. Had no idea that traveling the ICW can be so complicated! Waiting with anticipation for the next segment of Night Watch. Hope you took a pic of the boat of the same name. Safe travels!

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