Those of you who go up and down the east coast: ICW or offshore? Why?

I hope we get some interesting opinions here.

My preference is offshore for a number of reasons – a big one being that we have a 7’ draft. In ’06 we traveled the ICW from Norfolk to Lake Worth. It was interesting and I’m glad we did it but I don’t ever want to do it again. These days we use the ditch only between Norfolk and Morehead City because we want to avoid Cape Hatteras. But I think that with a good weather window I’d rather be outside for that area too.

I don’t like the bridges; I don’t like the few jerks who love to wake sailboats; I don’t like the short travel days in the fall; and I don’t like hitting bottom.

I like being able to go from Morehead City to Charleston in one overnight passage. I like being on the ocean.

So what’s your preference????


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On my 36ft 6.5 ft draft ketch last year... we went from Newport to Norfolk offshore. Norfolk to Beaufort, NC on the ICW. Stayed in the channel and did it as quick as possible going about 1 hour into nightfall a few times to get to a suitable anchorage point. It was slow and a bit boring at times, but beautiful and a nice time to put the boat back together after 3+ day offshore trip. I didnt have any real problems with my draft except once when I tried anchoring in too shallow water.
Went outside from Beaufort to Charleston and then outside to Jax and hopped down the coast to the Bahamas outside.
SV Marabelle Ann
I prefer going outside as much as possible. of course you need to watch the weather. of course you have to have an offshore capable boat and crew.
Offshore. Little Creek to Green Turtle, or Little Creek to Tortola. Get thee over the GS from the mouth of the Chesapeake and turn right.
I brought a Farr 40 up from Ft. Lauderdale to NY last August. We tried going outside, but had strong headwinds after we got north of Florida, so decided to stay in the ICW after that. It was slow going, and we did hit bottom quite a few times (6' 6" draft), but it was interesting for a first time. Next time I will definitely time the trip to go offshore most of the way, except for Cape Hatteras, and only going in to spend some time to visit interesting towns along the way. Once is enough, unless you really have a lot of time on your hands, and want to spend time at all the stops along the way.
my mast height, sans instruments, antennas and lights is 65', draft is 6 (or so). I've spoken with some who claim to have done Norfolk to Beaufort with this exact type of boat with problems..but they may have had ulterior motives.

any out there with a mast this tall ever do it?

I'm headed south to Norfolk this weekend and the boat will wait there until Nov before continuing to FL

We watched this guy take an 80 foot mast under a 65 foot bridge. He did the inside all the way from Norfolk to Miami. Anythings possible......

s/v Veranda
Our mast is 63.5' plus antennas.Our draft is nominally 6.7" but the boat is our home so we're pretty heavily loaded and our actual draft is more like 7'. We've occasionally scraped antennae passing under the Wilkerson Bridge. We to the ditch only from Norfolk to Morehead City. Our ulterior motive is avoiding Cape Hatteras.
This is a good discussion. I'm a relative novice to cruising, and hope to take my Bristol 34 up to New England for the summer, then head south to the Bahamas in the fall.

My mast height is not a problem, of course, at around 46 feet. But I draw 5 1/2 feet, and I'm wondering how much trouble I'll have with depth issues. After reading all of these responses, I'm still unsure what to think.

This will be the first major trip I've done, so I was thinking it would be prudent to only go outside when the weather (and wind) is favorable. We're not in a huge hurry, but I'd like to leave St. Augustine around June 1 and make it to New England at least in time to spend a couple months up there before heading south again.

Also, I'm not sure whether I'm going to be able to afford an autopilot by the time I leave. Couple that with my limited experience offshore and I think I need to stay in the ICW as much as possible.

All that said, I eventually want to make the trip strictly offshore, when I am ready.

So, do you folks think I will have problems in the ICW with my 5.5' draft?


S/V Ibis
Your draft should not be a problem on the ICW, but do stay within the channel. The flow from small inlets can sometimes silt up the channel so watch the charts and be careful when you come to these. If you haven't done the ICW, it's worth doing once. There are lots of interesting places to stop.

I, personally, truly dislike the ICW. As stated in the original post, I don't like power boats that deliberiately wake sailboats. With our 7' draft and tall mast, it's a lot of work doing the ditch.

On the other hand, I wouldn't go offshore without radar and autopilot. A good autopilot can handle pretty rough conditions that would exhaust the helmsman on a 3 or 4 hour watch. And I sure wish we could afford to add AIS.

If you're moseying along enjoying the scenery, the ICW is for you. If you are heading from point A to point B, offshore is the ticket.

And we've found that a 2 night passage is better than a single night passage. Here's what happens to us (keep in mind that we're retired old farts). We pull into a port after a single night at sea. Sometimes it takes a couple of hours to get there once you've entered the entrance channel. We're too tired to leave the next day so there's at least one lay day. Then there's the long slog back out the channel before we finally get back on course to where we're going.

What happens is that on the first day out, we don't get adequate sleep. If we stay out for a second day, we're able to get good rest during our off-watch hours so that we're in good shape when we arrive at our destination on the third day. And we haven't wasted all that time going in and out the inlet channels. I think we could do a passage of several days with just the two of us with no problems.

I know our method won't work for everyone, but it works for us. I love being at sea - especially at night. Not everyone feels that way.
Thanks for your good advice, Mary. That's all pretty much what my thinking was, as well.
During my 62 day round trip passage I found the tranquility inviting, the bridges interesting, anchoring abounding, and sailing across the sounds exhilerating. But what did I have to compare it to? Most of my way between Palm Bay, Fl. and the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal brought north/northeasterlies so I was too scared to go outside. On the return, would you believe the winds were mostly out of the south/southeast? I know it's a hard concept.

Closer to home I finally went out at St. Mary's and eventually spent three lovely nights about 30 miles offshore. Next time, I'll have radar and go the outside. Although I wouldn't trade the meandering flats of Georgia, the not so dismal swamp, and the averaging 15 knots along the Chesapeake for a full day's run, for any other adventure. Life is about experiences -- I did my trip on a Corsair F28 ac --- alone with my pup.

P.S. I think it was in Georgia where you will want to consider the tidal shifts; docking was plentiful thoughout the trip though I usually dropped the anchor within an hour of deciding I was done sailing for the day.
what time of year did you go up?


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