View 2 of the ICW (cont’d)


This Ariose Note picks up where we left off last post, sharing some of the highlights of our northward journey on the IntraCoastal Waterway. We’ve seen the ICW through new eyes as we head homeward. We were saying that there had been only a couple of  minor “incidents” marking our month on this leg, but also one rather frightening event, and that’s where we left off.

We’re not the only ones departing Charleston.

It happened early on the ICW, on the day we sailed from Charleston down the Ashley River. The biggest risk we faced, we thought, was the massive freighters coming and going along the channels we had to cross. We didn’t suspect the peril that lay within Ariose. It was no problem dodging the freighters. We’ve become pretty good at keeping our calm while sharing waters with others, large and small. Once across the bay, we entered the ICW. There was a bridge just ahead, so we needed to be under motor, a requirement of the operators. We started it up a little early in order to arrive on time for the next hourly opening.

Before I go further, perhaps a bit of background would be helpful. On passages, we have had water in the cockpit, at times a LOT of water when broached by waves, enough to submerge the ignition switch. It has progressively been harder to turn the key, something we attributed to corrosion. A new ignition, and perhaps installing it somewhere higher on the boat, was on “the” list. Oh yes, one more salient detail for those like me who are less mechanically experienced. Starters, I have learned, draw high amperage, but of course, only for a few seconds until they get the engine started. A starter should never be doing its thing for more than 15 seconds or those high amps can generate dangerous levels of heat that the starter motor has no way of dissipating.

Boat burning in Charleston marina – frightening.

Okay, back to the incident, which may by now be obvious. About 10 minutes into our motoring, we noticed the distinctive odour of electrical burning and shut off the engine. Tim, alarmed, jumped into the cabin to open the engine compartment. I scanned the horizon certain that our noses were merely telling us that we were entering an industrial area and had nothing to be concerned about. Well, Tim’s instincts were right. In a second or two, smoke was billowing from the engine. It’s amazing how in a near panic situation, the brain still has time to run through its file of images. Two went through my mind. Last year, when combing through a boat wreckers for parts, Tim & I had felt shivers up our spines as we passed by several vessels that been destroyed by fire.
A fibreglass hull can look like black molten wax, and terrifying to think of the fumes that would have been more deadly than the flames. I thought of that. And I also had an image from only days before flash though my mind. We had watched from our anchorage, horrified, as a boat docked in Charleston burned. Was this to be our fate??? Instinctively, we both reached for the fire extinguishers, but thankfully, they weren’t necessary. When the  engine stopped, it was clear from a cursory inspection, that there was no fire, only smoke and the sizzling of a very hot starter. We drifted toward shore, dropped our anchor once out of the channel, and within a few minutes our blood pressure dropped too.  It didn’t take the on-board mechanic long to figure out that the key in the ignition had not sprung back upon starting the motor. It had remained stuck “on” that entire time we were motoring, at least 40x longer than the safe maximum. As a testament to the quality of the starter, it continued to work, begrudgingly though, on the few occasions we needed it over the next 2 weeks until we were able to purchase a replacement. There was no further damage, to the wiring, nor to our nerves.

While on the thread of not-so-positive experiences on this leg of our journey, there are a few aspects of the ICW that have have been less than desirable. The water is one. Our home waters of Lake Timiskaming serve as a watershed for a large area, bringing sediment from a claybelt and tannins from pine forests, so we are used to brown waters. The waters of the ICW, muddy in the south end, and clear dark tea further north, are not unfamiliar, but oh, how we have been spoiled. How we have missed Bahamian water.

The busyness on the ICW was another negative for us. On our southbound journey, with temperatures at times dipping close to freezing, for some reason we often had the waterway to ourselves. We already mentioned the chaos on the water in Charleston on Memorial Day weekend.  It wasn’t limited to there, nor to long weekends. We didn’t need to consult our charts to know when we were approaching a town. The increase in boat traffic would make it obvious. At times, we were surrounded by every sort of recreational water craft you can imagine, and we would be bounced and tossed as many completely ignored the posted “no wake” signs.

…in the air…
… on the land…
… & on the water. Wish we got a shot of the marines swimming IN the water around us at anchor.
South Carolinian mud-waters.
Tim preserving his foot in the tannin-water of North Carolina.
Longing for those jewelled Bahamian waters. ahh.

The military presence has also been rather shocking for us. We’ve tried to maintain a sense of humour about the ludicrousness of it all. Military guys in a training exercise, pushing high-tech gear swam laps around Ariose (seriously), being buzzed by aircraft, sailing through a firing range, passing by immense warship after warship,  guys in fatigues on their gunned boats looking pretty serious about stocking up on ice. If we didn’t laugh at the incongruence with our peaceful meandering, we’re not sure how we would respond. Likely, we would be overcome by anger or by the hopeless of fabricated wars and the billions of dollars dedicated to the killing industry. What’s that quote about old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in? Anyways, this Ariose Note is mainly about the pleasures of the ICW, so we’ll share a little sample of military images, and then get back to the good stuff.


The lush greenery has felt like a salve, especially for Tim. We’re back in diverse forests, often, as we travel the waterway, with little distinction between land and water. From large, Spanish moss-draped live oaks to spectacular flowers, whether wandering through towns, or better yet, rowing Poco into the depths of a cyprus swamp, there’s been beauty all around. Here’s some samples:

Our favourite sections of the ICW were wild & lush…
…with thick grasses lining many sections.
Many plants were in blossom – a welcome contrast from the stark greys of our December travel. Here’s arnica in bloom along the banks.
Lots of what people in this area call mimosa trees in gorgeous flower. They’re native to Asia, but sure look at home along the ICW.
Tiger swallowtail on a shrub that Tim has yet to identify.
Trumpet creepers – ubiquitous!
Mystical waterways into cyprus land invited exploration.
Jewels in the cyprus swamp, but alas, Shirley captured the image but not the details needed by the resident biologist to identify it.
How’s this for a lasting union?
Last journey on the ICS, we were amused by random clumps of leaves floating past us. This time through, we got to see them stationary and in bloom…
… delicately patterned blossoms of the water hyacinth.
We enjoyed the diversity in towns too, like these sabal palmettos and live oak on a Charleston.
Hmm. Let’s just note this interesting fruiting body on an ornamental palm, and stay away from any other inferences.
Yellow lillies blanketing the water.
And to wrap up, small cones leading to…
…majestic ancient-looking cyprus.

The wildlife has also been a highlight on the ICW for us. Or should I say most of the wildlife has been. We’ve already shared our unfortunate encounter with crabs in the last Ariose Note – they, along with the mosquito and no-see-um encounters are most definitely not in this category. Here’s a photo sampling of some that we did take pleasure in.

ICW WILDLIFE: We have to start with the birds that bring us the biggest smiles: Pelicans. They’re everywhere, on ICW markers, in synchronized formation skimming the waves, and doing their kamikaze-style dive bombs, usually coming up with a gullet full of fish.
Always a treat when dolphins graced us with their presence.
Many species of heron – here’s a stately blue heron eying us.
Nervous deer along the banks.
And here’s an egret performing a dockside inspection.
The wild horses were lovely to watch – this photo was taken while sitting in our cockpit at anchor in Beaufort, NC.
It was duck-hunting season last time we were on the ICW – nice to see the survivors.
We spotted quite a few bald eagles – here’s an immature one surveying the landscape.
Smaller wildlife often made their unwelcome presence known. We did welcome dragonflies hitch-hikers as our personal mosquito controllers.
And caused us to wonder, who is checking out whom?
Tim was thrilled spot this prothonotary warbler when poking about in the cyprus swamp.
Only had a few alligator sightings. This one on Prince Creek lead us to a favourite anchorage. On another day, just as I worked up courage to get into that muddy water to bathe, Tim spotted a huge one rise up nearby. Bath postponed!
Sonic chips and twitters alerted us to the presence of purple martins, …
… using Ariose’s rigging as their personal playground. That wind vane sure can spin!
And we’ll end the gallery with osprey. They clearly “own” the ICW. It was rare to not have one within view, at times, flying home with a wriggling fish in talons providing extra propulsion…
Nesting in most ICW markers, raising their brood on these waters, literally staking claim to the waterway. We will forever associate ospreys with the ICW.

The ICW, is first and foremost, a highway. More of the waterway is inhabited than not. Here’s a gallery showing some of those sides of its character:

At times, there was peace and solitude…
…but more often than not, others on the ICW…
… surrounded us, obviously having a lot of fun, but …
… by ignoring the “no wake” pleas, sure detracted from the pleasure of others.
The rude boaters weren’t the only ones causing offensive waves along the route.
Recreational boating is big on the ICW, …
.. but it’s also how many still earn their living, as in these fishermen appearing to trawl the grasses.
The ICW’s original intent of moving goods still lives on…
.. with tugs skillfully navigating massive barges around the bends and around us little folk.
The ICW cleaves off land to form a coastline of islands, so there are lots rail and highway bridges connecting to mainland. Ariose’s 40 foot height easily slipped under the fixed bridges, but our journey was slowed by the many we needed to have opened for us.
Much of the ICW is residential.
Everyday folks share the waterway with …
with the mega wealthy. Quite a contrast with those…
… who live aboard on the ICW – economical housing for some who otherwise might be without a home. Here’s our anchorage neighbour in Charleston.
There’s a proliferation, esp in North Carolina, of massive houses that to us looked like they’d blow away in the next storm.
But there are also a few modest abodes.
Some homes seemed quite inviting to us, like this home with a view and a sailboat at the dock ready to embark on adventures.
We’ll end this gallery with a gratitude photo. We managed another leg of our journey with no need for Tow-boat US services. We did offer an empathetic wave to the sailboat upstream that did.


Jockeying for position to pass through the bridge.

Various styles of bascule bridges would open upward from the centre, with a counterbalanced weight.
Great Bridge, Virginia.

Just hours before the end of the ICW, as we approached yet another bridge, and as per protocol, called the Great Bridge tender on the VHF to let him know were interested in passing through at the next scheduled opening. We expected that to be in a few minutes. “Copy that, Captain (see Fred, you’re not the only one who calls me Captain!). Next opening is at 1900 hours.” What? That was 7 hours’ wait. I paused for a moment, then realized it was a joke. I responded, “A bridge tender with a sense of humour. That’s a nice change. Ariose out. Standing by on one-three, ” and we began slowly circling behind the bridge. A short while later, the tender came back on to clarify that he was not joking. Great Bridge was no longer so great. It had been struck by lightening, so now only opened manually twice daily. The 7pm wouldn’t allow us enough time to get to Norfolk before dark, especially with likely delays at the lock just beyond the bridge. We well knew the stress of navigating Norfolk’s waters outside of daylight hours. Its confusing array of buoys, cranes, bridges, freighters, barges and whatnot all blinking lights in the dark, made all the more confusing against the backdrop of the city’s lights – we had done that last December, and had no desire to do so again. The 6am opening it would be.

It was frustrating that this was our destination for the day, as we were just 10 miles or so from the official end of the ICW. That disappointment was more than made up for by having lots of interesting dockside chats with fellow cruisers from around the world. There’s camaraderie that comes with being trapped together.

Near 7pm, the radio crackled to life with dozens of recreational and commercial vessels communicating intentions trying to create order from what looked like was complete chaos. As the bridge opened, the show began. For 30 minutes, we watched the parade, the most entertaining of which was 4 tugboats pulling/pushing through the largest barge we had ever seen. We were glad we wouldn’t be sharing the lock ahead with that behemoth. If you’re interested, I tried to capture a panorama of the full vessel:

Stern end
Aft of 3 mid-sections, with tug nudging from the side
Mid section
Almost at the front
Front end, with lead tug.

IMG_5843Then bright and early the next day – well more drizzly than bright – it was our turn to be a part of the 6am procession, a rather sleepier, slower moving version of the night before.

IMG_5873By noonish, we had navigated the industrial/military mayhem of the waters at the north end of the ICW, and were in Portsmouth, just across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, pleasantly surprised to find space for us at the city-owned free docks.

So, our original aversion to retracing the ICW was all for naught. We appreciate having had this second, and much more pleasant exposure and look forward to Ariose taking us back this way again some day.

Docked at Portsmouth, the ICW now behind us.

10 thoughts on “View 2 of the ICW (cont’d)”

  1. Cool !!! It seems like the experience you have gained has certainly contributed to a more appreciative return! Glad to see you’re enjoying yourselves and you have been able to overcome any challenges…part of the adventure huh lol. 😉 Wish you all the luck with the rest of your journey! xo

  2. Hi Snirley and Tim, Great blog and pictures. ENjoy your trip north to,the Hudson. what an amazing vacation the two,of you had.

  3. As usual a fantastic read! Will definitely miss your updates once you’ve returned home. Or perhaps we’ll receive a monthly “side story”? One can only hope.

    1. We both laughed at your suggestion that we continue with some “side story” posts. Not sure if we can get inspired to write about, or if anyone would find it inspiring for that matter to read about Tim & Shirley having breakfast, chopping firewood, looking for work, having lunch, going for walks in our woods…ho-hum… 😉
      We do consider it a huge compliment, though, that you would suggest it!

  4. Congratulations on making a slow but safe passage up the ICW! As many times as we have done the same, there is always some new adventure …. some good, some and some not so good but always interesting. Cheers

    1. Thanks, Mary & Rod. We’re not sure when we’ll next make that ICW journey, but do look forward to it, and are open to whatever “interesting” experiences it brings.

  5. I’m still enjoying your journey and your posts just as much as I did with the very first one. Thanks for sharing the adventure.

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