Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dear "Ducklings"

s/v Cinderella leading the way south from Charleston, SC (photo by James Forsyth)

When we did our first ICW trip, some wonderful mentors held our virtual hands all the way from the time we left Annapolis to the time we anchored at Morgan's Bluff to check into the Bahamas.  They taught us some cool tricks and kept us safe and on track and shared their knowledge ... (and far too many glasses of wine!) The next few trips we traveled alone, totally, blissfully free.  We can never, ever pay them back for the wonderful opportunity for nautical knowledge and personal growth they provided.  Now, though, we can pass it on.

When we head south this autumn we're traveling in loose company with several other boats of ICW first timers.  I'm both honored, and scared, by the responsibility.  I hope we can give them enough skills and confidence that they don't feel a need to remain in eyesight of us at all times like Mama Duck leading the ducklings all the way down to Florida...but there are so very many things to know, above and beyond basic sailing and boat-handling and navigation and weather wisdom and anchoring skills.  Talk about information overload.  Wow.  Where ... HOW ... to start?

We can recommend nautical charts and guidebooks and other resources for the trip.  We can provide a "script" for talking on the marine radio to request openings for the many "drawbridges" they will have to transit:  ("Mudpuddle Bridgetender, Mudpuddle Bridgetender, this is southbound sailing vessel Wind Machine, standing by for your next scheduled opening.")   We can teach them about "ICW slow passes:" (Suppose you're chugging along down the ICW at sailboat speed of about 6 knots and a powerboat that can do 10, 15, or more knots comes up behind you and wants to pass.  If he passes you at full speed, you're going to get one crazy rocking and rolling wake.  But if hail him on the radio and request a slow pass, or he hails you, you slow way down for a few minutes, he can come up behind you and slow way down also, pass you gently then speed back up when he gets in front of you again.)

And how am I gonna remember not only the seamanship stuff, but the non-obvious tiny hints of cruiser-etiquette that will make them popular at the anchorage?  (Tip: When you're going to a cruisers' potluck on shore, bring your own plate and flatware.  Few boats carry dinner service for sixteen, and you may not be in range of a store that sells paper plates for an impromptu get-together.)  (Tip:  At a dinghy dock, tie your dinghy on a long painter so you're not blocking access for latecomers.)   Et cetera.  Et cetera.  Et-freaking-cetera!

And then I remember stories of boats running aground or breaking down or even crashing into bridges, thunderstorms and anchor-dragging.  How to advise them about all of this?  In the ICWs soft mud, these incidents can result in anything from minor delays until the tide rises again, or TowBoat U.S. arrives, to boat damage, but almost never in loss of life except in cases of extreme stupidity.  It could be delay your trip by days, weeks (like our v-drive experience several years ago and even though it felt like forever, I put it into context and realized that I wouldn't be 85 years old and still stuck in that location, one way or another we'd get through), or even months, (like this unfortunate incident which led to Matt and Jessica spending three unplanned months on the hard in St Augustine); and cost a little money or a lot, but it is not likely to be life-and-limb-threateningly dangerous.  So here's the single biggest piece of advice for new cruisers I can give, to quote my friend Beth:

"The secret to my happiness is understanding the difference between an inconvenience and a tragedy."

= = = =
(Visit The Monkey's Fist for other bloggers advice to first-timers, in a new topic available September 13)

And just 'cuz you never know what you don't know, for the rest of September, I will post one random ICW fact or tip or bit of advice per day on Life Afloat's Facebook page.


  1. We have a few tips over at the Frugal Mariner (http://www.frugal-mariner.com/ICW.html) to supplement yours. I don't mean to be spamming or stepping on your toes - just want to help fellow cruisers.

  2. Not at all a problem, Larry, appreciate the excellent info. I'd also like to forward the link to your blog to include in The Monkey's Fist's post on this topic.

    I doubt that we'll ever anchor in Factory Creek near Beaufort without thinking of you, waiting out that week of strong nor' easter wind...