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Motoring on a Sailboat on the ICW

We finally left St. Augustine, Florida to head south on the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW). The ICW in Florida is fairly straight unlike in Georgia and just seems to go on FOREVER! We have to hand steer the sailboat at a roaring 5kn +/- depending on the current due to the ever changing shoaling spots and the shallow waters.

What is a typical day like traveling on a sailboat on the ICW? We try to get up at sunrise and pull anchor why things are nice and quiet. I’ll get out of bed, start the engine, and pull anchor alone if the wind and waters are calm. Typically we will anchor in 7-10′ of water in Florida, so with a 5:1 or a 7:1 scope of anchor out there is only about 50-70′ of chain and rode to pull up. With no opposing current or strong winds keeping the chain taught, it is suprisingly easy. With any wind or current- forget it! It’s like trying to move an 8 ton car by yourself. Hil will man the helm while Emma James is in her car seat and power forward to create slack in the chain- then I pull it in till it’s tight again. We repeat this procedure until the chain is almost straight up and down in the water then Hil powers forward and trips the anchor and I pull it the rest of the way up.

For the rest of the day I man the helm and basically connect the dots from channel marker to channel marker.

Our boat has a hull speed of 7 knots. All boats have a maximum hull speed based on the shape and displacement of the hull. Most sailboats are 10 knots or less. If we get up bright and early and motor for 8 hours at an average speed of 5 knots we make a total of 40 nautical miles per day. If we really push it to 10 hours at the helm we can make 50 nautical miles.

Compare that to driving. That’s what many people commute to and from work every day. For me- it is work.

Compare that to riding a bike. That’s about 2-3 hours of cycling.

Motoring a sailboat is certainly NOT the fastest way to get from point A to point B.

In a way, the sailboat forces us to slow down and enjoy the time we have RIGHT NOW. After the first day, I lost the ‘Gotta Get There’ syndrome and enjoy the scenery and I have time to reflect on the past and most importantly the present.

Hil on the other hand has her hands full down below with Miss Emma. The salon becomes her playground and every toy gets taken out to be paraded around the coffee table. In between watching out for Emma, Hil watches out for me. She makes the coffee, prepares the breakfast and lunch, and spots me at the helm when nature calls:)

We use a anchorage guide book that a friend loaned us that covers the entire ICW down to the Keys. It has been a godsend! While motoring and pondering, I can plot ahead and plan for our end of day anchorage.

Once we drop the hook and pay homage to the time honored tradition of cocktail hour, the rest of the evening flies by as we straighten up from the day, deal with any immediate repairs, make dinner, and start the winding down process of getting Emma James to bed. Once 8:30pm hits it feels like midnight and we are often asleep before nine to get up again at sunrise and start all over again.

It’s not very glamorous, but it does have it’s finer points. Some days we decide not to move at all, and that’s just fine. Yesterday we anchored next to a beautiful spoil island and rowed over to play on the shell beach. Emma James went wild splashing in the water and had a grand time. We may push hard for a few days to reach a destination and then stay for weeks.

You might ask, why are you motoring when you have a sailboat? Well, you build on experience and with the little one as a new addition to the crew we wanted to give Emma James (and us) time to adapt to life aboard. At our next destination, I’m going to tune up the standing rigging and we’re planning on day sailing the boat while Hil’s Mom watches Emma on terra firma. That way we can work out the kinks of handling the sails and sheets (ropes) before we add the bambino.

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