Travel on the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) - April 9, 1996

At a St. Petersburg, Florida Squadron (note: United States Power Squadron) meeting in 1994, a member gave a presentation about the geological formations he found along the Great Circle Waterway. While not interested in geology, I knew I had to make the trip. First, I had to overcome three obstacles: (1) I had to have enough time. I planned to retire in 1995 and my wife in April 1996, so we set the date for 1996. (2) I had to convince my wife, Janet, to make the six- to seven-month cruise in our Albin 25-foot trawler. Before, our longest trip was only 10 days. Surprisingly, she was more than willing to try cruising the Great Circle Waterway. (3) I thought our boat, Island Woman, was too small for Lake Michigan and the Straits of Mackinaw. To overcome this obstacle, we decided to make the Great Circle Waterway Trip our way! We'd avoid them.

With that settled, we began getting various charts and East Coast cruising guides. To avoid Lake Michigan and the Straits of Mackinaw, we investigated going to Cleveland on Lake Erie, transporting the boat 100 miles south and putting it in on the Ohio River.

During a business trip to Akron, Ohio, in 1995, I inquired about having the boat pulled in Cleveland and put in on the Ohio River. Getting it pulled and transported was not a problem, but putting it in the Ohio was.

Cleveland's marinas all had travel lifts to haul the boat, but on the Ohio River only ramps were available. A Pennsylvania marina said it could lift the boat, but we ran into problems moving because it involved interstate trucking.

We decided to have the boat pulled in Erie, Pa. Since I didn't know anything about Erie, I consulted my USPS Port Captains Roster. Gordon F. Way, N, the Erie port captain, not only gave me the name of a boat service but interviewed the owner to make sure he could do the job. Then, we contacted John Plonski of Wild Bill's Boat Service & Storage and arranged to transport Island Woman. Our plans were set, and we chose a departure date for right after Easter.

9 April seemed to take forever to arrive. Finally, our big day came! At midmorning, we cast off lines from our dock in St. Petersburg and set out for the adventure of a lifetime!

Our plans were to head south to Fort Myers and cross Florida by way of the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee, then on to the East Coast and north up the Intracoastal Waterway.

Our first challenge occurred the next day when we lost power just north of Venice, Fla. There was water in the fuel. We made it to a marina, but they couldn't look at it for a week. After persuading them to let me drain the tank, we were underway again. However, I didn't realize that by pumping out the tank and refilling it, I had loosened the sludge on the bottom of the 24-year-old tank. Dirty fuel and clogged filter problems would plague us for some time, especially when seas were rough. I eliminated the problem when I replaced my 18 gallon-per-hour Rancor filter system with a much larger 30 gallon per-hour system. On the trip, I changed fuel and oil filters every 100 hours.

Less than a week later, we ran into another problem. We had no reverse! The key between the shaft and propeller had disintegrated due to electrolysis. Several years earlier, a repair shop changing my propeller used the wrong size, so they used a plastic sleeve that left the brass key as the only bond between shaft and propeller. Over the years, it had become brittle and disintegrated. We had to replace the prop in Clewiston, Fla.

Our trip through the Okeechobee Waterway was a delight, and our first time through a lock went without a hitch. Ultimately, our trip would take us through 72 locks with a total lift of 540 feet. The largest lock was 84 feet tall. Often, we were the only vessel being locked through.

On average, we traveled 35 to 40 miles per day at 6.5 to 7 mph. Normally, we anchored by 1400,so we were sure our anchor was well set for the night. Most nights, we anchored out because we found a good anchorage was quieter and smoother. We used marinas only on weekends, which afforded us hot showers, shopping and a chance to attend church.

Boating past Norfolk, VADuring the entire trip, we were only off the boat seven out of 160 days (while visiting friends and our daughter). We stayed in marinas 33 nights and swung on the hook the other 120 days.

The trip up the ICW was exciting and interesting. The weather held out until we left Yorktown, Va., on the Chesapeake. At Yorktown, we had to have the engine realigned. From then on, the weather was cold, windy and overcast, more than once forcing us to stay in port for several days. According to the locals, it was the worst spring and summer in years - all the way to Mobile, Ala. Despite the weather, it was thrilling cruising the Chesapeake, C&D canal, Delaware Bay, up the ICW of New Jersey and finally out into the Atlantic to Great Kills, Staten Island, N.Y.

Without a doubt, our trip through New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, was the highlight of the trip even if the weather was cloudy and foggy. That night, we anchored in Croton-on-Hudson. The Hudson River is majestic from New York Harbor to the Palisades, West Point, the Catskill Mountains and on to its source in the Adirondacks. At Troy, N.Y., we headed west on the Erie Canal.

Island Woman at Buffalo in transport to the Ohio RiverThe Erie Canal is a trip through history. Beautiful in its own way, the canal has small towns along the rivers and cuts. Often, progress has passed them by, yet some towns are taking the necessary steps to catch up. While many locks need repair, the terminals are well kept and provide a pleasant place to tie up for exploring the town or staying overnight.

The lock masters and bridge tenders were always helpful and pleasant. The temperature was between 39 and 42 degrees on most mornings, and this was the end of June! In April, we wore bathing suits, and in June, we wore sweatshirts and jeans.

After spending an enjoyable July 4th in North Tonawanda, N.Y., we cruised down the Niagara River to the Small Boat Marina in Buffalo where we found a professional, friendly staff. Due to 4-foot seas with high winds and overcast conditions on Lake Erie, we decided to skip going to Erie. Instead, we arranged to have John Plonski pull the boat there for the trip to the Ohio River. We highly recommend him - his equipment is first class, he is professional, and he has reasonable rates.ohio.jpg (9091 bytes)

Early in July, we began our trip of more than 900 miles down the Ohio. It’s a spectacular river overlooked by many boaters who aren't aware of overland transporting. For smaller craft, it's definitely the way to go! From the first day on the Ohio to the last, we were surprised by the beauty of the river and the lack of traffic - both commercial and private. Cruising with barge traffic was a breeze and should not concern a USPS member.  

Our only serious mishap occurred on the Ohio. While docking in Ripley, Ohio, my wife slipped and broke her wrist. The marina had used tires covered with carpet as dock fenders. While stepping from the boat to the dock, she stepped on the wet carpet and the tire moved, resulting in a bad fall. Good marinas and docking facilities were rare on the Ohio. Even the couple of good marinas had no dockhands, and showers were extremely rare.

Again, the weather was not cooperative. Severe rains upriver turned the serene Ohio into a raging river. Our speed went from 7 to 13 mph, and we were constantly on the lookout for debris -from logs to trees to refrigerators!

Barkley and Kentucky lakes are a gunkholer's heaven. One could spend months cruising this beautiful area known as "the land between the lakes." Its definitely worth revisiting - maybe by trailering the boat directly to this vast cruising ground of clear water and secluded coves.

A Quite Anchorage in Bashi Creek, AlabamaOur route took us up the Tennessee River to Pickwick Lake, then to Yellow Creek and down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to the Mobile River and back to the ICW south of Mobile, Ala.

The trip along the Florida panhandle was delightful. However, at this point, our thoughts turned to home. We left Dog Island, near Carabelle, Fla., at daybreak. Seventy-plus miles later we completed our trip across the Gulf to the Steinhatchee River. The following morning, we were on our way to the Suwannee River. After a peaceful night at anchor, we #336699our longest run of the trip - 90 miles to Anclote Key. Three days later, we were home.

It was the trip of a lifetime. We traveled 4,566 statute miles and used 436 gallons of diesel fuel. The cost of our charts, chart books and cruising guides ran almost $1,000, which was $400 more than the cost of fuel.

Tampa Bay, FLWould we do it again? Probably not the entire trip, but there are many places we would like to return to and spend more time cruising. Besides the joy of being on the water, you meet some wonderful people when cruising! This alone was worth the trip.

Do we recommend the trip? Definitely! If we can do it, so can you!


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