ICW - Some Tips

(Updated 1/3/2016, updated info and grammar and links)

Over the course of five years of traveling up and down the east coast ICW, we've learned a few things that makes it easier and I thought I would share them with my blog readers. There is nothing earth shaking here but we've found them helpful, perhaps you will too. The list is in no particular order and I won't repeat what's in the other pages on this blog site (see other pages at left).

1 - Getting off a dock when pinned by winds and waves with tight quarters
We were at Fernandina at a face dock when the wind piped up to 20 to 25 kts with good wave action pushing us directly against the dock with the wind at a right angle to the boat. There were many boats at the long face dock and we were packed closely so the marina could get more boats in! There was no room for any motion forward or backward along the dock - you had to leave at a right angle to the dock, no other way. We watched with interest as four large power boats got off the dock. None used their bow thrusters, the wind and wave action was too strong. We copied their technique and exited the dock without a problem although we did turn the dinghy upside down. Okay, so what did they do?

Step 1:  Tie a line to the forward cleat on the boat. Check to make sure the end of the line is NOT knotted, meaning it does not have a stopper knot.
Step 2:  Loop the line to a cleat on the dock about 1/2 down the length of the boat and lead it back to the same forward cleat on the boat and secure it, don't try to hold it by hand, you won't succeed.
Step 3:  Put a large fender by the forward cleat on the lifeline so it can be moved by sliding it along in case you misestimate the point of contact between the dock and your bow. The fender protects the bow from the dock.
Step 4:  After being sure all other lines are cast off, power the boat forward and turn the wheel into the dock. This will cause the aft to swing out away from the dock.
Step 5:  Wait until the boat has swung out about 45 degrees, turn the wheel in the opposite direction and then power the boat in reverse as the forward line is released. If you have help on the dock, the line can be slipped off the dock cleat or the crew on the boat can flip it off the cleat. If worse comes to worse, just let the line go and since you already checked that it has no stopper knot in step 1, the line will slip through the cleat. This latter option is only to be used as a last resort but it does work - we saw one power boater use it when his crew couldn't get the line off the dock cleat in time. Be sure to retrieve the line quickly so it doesn't foul the prop!
Step 6:  Go out about twice as far as you think you need to before powering forward, turning the boat away from the dock. It's surprising how quickly the wind and waves will blow you back towards the dock you just left so give yourself plenty of room!

I searched YouTube for a video of this technique but could not find it. In calm winds under 15 kts it's easy to just go forward using a stern line on an aft cleat on the boat to a dock cleat and put the engine in reverse so the bow swings out but that technique will not work in 20 to 25 kts of wind and 2 ft waves against the dock on  a boat with a high bow which will catch a lot of wind, you need the power of a prop working in its most efficient direction - forward - to get the aft section to swing away from the dock. Every captain at the dock on that windy day, about a dozen 40 to 70 ft boats used this technique. It works in high winds and waves!

2 - Get an oversized anchor
I'm not going to get into an anchor discussion. You can see my choices in the Pages section of the blog under "Our Fleetwing". However, I will recommend using an anchor two sizes larger than what's recommended by the manufacturer. It is surely overkill and will seldom be needed but it will let you sleep better at night. Anchor design has changed over the years, away from plows towards anchors that have a concave shape such as the Spade, Rocna and Manson that will "cup" the bottom - they set better and will hold stronger than the plows. The oversized anchor will also allow you to shorten up on scope in a crowded ICW anchorage when needed (e.g., Chesapeake City).

3 - Install a washdown pump
Many ICW anchorages have mud bottoms and not just any mud but rather thick, gooey, "hard to come off" mud. This assumes you are using some length of chain, it's an excellent mud collector. This stuff doesn't just wash off with a bucket and if you don't want to wind up with an anchor locker full of mud and a foredeck suitable for growing clams, you'll need lots of water at high pressure. Get the most powerful one you can fit in such as the ShurFlo ProBlaster II Washdown Pump capable of 5.0 GPM.

4 - Buy a couple of 17" ball fenders
Of course you have the standard fenders suitable for your boat on normal docks but a couple of ball fenders at 17" really come in handy on face docks. I carry two of the Polyform A-3 fenders but Taylor makes them too. Another trick is to tie a tube fender directly to the piling so it is positioned horizontally. There's nowhere for it to go except between your boat and piling - just where you want it. It can't "pop out" since it is affixed to the piling. After docking on a face dock with pilings, I often tie a fender to each piling the boat could rub up against, lets you sleep better at night.

5 - Buy an inexpensive graphical GPS for the forward cabin
I used to take sightings and check them several times in the night, no more. Any handheld GPS with a map like display will do. We anchor going into the wind or current and when the boat is stationary, I drop the anchor as Ann puts the boat in reverse as I lay out the anchor chain on the seabed, don't pile it up on top of itself!. When I go forward to look at the GPS which I always leave on, I can see on the display where the boat started going in reverse and that's where the anchor is! Put a "navigate to point", the point being the cursor where the anchor was dropped, command in and the display will show the distance in feet to your anchor. You can then rest in your bunk, turn over a few times perhaps and note the distance to the anchor without having to go up on deck like I used to! There are also apps now for the iPhone and others that will do the same thing. I never had much luck setting the position of the anchor from the helm. I found that the aft end swings too much to be an accurate indicator of anchor distance. Note, a GPS will find satellites through fiberglass but an aluminum boat is another story.

6 - Buy an inexpensive, remote thermometer
I bought a unit that will track three remote thermometers. I put one in the cockpit (what's the temp outside this morning??) and one in the refrigerator and the last one in the freezer. With that setup I can assure myself that all my frozen meat is being kept frozen and the freezer is working okay at the touch of a button without opening the freezer and letting in warm air. The control unit has its own thermometer so you can always tell the temperature of the cabin.

7 - Buy a small, 100w inverter
With cellphones, iPad, printer, laptops and on and on, you need a lot of 120v outlets but not much current. You can run the main inverter or the genset but the idle current is more than what you would use to charge. A small inverter for 12v to 120v conversion is more efficient. Plug in the output to a power strip so you have lots of 120v outlets available for electronics charging. Be sure to get a unit without a fan to ensure a low idle current and silence, usually one with an output of 100 to 150 watts will come without a fan. I need the 120v capability just to run low wattage devices like a printer and various non USB chargers that the kids bring aboard like their DVD players. 

8 - Get the RAVPower 50W 6-Port USB Charger
This is the best charger in the world for a boat. Plug it into your inverter above (suggestion #7) and you get six USB charger outlets! Three are capable of 2.4 Amp output required for the iPad. They advertise "iSmart" charging technology to ensure the fastest charging possible regardless of what's plugged in. With one of these units on board there's always room for one more charging cable. It's especially handy with kids on board with lots of electronics. If you don't need six USB outlets, it's more efficient to just buy the three USB port model that operates directly from 12v without needing 120v input from an inverter. It's the RAVPower 36W 7.2A 3 Port USB Car Charger. 

9 - Install a water filter
I used to lug around water jugs but that changed when I bought the latest Fleetwing. I didn't want to drink water directly out of the tanks even though the boat was new so I installed a house sized filter between the dock water and the water tanks that attaches to the hose and I installed a drinking water filter right at the sink that's rated to take everything out down to microbes and some viruses as well as all chemicals. I bought the Seagull filter but there are others that are cheaper. The water that comes out is as good as anything you can buy in a bottle and a lot more handy. Be sure to buy a house filter that does not have a clear bowl, you don't want to let in light to breed microbes.

10 - Get an iPad
You cannot believe how handy it is to have an iPad aboard, especially mounted right a the helm. A touch of an icon shows you the current weather radar, another touch shows you the forecast, another touch shows you hazards ahead on the ICW encountered by other boaters, often with the info being only a few days old. Invaluable. See the side panel "Apple iPad on a Boat" for all the useful apps. You can access your e-mail, surf the web, subscribe to your favorite newspaper, etc., all in a very light weight package with a 10 hour battery life.

11 - Don't blindly follow the magenta line
The ICW route is shown on the charts as a magenta line. My experience is that it is not always accurate. When the ICW narrows, the magenta line is often up on land! You must pay attention to the red/green markers, not to the magenta line but also pay attention to the hazard posts on Active Captain which are invaluable. That said, the chartplotter is very helpful when the markers are far apart, it's generally accurate, just not always. Plus, when range markers are in place, the charts do not depict them accurately, follow the range markers and not the range as depicted on the charts.

12 - Consider getting a full enclosure for the cockpit
Nothing makes fall or early spring cruising more comfortable like a fully enclosed cockpit! It's heated by the sun so we're often in shirtsleeves while the fishermen in open boats are all bundled up when the latest northern front roars down the ICW.

13 - Slow down when being overtaken by a faster boat
ICW courtesy is for the overtaking boat to hail the forward boat on channel 16 and ask permission to pass on one side or the other at which time the overtaken boat slows to idle and the overtaking boat passes slowly by. However, after a 1000 miles of this, the same maneuver is often shortened to the forward boat noticing the boat aft, slowing down to idle, the boat then passes slowly to port, all without use of the VHF. In our experience, about 90% of passes are silent and the overtaking boat passes slowly about 90% of the time. If the overtaken boat doesn't slow down to idle, the overtaking boat will often speed by, in our experience. One more hint, after the overtaking boat passes, the overtaken boat should move across his wake, behind the boat so when he resumes normal speed, the increased wake that results will not wash over the overtaken

14 - Always ask for a bridge opening
There may be four boats ahead of you and each asked the bridge attendant for the next opening, you still should call the attendant yourself and identify your boat for the next opening. There have been at least two reports I know of where a bridge was closed on a transiting sailboat with the lost of their mast when the captain did not inform the attendant that he was going through the bridge. Equally important, be sure to get an acknowledgement from the bridge attendant that your request was actually received and accepted. In one incident, the bridge attendant claimed he did not see the last sailboat in line.

15 - How to prevent the "ICW Mustache"
When traveling down the ICW you will run into water with a lot of tannin, especially in swampy areas. The tannin will stain the bow of your boat forming the famous "ICW Mustache". In years past I've battled the affliction using On/Off which works quickly and does the job. However, it's better to prevent it in the first place. I had always used Fleetwax but still had the problem. Last spring I discovered that if I put on two coats of Fleetwax and reapplied it every couple of months as it wore off, I did not develop the ICW Mustache! So this summer when I hauled Fleetwing I put on two heavy coats of Fleetwax and the bow has survived four weeks of Long Island Sound and three months of the ICW without developing any sign of the ICW Mustache. The basic problem is that fiberglass is porous and you need a coating that will close the pores. Wax will work if it's applied heavily enough so it doesn't wear off. I imagine some of the chemical treatments that seal the fiberglass will work too but I haven't tried them. Nice to have a clean bow.

16 - Get a 12v Mattress Warmer
There's nothing like climbing into a warm bunk at night and a 12v mattress warmer will work wonders. We go south in the winter and the nights are cool plus the mattress warmer takes any dampness out of the bed, Ann loves it!

17 - Follow the Bends
The current through the ICW will cut a deeper path on the outside of curves rather than the inside. It is often tempting to "cut the corners" to take a more direct route between markers, don't yield to the temptation unless you're in known deep waters. The deeper water is almost always on the outside of a curve in the ICW (never say always...)

18 - Install a TV Antenna
We have a 32 inch LED LCD TV. The LED version only consumes about 80 watts, something our battery bank and inverter can handle easily. However, what to do for a TV signal? You could install a tracking antenna for pay TV that might set you back $2500 and a monthly fee for the service. As an alternative, we just put up a $130 disc type antenna and typically get 20 to 30 channels all up and down the ICW in full HD. The ICW is fairly flat so even if you don't mount the antenna on the top of the mast you will still get most of the channels (ours is about 10 ft high, just above the aft radar). In fact, the picture you will get over the air is superior to cable since no compression is used which causes compression artifacts. The cable company cannot fit the full HD signal into their limited bandwidth system when they have to carry hundreds of channels, so they compress the HD content with some loss of clarity. However, once you reach Key West, the outside antenna will be no help, no major stations down there and only a couple at Marathon.

19 - Put strength where strength is needed
This can be a sensitive topic with some boaters. When picking up a mooring, sometimes strength is needed to pull up the rope and tie it off on a cleat. Who's best capable to do that? Most of the time for cruising couples, the stronger of the two should be on the bow, not at the helm. The one at the bow can give directions by pointing which way to go for a successful pickup of a mooring. Likewise, when anchoring or picking up an anchor, the strength should be at the bow for best results. Many boaters don't follow this guide and do okay but some situations do require an added boost of muscle which one of the crew could do, it's up to you to decide which one.