Radio procedure on the ICW

Let me say this, radio procedure on the ICW is terrible. I am sure everyone knows that Channel 16 is for initial hailing and emergency calls only. It is not for negotiating passing plans. Or chatting, or anything but initial hailing. So why do my fellow cruisers feel the need for such long winded Ch16 conversations about passing each other? Please, if anyone is out there reading this, call on Ch16 and go immediately to Ch17. Better yet, call on Ch16 using low power. Ch17 is low power by design.  And no, being on a remote portion of the ICW does not change the rules. Last week we were 20 miles offshore, listening to ICW passing discussions on Ch16.

Travelling on the ICW requires two VHF radios. Period. End of discussion. One on Ch 16 and one on the local bridge channel. North of Florida, the bridge channel is Ch13, which works out well because that is the channel the tows and barges use. In Florida the bridges use 9 but there is much less commercial traffic on 13, so maybe not so important to monitor 13 as well. Most radios will dual scan 16 and 13, leaving 9 available for bridge calls in Florida.

Way too often we are unable to hail a boat because the skipper forgot to change back to Ch16 after a bridge call. Often there is a lot of close quarters maneuvering as multiple boats wait on a bridge and communications can be importatnt. If a boat has only one radio and it is tuned to Ch09 or 13, then they are missing calls on Ch16 and it is inappropriate to call them on the active bridge channel.

To close this rant, let me say that there is no need, nor is it proper radio procedure, to convert a radio call into a polite conversation. Please, if you can’t get off Ch16, at least do not fill the airwaves with useless banter. Comments like, “have a nice trip”, “nice pass” and even “please” or “thank you” have no place in marine VHF. If you feel the need to be polite, do it on Ch17. Or better yet, save it for happy hour at the bar later. Practice getting your message across in the fewest words possible.

Thanks for listening.


Vero to North Palm Beach

We went to bed assuming the next day would be a lay day as the forecast was for thunderstorms. Not my favorite. But when I checked weather at 6 am, the worst forecast I could find was for 25% chance of showers. That’s about as good as it gets for the central Florida coast, so we launched. As it turned out, the weather was beautiful for the entire trip. How we go from a forecast only 24 hours old calling for a 90% chance of thunderstorms to clear and dry I have no idea.

The trip was easy, no shoals, just a few bridges and initially, not too much traffic. But by mid-day, it became more and more of a zoo as we got near Jupiter Beach. Anyone and everyone who owned a fast runabout was buzzing around us, surely paying little attention to other boats around them, and probably drunk. I dont think they realize how long it takes to stop or turn an 80,000 lb vessel.

We have a rule that we never travel on the ICW on the weekend. We will add the Friday after thanksgiving to that lay day rule.

North Palm Beach is our designated re-provisioning and Bahamas jump-off spot. The marina is great and we are surrounded by good stores and restaurants. I have a fair amount of deferred maintenance to deal with and the John Deere folks need to come by and trade out yet another set of leaking raw water pumps. Very exasperating.

From here we have a few choices of routes to the Exumas. An overnight would get us to Shroud Cay or thereabouts. Or a long day plus a few hours could get us to a spot on the banks to anchor and get some sleep. If crossing the stream does not look good, we will move south to Miami, either in the ICW (yuck, 22 bridges) or outside along the coast (much nicer if the seas accommodate)


Vero Beach Thanksgiving

We have been dodging weather for the last few days so were happy to snag a couple of days at Vero Bech City Marina. We got there just in time for the cruiser pot luck thanksgiving dinner. We knew little about this event but it is apparently a big deal among the ICW cruisers. Must have been more than a hundred people at the dinner. Cruisers w land houses near by brought main dishes and those of us on boats brought sides and dessert. A great feast for all. We ran into some old friends, made a few new ones and attached faces to boats we had been crossing paths with for the last month coming south.

Florida and warm again

Sitting in Vero Beach at the City Marina. Nice place, full of cruising boats getting ready for the cruiser thanksgiving feast. We have never been to this but it looks to be a big deal. Apparently lots of boats plan their trip south around being here at thanksgiving. We shall see.

We sat in Morehead City for 5 days waiting for a window to go outside. What we ended up with would be what Lisa would describe as “least bad” of our options. WInd and seas predicted to be mostly behind us, but a weak cold front was scheduled to pass over us that night. Unsettled weather means there is a good chance that “weak” could become “strong” once we got out there. I assured Lisa that would not happen. What else could I say?

Anyway, the weather was fine, the cold front came through at midnight with some gusty winds out of the North for a few hours, but that was about it. By the time we got to Charleston (30 hrs later) everything had calmed down. Plenty of current at the City marina, but a very long face dock that paralleled the current so no big deal.

Charleston is a very pretty city with some great restaurants. On our first night we ate at “Husk” which was excellent. Somehow Lisa snagged a space for two at “R Kitchen” the second night. Since this is the No 1 rated restaurant in Charleston that was quite a feat. Patrons mostly sit at the counter facing the open kitchen and the chef cooks whatever he wants to. Take it or leave it. We took all of a very nice 5 course meal. With a bottle of wine the bill was $99. Quite a bargain for such a good place.

Our next hop was from Charleston to St Augustine, via the St Johns river inlet at Jacksonville. I was a little concerned with coming in at St Augustine because it a moving target for the pass through the reef. I am sure it would have been fine, but the route through Jacksonville to St Augustine worked out fine.

Comanche Cove Marina, our destination, has a somewhat challenging entrance as the current goes from 2+ knots to zero as you pass through their break wall. I cam in too slow, requiring too much crab, and got thrown up on the sand bar just inside the break wall. Looking back, no big deal, but a few tense moments at the time. I would go back, but use better technique next time.

St Augustine may be one of the more beautiful cities in the US. Maybe. But not the way we did it. Having only one day, we opted for the local troly tour. Driver took us from one tourist trap to another. And there are plenty. You wont go wanting for a Tee shirt saying “I visited St Augustine”. Meanwhile, we barely got a comment or two regarding Flagler college or some of the other more interesting sites. We did get off and tour the old Spanish fort and that was interesting. We will have to come back and approach the city from a different perspective and not through the lens of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” museum.

From St Augustine we were pretty much committed to the ICW as the outside weather was ugly. Stops in Daytona (Halifax City Marina) Cocoa (Cocoa Village Marina), with a lay day to let some serious thunderstorms pass through, and now Vero Beach. Thunderstorms scheduled for today and tomorrow, so may extend a day. But today is turkey day so we will worry about the weather in the morning


Making progress south-until now

Lisa finished her hand therapy last week and we left Baltimore with beautiful fall weather on the Bay. I really wanted to get south quickly before we encountered any really cold weather. Normally we try and travel every other day, enjoying a day at each stop. But the cold fronts were marching east so it was time to go.

First stop, Solomons. We like Mill Creek. We go back as far as we can and usually have the spot all to ourselves. Totally protected, 12′ deep and thick mud bottom. Nice homes on shore. We left the next morning, only to turn around after facing 3-5′ chop kicked up by winds on the nose much stronger than predicted. Back to Mill Creek.

Next day was much better. We like the bay just south of the entrance into Deltaville. Good holding, no crowds and no shallow entrance to negotiate. Another quiet night on the bay. From there, Norfolk and Waterside Marina. We arrived about the same time as a Navy war ship so slowed down to let her in ahead of us, mindful of the 500 yard separation requirement. As it turned out the war ship, some sort of missile cruiser, dint object to any of the cruiser traffic around her. We had lost a half hour waiting for nothing, apparently. This is quite different from our prior experiences with these ships, often escorted by patrol boats and the USCG pushing everyone out of the channel. Later that evening we listened on the radio as an aircraft carrier came in and had the cruisers scrambling to get out of its way and out of the exclusion zone. Maybe it is the size or type of ship that generates different handling of nearby private vessels?

Anyway, got off the boat for dinner at Waterside then headed to Coinjock the next evening. As we approached Great Bridge lock, the tender announced a closing due to high water. Luckily just a higher than normal high tide so after two hours of holding in place we were on our way, arriving at Coinjock by 5pm or so.  Our first time here, I knew they liked to pack them in tight but was still apprehensive.

Following the dock master’s instructions I approached our parking space, which looked a bit short for our 57′ LOA. But the dock master said he had measured 62′ so I inched into the space. To make it into the slip my swim platform had to slide under the bow anchor of the boat behind me and my bow sprit hung over the cockpit of the boat in front. Not sure how they measured the 62′ unless they included the air space above and below the other boats. They say you pay for the dock space you occupy. I should have paid for 53′, not 57′. Regardless, the dock hands at Coinjock know what they are doing and will get you in. Precise handling is still required!

Lots of AC comments abouth the quality of the prime rib. Mine was excellent.

From Coinjock we cleared the Alligator river on the last day of normal opening. For the next two weeks the bridge will supposedly be closed to ICW traffic. Some openings, maybe. As we passed, another boat asked the bridge tender about the upcoming schedule and he said he didnt know. So good luck to those behind us.

We anchored that night on the Pungo river just south of the Dowry Creek marina. Open to all directions but South, but forecast was for L/V and it was. Perfect conditions for morning fog.

Sure enough, we were fogged in that morning. Four hors later we were still in it.Mostly 1/4 mile vis or better so not too bad. Only felt the need to slow down once, but did add to the tension till the fog cleared at noon.

Now we are at Morehead City Yacht Basin. An industrial setting but a very nice marina catering to sport fishermen. Our plan was to lay over one day then go overnight to Charleston. Not going to happen. As I write this a cold front is overhead, with rain and wind. Two lows will follow over the next two days so we will sit a bit. Bunch of other southbound cruisers here as well so the marina is full.

Friday we will leave here, with options for ICW, a day trip to Masonboro inlet or an overnight to Charleston. Just now it looks like the ditch for us unless the forecast improves.