The Inner Coastal Waterway (ICW) are rivers, lakes, sounds and swamps connected by dredged canals for the East Coast of the US. It was created 250 years ago, but does it still hold water today…read on to find out


Choosing Home

Savannah is our  home for a few months. Kind of nice to just pick a city that appeals and live there for a while.

Why not pick Savannah we asked each other  a few months ago while deciding where to finish this sailing season? Its old, its scenic, classic, fun to walk around, the food is good and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”  takes place in Savannah. For mood Spanish Moss hangs down from  two hundred year old oak trees in front of the antebellum homes.

It’s been  a few weeks since we arrived at our new “home” at Isle of Hope Marina. Just starting to recover and just starting to adjust  to Savannah, it’s laid back attitude, it’s heat, all while watching the dolphins play in the quiet waters of the ICW flowing next to the marina. So far Savannah has lived up to its expectations.

Home of Savannah College of Arts and Design. Savannah has it’s own future film makers.

Brief Trip Recap

We started this season with the boat in Jamaica, from there, on to Cuba, Turks and Kakos and the Bahamas. From the Bahamas the Gulf Stream provided a fast moving walkway (like in an airport) heading north, adding about 5 knots to our measly 5 knots. Leaving the Bahamas we sailed to Cape Canaveral Florida where we watched a rocket launch and  joined the ICW on our journey north to Savannah.


ICW anchorage

Quiet anchorage along the ICW



The 1600 mile long ICW is a connected series of lakes, rivers, sounds, marshes and canals  running almost the   length of  the United States east coast; just inside a set of natural islands that protect the route from the sometimes cruel Atlantic. The islands are sometimes referred to as barrier islands.

The ICW was first suggested by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin in 1802 as an economic boon for commercial vessels when the ocean was not safe or impassable. It required  dredging some rivers and creating some canals  to connect the  natural  waterways.  Federal laws provided the funds for maintaining the length of the ICW to a navigable depth. A job that is now  hard to fulfill given two things: the amount of silt that  naturally fills the waterway; and the now, the more man-made  struggle to acquire  federal funds to keep dredging.

The ICW is used by both recreational and commercial vessels. It’s free for the recreational and not free for the commercial.

Georgia’s part of the ICW is one of the hardest to keep deep and clear. It has a max tidal range of about 7 feet.    At low tide, depth in these segments is zero. At high tide it’s seven feet.  So, us in Cetacean, having a six foot keel depth have to be careful to travel the lowest spots, only when the tide is high.

A new website, Active Captain, maintains a list of trouble spots. Shallow places  are entered into the web database  by boaters and confirmed as more boaters pass. One guy, Bob423 (his  online name)  travels the ICW a few times per year, adds additional comments, measures the depths and even scouts safe routes adding accurate “waypoints” for the most navigable passage through really tricky sections. A few of us really appreciate Bob423.

 We learned (the hard way) paying close attention to Bob423’s comments is critical.   We would plan our travels a few days in advance, noting the “skinny” spots for the journey ahead and plan to arrive at those places near high tide.   Don’t ask how we learned these lessons, suffice it to say Towboats US is a wonderful organization. We’ve heard there are three kinds of boaters on the ICW. Those that have gotten stuck, those that will get stuck and those that lie.

Navigating the ICW is  stressful, the ocean is way easier but less scenic. The route markers complicates matters.  Our entire boating lives, many decades, of travel: we used the rule : “red right return”. Returning from the sea keep the red colored buoys to your right. It’s a safe mantra , drilled into our heads.  Going North on the ICW red is kept to our left.  I have no idea why.  Evey buoy needs to be thought through a few times. And when the course is  “S” shaped  –  you can see a few miles and many red and green buoys ahead, but not the path. From a distance red and green look to be placed by the devil playing some hideous hide and seek game in a maze.

But the ICW takes the traveler through country un-see-able by anyone not on a boat.  It took us about a month to go  300 miles from Cape Canaveral to Savannah including stops, a long time but I think worth it.

The most memorable places ( the good, the bad and the ugly too) and critters encountered on the ICW:

The Good, Bad and Ugly parts of the ICW

Click on the two tabs below for a few more ICW galleries.

St Augustine is a special place. Very walk-able , good restaurants, good music and friendly. We stayed at the municipal marina for a week and enjoyed the place a lot.  The restaurant across the street from the marina provided great , daily, outdoor acoustic music.

Horse drawn carriages carry tourists down the narrow cobblestone streets. One morning, one of the horses  stopped at a partially open shop door;  stuck it’s head for a treat. She explained , he’s done this everyday for ten years.

Some pictures from St. Augustine

Cumberland Island National Park limits the number of daily visitors that visits by ferry. You can also camp there in reasonably crude camping sites or you can stay at the exclusive Inn on the island for about $300/night. But you can only visit by boat.

Once the playground of the very rich – Melons, Rockefeller’s, etc. many of the old mansions have since  burned or crumbled. What remains are the feral horses, the beautiful hiking trails and great beaches. In 1972 the island became a National Park.

We spent a few days anchored off the island… for me, one of the highlights of the ICW trip.

Go to Cumberland Island Gallery