Bonnie James and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the ICW to the Bahamas and now Jim covers the return journey
Cape Canaveral Barge Canal – ICW North part 2
We departed the Cocoa Beach Yacht Club dock in time to get the 0815 bridge opening. We are entering the Cape Canaveral Barge Canal, an arm of the 1200-mile Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that connects Miami, Florida, with Norfolk, Virginia. It uses a series of rivers, bays and canals to allow shipping to operate in protected waters. Sections of the waterway have been in use since before – and during – the American War of Independence. More recently, the ICW proved invaluable during the Second World War as a way to avoid German submarines. It also offers protection from Cape Hatteras and other dangerous areas of coastline. Along the southeast coast of the U.S., there are few natural harbours. Most Atlantic ports are actually river inlets, and navigation through them is plagued by shifting sand.
Back to the bridge situation: as we are a sailboat with a mast 50 feet above the water, we have to get the lower bridges to open. While most new bridges across the water are fixed structures constructed with 65-foot vertical clearance, many older, opening bridges remain. There are four main types of opening bridges. They may be single or double bascule, that is, they have one or two arms which can be raised to allow boat traffic to pass through. These huge hydraulic arms lift a portion of the bridge on a pivoting hinge, a single opens from one side while a double would have two sections which meet in the middle. Then there is the swing bridge that pivots in the middle, both arms of the bridge swing horizontally similar to the body of a crane, or like a revolving door. One pontoon bridge remains on the ICW; this opens and closes by the use of shore cables.
A few bridges operate “on demand” – you just hail them using the VHF radio and they let you through. Most, though, have opening schedules as they are within municipalities and road traffic must be taken into consideration. The schedules are published in waterway guide books and sometimes also posted on signs near the bridge. Schedules often change with the seasons, day of the week, hour of the day, and, as far as we can tell, the mood of the bridge tender. An additional twist is that VHF working channel used by the bridge tenders is not consistent; it may be 16, 13, 11 or 9, depending on the state we are in, and perhaps on the phase of the moon.
We get through the first bridge in the company of a Dutch boat from Curacao that was docked at the yacht club. There is also a small lock here, at the junction of the Port Canaveral Canal with the main ICW. The water level changes just a few feet and we are cleared though quite efficiently. We are headed north to Titusville, so we wave our goodbyes to the Dutch boat which is going south.
This section of the ICW is a dredged channel about 100 ft. wide, with a controlling depth of 12 feet. The penalty for straying outside the marker buoys is a quick ‘smuck’ as your keel finds the edge of shallow water. Grounded boats don’t get much help from the tide, as the range is only one foot. You may have to wait for a power boat with a big wake to get you off (yes, power boats do have a useful function). Many of the locals have private towing insurance. Tow boats prowl the nastier sections of the ICW ready to haul unlucky boats off sandbars.
Titusville is the home of the cheapest boat shoes on the US East Coast. It also has a great grocery store to stock up on supplies. Supermarkets in walking distance of the anchorage are important when you have to lug all your groceries in back packs. Much of the U.S. is based on the assumption that everyone has constant access to a car. Some boat-friendly businesses along the waterway will pick up boaters and bring you back to your boat. You remember to mark these carefully in your log.
While in Titusville, we were able to get a new sea cock for our head and install it. This required borrowing some tools from Coalescence, a 35-foot Trawler yacht that we had met in the Bahamas last year. We are well equipped for most repairs after five years down south. The point is you can never have absolutely everything, but someone in the anchorage usually does. Our repairs and shopping finished and an improved forecast, we head north again.
At New Smyrna Beach, I tell Peter how we were cruising along just like this on a previous trip, apparently in the middle of the channel, and clunk, we went aground. Fortunately Peter was on the helm, no sooner than I said that, and — clunk again. This time we were on a rising tide and a short while later we were floating free. The Corps of Engineers maintains the ICW, but their work is badly underfunded and many areas of the waterway are in desperate need of dredging.
On another trip, Bonnie and I anchored for an evening in New Smyrna, in a small dead-end channel surrounded by houses on three sides, something like parking your boat on a street in a suburban housing development. We sat in the cockpit and watched a guy who seemed to be in the early stages of landscaping his new seaside property. He spent hours that evening carrying rock and used concrete from the house construction site down to his wharf and dropping it six feet down into his fiberglass speed boat. We marveled at this process. The next morning when we got up, the boat had sunk.
Tonight’s accommodation turns out to be the Palm Coast Marina near Marine Land. It has been a long day, and this is one section of the ICW where anchorages are scarce. When we arrive at the marina after hours, two people from another boat catch our lines. One notes Peter’s accent and the Newfoundland home port on the stern. They were on the schooner Herman Zwicker when it sailed Newfoundland several years ago. Kevin and Gil came aboard for happy hour. Later into the night, we had dinner aboard “Fiddlers Greene”. The next morning, when Kevin had not surfaced to bid us farewell, Gil mentioned something about how he’d forgotten that Newfoundlanders like to party. It is certainly interesting how small the world is sometimes and what a connection Newfoundland has played in the lives of so many mariners.
The next day we reach one of my favourite ICW stops, the city of St. Augustine, the city the Americans claim to be the oldest in North America. We know different (St. John’s, Newfoundland, makes the same claim), but, being guests, we keep that information to ourselves. St. Augustine is quite an intriguing city, settled by the Spanish in the sixteenth century and retaining much historic architecture. The old fort has been rebuilt. One of Florida’s earlier developers, Henry Flagler, built a fine hotel here in the 1880’s. It has been converted to a college of the arts, and has kept the grandeur of its earlier years.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Jim Miller – Vagrant Sea
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