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 we cover the return journey
Fishing and Military Activity – ICW North part 6
As we cruise along the waterway, it is interesting to contrast the fishing activity that we are seeing with that of our home province. A mainstay of the economy here is the shrimp fishery. This ranges from the larger tiger shrimp that have a tail of about three inches, to the smaller species that we are accustomed to in Newfoundland. Draggers catch these shrimp at the mouth of the many rivers that we pass through. This fishery operates on a daily basis, with the fifty-foot vessels returning home each evening.
In McClellanville we tied our dinghy up to clam dredges. These were shoal draft boats, in many cases, barges, that were towed along. The vessel would typically be 30 to 40 feet long with two conveyor belts on either side that would be lowered into the water by hydraulic arms. At the bottom end, a digger similar to a mechanical potato harvester sifts through the bottom; clams fall onto the conveyor and are brought to the surface. Obviously this system was designed for shallow water and it was one of the few places we saw such craft.
Just north of Georgetown, we encountered many nets stretched almost the full width of the waterway. These were surface nets used to catch sturgeon. This fishery is only done in the off season while traffic is not heavy on the waterway. Generally it seemed that the fishermen paid close attention to boating traffic to ensure that the nets remained unharmed.
The other fishery that revealed a side benefit to us was the many crab pots along the way. These pots were an issue all the way from Miami to the Chesapeake Bay. The pots were generally set off to the side of the waterway, but in high crab areas, the pots would crowd into the channel. While most cruisers regarded them as a menace when they encroached on the narrow channel, there was also a positive aspect. Most of the pots were set in five to ten feet of water, so we learned to the side of the channel away from the pots, where we should have less risk of touching a sandbar. The crab size generally was small, more like our toad crab, not much size for eating. Generally they were boiled with the famous “Old Bay” seasoning. The South Carolina Low Country specialty was Frogmore Stew, which consists of crab, shrimp, sausage, potato and corn all boiled together.
At Southport, the entrance of the Cape Fear River, North Carolina, we were introduced to whiting; a pan-sized, saltwater fish. Southport is a commercial fishing centre that has survived in the middle of what is becoming a tourist area. We went to the local fish plant to get the catch of the day, hoping for shrimp. All that was on the menu was the whiting. We carefully chose a couple for dinner, and asked how much. The reply was, “What? You only want two, that’s not worth doing up a bill for.” We asked how the locals cooked them, in a deep southern drawl, the reply was “deep fry ’em, of course”.
Another attempt at getting the evening meal of fish involved the traditional Newfoundland method. Take a few beer over to the nearest boat and ask for a swap. Several boats later, I came up empty-handed and realised there was something wrong with my technique. The names of the boats I was trying were “Faith”, “Amazing Grace”, “Redemption”. I was in bible country – and using the wrong kind of bait!
Throughout our travels in the US, we continually see the great popularity of sport fishing. Long piers jut out from the larger towns where people line up for the chance of casting a line. Many bridge structures are used for the same purpose. Often we wonder what our chances are of fouling our prop with all this gear in the water. In fact, we only caught one crab pot line in five years. We dragged the line with our keel; fortunately it didn’t snagged our prop. Looking at the heavy industry in some of the areas, I would question if I would want to eat the fish. I asked a recreational fisherman way up a busy river if he ate his catch. His reply was, “HELL NO, you think I want to glow in the dark from eating those fish?”
Another point of interest in our travels was the number of military facilities on the waterway. In previous years we often commented on the sheer size and number of military bases. We’d watch some of the world’s largest cargo aircraft practising touch and go landings, using more fuel in one landing than our boat would use in a lifetime! This year (2002), all the activity was for real. Passing submarine bases, a small patrol craft would appear alongside and escort us to ensure we didn’t take any detours. We saw guards on the bows of the larger vessels, in full combat gear including loaded rifles. Helicopter troop ships were landing soldiers in mock battles just a few hundred yards off the waterway. We are thinking, are those real bullets in those guns?
There are a number of gunnery ranges in these areas. Do they know we are coming through right now, did we pay enough attention to the VHF radio (where warnings of manoeuvres might be announced), and was it on the right channel? Several years ago in the Chesapeake, we sailed through a bombing range and heard on the radio that the range would be “hot” today from 9:00-10:00 a.m. — just the time we were there!
On another occasion, we were out past dark, something we try to avoid on the waterway. In this instance, we were negotiating a long narrow stretch of poorly marked channel, with a commercial tug coming in the opposite direction. Keep in mind the channel is 100 feet wide and shaped like a snake. Just as I noticed the tug had its port running light out, making it very hard to keep track of its movements, the air force started low level night exercises. Ever try to navigate using radar, depth sounder, watching navigation buoys, and trying to communicate with someone when supersonic fighter jets with full afterburners are fifty feet above your head?
Obviously, we have survived all these encounters, and look back at them as a marvellous adventure.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
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