Home Liveaboard What we got wrong (and right) about traveling the Florida ICW
Michael walking beside dinghy

What we got wrong (and right) about traveling the Florida ICW

by Wayfinders Now

Our first cruising season last year involved a ton of learning and humbling mistakes for us newish sailors. 

We began in early February and, with our trusty 35′ sailboat named Hope, we threw the hook in 19 anchorages, went under many bridges, through several locks, visited mangroves and beaches by dinghy, dodged storms and waited out gales, witnessed a fair share of wildlife on the water, heard strange and funny marine life noises through the hull, stargazed from the cockpit, pulled out the mainsail and genoa, paid close attention to currents and tides and wind and weather, and explored roughly 900 nautical miles of coastline and inland areas of Florida (and all while maintaining remote work and projects). 😅

While traveling down what is sometimes called “The Ditch” (aka the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway), we were working as we cruised. Balancing travel and work felt both trickier and easier in some ways than we had expected. More on that later though.

What We Got Wrong

Assumptions about potable water access

Not sure why, but we had assumed we would find plenty of free spots to refill our water tank, but depending on which stretch of the ICW we were traveling on, we found access to water was a bit trickier and more restrictive since some docks no longer offered water or did not allow overnight docking, or locations weren’t convenient for our travel itinerary.

Thankfully, we usually could go about two weeks at a time before needing to refill on water. If we were running low but didn’t want to pull up anchor quiet yet, then we would dinghy to shore and find a spot to fill up one or two of our five-gallon water jugs, which would get us through another couple of days. Otherwise, we topped up our water tank whenever we stopped at a marina for refueling or to reserve a mooring. 

Hotspot woes

We used two T-Mobile hotspots for when we were at anchorages and needed wifi. They worked okay, but ironically, sometimes we had difficulty connecting with the more expensive hotspot device. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Spring breakers and speedway weekends

Leaving Jensen Beach, we traveled on a Sunday morning in late March. Big mistake. We headed south and as we approached the St. Lucie Inlet area, we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of small and large power boats speeding and throwing wake. I honestly thought we were caught in the middle of a major boat race! 

But once we reached Peck Lake (one of our favorite anchorage spots), we realized the congestion of boats was, in large part, due to the spring break crowd. Thankfully, by dinner time, the ICW traffic died down quite a bit and we were able to enjoy the serenity of the anchorage and rowing to the nearby beach.

When we headed back north (we later decide to cross Lake Okeechobee and explore Florida’s west coast too), we made sure to travel back through the St. Lucie Inlet area on a Monday morning instead of the weekend. It was a completely different experience — very few boats and a lovely sunrise to accompany us!

What We Got Right

We didn’t keep an itinerary. 

The only travel obligation we had was made months in advance and that was to have our boat in Stuart, Florida by around June to have our twenty-seven-year-old chainplates replaced by Mack Yacht Services. 

Not needing to adhere to a strict itinerary allowed us way more flexibility to plan around the weather, tides, work obligations, enticing anchorages, and other things that came up. 

If we felt like hanging out longer in a certain spot, we did. If we felt like moving on, we pulled up the hook and kept going.

We worked with the currents and tides whenever possible.

This wasn’t always possible, but most of the time, we paid close attention to the tides and currents, ideally planning our next jump around favorable conditions. That said, it wasn’t always possible . Because of how many miles you’re hoping to cover in a given day, you may need to leave at slack tide, for instance, or when the current is against you, but those situations were the minority. 

We rowed our dinghy or explored with the electric outboard.

When we switched from a two-stroke outboard to an ePropulsion electric motor, we immediately noticed more intimate and frequent encounters with wildlife, such as dolphins breaching right beside us in the dinghy or manatees going about their business a few feet away, not bothered by our presence since we were way quieter.

We learned to trust our instincts and knowledge of our own boat .

Sometimes, in order to trust our own instincts, it required that we disregard someone’s well-meaning advice when we knew (or suspected) it might not be right for us or our boat. 

For instance, we learned this hard way when a marina dockmaster dismissed our idea to use a spring line to keep our boat from drifting too far to starboard as we backed out of the slip. It was a gusty morning and the wind and current, we feared, would potentially push our starboard side into the dock and the piling. 

Against our better judgment and reservations, we followed his advice, but our anchor almost hit the piling afterall. After that, we learned we needed to trust our knowledge of our own boat and how it behaves. Knowing our boat and trusting our judgment helped us handled the boat better in future situations. 

We improved our anchoring technique with each anchorage.

Based on wind and currents, we picked anchorages that offered protection, especially if we were expecting some weather. Oftentimes we would search around for the best anchoring area by looking at the depths (we have a 4.5′ draft) and where other boats were anchored to offer us a clue about possible viable spots. Once we found one, we gradually improved our technique of communicating to each other with our intentions and setting the hook.

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