Thursday, October 1, 2009

What's the Intracoastal? Watch this.

This video catches the essence of why thousands of boaters go down the ICW each year.


The "Bucket List" beckons

In about 10 days (around October 11), Captain Pete and I, his faithful first mate, will sail off on MicMac down the Intracoastal Waterway. Why? Because it’s there, and no small wonder either. It’s also one of the biggies on our mutual “Bucket List”—those things we just gotta do before we kick the bucket! Two other biggies are to visit more of the 50+ National Parks and Caribbean islands.

Our first goal is to arrive in Edisto, SC, by Halloween—for a family reunion with SC and Boston family members. Yes, we’ll probably be motoring much of the way, not sailing. But we’re heading to a warmer climate. Yegads, we’re now gonna be Anne Murray “snowbirds.”

The Intracoastal—or ICW or The Ditch—is part natural waterway and part man-made canals, and it’s through lots of marshes and swamps (oops, wetlands). Most say that it begins at “Mile Zero” in Norfolk and ends at “Mile 1095” in Miami. It actually begins north of Boston and keeps going all the way to Key West and up the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas, if you want to get technical. So we’ve already done part of the Ditch on earlier cruises to New England.

The ICW opened in 1805, twelve years after it was begun. Because parts of it are so shallow, its use was limited to flat boats and log rafts that were manually poled or towed through. In 1933, the ICW was dredged to 50 feet wide and 9 feet deep, but it silts in quite frequently these days. MicMac has a 5' draft--probably more right now with all that wine, beer, water, and books stowed in every nook and cranny. The Corps of Engineers is supposed to keep the ICW dredged to 12 feet, but we'll see.

So many cruising guides and charts!
Captain Pete bought lots of charts and cruising guides, and has been researching this trip for months (I just began today). He has googads of notes on where we might "touch bottom." Supposedly the curse of the first 20 miles of the Ditch is the nine bridges, each with its own opening schedule. It's still fun, after all these years of hailing bridgetenders, to watch the line of cars forming as bridges open to let us pass. The power of a 60' mast is quite amazing.


For history buffs:   In 1728, Colonel William Byrd II of Virginia (yes the same Byrd who lived up Route 5 in Westover Plantation) proposed this regional trade route from the Elizabeth River to Albemarle Sound after making a survey of the Virginia-North Carolina border for the English Crown. During the expedition, he and his party had to struggle through the dense undergrowth and forests of the great swamp. Byrd, finding the place repulsive, is said to be responsible for the addition of “Dismal” to the name.

In 1793, after the Revolutionary War, construction on a canal began at both ends of the Dismal Swamp. The earliest canal on the Intracoastal was dug almost completely by hand so progress was slow and expensive. Most of the labor was done by slaves hired from nearby landowners. Some of the slaves became so familiar with the swamp during this period that it eventually became a haven for runaways.Both George Washington and Patrick Henry felt that canals were the easiest way to transport goods and favored a route through the Dismal Swamp. Although Washington was not involved in the canal’s construction, he was familiar with the region. He and a group of business “adventurers” owned some 50,000 acres in the Dismal Swamp that they were logging. Washington Ditch, a separate cut through the swamp, was built to transport their timber. The remnants of it are still visible today.