Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The "other" ICW

We are tied to a mooring ball outside Marina Jack, in Sarasota, Florida (map). Tonight will be our third night here, and we will drop lines at dawn to continue south to Charlotte Harbor and beyond. It's been a great stay, but all too brief -- there's lots more to see here than we had time for, so we'll be back.


Sunset over Sarasota Bay.

As I wrote here at the end of my last post, we spent our final night Sunday in St. Petersburg secured to a mooring ball in the north basin. We tendered ashore for a final meal with Martin and Steph after relocating and getting squared away.

Monday morning I picked up our good friends Karen and Ben in the tender after they parked their car at the marina lot. Karen took some shots of Vector in the yacht basin from the tender before we got them and their gear aboard, and I headed back to drop off the gate keys. By 10:30 we had the dinghy hoisted back on deck and we were dropping lines to head out into Tampa Bay.

Blossom made an early start from their slip, anticipating progressively building winds, and so they were ahead of us for the first half of our bay cruise; we passed them shortly before the Sunshine Skyway Bridge so that we could lead the way through the skinnier sections to come. Winds were on the beam in the bay, and the stabilizers were maxed out trying to keep us upright for the duration.

Once we made the turn southward into the ICW, winds were from astern and the ride got much more pleasant. Long-time readers are, by now, used to me writing "ICW" here and know that this stands for "Intra-Coastal Waterway," but there are actually several intracoastal waterways in the US, each with different characteristics.

Heretofore, when I have talked about the ICW I have been referring to the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which in official documents is actually abbreviated AIWW. That waterway starts in Norfolk/Portsmouth Virginia (Mile 0) and runs some 1,280 statute miles all the way to Key West. We've done most of that waterway from Mile 0 to about Mile 1,112, off Elliott Key in Biscayne Bay. The final 170 miles, south of Biscayne Bay, are too shallow for Vector.

There is a separate ICW in New Jersey, from Manasquan Inlet to Cape May, which is also too shallow for Vector. There are additional connecting waterways from Cape May to Norfolk, including the Delaware River, the C&D Canal, Chesapeake Bay, and the Elizabeth River, which permit vessels of moderate draft to transit the entire east coast from Delaware Bay to Biscayne Bay without venturing out into the ocean.

There are also two long sections of ICW here in the Gulf of Mexico, known as the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and officially abbreviated GIWW. One section runs from Brownsville, Texas all the way to Carabelle, Florida, and a second section runs from Tarpon Springs, Florida to Fort Myers, Florida. It is this second part of the GIWW that we've been traversing since leaving Tampa Bay.

Whereas the AIWW, at least from Biscayne Bay north, has a "controlling depth" of 12 feet, the controlling depth in this section of the GIWW is only nine feet. Controlling Depth is a fancy way to say that the Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with maintaining a navigable waterway with at least that amount of depth at low tide. They have varying degrees of success, and regular readers have heard me talk here of sections of the AIWW where we could only pass at high tide, because the channel at low tide had shoaled to depths below our six foot draft.

With a nominal controlling depth of just nine feet, there is a lot less wiggle room here on the GIWW. We knew there was a trouble spot across from an inlet known as Longboat Pass, which separates Anna Maria Island to the north from Longboat Key to the south. The GIWW passes just behind Jewfish Key, a small island just inside the inlet, through a dredged cut. Currents from the inlet are constantly depositing sand into the cut, and there is one section where the Corps has moved the buoys marking the channel so close together that there is not even room for two boats to pass each other.

We wanted to arrive at this section as close to slack current and high tide as we could come, and so after transiting the two lift bridges along Anna Maria Sound, we dropped the hook for an hour in a convenient spot to wait on the tide. We probably did not need the wait, but Blossom draws a full eight inches more than Vector.

We made it through the cut at Jewfish Key without drama, steering by hand and relaying our soundings back to Blossom as she followed us. The lowest sounding we saw was 8.6', which meant Bossom still had two full feet under her keel.  We had a foot and a half of tide in our favor, though -- at low tide they'd have been holding their breath.

That put us into Sarasota Bay in plenty of time to make the anchorage here in the daylight. Unfortunately, we arrived in high winds, over 20 knots steady and gusting above that. Picking up a mooring ball in those conditions was quite a challenge, and I don't think we could have done it had not Ben been available to help Louise on the foredeck while I jockeyed the boat around. Several people on neighboring boats came out to watch the festivities and wonder who the crazy people were who would try to moor in 20 knot winds.


Vector on her mooring, in calmer seas.

As if mooring was not crazy enough, we also had to splash the tender and make our way ashore. We loaded all of Ben and Karen's expensive camera gear into a big plastic bag to protect it from spray and wrapped everyone up in artificial fleece blankets, but we made it to the dinghy dock without incident. We had cocktails aboard Blossom at the dock, meeting some of Martin's extended family from the area, before Ben treated us to a very nice dinner at the restaurant right there in the marina. Karen and Ben made their way back to their car by way of Uber, and I was impressed by how quickly they got a ride and made it home.


Sarasota by night, from our upper deck.

Yesterday we spent the morning getting some chores done around the house. In the afternoon we strolled around the lovely waterfront parkland here in Sarasota, enjoyed cocktails at O'Leary's Tiki Bar right on the beach, and had a nice dinner with Martin and Steph downtown. Today we took the marina shuttle over to the Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium and the adjacent bird rescue and sanctuary before ending up back downtown for dinner again. We loaded the dinghy when we arrived back at Vector.

Sometime in the morning I will complete another orbit of the sun while we are under way. If all goes well, we'll be celebrating that fact with Martin and Steph on Cabbage Key, near Cayo Costa, south of Charlotte Harbor. Between here and there are a few dozen more miles of shallow GIWW, which means highly focused helmsmanship. I'll have earned my birthday libations.

1 comment:

  1. Have a safe trip and a great day tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete

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