This is copied from my "Ask the Surveyor" forum on Yachtworld.com. I thought this question and Answer might be of interest to anyone contemplating the trip south this year or in the near future. Many thanks to Capt. Patrick McCrary for his participation.
On 17:23:38 12/01/98, email@example.com wrote:
I will be making a trip to Florida in a 40' powerboat in Feb/March of next year and would appreciate any help in the route I should take and what parts of the ICW to watch out for. I am also curious as to where I should shoot in/out of the ICW to avoid shallow or tricky passage. Any advice would be appreciated.
Subject: Re: CAPE MAY TO MIAMI via ICW
From: Capt Patrick McCrary
Date: 12/06/98 08:59:01
During Feb/March you will likely not have much of an availability for offshore travel. Windy conditions and resulting heavy seas will keep you inside most of the time.
Before proceeding to specific "watch out" points, understand that the bulk of damage done to boats traveling north and south on the east coast is done on the ICW. Get up to date charts, Waterway Guides, plan your trip carefully and reasonably, and don't "guess" about anything. Ask for and listen to local knowledge. When near inlets to sea, be especially mindful of cross currents, especially south of NC through lower GA.
When in doubt, STOP! - access your situation, resolve the doubt, proceed with caution until you've regained your confidence.
Now, some areas that you need to be wide awake and watchful of: (In the order of your direction of travel.)
Albamarle/Pamlico Sound, (NC):
This diversion from the ICW can save you a tremendous amount of time with light boat traffic and the ability to "let 'er rip". However, a stiff wind from the SW through the NW can make this route very rough. There is a lot of crab pot fishing around this area and pot floats can be scattered throughout. Always take a trap float from the lea side, never close on the windward side. If you do have the misfortune of winding one on, pull back, come to a complete stop, reverse your engine(s), and give it a few seconds of stiff throttle. This will often un-wind the rope from your gear. Remember to raise your trim tabs fully. You could rip a tab off.
Adams Creek, (NC):
Pay attention to the ranges at both the north and south ends of the creek. Especially the southern range.
Cedar Point, (NC) through Wrightsville Bch, (NC):
You'll pass several small inlets through this area. Pass them at a slow speed and watch carefully for shoaling. A lot of bottom bumping happens here, but the sand is fairly loose and if you're throttled down and bump, usually the only thing damaged is your pride.
Carolina Beach, (NC):
Just south of Carolina Beach Inlet you'll turn to the SW passing between two rock bluffs and below a high bridge, proceeding toward Cape Fear river. The straight and relatively narrow channel at this point is clearly marked with the majority of the markers RED, (on your starboard side going south). Keep a true course here!
Myrtle Beach, (SC) "The Rock Pile":
Pay real close attention to this!!
Between Nixon Cross Roads and Myrtle Beach, (16 miles), you will encounter a very narrow and potentially treacherous stretch that is lined with low profile rocks that jut into the channel from both sides.
The worst section, loving known as "The Rock Pile" is about 3 miles long and there is no room for error, turning around, or passing commercial traffic. DO NOT ENTER this stretch without first checking vhf ch. 16/13 for other concerned traffic. If you meet a tug & Tow in the middle of the rock pile, you better be real good at backing a long straight line! There is plenty of water in the middle of the channel, but the edges could ruin your whole outlook on boating if you wander too close. Please re-read this section.
GA through N. FL:
While there is not a lot of problem through this area, you will find the ICW winding and turning so much that you will find a couple of spots where your heading will be north instead of south.
In all Oxbows, the deep side is the outside of the bend. If the channel bends sharply to the right, keep to the left and vise versa.
South of Nassau Sound to the St. Johns River is exceptionally shallow, sometime even in the channel. It mostly sand and mud, but solid enough to get pretty well stuck. Take it easy through this 10 mile stretch.
Matanza Inlet, south of St. Augustine, FL:
When you approach Matanza Inlet form the north you will be in nice comfortable piece of the ICW, probably running hooked up and feeling very relaxed. Well, shake it off and pay attention! Just north of the inlet, you will round a sand dune on the west side of the channel. What you can't see from the approach is that the channel now hugs the shoreline so damn close you could almost jump over to dry ground. It's narrow, not wide enough for two decent sized boats to pass abreast, and carries about 6 ft at MLW. If you come around that blind bend, holding the center of what was the channel, you better have Sea Tow's number handy!
Just south of Ponce, at green marker 3, the ICW curves to the west and runs behind some spoil islands that protect you from the Ponce Inlet currents. At G3 take it real easy, there's a bar running across the channel and at low tide you've barely got 5' of water.
New Smyrna through the Mosquito Lagoon:
Lot of slow speed and residential area here and not a lot of opportunity to pick up and go. As you approach the south end of this section, you'll come upon a real low rent district and a slow speed zone.
This is about 8mi from entering the Mosquito Lagoon. Treat that "Slow Speed" zone as a "NO WAKE/IDLE SPEED" zone. This section is one of the biggest "speed traps" you'll find. You won't be stopped by FMP or CC or Sheriff. You'll be stop by a local, possibly inbred, town cop in something like a Bayliner Bowride or Jon Boat. He likely be the brother-in-law, half cousin, and step son of the town Mayor. You will pay the fine right there, in cash! Probably without a receipt to boot. If you get stopped there, DON'T give Bubba my regards!
From here on into South FL there nothing really to warn you of.
St Licie Inlet, Stuart area:
We call this area the "Cross Roads". It where the St. Lucie Inlet channel crosses the ICW. The south side of this junction is prone to constant shoaling. Pay particular attention to the first 100 ft, and take it at idle speed. It's soft shifting sand, so you won't hurt yourself at this speed, but it's tricky.
Other areas for heightened attention on the ICW south:
Area around Boynton Inlet
Area SW of Bakers Haulover (Just N of Miami)
Both of these spots are shoal areas and I'd recommend a reduced speed. Just about everything else you can bone-up on through the Water Way Guide.
You may have the opportunity to duck in and out, weather permitting. Recommended inlets
Not great, but do-able, be damn careful and don't use unless you have to inlets: GET LOCAL KNOWLEDGE advice before proceeding.
Have a good trip and say "Hi" for me to the gang at South Jersey Marina!!
One final observation:
Always take new info with a grain of salt, not trusting it completely until you have verified it personally! That goes for all I've said above too.
Regards, Capt Patrick McCrary http://www.usamarine.net/cc/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again Capt. Pat for you input. If anyone would like to either offer a subject for a newsletter or Write one themselves, please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com