June 24-June 30, 2018: Turbo Boost Up the Florida ICW, Vero Beach to Fernandina Beach

We couldn’t stay in Vero Beach any longer, so on June 24, we headed up the ICW to Melbourne, FL.  It was a typical ICW-on-a-pretty-weekend kind of day, which meant jetskis and motorboats careening around all over the place.  Many people had set up camp on the “islands” (e.g. spoil piles) that line the waterway, and there were kids and dogs running and screaming and having a great time.


Many of the “islands” that run along the ICW are actually spoil piles, the dirt and mud that were dredged out to make the ICW a relatively uniform depth.  They have trees and mangroves and beaches, and they are a popular hangout.

It certainly doesn’t get boring on a day like this, as there is plenty to see. We anchored in our usual spot just north of the Melbourne Bridge in 9.5 feet of water.  Only one other boat came to share the anchorage with us, and we had a quiet night.  This day was 6.75 hours for 34.2 sm/30.4 nm.


I discovered a stowaway on our way from Vero Beach.  Like all of the other tree frogs we’ve hosted before him, he hangs out in the propane locker.  He’s a quiet houseguest that eats bugs, so he’s cool with us.

On June 25 we got out at sunrise (have to love travelling in summer with its long days) and continued up the ICW to Titusville, FL.  The waterway was eerily empty of traffic after the prior day’s chaos.


Laughing gulls hanging out on a mark, watching the morning come alive.

We had dolphins escorting us all day, and I can’t think of anything better.  It was a hot and windless day, and I played the “find a place in the cockpit that has shade” game all day.  We grabbed a mooring from Titusville Municipal Marina, which is about as easy as it gets.  The balls look brand new, and you can pick any one that’s open.  A quick phone call to check in, and $20 later you are secure for the night.  This day was 7.25 hours for 39.9 sm/34.7 nm.

On June 26 we again got out at first light about 6:00 AM.  We were headed for an anchorage in Daytona Beach, FL.  I think this is a long and pretty boring leg of the ICW up the Mosquito Lagoon, and yes, it’s aptly named.


Leaving the Titusville mooring field at first light.

We saw lots of pelicans, great egrets, cormorants, ospreys, laughing gulls, and a small tern or gull that I can’t identify.  We also saw a few flocks of roseate spoonbills, which are absolutely gorgeous.  They have white and blush pink feathers, and seeing them against the turquoise blue sky is breathtaking.  The dolphins continued escorting us and making sure that I could never, ever catch them on video.

It was crushingly hot again that day, but hey, it’s Florida in the summer.  We had no trouble with bridges or shoal spots because we were prepared for both.  We anchored in our usual spot south of the Veterans Memorial Bridge; we hit it near low tide, and the deepest water we could find was 7.5 feet.  In the Bahamas that wouldn’t have bothered us, but there’s something about being here that makes me nervous with such shallow depths.  All was well, of course, but if you aren’t worrying, you aren’t boating.  This day was 8.75 hours for 46.1 sm/41.1 nm.


Daytona Beach is all about bridges, bridges, bridges.  Our anchorage is just south of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, which is the one in the foreground under construction.

On June 27, we left our anchorage at Daytona Beach headed for a mooring in St. Augustine, FL.  The phrase of the day was “haul ass.”  We would be passing through some of the trickiest shoal spots in this region’s section of the ICW (the dreaded Matanzas Inlet and associated hellholes), and of course we would be doing it in the afternoon when the water would be falling.  So it was to our great benefit to get through those spots as quickly as possible while on a higher tide.  That meant motoring a little faster than usual and also rolling out the staysail; even though we were close hauled, it still gave us a little boost.


Great egrets are about the most patient bird I’ve ever seen.  This guy is waiting for breakfast to swim along.

With lots of preplanning the route through the shoal areas and the Captain’s solid helming, we got through the many trouble spots without touching bottom.  As in the past, I think I was raising the boat out of the water at least a couple of inches due to my gritted butt cheeks.  By the time we picked up a mooring from the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, we were spent from the stresses of the last few days of shoal avoidance.  This day was 9.25 hours for 54.3 sm/47.2 nm.


Here’s what you don’t want to see in the channel right after a bascule bridge:  a sunken boat.  It’s great that someone put an WR buoy to mark it, but I’d say go crazy and get the boat out entirely. It’s literally right in the middle of the channel in Daytona Beach.

The next day, June 28, we had a short hop up to an anchorage on the south end of the oxbow around Pine Island.  We were eagerly anticipating the relaxing afternoon we’d have since the trip should only take a couple of hours.  Should have known better! We had a 3 knot current against us the whole way, which dropped our speed to an average of 3.6 mph.  The wind was too on the nose to even consider a sail, so we just motored the whole way.  This day was 3.75 hours for 13.5 sm/12.0 nm.


Another beautiful morning.  So auspicious, and so wrong!

We got to the anchorage, anchored, settled in, and saw that a massive thunderstorm was headed our way.  Radar was indicating a thunderstorm with 40-50 knot gusts.  As the wall of black rapidly rolled across the sky towards us, we quickly secured everything and set up anchor watch in the cockpit.  It was instantly apparent from the strength of the wind gusts and blinding rain that we needed to turn the engine and instruments on; if we started to drag, there wasn’t much room between us and the oyster beds lining the banks, so we needed to be prepared.

We spent a tense 45 minutes riding out the storm, engine idling, checking the anchor position, squeegeeing the stress-fog off of the enclosure windows so we could see.  The storm finally petered out, and we were safe.  More thunderstorms were predicted to blow up all night, so we made coffee and staged our PFDs and spotlights for the next round.  In the meantime we laid down in our working clothes trying to grab a little rest before the next storm—and woke up at 5:30 AM when the alarm went off.  We had escaped further pummeling.

The silver lining of the whole experience is that we were actually in the perfect place at the perfect time.  The Pine Island anchorage is protected from waves and has excellent, thick mud holding.  Instead of being in motion in the ICW when the storm hit, we were already at anchor in a deserted area.  The one day that we stopped earlier than normal is the one day that the storms came earlier than normal.  We lucked out on that one.

So the next morning, June 29, we were ready to get the hell out of Pine Island and head to Fernandina Beach, FL.  Thunderstorms were forecast to be popping up all day, and the last place we wanted to be was stuck in a narrow channel with weather like that—call us gun-shy after the previous evening.  We needed to make some speed, and we were out of the anchorage at first light.  It took forever to raise the anchor because our beloved Rocna had set pretty much to the center of the earth, which is what kept us secure the day before.

Because the universe is capricious and perverse, right as we were entering the ICW from the anchorage, we grounded.  We’ve bumped the bottom of the ICW before (one of the many reasons we don’t care for the ICW), but this time we sure enough grounded in the soft mud.  It was dead low tide, so the worst that would have happened was we’d have to wait a couple of hours to float off with the rising tide—with thunderstorms headed our way.  No thanks.  We finally broke free after 20 minutes of engine revving and helm turning and hit the ICW running.  It was a long, hot, shoal-filled day, but it was our last day on the ICW, so we kept our eyes on the prize.


Happy chairs.

And as proof that the universe can also be beneficent, the thunderstorms never materialized.  Thanks to Bob423’s (a/k/a Bob Sherer) generosity in posting “safe” waypoints for the two worst shoal areas, we made it to our mooring at the Fernandina Harbor Marina with no further close encounters with the bottom.  This day was 8.5 hours for 49.8 sm/43.3 nm.

We spent a smelly night as Fernandina Beach is home to a gigantic pulp mill.  I rate a pulp mill smell as not as awful as a fish processing plant or a hog waste lagoon but definitely not as awesome as a chocolate factory.  The next morning, we headed gratefully offshore, bound for Port Royal, SC.  No more ICW for us for a good, long while.