Where the hell is that anchor?" After an hour of playing find-a-fuel-dock in South Carolina's lowland marsh, I hear my engine take its last gulp of gas, cough, and die. This is trouble.
Now we're drifting out to sea on a swift current as I wrestle seat cushions and dig around in lockers looking for the second anchor. Like in the old Ty-D-Bol commercial, we're being flushed -- out the inlet. Meanwhile Bill is doing some burrowing himself, clearly searching for something crucial. Last night, my buddy Bill and I celebrated his first 500 miles on the ICW with a couple of T-bones and a bottle of Jack. Now we're suffering -- our bow anchor isn't holding, Bill's hidden the second anchor under his sea bag, and I can't raise help on the VHF. Another 10 minutes goes by and it feels like days under the searing sun. Sweat and salt sting my eyes as the backup anchor drags and finally sticks, and thankfully, the VHF crackles to life. "Bohicket Marina, please switch to 68." Whew...help is on the way. Deep breath. Nothing to do now but wait. I turn to impart the good news to my apprentice cruising companion and find him lounging on the aft bench in the sun, halfway through his all-important find. "Hair of the dog," he offers with a grin.
Good ol' Bill. Our current dilemma not withstanding, he'd have been a sucker to miss this voyage: a five-day cruise-of-a-lifetime north from Miami to Norfolk, Virginia, on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a.k.a., the Ditch. One where I'll prove to Bill -- whose only sea time has been on the Staten Island ferry -- that anyone can be a cruiser.
On our 1,090-mile adventure we'll be going fast and traveling light, with days spent in a cushy cockpit and nights in homey hotels. I call it sport cruising. The best part? It's a surprisingly inexpensive escape.
The other best part is that we're cruising in a jet -- a Yamaha SX230 High Output. For Bill it's nonthreatening and fun. And on the ICW, it's small enough to fit under any bridge and squeeze past the inevitable barge traffic or southbound snowbirds, fast enough to make time, shallow enough to skirt shoals, and maneuverable enough for any greenhorn, which fits Bill to a T.
So Boating is at it again, doing what we do best -- turning charts into living, breathing, laughing journeys of possibility. Proving that even Bill -- and you -- can become a long-distance cruiser. Welcome aboard.
Of Manatees and Men
God is on our side as we put Miami on our stern. Father Will, boatyard guru/priest (you only find guys like him in Florida), sees us off with a wave and a prayer. "Turn left at the first green marker," he instructs.
That's all there is to it. Keep the green on the right and the red on the left. The ICW is marked so it's "red, right, return" going south. Bill figures that the guy who laid it out must have lived in south Florida. It's easy -- even the markers are different and sequentially numbered. A cinch, especially for the novice cruiser.
Of course, we have all the navigational gear you could need. The Garmin GPSmap 545s is set with an ICW card, so all we do is match the little boat icon to the magenta line that represents the Waterway and go. Plus, I've come armed with two essentials: the Intracoastal Waterway Chartbook, an inexpensive lap-size flip book of paper charts, and the Waterway Guide, which explains every twist and turn and service along the way.
South Florida along the inside route is the playground of the wonderfully wealthy. Stately white and pink mansions sport putting green lawns and mega-yachts berthed out back. And man, how the superrich love their sea cows. There's hardly a stretch of water from Miami to Daytona that isn't a Go Slow zone. Not good for making time, and I think of risking it anyway. "But, officer, it's a jet. Can't hurt no manatee with this boat." But a speeding ticket doesn't look good on an expense report.
Too bad, because idle speed in a jet is tricky. The best method is to set one motor at about 5000 rpm and let the other idle. This throws up a considerable wake, but it's essential for maintaining control, especially around the many bridges that usually have a strong current running. It's that or weaving like a drunk on a long walk home. An analogy that Bill immediately understands.
There's something about a good marina that lifts the spirits. Sunset finds us at one in Ft. Pierce with an on-site fish shack purring Bob Marley through the salt thick air. Life is good. Our onboard provisions -- two bags of Doritos -- have left us on the verge of cannibalism. We grab stools next to a salt who must be one of Father Will's disciples, order Red Stripes, and start bitching about the slow-wake zones when Father Murray gives us the Good News: "Slow-wake zones don't apply to boats in the channel." Amen!