Cruising the ICW

Leg Summary


Estelle and I flew out to Savannah, spent a day exploring historic Old Savannah - a "living museum that claims to be the largest urban National Historic Landmark District in the USA" with over 800 historic buildings in some 2 1/2 square miles.


We then spent 14 days cruising the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW), click on, which also provides further links.


The ICW is a Federally maintained, 3000 mile body of water that utilises sounds, bays, lagoons, rivers and canals to provide an inland route for commercial and military traffic. The Atlantic section runs from Key West, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.


We cruised it from Savannah to Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington in North Carolina, a distance of 300 miles.

The broken red line shows our route from Thunderbolt along the ICW through South Carolina. Our cruise finished a short way into North Carolina, at Wrightsville Beach, and you can see the North Carolina route at the start of the next leg.

This is a page taken from our main navigation guide for the ICW - Chartracker. As you can see it gives you no idea of depth.


Another example from Chartracker. The only trouble is it hasn't been updated since 1998 so some markers are now in the shallows! It's still extremely useful though. It shows the route TO Florida so you need to remember you are going in the reverse direction.


You use Chartracker (which shows the route but not the depths) in conjunction with the Maptech Charts (which show the depths but not the route). Above we are going from MM590 (bottom left) to Green Square no 9 (which is Hinkley's at Thunderbolt). This chart has been reduced in size.


I purchased my charts at the beginning of 2012 and they claim to be regularly updated. However this latest set of charts were last updated in 2009.

Friday 30th March


Arrived 7pm last night to find Will hadn't left boat keys in normal hiding place. 20 hours after starting journey here this was bad news but after ten minutes of panicking and being bitten to death by "no-see-ums" we discovered the boat yard guys had left a hatch unlocked. Massive relief.


The boat yard guys unlocked the boat with their spare key in the morning and later we found where Will had hidden the other key. Relieved to find leak now fixed and managed to un block the drain - full of human hair!


Took a trolley bus tour of Savannah - 42 green squares and loads of historic buildings. Shrimps, soft shelled crabs and catfish for lunch on River Drive. Drove to Tybee Island in afternoon - disappointing.

One of the very expensive motor cruisers that Hinckley make. It's 38 feet long and costs $750k!

We were given these crabs off a crab boat later on.

Saturday 31st March

Publix Supermarket for provisioning but couldn't resist going to Russo's Seafood (take Victory into Savannah, right on Abercorn and it's on the right where railway tracks cross road). Russo's sells fantastic local seafood. We bought a tub of shucked oysters plus on the haqlf shell, ready to eat oyster, blue crabs, shrimps, local frogs legs and sea trout. We resisted alligator steaks, 3 other kinds of crab, Florider lobster tails and the other fresh caught fish like grouper, red snapper, stripped bass etc. A local (Brit) treated us to a tub each of hot fish chowder which made a great breakfast. After feasting on the crabs and oysters for lunch, and a siesta, we departed at twenty to four. We were at MM (Mile Marker) 582. MM 0 of the ICW is at Norfolk. Virginia.

That night we anchored just off MM 536 on the New River, now in South Carolina.


Transitting the ICW

Transitting the ICW is great but you need to keep your wits about you. One hour of being on watch and you are ready to take a break. The most important thing is a chart plotter with a good detailed screen. Next I'd recommend the "Chartracker to the Intracoastal Waterway", Norfolk to Jacksonville, ISBN 1-892399-00-8. It's somewhat out of date (a swingbridge had been replaced by a fixed one) but still a great help. Vital, if you've not got a chart plotter is the Maptech Chartkit, Norfolk, Virginia to Florida and the Intracoastal Waterway, Region 6, ISBN 0-74361-54-7. 


For general information on marinas and places to visit the Maptech Embassy Crusiing Guide, Chesapeake Bay to Florida, ISBN 0-74361-045-8.

Oh, and by the way, you'll need mosquito netting to surround the cockpit & citronella candles to keep out the no see-ums in the evening.


Sunday 1st April

Off at 8 a.m. and anchored in Cowen creek for lunch. It's a few miles off MM 544 of the ICW. Posn. 32 21.7 N 80 39.0 W. We looked ashore at a forest with wild deer standing on their hind legs to tear at the fresh spring foliage on the trees. Pods of dolphins lazily played around the boat as we ate our oyster omelette and baked oyster lunch.


Passed Beaufort, SC during the afternoon before anchoring for the night at our prettiest spot so far - Backyard Creek, just off MM 531.      

And so on towards Charleston. Anchoring for long lazy lunches and peaceful overnight stops in Ashepoo River off MM512, 2 miles up Toogoodoo Rover off MM 496, behind an islet on Stone River near MM480 and behind an islet on Wapoo Creek near MM471.


Local fishermen!

Wednesday 4th April


Tied up mid morning at Charleston Harbour Resort & Marina at Hog Island. Good marina with helpfull people and all the resort facilities of the large resort hotel that is also on site. Great bar with collection of vintage game fishing rods & reels, circa 1930s and old photos of game fishing record catches. Complimentary shuttle service, on an old style trolley, to Charleston old town. Also to Shem Creek, a centre for the local shrimping fleet with several seafood restaurants.

A Conde Nast Traveller reader survey rated Charleston the number 2 city to visit in the USA. We toured the historic city in a Gray Line minibus for an hour and a half and also walked it. Beautiful and gracious houses. The modern aquarium was very well presented and focussed on the locality.


She crab soup, fried green tomatoes & crab meat and Low Country Grits (corn) with shrimp and sausage were good but Estelle hated my local raw clams on the half shell.


Market Street had great shopping with a multitude of local artisans selling their wares. By the marina was moored the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, a veteran from the Korean and Vietnam wars, still carrying it's aircraft and helicopters - overall a very good visit.

Charleston Houses

Southern Skimmers. Their bottom beak is longer than the top one. They skim the water with it to catch small fish on the surface.

A Charleston Pelican

This Lion fish was in Charleston Aquarium. It's common in the Pacific but more rare in the North Atlantic. Whilst snorkelling off the Western tip of Vieques, Spanish Virgin Islands, we got right up close to a pair of them.

Friday 6th April


After lunch we slipped the marina and headed for Georgetown. The "no-see-ums" were replaced by flies as we wound our way on the ICW through vast marshlands.


Off MM449 anchored in Price Creek, by MM430 in Five Fathom Creek and off MM416 in Minim Creek. At low water the creeks were narrow but at high water the marshes were covered with large expanses of water beneath a full moon. When we passed Alligator Creek a juvenile alligator obliged by swimming across the ICW. We killed the engine and glided to within 2 metres of our 1 metre "friend". Eagles scoured the marshes for prey, dolphins played alongside and many pelicans, cormorants and terns dived for fish.

Alligator alongside.

Sunday 8th April


Arrived at Hazard Marina, Georgetown, MM403. A small, friendly marina on the edge of town with less than 3 dozen slips. Georgetown was our favourite place so far. A population of about 11,000 people, lots of historic houses on the tree covered walk into the interesting town centre. Good restaurants. Our favourite was Buzz's Roost on the waterfront. A hangout for the Harley Davidson crowd and my first taste of Low Country Boil - a tasty but somewhat odd combination of steamed shrimp and snow crab, German sausage, roast potato and sweet corn on the cob.


The outskirts north of the town were dominated by a steel works and one of the largest paper mills in the USA, but these didn't seem to detract much. It was once the site of one of the biggest saw mills in the world, processing 2500 big tree trunks a day, until deforrestation of South Carolina finally closed it. The famous southern supermarket chain, Piggly Wiggly, are also on the outskirts and will take you and your provisions back to your boat for free. They even gave us a Mr. Pig loyalty card.


A sizeable shrimp fishing fleet is based there and they supply a couple of independant seafood markets. It was the sort of place you'd be happy to have a second home in.

Osprey and nest on starboard marker post.

Terrapins on log by cypress swamps.

Monday 9th April


Slipped Hazard Marina and continued on the ICW. The afternoon took us up the Waccamaw River which was probably the largest proper river stretch yet and, although broadly parallel to the coast, has no sea creeks leading into it above Georgetown. The scenery changed again and I presumed the water was getting increasingly less brackish. No seabirds or dolphins but lots of ospreys feeding their chicks in nests on waymark posts or trees and terrapins sunning themselves on logs on the water's edge. Lots of cypress trees were growing straight out of the water - some were 20-30 metres from the side of this wide river. At one spot half the river had a net across it. The fisherman waved us clear in his boat and held up a 2 foot redfish he'd just caught.


Anchored that night in Princes Creek off the Waccamaw River, MM381. Beautiful, narrow creek surrounded by cypress swamps. We could almost reach out and touch the cypress trees. In fact that night, as the current fell, we swung into the trees and had to motor back to the middle. The next day we found broken twigs, leaves and 3 inch caterpillars on deck (one even crawled up my leg at lunchtime).

On anchor in the middle of Princes Creek

Tuesday 10th April


A welcome lunchtime stop along the landcut at the back of Myrtle Beach at Barefoot Landing ($5 charge), MM354, alongside a restaurant owned by golfer, Greg Norman. Looked good but we ate on board. The Myrtle Beach/Grand Strand area is a 60 mile stretch of beach, second only in the USA to Florida as a tourist destination and boasting over 120 golf courses.


That night we anchored in the Calabash River, off MM342. Very shallow entrance and anchorage. Go between the two red posts at the entrance (both marked 2) and anchor before the green post. Calabash is supposed to be a great place for seafood restaurants but the river was too shallow for us. About 30 Grey Ibis flew over us next morning.

The majority of bridges had 65 feet of headroom. A few opened according to a schedule but more opened on demand and if you called ahead they had them open by the time you got there.

Wednesday 11th April


And so on to our third state on the ICW, North Carolina. The ICW was always less than a mile from the sea now and sometimes very close to it indeed. Lots of expensive, waterside properties amidst trees and azaleas, and far prettier than yesterday's plots close to Myrtle Beach. Our lunchtime anchorage (not marked as such) was less than a mile up Lockwoods Folly River off MM321 of the ICW, just past Genoes Point. It was much deeper and prettier than last night's and a friendly couple walked out to the end of their jetty to chat to us.


We were following the azalea season north. When I first arrived in Savannah they were everywhere but pretty much gone over. In Georgetown the flowers were just beginning to drop, but now they were in full bloom, and the coming weekend it was the annual azalea festival in Wilmington, attracting many tourists.

When I'd traversed the French canal system in Vittoria, from the Med to the English Channel, I'd followed the sunflower season in much the same way. It was quite sad as I approached Paris to witness the end of all the golden fields as they finally turned to seed heads.

Thursday 12th April


Our luck with anchorages was running out. We explored the anchorage at Dutchman Creek, off MM310, that was marked on the Chartracker but there was no swinging room. We'd reserved a spot for the next day in Southport Marina so decided to take it a day earlier instead.


Southport is a great little town with lots of boutique-type shops that had Estelle spending her money. We joined the local workmen for lunch next day at Loco Joe's on the outskirts of town for great asian spicey chicken and had a good seafood nosh at Fishey Fish's that evening. On our way to Fishey Fish's a small group of the marina guys were having a "cocktail party" on the decking and invited us to join them. We deferred until we'd had dinner by which time they were well liquored up on jugs of Painkiller cocktails that we merrrily drank with them.

Thick heads the next morning!

Friday 13th April


Unlucky for us! The next marked anchorage in Masonboro Channel, off MM287, that we'd planned as a lunchtime stop, was again no good. We grounded 3 times trying to find a deepwater channel before giving up.


And so to the end of the leg and Estelle's holiday as we finally tied up at Wrightsville Beach Marina, MM283. Right on the side of the ICW, we were surprised how little wake the few passing vessels produced. A nice little marina with a club house and swimming pool next to the Blue Water Grill and across the bridge from a couple of other good restaurants.


The local sports fishing boats were regularly bringing in good catches of 2 metre long wahoo from the ocean and dolphins lazily fished in the ICW close by. The azalea festival, Wilmington and the beach were all a bit dissappointing but it was interesting just chilling out on the boat and we also visited the nearby Airlie Gardens. It's 67 acres of beautifully laid out gardens around what was once the plantation home (it got destroyed in a hurricane) of a wealthy rice planter. Rice and cotton was once very big business in the South but they both declined around about the time of the Civil war.

Airlie Gardens. Live oak with Spanish Moss and lush vegetation.