Change is good. Change is also stress. As we enter the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) we enter yet another different system and way of boating. With that comes the stress of knowing that we have to do things different now.
Having started in Lake Michigan, this stress is not something new. The familiarity of the Great Lakes gave way to newness of the St. Claire River. Lake Erie is a creature unto itself even in terms of the Great Lakes. With its shallow waters come fish traps and quick wave patterns, shoals that are miles from shore.
The Erie Canal brought with it locks and lift bridges. Completely protected waters with few exceptions. An interconnected system maintained by a single authority who would send out timely notices if you provided your contact information.
The Hudson River was the return of commercial traffic. Tugs moving all variety of barges. There is also the introduction of tides and currents. The Hudson south of Troy serves as a tidal estuary. By Poughkeepsie the water is brackish; salt is in the air.
New York harbor is a busy patch of water with a broad mix of commercial, recreational, and Ferry traffic. Throw all of the security zones into the mix, and the associated patrol boats, and you get a full pattern of activity.
With a sailboat, the next step is an open ocean passage around southern New Jersey to Cape May. The icing on that cake is that with the distance, it makes the most sense to take the Atlantic on at night.
Cape May itself is easily enough navigated as long as the mast fits under the bridges. But it is also the gateway to the Delaware Bay with its heavy commercial traffic and many shoals. The Chesapeake is not much different until the southern end where it opens up a bit.
South of Norfolk, where we find ourselves now, is "the ditch", the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. 1090 statute miles (if anyone knows why they decided to measure the ICW in statute miles, I would love to know the answer) of mostly motoring from marker to marker, following the magenta line. Channel markings switch sides (red right returning is based on where is considered "returning" sometimes you're headed towards an inlet, sometimes away, so you need to use the binoculars to look for the tiny yellow triangles and squares). There are tides and currents, ocean swells at inlets, shallow expanses of water, and multiple controlling authorities. NOAA publishes chars. The Army Corp of Engineers is responsible for surveying and dredging. Multiple municipalities have taken it upon themselves to dredge as the Corp of Engineers is underfunded and can't keep up. This leads to a patchwork of available data with varying limits of reliability.
Thinking back across these changes, a distinct pattern emerges. Stress. With each new section, fear of he unknown has crept up leading to late nights studying guidebooks and pouring over various Internet forums discussing the pros and cons of various cartography.
Ann often reminds me that people less prepared than we are have done this trip with great success. While that does bring some peace of mind, the numerous sunken vessels scattered across any given chart remind me that not all vessels are successful. The rational mind knows that many of the wrecks were caused by negligence and extreme circumstances, but the emotional brain says that they could have just been unlucky. Maybe they hit an unmarked obstruction. Storms change things all the time. There are obstructions on the charts from 1978, how accurate can they be?
The reality is that the stress is what keeps us safe. All of sources of information provide some good knowledge and it is the combination of all of the information that pints the whole picture. When reviewing various sources, it is experience that helps to determine what source to Tristan's which to take with a gain of salt.
We met a couple coming down from the C and D Canal in a 25 foot RF-246. They had traveled from Maine and after a couple of days in the Chesapeake, she was ready to throw in the towel. We were out on those days and while it was a bit uncomfortable, in a full displacement 36 foot sail boat we had a much different experience that day.
So while the source of the stress is completely understood, that does little to reduce the feelings that it brings. A few more days of the ICW and we will be in the swing of things, ticking off the miles with nary a care. The tension will leave my back and shoulders. That is until we get to southern Florida and start looking at crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.