Northbound Hazards On The ICW

Our time in Stuart was short, but it gave us a chance to visit with friends. The time to depart is always too soon, but our long, slow trek north to the Chesapeake had to begin. We took on about 200 gallons of that "cheap" U.S. diesel at Mariner Cay Marina. It was the least expensive we could find in Manatee Pocket. The night before had been stormy, but the morning broke sunny and light winds. It didn't give us a hint at what would lie ahead for us later in the day.  One thing we have learned in transiting the Intracoastal Waterway over many years is that you never know what the day will bring. There is always a surprise just around the bend.

As we passed through Ft. Pierce we got our first glimpse at the very large construction project underway to protect the city marina. While some areas of the waterway are struggling to get funds for dredging to keep the waterway open, this incredible project, which has to cost many millions of dollars, is designed to protect a single public marina. The marina has taken several hits from major storms and suffered serious damage. It also receives lots of wakes from passing vessels on the ICW, but so do many others. One has to wonder how all of this came about and where the financing might have come from in these times when money is very tight for most municipalities. It was indeed awesome to see. And one of our favorite anchorages is Faber Cove, just to the east of the waterway, across from the city marina, south of the 65-foot bridge.

Some time around 2 p.m., Beach House crossed under the Wabasso Bridge. There were indications of building weather to the west so we used our radar to keep an eye on the skies for approaching rain storms. The VHF weather broadcasts were also announcing the possibility of severe storms with high winds, hail, lightning and heavy rains. It seems that the rainy season was coming to south Florida a little early. It was obvious from the building cumulus clouds and the ominous forecasts that there was a pretty good chance we would get rained on before we reached our anchorage for the night. At around 3 p.m., our radar showed a large rain band about 4 miles to our west and moving in our direction. It also looked like we might just get clipped by it and be able to move north of it before it hit us. As the storm reach near 2 miles off, it began to grow and was suddenly considerably larger in size. We could also see the lightning and hear the thunder as it moved closer.

This area of the ICW has little more than a couple of feet of depth outside the channel, and the channel itself is very narrow. Just before the storm hit us, a very large motoryacht passed us and moved ahead of us about 1/8 of a mile. Everything on the flybridge, charts, cameras, cushions and anything else we wanted to stay dry, came inside or was stowed away. The rain moved off the mainland and onto the waters just off our beam. Then it hit with a vengeance. The first winds gusts were directly on our beam in the 40- to 50-knot range. The lightning was crashing very nearby, and the rain was coming down so hard we could hardly see the bow of the boat from the inside steering station. All of the channel markers vanished in the driving rain, as did the 80-foot motoryacht that had passed us a few moments earlier. We throttled back enough to keep the boat under control and moving ahead slowly. The only way we had any idea of where we were was by looking at the chartplotter. Fortunately we knew it was accurate enough that if our position showed we were still in the channel, we were confident that was correct. These are the times when the adrenalin is really pumping. Suddenly we picked up an object ahead that turned out to be a green daymarker. There just wasn't any place to pull over and wait. A quick study of the chart on the laptop at the lower helm gave us a moment of hope. Off to our starboard side were charted depths at around 6 feet. More than enough for Beach House's 4-foot draft, IF the depths on the chart were correct. Suddenly the rains let up just a bit and we saw the motor vessel that has passed us pulled off to the exact spot. If he could make it, we could. We turned Beach House out of the channel and maneuvered behind the other vessel, doing our best to just hold position. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes, but it was a very long 45 minutes.

It was a major relief to finally get the anchor down in the Banana River near the swing bridge. It was a bit strange to be anchored here and see only a handful of boats. We remember so many times when it was difficult to find a spot, there were so many boats. But we weren't feeling too bad not having to have to deal with crowds after our encounter with the storms. Since we were pretty close to the bridge, we called the bridge tender on the VHF to make sure there was no problem spending the night. It was also sad to see the dragon in ruins that had been a fixture on the point for many years. The local community has talked about restoring the sculpture, but it's doubtful that will happen. The home of the artist that built the sculpture is also in ruins and is kind of spooky. We had more rain off and on, but finally things settled down and the rest of the night was quiet. Our next destination would be Titusville, where we once again planned to visit friends.

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