Ask any two sailors what they like most about traveling the Intracoastal Waterway and you’re unlikely to get much, if any, agreement. We can all gripe agreeably about the downsides of the Ditch—long turns at the wheel, shoaling, brutal currents, inconsiderate boaters—but rarely, if ever, do you hear the upsides of one of the most fascinating water routes in America.
Do we snowbirds ever even think about the ICW, other than it’s being the purgatory we have to pass through to reach the “Sailing Paradise” of the Bahamas or Caribbean or, alternatively, return home up north? Since sailing is (presumably) more about getting there and not the destination, I find this get-it-done attitude contradictory. Why aren’t we enjoying the ICW more? Could it be we need to slow down and really look at where we are, what we’re passing through?
I believe that may be the case, and so, in no particular order, in the spirit of enjoying the moment, here are my eclectic choices of what I consider to be ten of the ICW’s most interesting features, places, or people.
Belhaven, North Carolina, whose location on the Pungo River, far from anyplace, mandates that most of us will stop there overnight. This is not a bad thing, as Belhaven gets my nod for having the best sunsets along the ICW—spectacular, in fact. And even if you’re not an early riser, the sunrises too are well worth losing some sleep over.
In the category of bridgetenders/lockkeepers, the lockkeeper at Deep Creek Lock on the Dismal Swamp rises far above the rest—and this is no small thing, given that there are about 63 opening bridges (under 65 feet) and 3 locks along the way. Where else will you be serenaded while locking through by someone playing the conch? As well, Rob is a pro. He’s the only lockkeeper I’ve seen anywhere who carries a boathook to catch your lines, and who, with an honest smile, helps boaters into and through his domain.
Some years back, Rob invited another singlehander and me for Thanksgiving dinner, introducing us to his family, making us feel completely at home. The following day, he drove me to a marine store to purchase needed parts. That’s surely service above and beyond.
Laundromats might seem an odd category, but—excepting those whose boats have watermakers and on-board laundry facilities—we all need them; it’s just that finding a good one isn’t easy. I give you the laundromat behind the General Store in Beaufort, North Carolina, as the best on the ICW. Clean, tidy, inexpensive, with new machines that give you lots of time for your quarters, this is the place to get cleaned up on the ICW. It isn’t as boaty as, say, the laundromat at the Beaufort Municipal Marina, but your whites are definitely whiter here—and who else but sailors would even consider discussing laundromats anyway?