Q & A with the Authors of an ICW Cruising Guide

On board any cruising boat, charts and guides are pivotal for route-planning. But have you ever thought about how those guides are created? We checked in with the co-authors of an ICW cruising guide to get the skinny on guide-writing and ICW cruising.
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On board any cruising boat, charts and guides are pivotal for route-planning. But have you ever thought about how those guides are created? We checked in with Mark and Diana Doyle, the co-authors of On the Water ChartGuides, to get the skinny on guide-writing and ICW cruising. This pair will be speaking at the 2014 Secrets of the ICW Seminar, as well as helping out with SAIL’s inaugural Snowbird Rally down the Intracoastal Waterway. Ten-year veteran cruising guide authors, they know a thing or two about charting the waters for sailors who come after them.

SAIL: First and foremost, why do the ICW at all? Isn’t it faster to just go offshore and head straight for the islands?

Doyles: There’s a reason millions of dollars were invested over two hundred years ago to create this route. Cape Hatteras isn’t called the Graveyard of the Atlantic for nothing! The ICW was created to provide a safe, sheltered, reliable inland route along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and although “bumping outside” is sometimes an option for some boats and some crews, it would be a shame to miss this incredibly scenic and history-rich path connecting major cities, towns and villages along its natural bays, sounds, lagoons and tidal rivers.

SAIL: You two have been creating On the Water ChartGuides for nearly 10 years now. Can you give us an idea of the process through which you create and update these guides?

Doyles: It’s just the two of us, with no office and no staff, and we do everything from aboard our boat. As we transit the ICW we collect meticulous notes, record annotated depth tracks through trouble spots, digitally survey with custom software, shoot geo-tagged photos and so on. Then we pick a favorite ICW marina—some place with creature comforts like air conditioning and unlimited Internet—and our big-screen Mac rotates from its seaworthy strapped-down position to become an onboard production workstation. It then takes us a month or two to finalize a printer-ready file. That’s why we joke that our 34-foot catamaran is also corporate headquarters of On the Water ChartGuides!

SAIL: We hear several changes happened with On the Water this year. What’s the story?

Doyles: Well the first was we went non-profit in March. That took the printed guides down from $19.95 to $9.95 each. Then we added digital. Our CruiseGuide and AnchorGuide digital editions just came out for $3.99 as ebooks for iPad or Macbook through Apple’s iTunes Store. The cool thing about “e” versus “tree” is that we’ve been able to add a lot of interactive content that would be unaffordable in print—things like color anchorage photographs, sat images, street maps, even audio clips that explain entrances while you study the annotated charts.

SAIL: Your guides specialize in “Frugal Favorites” and finding ICW sailors places they can stay for $1 a foot or less a night. Tell us about a couple of your favorite Frugal Favorites.

Doyles: We especially like to anchor, and one of our favorites is Fort Frederica anchorage at statute mile 665.9. It’s Old South with magnificent moss-draped oaks and is right along the national park with dinghy access. For a marina, Osprey Marina, at the start of the Waccamaw River, has great rates, is super friendly and has the best diesel price in South Carolina. Oh, and they understand cruisers; rather than handing out yet another beer koozie, they give you an incredible goodie bag with things like laundry soap and homemade pumpkin butter!

SAIL: If there’s one place, one dog-legged sidetrack, that you think more ICW sailors should take and too often skip, where would you say that is?

Doyles: Many cruisers skip the Dismal Swamp Canal route and instead take Virginia Cut. Dismal Swamp is an incredible historical trip and it boasts free docks and walls the entire stretch! We could talk all day about that area, and often do.

SAIL: Diana’s long been a proponent of nature-watching and conservation from the sailors’ vantage. Tell us a little about the birds and wildlife we can expect to see on the ICW.

Doyles: Many people don’t realize how varied the ICW is as you change latitude, and participants will experience that every day, all day. Up north, the bald eagles are always an eye-catcher. By Beaufort, NC, boaters will be thrilled by the near-daily visits of bottlenose dolphins. Often, there will be huge flocks of striking birds, like white ibis, black skimmers, or herons and egrets. By Florida keep your eyes open for the bright pink roseate spoonbills, often mistaken for flamingos!

SAIL: We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Secrets of the ICW Seminar in Annapolis and again at the start of the Snowbird Rally in Hampton. Where will you two be between now and then?

Doyles: We’re in St. Augustine, FL, right now and will shortly be dodging the Florida insurance bullet and heading north along the ICW. We’ll work some and cruise some, getting to the Chesapeake in time for the fall boat shows and rendezvous. After that we hope to get in some of our own Chesapeake Bay cruising. Last season we enjoyed a few quiet days at Tangier Island, watching the watermen, dinghy exploring and walking the island.

Mark and Diana Doyle will be speaking at this year's Secrets of the ICW Seminar in Annapolis on Oct 12, sharing their secrets on "Frugal Favorites" along the ICW. You can purchase your tickets to this all-day seminar here

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