Should We Do It Inside Or Do It Outside?

Just returned from a trip to Massachusetts where I attended my wife’s high school reunion (with her, not by myself), which has nothing whatsoever to do with the theme of this blog, except as an intro to allow me to express my thanks to those I met there.

It was a really fun crowd, and I was made to feel right at home. Nobody offered to get a large-print menu for me, and nobody asked if the lovely young lady pictured above was my daughter. There were some who said they’d been reading my ramblings, and to them I’d like to say “Thanks, please continue, and tell your friends.”

Now, to the subject at hand.

Of course the title refers to a nautical trip from “north” to “south”, but then that’s what you thought it meant, right?

All things being equal, the trip from Portsmouth, Virginia to Daytona Beach, Florida in the open Atlantic could be completed in a significantly shorter time than would be required to travel between the same two points via the Intracoastal Waterway.

For one thing, assuming an adequate crew to allow for reasonable watch periods, and also assuming good weather for the entire route, the trip could be run as a round-the-clock marathon, stopping only to come “inside” to get fuel.

But, as with so many things in life, all things regarding travel on the water are seldom equal.

Gathering and keeping a crew of people who have the experience and fortitude to make such a journey is no small feat, and paying for their time is a rather costly affair. Good sea-going crew-persons don’t sell their services cheaply, even in these unsettled times.

And then there’s the weather. Of the two oceans bookending our continent, the Pacific has a reputation for being nastier on average than the Atlantic. Tell that to the crew of the Andrea Gail (one of the victims of the Perfect Storm).

The Atlantic can get downright deadly in a real hurry, and when you are out to sea more miles than you can swim, little waves start to look really, really big. The chances of leaving Norfolk and making it all the way to Ponce Inlet (nearest inlet to Daytona Beach) and having nice weather all the way are pretty slim.

Running “The Ditch” at night is strongly discouraged, and in many places, could be considered to be a nearly suicidal undertaking. The ICW winds around a lot, and the part you want to be in, the deep part, is surrounded on both sides by a lot of parts you don’t want to be in…shallow parts…often shallow parts with sticking-up things that would wreak all sorts of havoc with a fiberglas hull. It’s hard enough to stay in the deep water in daylight. After dark, doing so for any real distance would require navigational skills and luck in quantities I do not possess.

So, that’s one major difference between the two routes. In theory, you could run day and night offshore, but inshore, you go and stop as the sun rises and sets.

The happy medium that many cruising boaters select is a combination of offshore legs and inshore legs. The location of optimum offshore legs is dictated primarily by the inlets that need to be traversed in order to get from the inside out, or from the outside back in.

All inlets are not created equal. There are some inlets that can be used in almost any weather by almost any reasonably sturdy vessel. On the other hand there are other inlets that have an off-the-chart pucker factor. Those are the ones that are basically useless for the casual cruiser, and they are bypassed in favor of the more user-friendly inlets.

Just as a for-instance, this is an incident that happened just last month here in Florida at one of the more heavily-used inlets – Jupiter Inlet. Although we won’t be coming close to this one on our trip, it is something to keep in mind whenever transiting an inlet.

This is a 50 foot boat, built for heavy seas, and it was captained by a guy who did this for a living and was a VERY experienced skipper. The inlet still got him.

Jupiter Inlet Tragedy

A quick look at some of the information out there shows that there are at least thirty named inlets between Beaufort, North Carolina and Ponce Inlet near Daytona Beach. Although we’ll be starting the trip well north of Beaufort, North Carolina, this would be the first “nice” inlet we’d come across after having sufficient running time to make sure the boat is in good health and dependable enough to go outside.

The problem is, “nice” inlets aren’t spaced regularly up and down the coast, so the distance from one “nice” inlet to the next may be an easy day’s motoring, or it may require an overnighter to make the run. Of the thirty or so inlets we’ll be passing by, only a third of those are recommended for larger cruising boats driven by captains with no “local knowledge”.

The reason is that many inlets are subject to constantly changing shoal areas, some have shoals across all or most of the entrance, and many can get downright treacherous if the wind and tide conditions are just right.

So, we’ll probably stick our nose out the inlet at Beaufort to see what it looks like outside, and if we like what we see, we’ll go for it and come back inside at Masonboro Inlet near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

From there, it will be a play-it-as-it’s-dealt kind of thing, to see if we want to go out again for another offshore leg, or just stay inside and take our time.

Mileage-wise, there is really not much to be saved by running outside versus staying inside. The savings would be in time, but again, that’s based on being able to run offshore at night, which we probably wouldn’t. A new boat and an inexperienced offshore crew (me) both warrant an extra measure of caution.

The repairs are well under way, and I’m waiting to see when the yard thinks she’ll be ready to travel. Looks like we’ll be buying about 20 charts to cover all of the various route options we may take, and I need to get a few items purchased and delivered to the boat before we get ready to go.

Provisioning for the trip will be the next step, and then we’ll be ready to go.

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About TwoCaptains

The TwoCaptains are Jim and Janet, both US Coast Guard licensed boat captains home-ported in Daytona Beach. We recently sold our 1990 Ocean Yachts 56' CPMY "Magic Carpet", and now we're in the hunt for a replacement.
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