Cruising Stories

The Trifecta in the Maldives

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January 2018
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By
Kia
Koropp

Kia Koropp, along with her husband John, and two children Braca, 6 and Ayla, 4, began cruising around the world on their 50-foot sailboat, Atea, in 2011. This is an excerpt from their adventures in the Maldives, an island chain located in South Asia on the Indian Ocean.After two months exploring the glorious Maldives, I've come full circle in appreciating what it has to offer. We'd heard numerous accounts from cruisers before us: Once in the Maldives, we would swim with manta rays, dive with whale sharks and suffocate from the density of fish in the live corals. The bar was set high, but keeping the bar high became a challenge as we discovered that the Maldives' idyllic isles were either submerged under a thin layer of water or dominated by five-star resorts. After a bit of hit and miss, the delights of the Maldives finally unraveled before us.We tackled the country in a three-pronged approach: one, uninhabited isles; two, remote villages; three, luxury resorts. These three perspectives proved to be the trifecta. The isolated islets offered pristine beauty and an opportunity to experience the rich underwater world. In the sleepy villages, we met fast and dear friends, while the resorts gave us a taste of the ultimate in high-end luxury.

UNINHABITED ISLETS

At first, the list of anchorages in the Maldives' countless isles seemed in nite, but our planning was complicated by the fact that the names were impossible to remember.Eventually we gave up trying to organize a route and simply drifted northward with a vague agenda. The problem with a strategy based on ambiguity and spontaneity, however, was that the topography didn't lend itself to just hopping around.The country's countless islands 1,190 to be exact to anyone with a few months to explore by yacht, this offers more than enough options. In fact, it was a bit daunting to start navigating our yacht through the labyrinth. But there are limits, as we soon found out. The depths in the area are great and the drop-offs sheer, so we often found ourselves completely cut off from the islands. The land does not gently slope into deep water but quickly plunges from one to 50 meters on a vertical wall, making anchoring impossible. We passed idyllic isle after idyllic isle, wishing to park and play. It was evident looking through the clear water what made diving in the Maldives so extraordinary, with steep walls layered in coral and striped fish, but we were repeatedly denied access to this wonderland by depths too deep or shores too shallow.What's more, the bounty of coral reefs make boating feasible only in good light and with reliable charts. Prior to our arrival, John had spent considerable time downloading Google Map images of the region, providing us with visual details of the landscape. I highly recommend this to any yacht destined for these waters.

Journal Entry 1

Huvadhoo Atoll: The light is fading and I stand on the bow trying to spot white sand beneath the surface. We've sailed along the eastern fringe of the atoll for hours now, but it seems the entire eastern side is a sheer drop off. I continue to scout ahead. We shared paths with dolphin and pilot whales, but neither are what we search for. Finally, we concede defeat. John pulls up Google Map images of the area and we search the interior of the atoll for a submerged reef with enough depth to set our anchor. We look through the images for a shade of blue just the right hue: Too light and it is just knee deep, too dark and it is beyond the reach of our anchor windlass. Quickly, we find a spot two miles distant. Half an hour and we see a patch of sand that stands out like a halo. We made it. With the anchor set, we listen to the collective rush of a million little silver fish breaking the surface. In the pastel tinted light of the setting sun, it is the only sound that punctuates the intense quiet that engulfs us. It is intensely serene.

On many occasions we set our sights on a seemingly suitable anchorage only to find there wasn't anything on the surface to explore or anywhere suitable to set our anchor. Our first few anchorages were no more than a submerged reef in the middle of the atoll, cut off from the beautiful islets that surrounded us. At first, this offered seclusion we were keen to avoid, but after realizing the splendor below us, we quickly turned our isolation into an opportunity.

Journal Entry 2

Hadhdhunmathee Atoll: The water is crystal clear and the fans that wave just below the surface beckon us. At low tide, the small circle of reef is the size of a tennis court and breaks the surface at its highest peak at low tide. The tide is high now, however, and we have a 360-degree view of endless blue. The four of us leap off the side deck into the water and snorkel in the breaking morning light. Seconds later we cannot see each other through the density of fish that engulf us. It is like a scene in an animation film, though this isn't an over-exaggeration of the reef.

Live-aboard dive boats offer a great way to explore the area.

Journal Entry 3

Felidhe Atoll: While John dives, the kids and I snorkel alongside a mammoth moray eel. It's large, outstretched body gracefully navigates the nooks of the reef. Eventually he catches his meal.North Ari Atoll: Never before have I watched a reef shark hunt. I hover on the wall, pulling in shallow steady breaths on my regulator hose, and watch the shark directly below me. In a flash it sinks his head into a hole in the reef and retracts it wildly, thrashing its head like a dog with a bone. He caught his meal and I caught my breath.Rasdhoo Atoll: I've often been a pest to the fish but rarely have the fish been a pest to me. Today's dive was brimming with sh life, so thick that at times it was impossible to focus.

INHABITED ISLANDS

We'd been told our trip highlights would come from the water and not from the land, that the locals were indifferent to visitors and that we should expect a cold eye and frozen glare when going ashore.Regardless, we ventured into villages with eyes wide open and were quickly reminded that what you hear is often not what you get. The warmth we found from the villagers was a defining feature of our trip. We were hosted and we hosted, our social customs and theirs traded like much-valued secrets. We learned to accept a type of hospitality very different from our own: guests are fed first and hosts second. We were offered coconuts from trees and guidance in the streets. The kids have been invited on play dates and picnics.In many countries I have visited, I've found a social barrier that is hard to bridge, no matter how generous the gestures, but I never felt this in my interactions with the Maldivians. Most of the time, we experienced warmth and inclusion and I treasure what this added to our trip.The pace of life in the Maldives is slow, a result of both the afternoon heat and a lack of industry. The coral-brick homes are surrounded by compound walls, set on neat sandy streets.

Journal Entry 4

Kolhumadulu Atoll: The four of us are seated at the table, with a cat underneath, a bird in a cage behind me and a parrot presented on an outstretched finger. Mother, sister and sister-in-law clatter about busily at the stove, the two daughters deliver plates piled high with local fare. At the end of the meal my contribution, a flan, is served to us. So far, no one else has eaten. We are introduced to visitors that appear in the doorway, a steady stream of neighborly curiosity. At the end of the evening we are presented a package, a gift of pre-purchased treats and an odd assortment of vegetables from the garden, and they escort us back to our dinghy.

The population of 373,000 is spread across 200 inhabited islands, with 50 percent of the citizens residing in the densely populated capital, Malé. The city is constructed one meter above sea level with half of its land base coming from the dredged sand of nearby islets.It is incredible to think that the natural geography of the entire archipelago is lower than our aft deck.We sit on our perch like little seabirds and look down at the islands that surround us.

RESORTS

We wormed our way into the grace of a few sympathetic resort managers and paid our way in meals and cocktails, salons and shops, without having to pay for a room. We shared the facilities with Chinese, German, English and Russian tourists, the bulk of foreign visitors to the Maldives. Couples steeped in love held hands and wandered down the beach or lounged on decks hanging over the reefs. The Maldives is ranked as the world's most desired honeymoon destination —thus the luxury resorts.

Journal Entry 5

Baa Atoll: Dinghy ashore, a hand on the scruff of the neck and a complimentary golf-cart ride to reception, where we get told to take a room or beat it. Regardless, I'm dogged in my fruitless pursuit of five-star luxury. Once more we are herded to reception, but before the golf cart can pull up for our return trip to the dinghy, I grab the kids and wander off to watch the shark feeding. Soon we have a fake guest room, an open tab and all amenities at our disposal. We spend the next few days living resort-style, hand-in-hand (when not hand-on-cocktail) and Cupid-struck.

Tourism has boomed in the Maldives since 1972. For almost 30 years, multinationals had exclusive rights on tourist development, with minimum revenue going to the local economy. The vast majority of resorts consisted of an exclusive hotel on its own island, managed by foreigners and with no contact with the local community. Tourists were restricted to the resorts, and cruisers were banned from anchoring off any populated islands. The authorities did not welcome independent travelers. In recent years, the government has eased restrictions, legalizing tourism development on a local level. Guest- houses, cafes, dive shops and souvenir shops burgeoned throughout the local villages, and more than a million tourists currently visit the country each year. Still, particularly in the south where tourism has been slower to develop, a foreigner can still be seen as an anomaly.

Journal Entry 6

Foammulah Atoll: We are in the southern atolls and we've not seen a single foreigner since our arrival two weeks prior. We've passed a few scattered resorts, but rarely stray from dive boat or resort. We've been at anchor for four days now, arriving mere hours before a big storm. We finally leave the boat for a much- needed leg stretch and play on the tiny islet where we are anchored. On the nearby main island, I see four bodies marching in line out to sea, arm- in-arm, heading our way. The water is deep in places, the current strong. They drag one another along. As they near I make out four women in full dress. I wade out to greet them, smiling as they puff from the exertion.

There is no conclusion to this story, for it is not yet concluded. We are on our way to India but will be returning to the Maldives soon for another shot at the trifecta. After all, of 1,190 islets, we've still a few yet to see.

Related Articles
Women Take to the Water In Boating Groups & Clubs
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It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. Do you know where your wife, mother, daughter or sister is? She might be at the Chicago Yacht Club, launching off in a learn-to-sail lesson in the summer series that’s part of the Women on the Water Program.  Or, if she’s in the Florida Keys, you could find her relaxing ashore after a day casting about in a Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! tournament. Or maybe she’s cruising the Intracoastal Waterway in North Myrtle Beach on a pontoon boat with friends, all members of Freedom Boat Club’s Sisters group. 

Nationwide nowadays, many groups and clubs are oriented specifically toward female boaters. Some are exclusively for women, others are clubs within co-ed clubs, and still others are part of century-old all-inclusive organizations that now offer opportunities for the ladies.

“A boater is a boater; it’s anyone who loves being on the water. Still, for many years and often today, boating is viewed as a man’s sport. That’s changing as more opportunities become available for women to get out on the water,” says Mary Paige Abbott, the past Chief Commander of the U.S. Power Squadrons, rebranded as America’s Boating Club with 30,000 members — 30% of them women. The century-plus-old organization opened its membership to females in 1982.

Women making waves in boating isn’t new. New York-born Hélène de Pourtalès was the first female to win a medal sailing in the 1900 Olympics. Helen Lerner, who with her husband Michael and friend Ernest Hemingway founded the Bahamas Marlin & Tuna Club in 1936, recorded a women’s first record catch of a swordfish off Nova Scotia. In 1977, Betty Cook landed a first-place finish in the powerboat world championships held in Key West. These examples are extraordinary but only exceptions to the rule that boating is a male-dominated sport. 

Today, the tide is turning. Take sports fishing for example. About 36% of Americans who went fishing last year were women, an all-time participation high, according to the 2021 Special Report on Fishing by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing involvement in recreational angling and boating.

WHY WOMEN?

Why not? That’s what led Betty Bauman to start Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! in 1997. Since then, this organization of which Bauman is founder and chief executive officer, hosts weekend seminar series dubbed the No-Yelling School of Fishing, as well as tournaments throughout Florida and abroad. To date, Bauman has empowered more than 9,000 women to sportfish.  

“I attended ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, the world’s largest sportfishing trade show) when I had a public relations agency. The American Sportfishing Association’s director asked in a speech why weren’t more women in fishing? After all, as he pointed out, the sport wasn’t reaching some 50% of the potential market. I thought to myself, women don’t want to feel uncomfortable or get yelled out. So, I came up with a way to teach women the basics. How to tie knots, how rods and reels work, and how to make value assessments when fishing, not just following what their husbands yell at them to do or going down in the galley to make sandwiches,” says Bauman.

Women learn differently from men, and that’s the benefit of learning boating skills with and from other women. Just ask Debbie Huntsman, the past president of the National Women’s Sailing Association (NWSA).

“My husband and I were taking a learn to sail class years ago. I saw another boat in the distance and asked the instructor, who was a man, what I needed to do to be sure we didn’t have a collision. He answered that it was just like going down the aisle at the supermarket with a shopping cart; you just know not to hit another cart. That didn’t do it for me,” Huntsman tells. 

The 1990-founded NWSA is a group of national and international women sailors. It supports its members via everything from a library of instructional videos taught by women, for women, to its annual conference, which features hands-on workshops and on-the-water coaching.

“I think women tend to be more meticulous in their learning. They want to know all the moving parts and why they move. They want to do it right and do it perfectly whether men are onboard or not. That’s what I see,” says Karen Berry, VP of operations at Freedom Boat Club (FBC) of the Grand Strand, in Myrtle Beach, SC.

FBC offers free boating training and safety education to all members, including those in the 2017-founded Freedom Boating Diva program, which Berry helped to launch. The group is now called the Freedom Boat Club Sisters group, and 40% of the clubs nationwide now have a Sister component. Members enjoy time on the water together, training activities, social events and boatloads of camaraderie.

CAMARADERIE & NETWORKING

More so than a one-and-done class, many women-centric boating groups and clubs feature ongoing and year-round events. A good example is Women on the Water, a club within a club run by the Chicago Yacht Club’s (CYC) Women’s Committee. The group’s Friday night learn-to-sail series in Sonar 23s only takes place during the summer. The rest of the year, the women (an eclectic group of boating-oriented 20-somethings to 70-plus-year-olds, singles and marrieds, professionals and retirees) meet monthly for educational programs, networking events and happy hours.

“We’ve done everything from a sunset powerboat tour to admire the architecture of the Chicago skyline to a cooking class taught by the club’s pastry chef. During the pandemic, we continued to meet virtually. We had the female president of the U.S. Naval War College speak. We met some of the crew of the Maiden Factor, which is sailing the world to promote women’s sailing, and we had one of our own speak — Maggie Shea, who raced in the 2020 Olympics. The fact that our events fill up and sell out almost immediately tells you there’s a need for this,” says Nancy Berberian, head of the CYC’s Women’s Committee.

Similarly, the nearly four-decade-old Women’s Sailing Association (WSA) at the Houston Yacht Club hosts a residential women’s sailing camp. The Windward Bound Camp, one of the first of its kind in the nation, organizes racing, educational and social events throughout the year.  

“Our sailing socials allow time on the water with other women in a non-competitive environment.  Yearly, we organize a ‘Sail to High.’ Yes, we wear lovely hats and gloves on the sailboat and dock at someone’s home for tea and trimmings,” says Jane Heron, WSA president.

More recently, Women on the Water of Long Island Sound (WOWLIS) was born, made up currently of more than 250 women from 14 yacht clubs in Connecticut and New York who love to sail, race, learn and socialize. 

“It started as a Supper Series, as a way to connect women across our venues,” says Cathleen Blood at WOWLIS. “Now, there is regularly held one-design racing on Ideal 18s, team and fleet racing events, chalk talks and clinics, summer regattas, frostbiting in the spring, and an annual winter meeting to plan for the year ahead. 

To participate in most of these events, you must be a member of one of the yacht clubs. In this way, it’s all about getting clubs to commit to training and get more women on the water. There’s a real advantage. Say there’s a race I want to sail. I’m never stuck for crew. I have a pool of over 200 women, whether I know them or not, I can ask. We’re all united by a shared love of sailing.”

A SAMPLING OF WAYS FOR WOMEN TO GET ON THE WATER

Chicago Yacht Club’s Women on the Water


Freedom Boat Club Sisters Program


Houston Yacht Club Women’s Sailing Association


Ladies Let's go Fishing


National Women’s Sailing Association


Women on the Water Long Island Sound

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Exploring Antigua by Land and Sea
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The beautiful island of Antigua was our destination for a short Caribbean getaway. Having visited many of the Caribbean islands, we were looking forward to exploring a new tropical locale and experiencing the wonderful local charm, culture, vistas and beaches. In fact, this Eastern Caribbean island boasts 365 beaches: one for every day of the year!

My travel companions for the week included my husband Jim, brother Anthony and sister-in-law, Amanda. Always a great group to travel with (our last adventure together led us to Greece, Italy and Croatia), so I knew a fun week filled with laughter was in store.

JenJimCatamaran - cruising with members - marinalife
Jim and Jen on the catamaran

As we peered out the airplane window on the approach to Antigua, we were instantly mesmerized by the pure turquoise blue waters and rolling green hills, and eager to get out on the water.

For my brother, this trip was not just an ordinary vacation. While it was my first time visiting the island, my brother has incredibly fond memories of trips to Antigua during the 1970s as a child, traveling with his grandparents, affectionately known to us as Meemah and Deedah. This week was an opportunity to share with us one of his favorite places in the world.

Anthony decided the best way to explore the island was by land and by sea. The first part of our trip was spent touring the island with a local driver and tour guide named Elvis, who is a native Antiguan living in one of the six parishes on the island with his wife and children. When Anthony spotted him on the beach wearing a Yankee cap, he knew this was the tour guide for us. Anthony and Elvis instantly bonded (even discovering they shared a birthday) and together planned our extraordinary excursion.

Our tour of the island started with a visit to St. Johns, the capital city of Antigua. While part of the town is geared toward the large cruise ships that help support the local economy, St. Johns retains its charm, filled with farmers markets, stalls and local restaurants. Amanda was immediately enchanted by one of the young local shopkeepers selling souvenirs with his mom.

The next stop was Betty's Hope, one of the earliest sugar plantations dating back to 1651. The sugar mills are beautifully preserved, and we learned about the large role these sugar plantations played in Antigua's history. While enjoying the scenery at Betty's Hope, Elvis surprised us with homemade sandwiches and rum punch. A delightful snack to recharge us for the next stop -- Devil's Bridge in the Indian Town National Park.

antigua - cruising with members - marinalife
Jim, Jen, Amanda, and Anthony

Devil's Bridge is a natural stone arch that was carved from the rocky coast by the constant pounding of waves. Locals say its name comes from surges of water that snatch away people who stray too close to the edge. The area around the arch features several natural blowholes that shoot up water and spray powered by waves from the Atlantic Ocean.

While Jim and I stayed far from the edge, Anthony ventured out close to the bridge for a unique photo opportunity. Later in the week, we would have a chance to see this incredible rock formation from the ocean.

We continued to travel up the rolling hills to Shirley Heights Lookout, first used during the Revolutionary War as a signal station and lookout for approaches to English Harbor. It is truly one of the most spectacular vistas I have ever seen.

Having reached the highest point in Antigua, it was time to get back to sea level. Our next stop centered around Nelson's Dockyard, a working Georgian-era naval dockyard, designated as a world heritage site in 2016. We delighted in exploring the dockyard and gazing over the beautiful yachts and sailboats moored at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.

Driving through the lush dense greenery of the rainforest led us to an Antigua delicacy the black pineapple. On the side of the road just outside the rain forest, we stopped at a local fruit stand and chatted with the proprietor while she carved us a fresh black pineapple, known as the sweetest in the world. It definitely lived up to its reputation.

The final stop on our island tour was my favorite -- a chance to taste the island cuisine! Elvis called ahead of our arrival and requested a platter of local foods for us to sample. We arrived at Darkwood Beach Bar & Restaurant and were immediately welcomed by the staff.

antigua - cruising with members - marinalife
Darkwood Beach Bar

After selecting a table near the beach and ordering the national beer of Antigua, Wadidli (another name for the island itself), we had the privilege of hearing Elvis' story, learning more about his life and family, and even calling his wife to thank her for the yummy sandwiches. Then we feasted on fungee and pepperpot, a hearty meat stew with eggplant, pumpkin and squash, as well as local Caribbean lobster, curries and roti. All in all, an amazing way to end a spectacular day. We said goodbye to Elvis, exchanging addresses and knowing we had made a friend for life.

After exploring Antigua north to south and east to west, we opted for a catamaran tour to circumnavigate the island as our next adventure. The morning was spent pleasantly motoring in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea around the north side of the island. Before we knew it, we were sailing along in the open Atlantic Ocean passing by Long Island, also known as Jumby Bay and a popular destination for celebrities.

After a wonderful morning on the water, we anchored in a protected cove for a stop to swim, snorkel and eat lunch near Green Island. It was a perfect destination for Amanda's first snorkeling excursion. After spotting a large sea turtle, magnificent coral reefs and exotic fish, we enjoyed a lazy swim near the beautiful powdery white sand of Green Island Beach.

Following a traditional lunch of jerk chicken, rice and plantains, we continued our journey around the island down to the southern tip to experience English Harbor and Devil's Bridge from the water. It was even more extraordinary from this vantage point.

As the sun started to dip low in the sky, we returned to the Caribbean Sea on the western side of the island watching a storm brewing in the distance. During the quiet sail back, each of us felt grateful for another magnificent day in paradise.

While traveling with your closest friends is always fun, my favorite memories of our time on this magical island were Anthony's reflections of his previous trips to Antigua with his grandparents, the excitement at sharing his favorite place with his new wife, and the joy that much of the island remained as he remembered it. We are already planning our next trip to Antigua!

STORY BY JEN LEROUX, CEO OF MARINALIFE; PHOTOS BY ANTHONY DESANTIS

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Join a Father & Son Trip up the ICW
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Paul Kekalos - cruising - marinalife
Paul Kekalos and his father

"Might as well get going" said my dad as we stood on the dock, fresh out of things to prepare. I laughed to myself and replied, "Yeah, I guess we might as well." That conversation plays out in my head every time I set out on a boat a sign that all preparations are complete, and it's time to start the trip.

When my father asked me to help him deliver his Hatteras 40 from Charleston to Cape May via the ICW, I jumped at the chance to return to a special place in my life (I spent my summers in Cape May growing up) and spend bonding time with my dad. But I was not without apprehension. It would be my first trip on the ICW, his first in years, and the first on a new-to-him vessel. While I spend a lot of time on the water as a sailor, the twin diesels of the Hatteras were new to me.

As we were about to push off, dolphins showed up, easing the inevitable start-of-voyage jitters that accompany any trip. As we turned into Charleston Harbor and pointed toward the markers at the entrance to the first portion of the waterway heading north, our three dolphin friends escorted us through the channel markers. I took it as a good sign.

Starting Point: Charleston, SC

Charleston aerial - cruising - marinalife
Charleston Aerial | Pixaba

Estimated Mileage: 48 NM

We were warned that the first stretch of waterway was known for scattered shallow spots in the first few miles, but we found none. As waterfront homes of Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms slowly peeled away to reveal the quiet wilderness of the Santee Coastal Reserve, I thought, "This is the ICW I imagined. Pristine, undeveloped and peaceful."

In the coming days, I would learn this was only part of the story. We pulled into Georgetown for the evening, and our first day was behind us. With that came the simple lesson: the only way to get over the nervousness of a trip is to start the journey. We slept well that night knowing we had done so.

Leg 1: Georgetown, SC to Southport, NC

Estimated Mileage: 72 NM

Leaving Georgetown and heading north up the Waccamaw River, the previous afternoon's tranquility continued. The soft light over the marshlands showed that ours was the only wake in sight, save for a few passing southbound boats. It was an easy way to start the day. And then ... Myrtle Beach ... on a Saturday... in June. The morning peacefulness gave way to a bustling stretch of waterway filled with all sorts of people enjoying the day center consoles, water skiers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers, floating tiki bars. Mile after mile of developed waterfront checked our speed and changed our perspective.

Eventually, we cleared through the beautiful chaos of Myrtle Beach, crossed into North Carolina and preceded toward that night's destination, Southport, NC. This was our first time experiencing the wonderful ICW phenomenon of just pulling over to dock on the proverbial side of the road. We settled into the facing fuel dock at Southport Marina and marveled at how the ICW contains multitudes of experiences.

Leg 2: Southport to Beaufort, NC

Estimated Mileage: 83 NM

The weather was mostly settled with morning showers, and thunderstorms were predicted, but clear skies were forecasted for the afternoon. Only on Day 3, we still were under the misguided illusion that the schedule was ours to keep. We wanted to cover some ground today, so we ducked out of the well-marked and relatively easy Masonboro Inlet for an outside run up the Atlantic to Beaufort, NC.

As we approached the Inlet, a local Sunday morning sailing race was underway. Half the fleet made it out of the inlet with us before we heard on the radio that the race committee was recalling the fleet due to approaching thunderstorms. We debated staying inside, but the weather quickly passed us, and we rode the gentle swell up to Beaufort Inlet. It was good to get in the miles by going outside the ICW, but we realized that was not the point of this trip. Leaving the ICW, we missed the variety that the waterway provides. We stayed inside for the rest of the trip to enjoy the view.

Leg 3: Beaufort to Belhaven, NC

Estimated Mileage: 50 NM

On a trip up the ICW, you discover it's anything but a highway. Leaving Beaufort, we noted how the waterway that we experienced thus far was a straight-line narrow cut with land close by on either side, often called the proverbial ditch. But the ICW also provides moments of wide-open beauty.Heading out of Beaufort and north up Adams Creek, the ICW gives way to the relative vastness of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. Navigation aids are more spaced out, and the wind waves have more room to gather up. We traveled a short stretch of the Sound, pulled into beautiful Belhaven Marina for the night and found the sleepy but utterly charming town was a great place to stop.

Leg 4: Belhaven to Coinjock, NC

Estimated Mileage: 58 NM

norfolk - cruising - marinalife
Norfolk's Busy Harbor | David Mark on Pixabay

Years of boating taught me that you seldom go five days without seeing weather that you'd rather not see. The past four days were pretty good weather-wise, so we were due for something else. Pulling out of Belhaven in light sprinkles and overcast skies, we entered the famed Alligator-Pungo River Canal. This is truly the ditch 21 miles of a virtual straight line that connects the Pungo and Alligator Rivers. It is narrow and long, and it helps to see where you are going.Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and we navigated the canal with ease. But just as we emerged into the wide-open Alligator River, heavy rains and stiff squalls closed in around us. I'm always nervous with weather, but my dad has a measured demeanor, so he put me at ease. We picked our way from buoy to buoy and emerged from the storm just as we passed through Alligator River Swing Bridge and started across Albemarle Sound for the evening's destination, Coinjock Marina & Restaurant. Here I learned the real lesson of the day order the prime rib!

Leg 5: Coinjock, NC to Norfolk, VA

Estimated Mileage: 34 NM

On every trip, you reach a point where you've gone over the hump. With five days of ICW behind us, we hit that point and could sense a change coming. We left Coinjock and picked our way across the long, shallow Currituck Sound into Virginia. As we wound our way through the meandering and pristine North Landing River Natural Area Preserve, both of us were excited to make Norfolk that evening and enter the Chesapeake for our final stretch. Several bridges are on this stretch of the ICW, but our timing was good, and we passed each without much wait.

Sliding through the Great Bridge Locks, we approached Norfolk. The city and its surrounding waterways' bustle was an absolute eye-opener after the past few days. It made the pace of Myrtle Beach seem bucolic. We slept well, knowing that we had come to mile zero on the ICW safely.

Leg 6: Chesapeake Bay: Norfolk, VA to Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

Estimated Mileage: 200 NM

If approaching Norfolk from the south is eye-opening, then traveling into the Chesapeake past the heart of the Naval docks is something else entirely. Mile after mile of grey steel. More naval ships that I'd ever seen in one place. Amazing! And just like that, you pass over Hampton Roads Tunnels, enter the Chesapeake and you're back to wide-open beauty.

Chesapeake & Delaware Canal - cruising - marinalife
Chesapeake & Delaware Canal | Lee Cannon on FLickr

Our time in the Bay was a bit rushed. I had to return to commitments at home, so we had to get in some miles now. The plan: proceed to Solomons for a night and then reach the C&D Canal. However, our optimistic timetable did not stop the Chesapeake from dealing us a few lessons along the way.

The Chesapeake does not care about your schedule. The weather was too crummy in Solomons to leave, so we wisely decided to stay an extra day. When we finally poked out of the Patuxent River, we realized the residual effects of the rain was still evident. The Bay delivered a wild ride, with wind, rain, short chop and limited visibility for a few hours. We pondered cutting our day short, but the weather lifted quickly. By the time we passed Annapolis, blue skies and flat seas surrounded us all the way to the C&D Canal. It was amazing how quickly and dramatically conditions on the Bay changed for the better.

Leg 7: Chesapeake City to Cape May, NJ

Estimated Mileage: 54 NM

After transiting the C&D Canal and entering the Delaware Bay for the final stretch, we were truly in home waters. But despite the time I spent on the Bay growing up, I had never navigated a boat down this tricky body of water. The Delaware is busy, with a narrow channel and many big working boats. We hugged the channel's edge as we made our way down the Bay leaving ample room for others.

As the bay widened out, we plotted our approach to Cape May Harbor. Our entry took us through the Cape May Canal and into the harbor, then on to the boats' summer berth, not far from where I had spent my childhood summers. With the trip virtually complete, we experienced the bittersweet feeling of nearing our destination. And the final stretch provided perhaps the best lesson of all: When you get the opportunity to bring a boat from one place to another with your old man, take it.

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