It’s called the Route 66 for boaters.
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), also known as “The Ditch,” is the inside route for cruisers to go north and south along the east coast without going out into the ocean. Taking the ICW is like a waterfront road trip through the belly of the east coast. In over 1000 miles, from Chesapeake Bay to Florida, the scenes can be primordial swamp or vistas of Tara-like Colonial mansions – or modern-day beach houses.
In the winding, swampy parts, the ICW feels like it could run out of water if you take the wrong turn, or that an overhanging tree branch might hit your boat’s mast. Partially hidden floating logs occasionally bump the bottom of the boat.
Stairways of Colonial mansions sweep down lawns to the water. Some homes are so imposing they’ve been used in movies such as The Prince of Tides and Forrest Gump. A traveler can enjoy Sunday brunch in the grand dining room at the elegant Jekyll Island Club in North Carolina’s “Millionaires Village.”
The Waccamaw River in South Carolina has deep water to the banks lined with cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. Unexpectedly, dolphins surface and follow the boat for a while, just as in documentary films. Shore birds perch like statues on top of dead swamp trees or pilings.
Every now and then, an eagle soars by.
More than an architectural and landscape experience, the ICW offers a glance at another lifestyle. Stopovers in marinas are often in rural towns and settings; city slickers get a close encounter with a rural lifestyle where things are less cynical and complicated.
At Osprey Marina in North Carolina, the dock master tells of when he took English literature in college and the text for the class was The New Yorker magazine. “I knew I should drop the class right away, because I never could understand what they were trying to say.”
The Beaufort-Hyde News of Belhaven, N.C. features a fifth grade student who received an award for the “character trait of cleanliness” because of being “neatly dressed and well groomed, obeying the school dress code at all times.”
The sounds of a drag race can be heard from a quiet anchorage on a Friday night.
A month of taking the ICW from Florida back home to Annapolis was a surprise dip into many levels of geography and society. While at times I was near screaming for the conveniences of a big box store, wine shop or even McDonald’s, a field trip through the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway was a seminar I couldn’t get anywhere else.