Some Thoughts on This Leg Of Our Trip

I have been reflecting on doing this section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway since it is now our second trip along this route. From the Galveston Bay area until reaching our current position in Orange Beach, Alabama, we saw very little in the way of pleasure craft outside of small local boats fishing. Even they were few and far between. It goes without saying that there are almost no facilities for pleasure craft, with only a couple of exceptions, so planning things like fuel and water stops must be done in advance. My point being that those considering this trip need to do some very careful preparations prior to departing along this road less traveled. The over all condition and especially the mechanical equipment on board must be in top working order, properly serviced before setting out, and well tested in advance. If something breaks you need to have spare parts on board and be able to make repairs. I am not saying that you won’t be able to get assistance, but you can not count on it to be prompt or inexpensive.
We chose an unlimited towing insurance policy through Boat US which we felt would be a good investment here. But even their unlimited towing has limitations and in some areas they are just not there. In a real emergency, repairs might be made at some of the commercial yards along your route but these are primarily for ships, tugs, supply boats and barges. Not much sailing will be done so a good engine with enough power to get you out of the way, if need be, is a must. We have found ourselves sandwiched in between several tugs with tows that were hundreds of feet long. If something goes awry you will need to do something quickly, not them. This also presents the need to be able to navigate in the same waterways they use. Anchorages at night should be chosen carefully and consideration needs to be given to the commercial traffic that runs all night, might pull over to the side of the waterway or into the same bayou in which you are anchored and that has a 200 foot tow in front of him.
Availability of weather information is also important. You are traveling the waterway in mostly protected waters but there is also some very large open bodies of water that can be problematic in bad weather. It also helps you find the right anchorages when serious weather approaches. We don’t have a lot of faith in the forecasts put out by the National Weather Service. They are wrong more than they are right, in our opinion, but you still need to acquire weather information. We use several sources and make decisions on our own experience and guesstimations and usually we are right more often. We have the ability to download weatherfax and wind and wave charts via out SSB/Ham radio. This is done through Winlink and is for only Ham operators. Sailmail sells a service very much like this for non Hams and both can send and receive emails. We do listen to NWS reports but only to determine the location of front and low and high pressure systems that will affect our weather. We also use local TV station news to get reports and get a visual of the recent radar pictures. There are virtually no places along the waterway that we have not been able to pick up local TV stations. We gather this entire information then try to formulate a plan based on what WE think is going to happen. So a good understanding of the workings of weather, the weather systems and prevailing conditions for the area you plan to travel is also important.
And finally, the creature comfort equipment you need to make the trip a pleasant one. We have gone way overboard in our years of cruising. I remember a day when I sailed to Bermuda with a compass, VHF radio, plastic sextant and a portable radio that doubled as a range finder. Today we have a HD LCDTV, satellite dish, DVD player, stereo system, WiFi adapter and more electronics than I ever dreamed of in the early years. Oh, and let’s not forget the computer I am typing all of this on. For those things, each person must make their own choices. Cruising the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama is unlike most other cruising you will do. For those who consider coastal cruising a race from one marina to the next each day, this will probably not work for them. Once you reach Orange Beach, Alabama you are back in civilization, back in the land of jet skis, sport fishing boats that have no clue as to how to safely pass another boat and small watercraft of every size and shape operated by suicidal young people that truly believe they can do whatever they want and are invulnerable. It makes you long for the remote bayous of Louisiana. Preparations, a good sound boat and well maintained equipment will make this and easy, uneventful passage. We really do enjoy making the waterway trip and prefer it hands down to running straight across the Gulf. I guess our thoughts here probably apply to most cruises, but because this is sometimes considered equivalent to the east coast ICW, we thought we might enlighten any of those that chose to follow in our wake.

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