You’re Not Really a Cruiser Until You’ve Run Aground

Captain Mike at the helm

The day started out blustery and cold and didn’t get much better. But we were excited to officially pass mile zero on the ICW; it meant the prospect of warmth! We were even more excited to be traveling with two other boats, s/v Solstice and s/v Totem. Although Solstice and Totem had become world travelers neither of them had traveled the ICW before so it was new to every single one of us. What a caravan we made: a seasoned family of world cruisers, a solo world cruiser and a young family completely new to the cruising life!

bringing up the rear with s/v Solstice and s/v Totem in the lead
s/v Solstice

Everyone always asks me if I’m enjoying myself. The truth is, I feel like a little kid. Everything is new. Look! The huge navy ships, the buildings and condos, everything made more magical by Christmas lights and wreaths strung everywhere. And over there! Eroding shorelines and the birds that live there! I’m beginning to share the wonderment of my children; that sparkle that fills their eyes whenever we take them to see something, anything, new.

So much to see!
Christmas in the city



The beginning of our journey would prove to be challenging. To start it was cold, and although we have a dodger and a bimini which helped greatly, the wind still swept right over the dodger and onto our faces when we were standing at the helm. There was no getting around that. And there were the many bridges, and one lock, that dot the beginning of the ICW. I can’t even remember how many bridges we went under in total, after a while it was “just another bridge.”

Me at the helm! Yes I’m cold
Approaching our first opening bridge

There are different kinds of bridges: fixed and opening bridges that include swing, draw and lift. We went under several fixed bridges, and a few kinds of opening bridges like this lifting bridge shown in the picture above. Most of the bridges are on a schedule meaning they might open on the hour or on every half hour. It was helpful to know the schedule so that we could time our arrival with the opening of the bridge. Still, we had to hail the bridge-tender on the VHF radio and let him know we were intending to pass under the bridge. Not all boats can travel the ICW. For example, our friends on Totem held their breath once or twice hoping their mast was indeed short enough to pass under. When we didn’t arrive right on time to the bridge’s opening, we had to tread water and wait. It was a very interesting experience!

The Great Bridge Lock

It wasn’t just a challenging day for us: keeping our eyes on the depth and width of the channel, watching the clock to time bridges, passing under bridge after bridge, and even a lock, but for our engine, affectionately known as “Big Red” (because it is big and red!) it was a rough day too. We pushed our engine a little hard to keep up with our traveling buddies. We began planning to meet a diver at our next stopping point so he could clean the bottom of our hull. We hoped a nice clean bottom would aid our time through the water, save diesel and help Big Red relax a little.

The first 65′ bridge we went under



Finally at our anchorage with Solstice…where we ran aground

So what would prove to be the most challenging part of our day? “Running aground” is cruiser speak for getting stuck in the mud. It means the water is too shallow for your keel and you sit lopsided going no where fast. This was one of Mike’s fears. The ICW is often shallow; there are many places where a 47′ boat with a 6′ draft can get stuck.

When all three of us finally arrived at our anchorage, Pungo Ferry, for the night, we quickly realized it was rather small for three sailboats. Totem decided to keep going to another location while we and Solstice looked around for a good spot to drop anchor. Right after we dropped anchor, Mike told me, we should drop a stern anchor. We’re going to swing around. But the gloomy rainy day offered little light and what little light we had was quickly fading. After procrastinating for some time, we gave up on the idea of a stern anchor and just said “If we run aground we run aground.”

It wasn’t long until a small squall came through and blew us around. We felt the boat heel then THUD. The keel’s thud from touching bottom shook the whole boat. The boat heeled and didn’t right itself. Crap. We had officially run aground. We sat there for a bit. It was dark. We had never dropped a stern anchor before or reset our anchor at night before and we really didn’t feel like trying it now. We radioed Bill on Solstice and as it turns out, he had run aground too. Not to worry he said, you’re not really a cruiser until you’ve run aground. We decided to embrace how out of control we were, go to sleep, and figure it all out in the morning.

And that’s exactly what we did. Thankfully the mud was soft and Gromit easily got unstuck as we maneuvered the boat in the first rays of light.


Yup. We’ve done it again. Yesterday on our latest leg of the ICW, on our way to Wrightsville Beach, we came upon another shallow section of the ICW. Bill on s/v Solstice was ahead of us and another sailboat (one we did not know) was ahead of him. All of a sudden the unknown boat stopped, heeled and sat lopsided. Retreat! Retreat! We quickly slowed the boat down and began to turn around. We had heard reports of this shallow area ahead of time, but sometimes you just don’t know where the shallow spots really are until you go through it.

It’s always concerning seeing a lopsided sailboat like this one
Yup. We’re stuck
Hard over from the inside

The pictures above were taken with our camera perfectly level. Notice the necklace on the wall, the doors open and cushions! Baby Haven was perfectly content (and safe) eating cheerios while we were stuck. Mike was amazing. He coaxed Gromit out of the sand and eventually we were off even before the first boat was. Apparently, NOW we’re really cruisers!

2 thoughts on “You’re Not Really a Cruiser Until You’ve Run Aground”

  1. Ah so you ARE the boat traveling with Totem! I saw Behan referring to Gromit and wondered if it was you. Well, in terms of running aground, you have a boat that can take it. And, after all, it was soft ground. I hope you are loving Gromit. She’s been all over so she’ll see you safe.

    1. Yes we are! You’re right, it wasn’t as bad as it maybe could have been, but yes it’s a great boat! We are enjoying her very much 🙂

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