The Intracoastal Waterway is a seeming maze of protected channels, canals, and rivers that affords mariners the option of navigating the Eastern Seaboard without facing the hazards of the open Atlantic Ocean.
This serpentine water highway snakes 3,000 miles from Maine to Texas, providing handy links to such historic waterways as the Hudson River and Erie Canal.
That fact was not lost on Rex Damschroder of Fremont, skipper of the Golden Eagle, a Port Clinton-based sailboat. He and a varying crew recently completed a 10,000- mile trans-Atlantic odyssey on the ship. The skipper chose the Intracoastal for something different after months of the ocean, and it was all of that.
Sailing the Intracoastal or when the wind is wrong or dies, motoring it offers challenges of its own. It teems with traffic that ranges from petroleum barges and saltwater cargo ships to speedboats and Jet Skis, even small naval convoys. It often is narrow and twisting, and ever demands endless attention to charts, channels, and navigation aids to avoid the many shoals and shallows. Boat handling is at a premium.
So the Intracoastal is a trade-off. But the rewards for taking this inside passage come in the special moments, such as passing beneath a mighty bridge at dawn, its gigantic steel and concrete span looming hundreds of feet above the mast. It helps you know how a mouse, or an ant, must feel.
Then there is a niggling discomfort attending the passage of an anchored, unladen freighter, which rests like a ghost ship, silent and brooding in the fog along the channel in upper Delaware Bay. What stories lie hidden on board this mist-shrouded giant?
A lifetime of sailing could be spent as well on the mighty 314-mile Hudson River, which joins the Intracoastal at New York City. The river is steeped in history and graced with postcard scenes at every bend, from picturesque lighthouses to the brawny wooded ridges of the Catskill Mountains, which suddenly can loom hundreds of feet up, right from the banks, standing in stark contrast to the broad expanse of current.
At Troy, N.Y., some 125 miles upriver, the Hudson links to the canals, the Erie and the Champlain. Erie left turn. Champlain straight ahead, just after the first lock.
Time again for something different, canal life. And don t forget to take down your mast low bridges.
A sailor s life, if nothing else, is never dull.