The Great Escape



Like any rogue agent on the run from from an evil acronymed agency, I had to go dark. Radio silent. Off the grid. To preserve the safety of Chance and her crew, I’m writing this encrypted message from a secret location. I’ve been in hiding for several weeks now and I’m still not safe. I’ve employed every escape and evasion tactic I know, but the ICW is always right there waiting for me. It won’t let me go. It refuses. When I was Inside, it did its best to batter me into submission. When I was Outside it colluded to force me back in. But I won’t give in. NEVER give in.

Escaping the evil empire of Florida was hard enough. I’m a New Yorker after all. We all get pulled down there at some point, like gravity. It’s like gravity. It’s where we go to die. It’s worse for Kelley, she has roots there. A year ago we were caught in the quicksand of Florida and we barely made it out. In truth we were rescued, shielded by two boats under the cover of darkness. But there was no hope of a rescue this time. We managed to get Kelley out, but just barely. Her escape meant I would be alone for the long road ahead. And this wasn’t the Bahamas. This was 1000 miles of watery hell known as the ICW. I’d spent some time on some of the ICW’s less treacherous territories once before, so I thought I knew what I was in for. But I knew nothing. The ICW is a living thing. It’s evil. And it is trying to get me.

My plan to escape Florida was simple: Don’t let one use the other to get me. I couldn’t get out of Florida AND battle the ICW at the same time. I’ve heard of people that have done it. I even met a guy who claimed he had taken the ICW all the way through Florida, “a dozen times.” I’ll get to that guy later. Suffice it to say, I planned to seek sanctuary with my only ally – the Ocean. Cruisers call it “sailing” or taking the “Outside.” It carries it’s own risks, but they’re manageable. The only variable would be the Weather. The Weather is like that one bipolar, psycho ex we’ve all had at one point or another. One minute it’s all sunshine and rainbows. The next minute its fury and hellfire. And the Ocean is married to it. Their relationship is crazy and often violent. It’s never good to get in the middle when they’re fighting. But when the Weather’s having a good day, and all is well on the home front, the Ocean is a magical place. And I needed all the magic I could get.

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale, I got a bit of magic all the way North to Cape Canaveral. There, I laid low for a while and took care of some boat repairs on the hard. I was close to the ICW so I didn’t want to draw any attention. It might remember me. It might try to draw me in. Weeks went by and as I waited for the right window to escape. But the Weather was acting up, having “another one of those those days” that never seemed to end. The Ocean was having it, so I couldn’t chance it. But, I needed to get moving again. I could feel Florida’s claws closing in around me. I needed to risk it. The ICW. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t recognize me. S/V Chance wasn’t her sparkling self anymore. It had been a year or so. Maybe the ICW had forgotten us.


Less than 20 miles later, I knew. The ICW remembered. It always remembers. It had me in it’s teeth now, and it was going to make me PAY.

The first strike was a mine. One of the those floating mines with hidden trip wires below the water’s surface. The kind of trip line that will foul your propellor, render it useless and potentially run you aground. And that’s if you’re lucky. The damage could be much worse. They’re supposed to mark crab pots. But who the hell would eat a crab that came out of that filthy water? It’s a conspiracy, I’m sure of it. This particular mine was painted black and was about the size of a tennis ball. Not impossible to spot I suppose, assuming of course that the ICW wasn’t as black as its soul. The next attack was a submersed tree log . Not quite a torpeedo. More of an underwater obstacle perfectly positioned to jam my keel and hold me hard aground on top of it. All of these were in the channel. That designated safe zone between the red and green markers. After impact I could hear the Florida laughing. They were in it together. I was never going to make it out.

As I continued North, I passed the rotting hulls of my fallen brethren – boat’s the ICW had claimed and left half sunken like creatures trapped in a tar pit. Florida let’s IT keep them there. Trophies: the spoils of victory. Scattered between the wrecks, I saw the floating, battered shapes of their prisoners. Empty shells with filth stained hulls, battered sails and a barnacled army, slowly reaching up to drag them down to the bottom. They were either abandoned or too crippled to moved. They will eventually join the fallen. It’s only a matter of time. No prisoner has ever escaped. Not one. Passing throughout the so-called “Channel” I occasionally crossed paths with people like me. We were all just trying to make to it through in tact, hoping that our fate would not mirror our surroundings.


{One of the many abandoned prisoners of the ICW. Doomed to fail.}


{Our fallen brethren. The ICW’s trophies. photo from here.}

This sad and sadistic scene continued as I headed north. I eventually landed in New Smyrna, where I bumped into that guy again. You know that guy – the one who said he’d done the ICW “dozen’s of times.” His name was Wally Moran. He seemed like a nice enough fella when we first met in Ft. Lauderdale. We’d hung out, rafted up, walked our dogs, drank each others beer. Like I said – nice enough guy. But my caution flag was out. If his story was true, there must have been some Faustian pact with the ICW. No one get’s in and out that many times and lives to tell the tale. He had to be a ICW agent, or at least a mole. I would find out soon enough. He was tied up directly behind me. The next morning I reluctantly agreed to head north with him. His depth finder was busted and he needed someone with a shallow draft to keep an eye out in a few of the tricky areas. How convenient that I should be there. I should have slept in.

The day started out fine enough. A little bit of sun to go with a slight breeze from behind us. I even threw up some sail up to make good on my fortune. Little did I know, that’s exactly what what he wanted. As we entered a long, narrow corridor that would stretch for several miles, the current shifted and moved against us. The clouds came. Then the rain. Pouring rain. The wind shifted. It wasn’t heavy, just shifting erratically; blocked by the trees and houses lining the waterfront. So I furled in my jib. That’s when it hit me. BAM! A sudden microburst of wind. The rigging wailed and complained, the boat healed hard over, the auto-pilot popped and the mainsail burst into shreds all at once. I was just lucky enough to recover the boat before ramming into someone’s waterfront deck. Once I had the boat righted, and wrecked sail settled, I looked forward. Wally was gone. He was literally RIGHT THERE in front of me a few minutes ago. Now there was nothing but a mist, fog and blinding rain. How eerily he appeared right as I hailed him on the radio, coming back in my direction. “Wind? What wind? We didn’t catch any wind.” he replied with that Cheshire Cat grin – visible even from 100 ft away. It wasn’t until then that I knew for sure. He was in league with the ICW. He was IT’S man. I was in trouble.

When we made it to St. Augustine I knew I had to flee. I knew I HAD to get away. Get Outside. Get North. Get Somewhere, somehow. But I didn’t have see any options. I was tired, alone and facing enemies everywhere. Luckily, Kelley came to the rescue. She was beginning to get discouraged. It had been nearly two months since we smuggled her out of Florida. She’d been waiting for me in the safety of NY. The ICW’s claws couldn’t reach that far north. Between my time in the yard and my struggle to escape with Chance in tact, she didn’t think I was going to make it. I still had over 900 miles to go. I’m not going to lie, my so-called escape was taking its toll on me. We agreed it was time to call in reinforcements. Re-energize things. And as it would happen, she already had a plan. His name was Ken.

It was a risky move bringing in another New Yorker. Florida can FEEL our presence. Time share brochures magically appear in our pockets. Prescription discount cards materialize in out wallets. We somehow instinctively know what a “Wakkie NuNu” is. But I knew this guy would be okay. He’s a tough West Manhattan native with the same fear of Florida that I have. He has a power boating background and a love for all things water. He loved the idea motoring along for hours on end (something that makes the hairs on my neck stand up). He also happened to be my best friend.

The new plan was genius. Airdrop Ken into Jacksonville, jump Outside, kiss the Ocean and ride her as far north as possible. With a second crew member I could actually tag team it and sail at night. NO ONE does the ICW at night. The few who have tried have vanished, never to be heard from again – at least that’s what I heard. But the Ocean loves company at night. The Weather was on her meds and the weeklong prognosis looked good. Ken had 5 days of vacation time so after some charting and planning, the the goal was Beaufort, NC. Bless Kelley and her genius plans.

But before I got to Jacksonville, I’d have to give Wally the slip. That was a risky move. When he saw that I was gone, would be mad and rat me out to the ICW? Would he send it after me? Did I have enough time to get away? Would he tell Florida too?!! Jacksonville was only 30 miles away. If I left early enough, and with the right tide, I could make the rendezvous point before he knew I was gone. It wasn’t the best plan but it was all I had. I could do this. Early the next morning, before the sun could have its first cup of coffee, I was gone.

Ken’s extraction point was an unmarked public dock in Sister’s Creek. I made great time and was there with time to spare on the outgoing tide. If we left soon we could sail out of Jacksonville immediately and escape the ICW and Florida before they knew we were gone – or at least before they could stop us. I scooped him up and headed to the fuel dock to fill up before our trip. And that’s when I heard it. The alarm was sounding. Wally had ratted me out. Florida and the ICW were on high alert. They were ready. And they had already struck their first blow.

I went below and turned off the alarm to my bilge sniffer. I knelt down and lifted the engine cover and took a cautious whiff of the bilge. Gas vapors. Highly explosive. I had a leak somewhere. Did Florida send an agent to cut a line somewhere? Was this sabotage? We had just filled up at a dock and were prepping to leave. Could it have been the dock guy? I could hear Florida laughing in my ear. Although I found the problem and had it repaired in just a few hours, but the damage was done. We missed our tide. The inlet’s current moves at 5 knots and I only motor at 4.5knots. Do the math. I was stuck for while. We’ll wait. I was nervous. The ICW had 6 more hours to find a way to keep me pinned down. And it did.

Remember how I told you that the Weather is like that one bipolar, psycho ex-girl/boyfriend we all had at some point? Well… When our tide came, the Weather decided to go off its meds. Ken was still new to all of this. He didn’t really understand the dark forces at play. He wasn’t aware of the battle that was being waged. The game of cat and mouse – hunter and hunted. So when he said, “Why don’t we just wait until tomorrow?” I almost flew through my cabin top roof. But wait we did. I sat up in the cockpit that night, and stared out into a lightning fed sky, and brooded.

When morning came we bumped into some new arrivals on the dock. They were fellow cruisers Kelley and I had chatted up on one of the many Facebook groups (All hail the mighty Facebook!). By the time we were ready to go it was late in the morning and we had again, missed our tide. Was these people a diversion? Ken and I made a decision. Since the Weather was being pissy (which I’m sure was an ICW plot) and since Ken didn’t mind doing the bulk of the helm time while we motored, we should just take the ICW. I almost vomited in my mouth. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fault his logic. I could keep and eye out for mines, torpedoes and anything else it threw at us while he sat at the wheel. With two people we could move all day, take shifts and be better prepared. Once we reached Georgia we should be in a better state. Florida couldn’t reach us there and there were still plenty of places to escape the ICW further north. So we made our move.


{Secret Agent Ken at the helm}


{finally some peace in Georgia}

A few hours later that we cracked open a couple of beers to celebrate. And I showed Florida my proverbial backside (and since we’re being honest – my literal one too). Hello sweet Georgia! I had a Ray Charles song all cued up and ready to go for the occasion. Before dark, we found the public dock at Jekyll Island and immediately hopped ashore to celebrate our minor (yet major) victory over burgers and shakes at Dairy Queen. There was a perfect sunset and a gently breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay. The next morning we snuck out on the outgoing tide and headed for the Outside. I could feel the ICW cursing us as we slid along past it, out into the Ocean. “You’ll be back,” it said. “And I’ll be waiting.”

To Be Continued….

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  1. I did not rat you out – the ICW has its ways of knowing these things. I too was trapped, the winds at no point turned to let me get offshore, and now, in Swansboro NC, I’m still snared in its evil talons. I’ve paid a king’s ransom in diesel, but I’m nearly there!

  2. Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape Florida.

  3. The only safe place for NY’rs in FL is the Keys. We are beyond the reach of the ICW here, just barely, but we’ve gotten far enough south and onto an island so even the ICW gets a little laid back on “island time”.

    Good story.