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A Bad Day on the New Jersey ICW (Video)


We did the entire 117-mile New Jersey ICW in two days, and although we managed to go aground a few times, it was nothing close to what happened to this poor Grand Banks 36.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, PassageMaker Electronics Editor Ben Ellison has seminars at the International Cruising Boat Expo in Essex, Connecticut, next week, and I am helping him get his test boat Gizmo from the Chesapeake Bay to the show. (Refer to the earlier post for details of the show, and Ellison's seminars.)

We spent our first night in the Garden State anchored in a basin at Ventnor City just south of Atlantic City. This video shows what city looked like as we were leaving.

It wasn't long after we had passed Atlantic City when we rounded a bend and there we saw her. Blue Willow was hard aground with two TowBoat U.S. vessels alongside. We didn't see the owners, who, as I later learned through their blog, are Mark and Vicki Hills of Big Rapids, Michigan.

We don't know what happened, but the boat was stuck on the wrong side of the red daymark. Ellison, who blogs about electronics at and I have both been in this situation ourselves and we hoped that no damage had been done to Blue Willow's rudder or running gear.

UPDATE FROM BLUE WILLOW: As anyone who knows the NJICW waters, the wind dictates the water levels, and supersedes tidal considerations. The water was much lower that normal even at high tide. The winds were 40 MPH in the direction from the channel to the eventual grounding. I pulled back the throttle as there were crab pots in the channel, and I thought I may have snagged one. The grounding initially was only 10 ft off the NJICW but the wind (30-40 MPH) blew me for 16 hours, causing me to go further into the shallows. Also, the first attempt to pull me out around the 152 marker caused me to be pulled in further.

One way to remind yourself about which side to pass marks on the Intracoastal Waterway is to keep in mind that the reds are always on the "mainland" side of the channel.

It's worth noting that this are other navigation tricks will be covered by Ellison in his "Soup-to-Nuts Navigation" navigation course. Essentially this daylong class brings attendees from paper charting work to what he is know best for--his expertise in marine electronics. Part of the reason we were able to get through the depth-challenged waters of New Jersey so handily is the fact that Gizmo, a Duffy 37, sports seven multi-function displays, four radars and six sonar devices.

Come to Essex and you can see this bundle of situational awareness first hand.

 Another view of the grounding.

Another view of the grounding.

Credit where credit is due: The online crowdsourced cruising guide ActiveCaptain is also very useful in navigating the Jersey ICW. AC contributors have made some very useful observations about shoaling and other hazards, usually to the tune of favoring the green or red side of a marked channel in certain areas.