Cruising the ICW was Bob Cormier's dream since he was 16. It took a little longer for his wife, Sue, to be convinced.
Leaving our Delaware marina early one chilly October morning and heading for Chesapeake Bay toward Norfolk, Va., and mile zero of the Intracoastal Waterway, I remember thinking to myself, “What the heck am I doing here?”
It was the first day of our long-awaited trip down the ICW and, after waiting patiently for years — through school, jobs, marriage, mortgage payments and children — my husband, Bob, never gave up on his dream. Then and there I decided, even if I hated every moment of the trip, Bob would never know.
Even as a young boy, Bob loved boats. When we met at the ages of 16 and 18, he would talk about how, someday, he was going to buy a boat and take it down the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida.
He was always coming home with boating books and magazines, and anything about the ICW that he could get his hands on. He took Coast Guard Auxiliary courses, navigation courses and boating safety courses. He was always thinking about boats.
I remember one day when I was paying bills, sitting at the table with checkbook in hand thinking, “Wow. Things are going to be pretty tight this month.” Just then, he walked in with a picture of a boat saying, “Isn’t this a beauty. Wouldn’t it be great to buy this boat and take it down the ICW?”
I wanted to scream … but I took one look at his happy, excited face. Instead I said, “Maybe someday.”
Years pass so quickly when you are busy raising a family. Our two daughters kept us hopping. There were PTA meetings, Brownies and Girl Scouts, softball games and piano lessons, just to name a few activities. And although we did have a couple boats through the years — a 15-foot runabout and a 23-foot sailboat — we never got to use them enough and didn’t keep them long.
Bob’s ICW dream continued, however, and after awhile I started to think that maybe it might be fun. I think I was being brainwashed.
The ICW at last
Before we knew it, our girls were married and raising families of their own. Our nest was empty and we were enjoying our grandchildren as well as our new freedom. Then it happened. Bob was offered an early retirement package.
He was thrilled at the prospect of retiring in his 50s, but also nervous about what he would do with all that spare time. When Bob asked me what I thought he should do, I said, “If you retire now, we can get a boat and do the ICW trip.”
He took the retirement package the next day.
Three months later we found our boat, a 1988 Albin 27-foot aft-cabin trawler. We had been looking at this style of Albin for several years. It makes buying a boat a lot easier when you know just what you want.
We found our boat, Little Lady, online. She was on Lake Erie, in Port Clinton, Ohio. We drove from our home in Massachusetts to Ohio to sea-trial her and have her surveyed. Satisfied, we had her trucked to Delaware, where our ICW trip would begin.
And so year and one month after buying our boat there we were: Little Lady was headed for Mile Zero of the ICW, and I was having major doubts. In 40-year dreams, it never rains, the water is always calm, and the boat never gives you trouble. Real life, I worried, would not be so perfect.
I’m happy to report I was wrong.
The trip from Blades, Del., to Captiva, Fla., was perfect. I think in the six weeks that we took to complete the trip it only rained twice — once only a sprinkle and once during the night. The water was like glass, and our boat lived up to her name and ran like a top.
We went through seven locks on the trip. I was so nervous going through our first lock as we entered the Dismal Swamp Canal.
As first mate, I was the one handling the lines. By the time we got to our second lock at South Mills, N.C., I felt like an expert.
We stayed for several days in Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Saint Augustine, Fla.
In North Carolina, we got off the ICW for a side trip up the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, Del., with its lovely Victorian homes.
We traveled 1,311 miles in 45 days. It went by so quickly and, when it was over, I cried. It was the greatest adventure of my life — so far.
We are now planning our next trip, the “Little Loop,” cruising from Punta Gorda, Fla., into Canada and back.
I am so thankful I never asked Bob to stop talking about boats. I hope he never does.
Bob and Sue Cormier cruise the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in their 27-foot 1988 Albin aft-cabin trawler Little Lady. Bob is a retired college professor and a licensed Coast Guard master.
This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the September 2009 issue.