Four years on the Waterway

Guest perspective/Bill Hezlep

In the Rivers and Harbors Act of March 3, 1909 [House of Representatives 28243, CHAP. 268, Approved March 3, 1909], Congress ordered the United States Army Corps of Engineers to develop a set of surveys and proposals for the construction of “a continuous waterway, inland where practicable, from Boston, Massachusetts…to Point Isabel (Texas); and thence to the Rio Grande.” This Act was the first legislation that dealt with the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States as a whole, and it established, as national policy, the creation of an Intracoastal Waterway from Boston to the Rio Grande, in Texas.

Betty and I are serial buyers of – investors in – old boats. And in August 2012, in Orleans, Mass., out on the elbow of Cape Cod, we made an offer on yet another one. It would be the eighth – three sail and five power – that we have owned, or in some cases co-owned with a financial institution, over the last 30 years. This one was an aging 28-foot-long former commercial lobster and rod-and-reel boat, which we named Nauset, after the town on the Cape in which it had been built almost two decades earlier. The wheels of progress turned slowly; the survey, negotiations and general paper churning took a while. And it was Sept. 18 before I signed the final papers and we assumed custody.

Three days later, at dawn on Sept. 22, in dense early morning fog, we left Hyannis, Mass., southbound. We had owned Nauset for three days and, except for a brief sea trial in calm, sheltered water, had never driven the boat. Our general idea was to follow the Intracoastal Waterway from New England to somewhere near our home in Texas. We intended to drive Nauset, in several stages, following, for almost its entire length, the “continuous waterway, inland where practicable, from Boston, Massachusetts…to Point Isabel; and thence to the Rio Grande” specified by Congress in the Rivers and Harbors Act of March 3, 1909.

On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, we untied Nauset’s dock lines and left Rockport, Texas. When we reached the well-marked channel of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (the GIWW), we turned east and began retracing the Intracoastal Waterway and its harbors, inlets and connecting canals. On Monday, Aug. 15, 2016, three years, 10 months and 23 days out of Hyannis (sounds like a 19th-century whaling voyage), we picked up a Kingman Yacht Center mooring in Red Brook Harbor, on the east side of Buzzards Bay at the west entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. Nauset was back on Cape Cod. The next day, we moved up to Sandwich, Mass., the family seedbed.

Four years on the Intracoastal? How can you spend four years doing that ditch? Easy: Take it slow, see things, enjoy the local restaurants and craft beers, do a little boat work (upgrades and maintenance) along the way, take a few breaks for house time, and do parts of it more than once.

Between departing Hyannis and picking up that Kingman Yacht Center mooring, Nauset cruised: in 2012, from the Cape south to Jacksonville, Fla.; in 2013, Jacksonville to Miami and the Florida Keys, west to New Orleans, rode a trailer from New Orleans to Houston, and made a fall cruise up and down the Texas coast; in 2014, another Texas coastal cruise and the long run from south Texas back east along the Gulf Coast to the Florida Keys; in 2015, from the Keys north up the East Coast to the Chesapeake and back south to Miami and the Keys; and, finally, in 2016, from the Keys to the Cape.

How many miles did we cover? Who knows? Not me. But it was a lot. The various cruising guides have mileage figures for the main sections of the Waterway, for the magenta lines. But if you drive the Waterway with your eyes glued to a chartplotter’s magenta line, you’ve done it wrong. All along the way, we do a lot of lateral putt-putting around: up rivers, down bays and sounds, out to islands, in and out of ports large and small. It was a great four years.

A cartographer, Bill’s infatuation with boats and the sea began in 1961 when, at 17, he went to sea on a Norwegian school ship. He met his wife Betty – aerospace engineer, mathematician, pilot and sailor – at an Annapolis sailing club in 1993. A year later, they left the Chesapeake on a cruise to the Bahamas, and they never returned to their former lives. They spend half the year cruising the East and Gulf coasts and the Bahamas aboard their Nauset 28, Nauset.