Nothing, absolutely nothing seems to catch a cruiser’s attention faster than the word “free.” Due to its scarcity, that word also tends to stand out a bit when one notices it in a cruising guide or on Active Captain. And so it is that Lyra is docked at the (popular) free dock just off the ICW north of Jacksonville, FL, and I am simply musing about how appreciative we are for the courtesy docks that we have visited in our travels — if for nothing else than the opportunity for the kids to easily have some space after a typical long day of waterway travel. We aren’t opposed to marina stays, but our budget keeps them few and far between with the majority of our time spent on the hook or a mooring. So here is a shout out to our three favorite courtesy docks that we’ve discovered on our travels — and a sincere thank you to the towns that provide them.
Portsmouth, VA:My personal favorite free dock so far has been near the north end of the ICW in Portsmouth, Virginia. These courtesy docks are right downtown and put you in easy walking distance of some great bars, restaurants, museums and more. During our last pass through the area in 2014, we spent a happy few days tied up here, and having such easy access to the city turned the Portsmouth/Norfolk area into a surprise family favorite.
Great Bridge, VA: Not far south from the Portsmouth/Norfolk docks is another courtesy dock in Great Bridge, Virginia, which gives cruisers access to a historic park and is nearby restaurants and groceries. The walking paths through the park are great for stretching your legs, and the historic markers make this an educational stop too.
Jim Creek Park/ Sisters Creek, Jacksonville, FL: This one is a kid favorite due to the proximity of a nice playground — indeed, that’s pretty much the only thing here worth noting. Well, that and fresh water spigots at the dock. The concrete floating docks are well maintained, and there’s space for a handful of boats. It’s a popular place during the cruising season, so have a backup plan in case there’s no room. The only down side is that the swift current can make docking a challenge.
If you're going to be cruising along the East Coast, check out some of the courtesy docks along the way! There's even a Facebook group dedicated to the cause: https://www.facebook.com/icwfree/