Monday, July 2, 2018

Dinner stop in Atlantic City

It's 10:45am on Sunday, and since I've started typing at exactly this time for the past two days, I might as well continue the trend. We've come 679 nautical miles in the past 72 hours, and we are now east of the Albermarle Sound, approaching the mouth of Chesapeake Bay (map). We're making just 5.7 knots, a stark contrast from the past two mornings. Our average speed over the past 24 hours, which includes several hours still in or near the Gulf Stream, has been 7.9 knots.

When I found myself with some Internet coverage in the wee hours this morning, and only a short time left on watch, I scrambled to get the last post uploaded, even though I had not updated it since early afternoon. And so I will pick up there, where I left off.

A pair of dolphins plays in our bow wave in the warm clear Gulf Stream waters off North Carolina

We left the main axis of the Gulf Stream around 2pm, continuing straight toward Diamond Shoals rather than turning east with the Stream. Still, we had a great push for the next several hours, with our speed bumping up briefly to over ten knots before steadily but slowly decreasing. Likewise the crystal blue water and warm temperatures of the Gulf Stream waters also stayed with s for a long time.

The water was 88°, which makes for a hot engine room but a nice swim, and we even stopped the boat briefly to do just that. The glassy look of the surface, however, belied the enormous power of the mild ocean swells; as soon as our way was off and the stabilizers idled, Vector starting oscillating like a metronome, and we decided swimming was not worth having to dog every last thing on the boat.

Our last few hours in the Stream were also marked by more traffic than we'd seen in a while; everyone takes the same line around Cape Hatteras. At one point we heard southbound Warship 5, ahead of us, hailing two northbound freighters, behind us, and requesting a pass no closer than 6,000 yards. They said nothing to us even though we passed them considerably closer than that. A short while later both ships overtook us; I now see one of them ahead of me anchored off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. Those same two ships were on intersecting courses and at one point they hailed each other to sort it out; after moving to a working channel they had their entire conversation in Tagalog.

Warship 5 steaming past, kicking up quite the wake.

At some point we were visited very briefly by a pair of dolphins. Louise spotted the spouts a few hundred yards off, headed right for us as they are wont to do. We went out on the bow to watch them, but they only remained swimming in our bow wave for perhaps a minute or two before deciding Vector's diminutive wave was not worth it, and continuing on southward.

While I could no longer see the beautiful blue color, I knew I had Gulf Stream waters well into my watch, with seawater temperatures remaining in the high 80s and a couple of knots of push. But it all disappeared an hour or so before Diamond Shoal, as our speed made good plummeted back down to our usual speed through the water. This morning the beautiful blue has given way to a dull green water color, and the seawater temperature is down to 83°. At least the engine room is a bit cooler now.

This pair of dolphins played in our bow wave only for a minute.

Having turned slightly after passing the shoal to follow the outer banks a bit more closely, our Internet coverage lasted all the way through Louise's watch, and I even had about a half hour myself this morning before it faded away. I expect we will be offline now until we are abreast of about Atlantic City, New Jersey some 200 miles from here. At our current speed that will be late tomorrow (Monday) evening. We might pick up a bit of signal off Ocean City, Maryland early tomorrow morning, but it will be short-lived and I will be off-watch and in the berth.

Speaking of Atlantic City, we are now contemplating diverting there rather than proceeding direct to New York Harbor. We're not trying to set any kind of personal distance or endurance record here; our motivation for making this very long passage was simply to save a couple of weeks on the northbound trip, getting us out of the hurricane box and into our planned cruising grounds for the summer season and bypassing a lot of well-covered ground.

Now that we're past Cape Hatteras, cruising at our "normal" speed, and on the final leg into New York, the plotter is predicting an arrival at Gravesend Bay between 7am and 9am on Tuesday morning, July 3rd. There are several problems with this.

The first is that it means navigating through the busy and labyrinthine New York Harbor entrance with a sole watchstander. The entrance is dotted with shoals and peppered with navigational and hazard markers, and is the intersection of five major ship channels, with traffic separation schemes. Even though we have our own tracks to follow here, navigating this area is challenging even under the best circumstances, and we prefer to have two sets of eyes on the horizon, the charts, the sounder, and the radar.

This RoRo coming out of Norfolk passed us close aboard, taking our stern by a half mile.

Beyond that, depending on our speed from here, it might also mean navigating this challenging section in the dark. To top it all off, Louise will be on watch, and while she is perfectly qualified to operate the boat and to navigate on her own, our normal division of labor is that she handles the Boatswain department (lines, fenders, anchors, ground tackle, and generally securing the boat) and I handle the Quartermaster department (steering, propulsion, and navigation, also known as conning), which makes it best for me to be at the helm during any unusual evolutions.

Lastly, it has the arrival squarely during my sleep period, which runs from 0300 to 0900. While almost everything else can be done by a lone watchstander if necessary, anchoring (or docking) the boat is a two-person operation. Breaking the sleep cycle after a five-night passage is tempting fate.

Atlantic City, on the other hand, would be an evening arrival tomorrow night. It's a familiar and easy inlet, we have good tracks to a good anchorage, and we'll both still be awake and alert. That would leave us with a 13-hour day trip to New York Harbor either the following day, or perhaps after the holiday (steaming into the harbor on the fourth would be too chaotic).

We'll make the decision only after we can download the latest passage weather for the New Jersey coast, which is directly exposed to the ravages of the Atlantic, and have a more accurate prediction of arrival times at both inlets. It's possible the decision will be made by the time I can even upload this post, but now you've gotten some of the reasoning, whether you wanted it or not.

Around 3:20 pm or so we heard a Pan Pan call from the coast guard about a disabled vessel ten miles from us, off our starboard bow. We'd heard several Pan Pan calls about this vessel already, but the position given was further away and also behind us. We called the Coast Guard back to double-check the position, and after getting clarification we did a little trigonometry.

While nearly two hours from our position and ten miles off our route, diverting would only add about a mile and a half to our total. We made the decision to divert, coming right nearly 45° to intercept. That put us on a collision course with an ocean towboat pulling two empty barges on a wire. I spent several minutes trying to raise the towboat on channels 13 and 16 with no response. Not a big deal; it would cost me only a couple of minute to pass astern of her wires.

"Ocean Tower" and her two empties. We'd have crossed behind her drogue.

After a mile or so on the new course, having given up on reaching the towboat, I called the Coast Guard back to get a confidence on the position and report that we were diverting to assist. While we were talking the disabled vessel chimed in with an updated position and the report that they were OK other than getting sunburned. The Coast Guard waved us off; they had a small boat en route with an ETA of a half hour or so, and with our ETA now 90 minutes the small boat would beat us by a full hour.

A quick note here about distress calls. The two fishermen in their 19' boat were in a predicament but no immediate danger. If they had been in danger the call would have been a Mayday and not a Pan Pan. And had it been a Mayday we would have diverted immediately without first determining just how far out of our way it was or the impact to our own travel.

A boat that is merely disabled and not, for example, headed for the rocks, has many options, including ponying up the thousand bucks or so for SeaTow to come get them. All that said, even for a Mayday we are very unlikely, at maybe eight knots or so, to be able to reach a stricken vessel in time to be of assistance unless we are in the middle of the ocean. Helicopters and fast small boats will almost always beat us, even if they have to come from very far away.

We ended up slowing down a half hour later to allow the Ocean Tower with her thousand-foot string of two barges to slowly cross ahead of us. And in another 45 minutes the USCG 45-footer with the disabled vessel in tow crossed between us and the barges, requesting us to slow down to allow them to pass ahead of us. A busy afternoon in the pilothouse.

USCG small boat crossing our bow, astern of Ocean Tower. The tiny white boat under tow is barely distinguishable from their wake.

As I was transferring fuel, right after dinner, the Ocean Tower called us to say they'd be making a 45-degree turn to starboard, again crossing our path. They were far enough ahead at this point that I did not need to slow. We chatted briefly; they are also bound for New York Harbor. They are following the 15-fathom curve, presumably because historically that's been the best or fastest ride. We, on the other hand, continued straight another three hours into ten fathoms or less, mostly to see if we could get a little Internet, before making the same turn ourselves.

Update Monday, July 2, 10:45am

As it turned out we did not get any signal until offshore of Ocean City. I had coverage only for the last 20 minutes of my watch, not enough time to upload the blog and photos. I opted to just check email and social media before turning in, and will upload this later today somewhere offshore of New Jersey.

Apparently Louise had a busy watch, with dozens of sport (and other) fishing boats departing the MD and DE shores and cutting straight across our path. We were always the stand-on vessel, and she did not need to alter course or speed, but at least one warranted a blast on the mighty Kahlenbergs, which of course woke me up and had me shooting up the companionway in the pre-dawn twilight.

When I came upstairs this morning around 8:40 to take over the watch, the plotter was projecting an arrival in NY harbor of 4-6am. That is pretty much the worst of all possible times, for the reasons I outlined above. With only 130 nautical miles to go, neither slowing down nor speeding up could change the situation appreciably. We began to look at the Atlantic City fall-back alternative.

Unfortunately, at last check of the passage weather, we'd need to either book it all the way up to NY harbor tomorrow, a 13-hour trip, or else be stuck in AC for an indeterminate number of days waiting on passage weather. Our watch schedule has us both awake together for just 11 hours each day, so a 13-hour trip would take a big bite out of one or both of our sleep periods. And that sleep interruption would be at the worst time, during either a departure or arrival evolution.

An alternative would be to anchor in AC this afternoon, and then depart right at 8pm, just ahead of Louise's sleep period, and arriving in NY at 10am on a slow passage, when we're both awake and ready. That would have us in AC just three hours or so. If I'm not too whooped to splash and ready the tender, we could have a nice dinner ashore before leaving.

Sunset after dinner Saturday evening.

That's about a five-mile detour and a bit of work. Instead we are going to try something different first. As I type we are crossing the enormous mouth of the Delaware Bay. The area is dotted with shoals, although we've been far enough out not to worry about them. We've diverted course just 13° left, headed for a 20' hump in an area known as the Five Fathom Bank. While is almost never possible for us to anchor in the ocean, things are calm enough today that it might just be possible.

The question mark is the swell. When we stopped mid-Stream two days ago in almost glassy water, the swell had Vector rolling excessively. There is much less swell here and now, perhaps one foot on nine seconds. It will all depend on how we lie with the anchor set. If it works, we'll lie at anchor off Cape May for a few hours, departing at a time that will give us an arrival in NY harbor of no earlier than 10am. We should have Internet coverage in that spot (if not we'll move a little closer) so we can re-assess the passage weather for July 5th and beyond.

As of 10:45 this morning we'd come 836 nautical miles since departing Palm Beach, in 96 hours. That makes our overall speed-made-good 8.7 knots. Our average for the last 24 hours has been just over 6.5 knots, which is pretty much our normal speed through the water. We should be at our "anchorage" around 12:30. If that does not pan out, we'll continue to AC.

Update, 1pm Monday July 2

Well, we dropped the hook, very briefly, on the Five Fathom Bank. Within a half mile were at least a half dozen center consoles, fishing. As soon as the stabilizers were off and engine stopped, Vector started rolling. Mostly it was OK, except every once in a while the roll was enough to send items flying around the boat. Judging that we did not want to spend perhaps five hours like this, Internet or no, we weighed anchor and are moving on.

We're headed to Atlantic City. The weather forecast says that if we don't make New York Harbor tomorrow, we'll be stuck in AC for a week or longer, and so it will be a very brief stop, just three hours or so. It turns out the casino marina has dock-and-dine courtesy dockage, and our plan at this writing is to go all the way to the dock, tie up, and have a nice dinner at the Chart House or one of the other on-site venues, with no need to splash the tender. If we're lucky, they'll also let us take on some water.

This morning's sunrise over a calm Atlantic, shot by Louise on her morning watch.

At our current speed of 7.7 knots (we have a nice tidal push plus maybe the quarter knot I hoped for from from ocean currents), we should be docking around 5pm. In order for Louise to get to bed in time to get at least six hours or so of shut-eye, we'll be shoving off before 8pm. Once outside I will adjust our speed to keep below six knots, which will delay our arrival in the harbor until I am back on watch in the morning in full daylight.

We should have Internet coverage from now until our arrival at Gravesend Bay, with perhaps some short interruptions. But this will likely be my last post now until we are safely anchored in New York Harbor.

1 comment:

  1. Time to pony up for that Seakeeper system. Its just money. :)


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