Thursday, October 21, 2021

Playing Monopoly

We are under way northbound in the Delaware Bay, headed toward the C&D canal. It's been a whirlwind three days running down the New Jersey coast, a trip that we might easily have made in one overnight hop, if not for the fact that I am still recovering from heart surgery and we have decided that pressing round the clock is not a good idea.

Limited daylight at this time of year meant three segments down the coast unless we wanted to run dawn to dusk, which we also decided was not the smartest idea. With Vector's draft, there are only a handful of inlets we can use. So after departing our anchorage off Staten Island Monday morning, we set our sights on Barnegat Inlet, with bailout options at Shark River and Manasquan. We knew we had only until today to transit the entire coast.

King Neptune guards the entrance to Gardner's Basin, Atlantic City.

After leaving New York Harbor on a fair tide and passing Sandy Hook, we were disappointed to find ourselves doing less than six knots, due in part to crabbing against a 30mph crosswind the entire day. Even at that speed, we knew that if we did not make Barnegat, we'd be pinned down somewhere along the NJ coast until the next outside weather window arrived. At this time of year, that can be a week or more. So we increased RPM and ran at 1600-1650 most of the day, burning an extra few gallons of diesel.

We'd not previously transited Barnegat inlet. On our first few passes along the NJ coast, we simply did not have good enough charts to safely navigate the inlet and find our way to an anchorage. The inlet was widely known as requiring local knowledge. In the last couple of years, however, a combination of tools have become available that made both the inlet and the anchorage safe to navigate on our own, specifically Corps of Engineers hydrographic surveys overlaid on a navigation chart, and crowd-sourced depth soundings inland. (For the boaters reading, those tools are respectively Aquamap Master and Navionics Sonar, both running on an Android tablet.)

Coming in the inlet and making our way to the anchorages was straightforward enough. But we were disappointed to find that both anchorages were chock full of mooring balls, mostly unused. This despite numerous comments in the crowd-sourced anchorage makers stating "plenty of room." One particularly delusional commenter wrote there was "room for 20-30 boats"; this in an anchorage that, had it even been devoid of moorings, was just 750' across. We found no room in either spot for Vector to swing safely at anchor; one of the two had room for just a single anchored boat, and that spot was taken.

Sunset from Barnegat Light, NJ.

After circling around both anchorages for ten minutes, we ultimately found a spot in a small cove across the channel, and dropped the hook with just enough swing room on a 3:1 scope (map), just before sunset. Had the winds been any stiffer overnight, I'm not sure where we could have set and still been outside of the channel. We could easily have gone ashore here, but with temps in the 50s and a late set, we opted to just eat aboard. I'm not sure anything would even be open on a Monday night in October; Barnegat Light is a beach town, and they roll up the sidewalks after Labor Day.

As if to put a finer point on the need for local knowledge or excellent resources, sometime after dinner we heard a Sécurité call from the 92' motor yacht Bella Tu offshore, which was approaching the inlet. After they passed the lighthouse we could see them, being led in by a small boat with flashing red lights, likely one of the tow boat companies on pilot duty. They ultimately went all the way past the NJ ICW and up the Forked River to a marina; we can't pass through the Oyster Creek Channel to get to the ICW, and are limited to the area near Barnegat Light.

Barnegat Light as we headed back out to the inlet. Best I could do while driving.

In the morning we weighed anchor and headed back out the inlet with the tide. We followed our track back out the north cut, rather than following the buoys, because we had seen Bella Tu come in the same way the night before, even coming from the south, and reasoned the pilot boat had good cause to choose that route.

Winds were even higher on Tuesday, and in the westerlies we hugged the coast, running just a half mile offshore. The stabilizers were pegged the whole trip, and we crabbed a good ten degrees, making just over 5.5 knots. With a shorter day to Absecon Inlet the lower speed was not an issue. Thanks to an updated Corp of Engineers survey, we were able to enter the inlet just off the north jetty, shaving a mile off the trip, and we had the hook down in our usual spot near the Coast Guard station (map) a little after 4pm.

That was in plenty of time to head ashore for dinner, and I went upstairs to splash the tender. That's when I discovered our center windscreen was completely missing. We looked all over the decks, but it was nowhere to be found. We had head a loud clunk on Monday, which we assumed to be debris in the water hitting the hull. I even shifted out of gear in case it had been a pot float, but we saw nothing and continued on. In hindsight, this was probably the sound of the windscreen hitting the port rail on its way to Davy Jones' Locker. The relentless 25-knot crosswind had worked on it until all the screws backed out, and then ripped it right off the boat.

Pic I took of our anemometer on Monday. 33mph gusting to 39 on the starboard beam. Took the windscreen right off the boat, umm, without passing "Go."

We tendered ashore to the Farley State Marina, attached to the Golden Nugget, and ate in the lounge at Vic & Anthony's steakhouse. The Deck, the outdoor eatery near the docks, was closed for the season, and the Chart House, which has a decent happy hour lounge menu, is dark on Tuesdays. Fortunately the steakhouse also has a reasonably priced lounge menu (including a completely unadvertised burger), and we ate in a large, airy space with three-story ceilings that felt nearly as safe as being outdoors.

In the morning I took the e-bike ashore for the first time since I landed in the hospital. I needed to go a mile and a half to the CVS, where I had the next month of scripts sent -- the only accessible chain pharmacy on our route for the next week. I landed the tender at Gardner's Basin and then took a ride down the Monopoly board. My ride took me down Baltic, the cheapest name on the game board, and ended up on Boardwalk, the most expensive, passing a number of other familiar names in between.

Missing windscreen. I will have to find plastic to match the tint, and somehow find a way to replicate the curved shape with no template.

Once you get a block away from the casino districts, Atlantic City is a tired city full of shady characters. The somber lyrics of Springsteen's eponymous ballad always run through my head here -- "everything dies, baby, that's a fact." The shopping plaza where the CVS stands was no exception, with enough unemployed young men standing around that every store had a prominent security guard. I locked the bike to a railing and picked up my scripts, then ran into the Save a Lot grocery in the same plaza to pick up a handful of provisions before beating a hasty retreat.

Rather than return via the most direct route through a dilapidated city, I instead headed directly down New York Avenue (mid-priced in Monopoly)  to the boardwalk, where bicycling is permitted at this time of year. I rode all the way to the inlet, around the corner, and back up to Gardner's Basin on the boardwalk, passing such landmarks as the Central and Steel piers, and numerous casinos and name-brand establishments like Margaritaville. On a weekday morning in the off-season, everything was either shuttered or dead quiet, a stark contrast from my previous visits to the boardwalk.

Best my phone could capture of last night's hunter moonrise, from the restaurant. Lights at far right are Vector's.

When I returned to Vector we decked the tender and departed immediately on a fair tide. Once again we had strong winds, hugged the shore, and made less than six knots. That put us in Cape May a little after 5pm, by which time the anchorage was mostly full. We ended up dropping the hook at the very east end, outside the no-wake zone and nearly to the turn from the inlet (map). In the off season late in the day, the wakes were no problem, and we tendered to the Harbor View restaurant and ate on the deck, as we had done on our way north.

This morning we got an early start to have a fair tide most of the day. Even though we were up with the sun, the anchorage was already mostly empty. The majority of sailboats can not transit the canal, and instead must go back out the inlet and around the cape to enter Delaware Bay, which makes for a long day. We whizzed through the canal with the tide behind us and an extra four feet of depth, and have been making good time up the bay all morning.

Sunrise at anchor this morning in Cape May.

Our tidal push will run out around 2pm, shortly after which we hope to be in the vicinity of Reedy Island where we can anchor for the night. We could easily make Chesapeake City by day's end, but with so many cruising boats ahead of us, both the anchorage and the city dock will likely be full, and now that the ocean is behind us, we have no schedule until the first week in November, when I have a follow-up appointment at Johns Hopkins.

Between now and then we will do some leisurely cruising and maybe make some new stops. When next you hear from me we will be in the Chesapeake Bay.

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