3 & 4 November: Jersey Coast — CONQUERED!! It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.
At 5am we untied from the Locust Point Yacht club with 6 layers of warm weather gear on each. 80% of the crew (all but Alex) were totally naive to what was coming our way. The initial passage under the Throgg’s Neck Bridge and down through Hell’s Gate went really well! The sun was shining. It was cold, but our spirits were high as New York City sparkled ahead of us. One other cruising sailboat passed us just before Hell’s Gate, likely taking advantaged of the Jersey coast weather window as well. The traffic on the East river was incredible, with large ferries charging back and forth in front, beside, and behind us. The large vessels paid very little, if any attention to the Abby B. but luckily we had a skilled captain at the helm who deftly maneuvered the vessel around these massive boats. Alex later likened the experience to being a “minnow in a school of tuna”.
After safely exiting the East River we passed smoothly between Queens and Manhattan: Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, World Trade Center, traffic, joggers, etc. Under the Brooklyn Bridge. Waved to Lady Liberty with homemade (boatmade?) breakfast sandwiches in hand. And we were making 9-10 kts with the current in our favor. Perfection!
That is until we rounded Sandy Hook, New Jersey… and the actual coast transit began. Double reefed, 20+ kt winds from the northwest, heeled over, plus driving into a swell, we were moving slowly and everyone was really cold. (Good thing Sarah knew what she was getting herself into!).
One cool sighting: our first Bottlenose dolphin sighting, leaping out of the water around 4pm NE of Lavalette, NJ!
Thanks to daylight savings time, the sun set at around 4:45pm. Quote of the trip, from Alex to the rest of the crew: “Just think, only 13 more hours til the sun’s back up.”
From then on, morale took a nose dive. Cold. Colder. Coldest. The wind switched from northwest, to west, to southwest, and the sea state worsened. As we were passing Barneget Light at 8pm, the conditions hit an all time low. Our forward progress had slowed to a crawl, the waves crests were blowing over the bow, and Luna definitely had to tale a potty break. Unfortunately the Jersey coast is essentially one long sand beach, which is great for beach-goers, but horrible for mariners as there’s literally no good harbors to enter if conditions deteriorate. So this made the next stop Atlantic City… which was 40 miles = 7 hours from where we were. This was going to be a longgggggggggggggggg night. (Good thing Sarah knew what she was getting herself into!).
The dogs hated being down below, but given the dark and the rough seas, we couldn’t risk keeping them up top with us.
To make it safely and sanely to Atlantic City, we all took turns at the helm, with periodic sitting/napping breaks in the cabin to stay warm. Despite feeling bad about tossing Sarah into this situation with us, having a third person on the trip was the best thing we could have done. No one was left at the helm alone, and two people on watch is A) safer, and B) less lonely than one freezing sailor. For some reason being in an uncomfortable situation is much more palatable when somebody else is there to share in your discomfort.
Our other saving grace was the full moon. We were cold and tired, but at least we had plenty of moonlight shining down on us. Two other sailboats were visible farther offshore and they affirmed that we weren’t the only crazy ones battling the Jersey coast in the middle of the night.
Around 1am we made the turn for Atlantic City. Approaching Atlantic City from 40 miles away is remarkably eerie. The glow of neon light. The massive scale of buildings. And the seemingly inclosable gap that makes the structures seem so close, despite them actually hours away… And maybe some delirium was setting in too. [Note: no pictures were taken of this leg of the trip.]
Coming in at low, low tide, we briefly ran aground during our first docking attempt (it was just mud), so we settled on a fuel dock space for a 4 hour nap. I have never been happier to curl up into my warm bed in my entire life.
At 5am, we reluctantly peeled ourselves out of our sleeping bag cocoons and started relayering clothing. While walking the dogs, we met two guys on a Bristol 40′ out of Plymouth, MA. Pierre and Alec got a kick out of the dogs (especially Piper’s purple fleece jacket), and they were headed to Cape Ann this morning as well. (Other young people on cruising boats! Yay new friends!)
We left Atlantic City before Pierre and Alec, and motored the rest of the way down the Jersey coast. 6am snack time consisted of the best stale rice cake with peanut butter and banana toppings ever prepared. We had all been too tired and cold to eat dinner last night. Oops.
Dawn of Day 2 was already a thousand times better than the day before. (I guess we really needed that 4 hour nap, huh?) The sun rose bright red East of us, Atlantic City still eerie in the background. Conditions were much calmer and much warmer as the morning progressed. We quickly passed Egg Harbor Bridge, Ocean City beaches, and on and on. The seabirds were everywhere, ambassadors of all the marine life on this southern Jersey coast.
Off Corson Inlet we came across another pod of Bottlenose dolphins and detoured in a large circle to take a closer look. Then, BEST SIGHTING TO DATE: a juvenile humpback whale was subsurface feeding amongst the dolphins. So incredible!! We shut the engine off and drifted with the whale and dolphins for 15 minutes or so. At one point, the whale surfaced 50 ft off the starboard side. (Slowly making last night’s misery worth it!)
For the rest of the day, we had consistent dolphin sightings every 20-30 minutes. Some close to the boat, some further away. A few Bottlenose dolphins even rode our bow for a bit, and we took turns at the helm so everyone had a chance to run up and play with our marine mammal escorts.
After passing the Wildwood roller coasters and ferris wheel, Cape May was an easy ride away. Captain Sarah took us all the way into the Cape May Harbor channel by 1pm.
We paid for a slip at Utsch’s Marina (pronounced “oot-chiz” for future reference – how are you supposed to hail that name over the radio??). Within 10 minutes of tying up we had popped a celebratory bottle of champagne and sat giggling on the boat. Jersey Coast: CONQUERED! It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. Thank goodness we had Sarah!