Open Water

Our 5 day stay in Delaware City waiting out tropical storm Arthur was uneventful, which is all one can hope of a week with a predicted storm. We pulled out Gloomhaven (board game) again, and otherwise spent the time working, relaxing and doing laundry. David also decided to install the fixed monitor stand on the desk so that in rough water we would not need to stow his monitor as we had been doing. This was the longest time we had stayed in one place since arriving on the boat back in February.

We also needed to do a lot of planning as our next legs of the trip would take us into our first open water on the east coast, and our first passage on the ocean in Highwind. The ideal plan for us would be to head from Delaware City down the Delaware River and around to Cape May for the night. This trip needed to be timed with the tides to ride favorable currents. Ideally the next leg of the trip would be 120 nautical miles from Cape May all the way up to Sandy Hook. This would have us ‘skip’ the entire New Jersey shore and avoid any passage up the New Jersey Intercoastal Waterway, which is controlled only to 4ft from Cape May to Atlantic City and then only 6ft to Sandy Hook. Even though this is protected water, we draw 4ft, so that first stint is a non-starter for us, and after our trip up the Dismal Swamp, we aren’t eager to spend much time in 6ft either. Since both of these legs were going to be over 4 hour cruises we knew that we needed to wait for a weekend. Since they are both in open water, we knew we did not want to be doing them in any kind of appreciable wind.

While Arthur was drawing to a close, we were keeping a close eye on the weather reports from Delaware City, looking for our chance. We started noticing a bit of a gap in the weather up the southern NJ coast centered around early Saturday, but then increasing winds for the rest of the 10 day forecast making the coast trip a nonstarter. As it got closer, the weather forecast firmed up with Saturday morning having nearly zero wind, not awful ocean swells from the SE, and Friday was at least passable to get down to Cape May. David had Friday off work, which helped, so we locked in the tentative plan, with lots of escape hatches if we ran into surprising conditions. Whatever ended up happening, if we didn’t make it all the way to Sandy Hook by Saturday afternoon, we’d be stuck in place for another 7+ days.

Friday morning, we cast off from Delaware City near the middle of the day (timed according to the tides) and began the journey to Cape May. The weather wasn’t great (with some intermittent rain), but the good news was that the wind was minimal. However, we spent pretty much the entire trip (5ish hours) going into head-on rapid chop, some of the worst waters we’ve been on to-date, the waves regularly splashing all the way up to our flybridge windows. At one point the nose dipped so violently that our anchor chain break popped free, so I had to don a lifejacket and head out onto the bow to fix it, while being sprayed in the face with salt water repeatedly. Once we got into the Cape May canal, the water was calm and we pulled in to our marina with no problems.

The view for most of the day on the Delware River

That evening we checked the weather reports again, and everything was still pointing to the next day being our only viable option for the journey north, with winds predicted 0-5kts and predicted 1-1.3m waves from the SE for most of the day. We planned to wake up at dawn, 5:30 in the morning (oh-dark-thirty, as my parents say), and immediately head out into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since we started on this trip.

At 5:30, it was pouring with rain, but there was little wind, so we cast off and headed out of Cape May. The water was as predicted – large rollers evenly spaced coming at us from the beam. So while the day before had been a lot of up and down from the head-on waves, this trip was a lot of side-to-side rolling. For the first couple of hours of the day, it absolutely poured with rain and there was thunder and lightening in the distance. We were nervous enough about things that we grabbed the dingy key, portable radio, and the flares to keep nearby in case we got rolled over and somehow got the dinghy loose!

In order to make it all the way in one trip, we knew that we would need to plane for some of the trip, but for the morning, we needed to stay at displacement speeds, as planing with the beam waves was dangerously rocky. Our bug-out plan in case we did not feel we should go further was to duck in at Atlantic City. We could then take the rest of the trip up the NJICW (going on a rising tide for the deepest possible water) up to Manasquan, and then figure out a time to do the last 25 miles in open water later in the week (hopefully). However, eventually the rain stopped, and the conditions, while real crappy, were not dangerously bad. After 5 hours of that, we passed by Atlantic City and turned to port by about 10 degrees, so the seas were not straight on the beam, and the conditions greatly improved. We shortly thereafter were able to keep the boat safely up on plane without having to manually steer, and our ETA dramatically dropped.

After a couple hours of planing, we knew that, even if the waves turned worse and we had to stop planing, we would be able to make it to Sandy Hook with an hour or two of sunlight to spare. We actually ended up managed to stay planing all the way up. As we got further north and slowly turned further and further to port, the waves kept going more and more aft, making it safer and comfier as the day went on. We ended up getting into Sandy Hook early enough in the evening to fill up on diesel before settling in for the night on anchor.

The next morning, we would be heading north from Sandy Hook, up the East River past Manhatten and into the Long Island Sound where we would tie up in Rowayton, Connecticut to spend some time with David’s aunt and uncle. Our original Loop plan had us spending several days in New York City, but obviously now is not the time to be a tourist in NYC, so we are cruising on by and hoping that on the way south things might be open enough that it makes sense to stop.

It was a surreal and amazing experience to be driving our boat past such a recognizable skyline. We had no trouble navigating the New York City harbour, which in more normal times must have 5x the number of boats that we saw. We pulled in close to the Statue of Liberty and took a couple of selfies from the bow. Since the skies were pretty grey and it was quite windy, we decided not to drop the dingy to get the “money shot” of Highwind with the Statue in the background (we’ll give it another shot on the way south). We then headed under the Brooklyn Bridge and through Hell’s Gate (a section of water near the entrance to Long Island Sound that is best navigated at slack tide).

About half way up our passage on the Long Island Sound, the clouds finally burned off and we were greeted in Connecticut by amazing blue skies and a warm welcome from John, Joan and Brian (David’s cousin). John had secured a mooring spot for us at the mouth of the river where they live and luckily John and Brian had come out in their dingy to help us get moored since this was a “bow and stern buoy” type mooring. This is where you have to hook up both your bow and stern to two mooring buoys that are connected by a line. What I didn’t realize is that you do not use your own lines (like we do for traditional mooring buoys), but instead there is a “pennant” line that is already connected to the buoy that you are supposed to pick up and tie to your boat; all while making sure that you do not drive over the line connecting the buoys, so that it doesn’t get caught in your propellers. Unfortunately, there was a decently strong current pushing us right into/over the line! After a bit of a struggle, we finally got tied up and were able to drop the dingy and head further up the river where John had secured us a spot to tie our dingy for the night, just across the street from their house.

We had socially distant “streettails” with some of their neighbors and a delicious home cooked (that I didn’t have to cook!!) meal. Also, I didn’t have to do the dishes!! For Memorial Day, we had streettails again, this time with David’s other uncle and aunt and cousin – Paul, Nancy and Mike, plus a phone cameo with David’s cousin Jen.

We are planning to stay here probably for the next week and properly re-provision the boat for heading north up to Maine. Also to come up with a plan, since John and Joan are coastal experts up here, and we know essentially nothing about these waters, since they’re not part of the Great Loop.

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