Saturday, June 23, 2007

June 15

June 15. The weather forecast has us a little alarmed. The wind is from the northeast, the direction we need to travel, at 15 to 20 knots. So this means no sailing but even worse is the thought of bashing into wind driven seas for 60 miles. We decide to play it safe and wait until tomorrow.

Okay, its tomorrow. The wind is supposed to die tonight and turn around from the south for a bit before going west. It won’t be enough wind to sail in but at least the waves won’t be against us. We listen to the weather all day and I talk to a few boats that have entered the harbor after coming south to Cape May.

At around 1600 hours I decide that the wind has already started to abate and so in a few hours the sea swell should be mellowing as well. The weather for tomorrow is now for very high winds from the west in the afternoon. I’m picturing high winds opposing the mellowing swell creating some pretty nasty choppy conditions, so I make a command decision. I ask Christy if we can leave tonight, travel all night and be in Barnegat Bay before 0900 tomorrow. She starts to cry, no not really but she wasn’t all over the idea like I thought she would be. I explained my position and was able to sway her to my point of view. Okay, okay, I had to make concessions; among other things Rumboy has been banished.

If we leave at 2000 hours we’ll be able to leave Cape May at just about slack tide and if we arrive before 0900 tomorrow we will be able to ride the flood tide into Barnegat Inlet tomorrow. This will also be an advantage to us if we run aground in the meandering channel that leads from the inlet to the bay.

So I lay down for a couple of hours to try and get some sleep since we’re now leaving this evening. After my nap we go about the business of raising the anchor and getting underway.

The trip out the inlet was very pleasant in the waning light of day. After clearing the inlet we turned northeast towards Barnegat Inlet. It got dark quickly but it didn’t seem too bad as we were abreast of the boardwalk at Wildwood. The rides and town were so brightly lit that everything on our port side was bathed in the reflected glow of the shore. On our port side we could see as if it was daylight yet on our starboard side it was so dark it seemed as if the world just stopped there. It was more than a little eerie, just blackness with no edge to sea or sky.

As the evening wore on we began using an egg timer to assist us in keeping a proper watch. We’d set it for 15 minutes and when it went off the first order of business was to reset it for another 15. Next was to take the radar off standby so it could start to look around. Third was the actual physical act of standing up and doing a slow 360 degree look outside. Next was a good minute or 2 of staring at the radar screen to see what if anything had changed. Then a quick look at the GPS to check our course and it was back to sitting for another 11 minutes or so.

Once this routine was established Christy went below to try and get a few hours of rest. If there was any chance of me dozing off she was sure the egg timer would wake me. It was interesting just how important the egg timer became. I wasn’t really tired but as we moved north of Wildwood we moved further offshore and away from the lights of society. It was very dark as it was overcast, so no stars and no moon. So I’d be sitting starring straight ahead at the blackness and all of a sudden the egg timer would go off.

To me it felt as if I had just set it yet another quarter of an hour had passed. Without the timer in these conditions it would have been very easy to daydream my way into trouble. In 20 or 30 minutes a boat doing 20 knots can come over the horizon and really change the mood of the evening for the worse.

There was a lot of barge traffic on the ocean. We were mostly between 5 and 7 miles offshore and it seemed that all of the barges were about 7 to 10 miles off the beach. It was completely disorienting looking at the lights on the water at night. A tug and barge would look like they were a mile away but the radar showed them to be 3 and a half miles from our position.

After seeing a few it became easier to eyeball their distance from us. I was badly fooled by a sport fisherman that was only a half mile from us even though judging by his lights he looked to be much further away. He appeared to be the same height as the large ocean going tugs because his smaller boat was just much closer to us. The radar wasn’t fooled though so it all worked out okay.

The lights of Atlantic City were clearly visible from almost 20 miles away. The downside was that it really seemed to make the trip drag as we could see the city for so long: approaching and pulling away. Hours would pass and we’d still be near Atlantic City.

The black of night gave way to the dull grayness of the predawn. The sky behind us was dark and foreboding while the morning sky in front of us seemed to hold the promise of a beautiful day.

The sun broke through the gray and gave us a wonderful show. We turned into the Barnegat Inlet approach at 0715. The Inlet had been given a bad rap as a dangerous inlet and for the most part it was. Then in 1995 the Army Corp of Engineers changed the layout of the jetties and in general the inlet conditions improved greatly. Today was a lot like 1994 however.

We got our ass kicked. We had been heading north through a large slow easterly swell and made great time. It was okay for the trip up here but with a slight wind out of the west and with last of the ebb tide the easterly swells created large breaking seas in the inlet. The word “broach” crossed my mind on more than one occasion as I was forced to take a very active roll at the helm as we transited the outer part of the inlet.

To make matters more interesting there was a large Bluefish tournament starting today so the inlet was crowded with fishermen headed out. There was a lot of discussion about the inlet and dozens of boats elected to turn back and stay inside. One minute our speed was slowed by the ebbing tide and the next second we were flying along in breaking surf. Veranda handled it well and made me look like I know what I’m doing.

After a quick trip across the bay we were back in Forked River and on our way to the Silver Cloud Marina complex. We were tied up in a slip before 0900 and did our best to nap for a few hours before venturing out to see our people.

The afternoon winds did build to almost 20 knots from the west. With the easterly swell the inlet would have been much more dangerous than it was for us this morning. Hindsight being 20 / 20, we did the right thing by traveling in the lightest winds possible even though it was on a moonless night. Sometimes you find “safety first“ where you least expect it.

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