As We Sailed Into the Mystic

img_5627.jpg We had hoped to quickly reach New York City from Baltimore, following the C&D Canal from the Chesapeake into Delaware Bay and to the outside, north along the New Jersey coast. Cruising along outside of Ocean City in 4-5 foot seas, Jamie went below to prepare some dinner and evidently stayed there too long, succumbing to that queasy feeling marking the awful beginning of sea sickness. Rather than risk making her suffer all night, we instead turned in toward Great Egg Harbor hoping to find a place to anchor for the night. Never an especially pleasant ride, the large following ocean swell tossed us around like a small bathtub toy. As we entered the buoys marking the deep water of the channel leading into town, we lowered the main and attempted to start the engine, which stubbornly refused. Not even a click when we turned the key. Compounding our sudden problems, the following seas once again managed to work our worm gear steering loose, an all too familiar occurrence by this point! As was the Tow Boat US rescue that quickly followed, from us waiting in the surf on anchor, to being towed into the closest, never cheap marina. These moments of helplessness certainly led to moments of questioning this choice of lifestyle, and our aptitude for it. Though as with sea sickness, these doubts tend to quickly fade as the seas grow calmer.

img_5717.jpg Jamie set off the next day by taxi, bus, subway and train to catch a flight out of New York City, bound for Oregon to attend her grandmother's funeral. Quixote and I stayed behind to see what we could do about fixing the boat. Fixing the steering was a simple matter, granted it's obvious by now that our "fix" is only temporary -- getting the entire mechanism truly repaired once we settle down for the summer is very high on our to do list. As for the starter issue, this ultimately also falls in the same category. The wiring on this boat is more than a little haphazard, and I have every intention of making significant changes -- completely removing the many wires that go nowhere, and replacing multi-colored wires that have been created over the years by splicing red wires to black wires to white wires to blue wires to... Suffice to say that the entire power system is due an overhaul. I traced all involved wires from the battery to the starter as best I could, cleaning up the ends and tightening all connections. The starter has worked fine since, though until I make the aforementioned repairs I still have limited confidence in the whole system.

img_5662.jpg The repairs done, there was little left to do but wait out the weather. This spring has seemed to be little more than one storm after another, with only brief breaks in the weather during which which the seas are less than 5 feet and something we're willing to venture out into. This being my first time single handing the Miramar, I was hoping for even better conditions. Friday was calm and clear, but I decided to wait one more day to let the sea state calm down outside. Saturday I woke early and rode the tide outside into a beautiful morning. Winds over the stern, I raised sails and was making quick time north. Within thirty minutes I'd already spotted more dolphins than I could count, tens of dozens, all feeding in the bubbling masses of small fish visible along the coastline. I quickly lowered my fishing lure in the hopes of fresh dinner that night.

img_5646.jpg Forty five minutes after leaving the Ocean City area, a wall of gray covered the shoreline and the understated weather prediction for "chance of showers" came true. Now under only staysail, a front blew in a rain storm from the south that followed us for the rest of the day. The cat began his peculiar dance caused by a strong drive to stay dry inside competing with a strong drive to be outside in the cockpit with me. In the worst of the weather he'd spend 30 seconds outside followed by 3 minutes inside, all the while looking at me strangely as if to say, "why don't you just come inside?" A wind vane self-steering system is also high on our list of improvements for the boat this summer! I had my rain gear to keep me reasonably dry, but the cat eventually just gave up and laid down next to me as a soaked mat, resigned to being wet.

img_5658.jpg By mid day it was clear that the weather wasn't going to improve. I decided to duck in at Barnegat Light, the last entrance I could find before the New York City area. The charts showed only 3-6 feet of water, with a note indicating that the actual channel was only marked by local buoys as it changed too often. We've been to a few other places like this, but it never settles well with me to sail into an area where the charts don't show enough water for our boat. If there was any doubts, the weather decided to get significantly worse as I pointed in toward the buoys and began the rough ride toward the inside. Fortunately a few large shrimp boats had the same idea, and I could watch them navigate the channel first, giving me a good idea where the deepest water was.

img_5652.jpg The entrance itself was a little spooky. There was a man made breakwater on both sides, piles of large unyielding rocks that lined the entrance of the channel. The buoys kept you very close to to the north side of the channel, within a boat length of the growing waves breaking against the rocks. I increased the throttle and made entrance, finding over 15 feet of water where the charts showed 3, relieved as the breakwater quickly reduced the sea state to near calm. img_5654.jpg It was a little surreal motoring in along the breakwater at this point and finding it littered with people standing on the rocks fishing in full rain gear, bracing themselves as the waves would break and splash them from head to toe.

Inside I followed the markers toward the bay around which the Borough of Barnegat Light is built. Just before reaching the bay I spotted an anchorage with half a dozen other boats, and a few mooring balls. I got on the radio and started calling marinas, trying to track down which one owned the moorings, hoping to find a cheaper place to wait out the storm and hoping to avoid anchoring by myself. In the end, multiple marinas assured me it was okay to use the mooring ball for a night though none was sure which marina owned it, and I quickly tied up to it. I considered the potential stupidity of tying up to a random mooring ball, knowing that it was img_5669.jpg of unknown age and connected to an anchor of unknown size with an unknown quality of chain. I treated it like being on anchor, putting the engine into reverse and confirming that we didn't move at 2,000 rpms, far more power than the winds would exert against the chain. Finally satisfied, I went below to make a fresh-fish-less dinner and wait out another storm -- this time a storm was supposed to blow over in the evening and then stall just off the coast, increasing the size of the waves and making it difficult to travel further north.

img_5686.jpg Jamie arrived a few days later, the day the weather was finally breaking. I took the boat inland further into Barnegat Bay, a large but shallow body of water along the New Jersey coast, and followed the New Jersey intracoastal waterway a short distance to the small community of Forked River (pronounced "Four-Kid" the affronted locals informed Jamie). I anchored in just under six feet of water in front of town, then jumped into a dinghy and made my way up the river to find the "bus station" (a bench on the side of a small freeway). The town was quite cute, but the river was indeed forked, leaving me to question which fork was the correct direction to go. img_5689.jpg Eventually I found Jamie sitting on a small pier, and we made our way back out to the boat. I think she had mixed emotions about being back, leaving behind many of the luxuries taken for granted by land faring folk. We picked our way carefully back through the shallow channels into Barnegat bay, then stayed one more day on our mooring ball before setting out for New York the following morning.

img_5690.jpg The sail up to Brooklyn was reasonably uneventful. The winds had completely died down, so we motored the entire way. A few rainstorms blew over, and during one we managed to catch a Bonita, providing us with a fresh fish dinner our first night in the city. img_5700.jpg We arrived at the Miramar Yacht Club in Sheepshead Bay by late afternoon, and were warmly welcomed by the members as if we were long lost family. Eating before going ashore may have been a mistake, as they were eager to feed us pasta and apple crisp (the latter which we kindly accepted and brought back to our boat for a late night snack). Our few days in the city went by quickly, and we were already planning our final push into New England.

img_5707.jpg One nice surprise was that Micah, a good friend from Haines who now enjoys living in New York City, agreed to make the next leg of our journey with us. He rescheduled things at work, and noted that he had to be online again on Sunday. We set off early Saturday morning, sailing along the outside of Long Island. The weather was beautiful, sunny and hot, but the winds again were light. img_5719.jpg We sailed as long as we could, but eventually had to start the engine and motor sail so that we could stay on schedule (I'm growing progressively less fond of schedules these days). Nightfall brought with it a chill that we're still getting used to, as we've clearly left behind the more consistently warm weather of the south. Around midnight the distant lights along Long Island began to quickly fade in and out of existence in a ghostly way, a momentary puzzle quickly solved when our boat became engulfed in a thick fog.

img_5753.jpg The fog proved to be extremely cold and damp. It also brought with it wind, though in the nonexistent visibility we decided to not raise more than the staysail, and continued to chug along primarily by motor. Our radar deflector hung where it should from the spreader, halfway up the mast, in theory bouncing back a strong radar signal to any passing ships watching their radars who wouldn't otherwise be able to see our feeble anchor and running lights. We could hardly see our own anchor light through the thick fog.

img_5759.jpg I returned to deck later in the night after a two hour nap, and the fog was thinning but still there. I put on literally five layers of clothing to ward off the cold, then relieved a very tired Jamie. Micah had finally allowed himself to fall asleep, still laying in the cockpit where he had provided welcome company to us both the entire trip -- when he roused a little while later I sent him below for more comfortable sleep in the quarter berth. As he climbed below, he got a glimpse of the Montauk lighthouse from the water through the breaking fog, about which he'd earlier told us stories of visiting. Shortly thereafter, a ghostly white light began to fill the horizon, slowly growing up out of the water and casting a thick halo through the fog, eventually revealing itself to be a large fishing boat "cruising through Block Island Sound", like the Downeaster Alexa.

img_5760.jpg By 4am, the fog was clearly breaking, along with dawn. It's always a beautiful and welcome sight, the sun making its presence known, chasing away the cold, the fog, and dark of night. As Fisher's island appeared on the horizon, I went below to wake Jamie and Micah, wanting both more eyes on deck as we navigated into Connecticut, as well as to share the magic of another landfall, this time at Mystic. We'd finally reached New England, our intended destination for this first leg of our adventure.

1 comments on As We Sailed Into the Mystic

  1. alaskamarge's picture
    Mon, 07/06/2009 - 15:11

    Hi Bullfrog,What nice pictures to go along with this adventure. The cat sure seems to find a comfortable place while sailing. Thanks so much for taking us along on this voyage. I really enjoy it. MOM