Sassafras Gale to Galesville

Secluded spots. Strong blows.

From Chesapeake City we travelled the last few miles of the C&D canal and then south into the Chesapeake Bay and the Sassafras River on Maryland’s eastern shore. We found a nice anchorage in a river bend protected from the strong northeast and northwest winds, set out almost 250 feet of chain, and hunkered down for a big blow. The Coast Guard was repeating gale warnings on the VHF every 20 minutes or so and advising small boats to take shelter. When it blew, it blew hard for about 36 hours with wind exceeding 42 kts. Andante rode it out well while I read a book, reorganized some lockers and drank a lot of coffee.

Editorial note: While I can write and sort photos anywhere, the software I’m using for this blog (WordPress) requires an internet connection to actually construct and publish the posts. The Sassafras River is remote with limited cell service and it wasn’t possible to upload photos and such. There will be days like that. Thanks for your patience.

We anchored as close to shore behind these hills as we could to get some protection from the wind. The water was pretty shallow outside the main river channel so we couldn’t get as close as I’d hoped.
Adjacent to our anchorage was a fish weir. This is a contraption made of sticks and nets formed into a maze that traps fish. It was marked with flashing yellow lights at night. This was a bit disconcerting as with this much wind I was on high alert for any evidence we were dragging our anchor. And its hard to judge distances at night from a flashing light.
Andante’s anchoring setup. We carry almost 300′ of 3/8″ BBB chain. Once the proper scope of chain is deployed for the water depth (3:1 for lunch, 5:1 for a nice sheltered anchorage, 10:1 or more for a storm like this) I attach a nylon snubber line with a rolling hitch and let out another 20-30 feet. The snubber acts as a shock absorber which makes a choppy anchorage more comfortable and reduces shock loading on the anchor. The almost-ancient Maxwell-Nilsson windlass is used to retrieve the anchor chain. Deployment is by manual free-fall. The folding handles on top of the windlass control a friction brake (like the drag on a fishing reel) to allow a slow and controlled deployment.
After the storm passed the wind really died and we enjoyed a nice quiet sunset. Quiet except for the crazy honking of hundreds of Canada Geese heading south. The boat in the photo is “The Nors” a catamaran we conversed with by radio during our trip through the shoals off of Cape May. They told me their plan was to follow us (and our 6.5′ draft) through the shoals knowing that then they’d be just fine. Glad to be of service.
There is no reason for this picture to be here. Just a cool angle I guess. I have been wondering if I need to tweak the starboard lowers just a little. Can’t tell if that’s really a slight bend at the lower spreaders or an optical illusion.

From the Sassafras we continued south Thursday towards the Bay Bridges and Annapolis. Yet another big storm was anticipated for Friday. We made good time and passed under the bridges shortly after noon.

The two spans connecting Maryland’s western and eastern shores just north of Annapolis. The only other bridge across the bay is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel 130 miles to the south in Norfolk/Hampton Roads where the Chesapeake opens to the Atlantic.

Although I had been looking forward to spending an evening in Annapolis I was NOT looking forward to being forced to sail in strong winds and driving rain the next day. We’re expecting some family to visit us at a marina about two hours south on Saturday. Getting stuck in Annapolis was not really an option. So we pressed on for another few hours to the little town of Galesville on the West River – where my parents had kept our family’s boats for many years when I lived in the area.

Thomas Point Light near the mouth of the South River is probably the most photographed object in the Chesapeake Bay. We passed close enough to get a few nice pictures of our own.
We fueled and watered before heading to our mooring. Hoping to head out again early Sunday when fuel docks will be closed.

We had just secured ourselves on our mooring when the wind started to pick up. Thursday night it was windy and a little rainy. Its now Friday evening as I’m writing this and its still blowing 25-35 kts and raining extremely hard. And last I checked the docks at the marina were all underwater — glad I opted for a mooring. Since there was nothing to be done outside I spent today changing the engine oil, oil filter and transmission fluid. Its easiest to do these sorts of jobs at a location (like this marina) that accepts waste oil. And has a laundry facility for afterwards. I guess that’s a job for tomorrow morning.

While the winds were not gale force this time, we got some good hard rain in Galesville on the West River

Radar suggests the rain will taper off soon and the forecast is for pleasant conditions tomorrow for family visits. While the laundry is sloshing I’ll give the boat a quick clean to make it presentable for guests. At least I don’t need to worry about rinsing the salt off the deck…

Delaware Bay and C&D Canal

Industry meets nature.

There is a large amount of commercial ship and barge traffic on the Delaware Bay and River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal that connect them. On this leg we passed mostly natural, barren shorelines that make you wonder what all these ships are up to. But if you zoom out a bit you quickly see the critical connection that these waterways provide between major East Coast ports including New York, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Norfolk — and all the small towns and power plants in between that require regular deliveries of oil. The big ships are generally constrained to a narrow channel we try to avoid. In the narrow C&D Canal AIS, radar and slow speeds prevent surprises around the next bend.

The leg from Cape May up Delaware Bay and through the C&D Canal was relatively tame weather-wise. We had some headwinds and seas on the initial departure from Cape May as we had to head southwest around Prissy Wicks Shoal. Andante is a bit too big for the shortcut backdoor Cape May canal. Once we threaded our way through the shoals and started up the bay the winds were generally light. We timed the tides just right and enjoyed as much as a 2 kt push on the trip north.

Motoring with the yankee up for a little extra push. We enjoyed speeds exceeding 9 knots due to the strong favorable current.

The banks of the Delaware Bay are pretty spartan. Marshes, a few trees, the occasional nuclear power plant. But there is life, especially birds.

I did not notice any 3-eyed birds.
Bald eagle on Red 8, just offshore of Eagle Island. Coincidence?

The C&D canal is about 20 miles long and connects the Delaware River (just below the big Delaware Memorial Bridge on I-95) with the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. In many ways this canal is similar to the Cape Cod Canal. Both were expanded from existing small waterways and both are run by the US Army Corp of Engineers. Even some of the bridge architecture is vaguely similar. While the Cape Cod Canal railroad bridge is far more attractive and ornate, the Contrail bridge over the C&D is more active with freight train traffic all day long.

Entering the C&D from the Delaware River.
Conrail railroad bridge on C&D Canal.
The canal is deep right up to the riprap on shore. Which is good because I pulled way over to the side for this guy.

With severe storms rolling in we stopped for the day at Chesapeake City. Its a cute little harbor about 2/3 of the way along the canal with restaurants and bars and crabs. But the anchorage was small and crowded and I had no plans to go ashore. When the thunderstorms hit later that evening two boats (both unoccupied at the time – owners were at the bar) dragged through the soft mud and ended up pinned against the beach and docks on shore. Both boats and crews were fine afterwards. We decided to leave as soon as possible the next morning to find a more secure location to ride out the multi-day gale that was forecast to arrive in the afternoon.

Anchorage at Chesapeake City

Jersey Shore

Long day. Good fun.

Only short-in-stature, challenged-in-draft vessels can navigate the intracoastal waterway protected by the Jersey Shore’s barrier islands. Unlike the ICW south from Norfolk, VA the New Jersey segment is very shallow and the fixed bridges that cross it are shorter than the 65 ft standard. So real boats need to head out into the Atlantic at Sandy Hook and sail offshore to Cape May, a distance of about 120 nm. There are a few inlets in between that can be used to break up the trip (notably Atlantic City) — but we chose to press on and get it done in one 24-hour period.

Friday afternoon we filled the fuel tank, refilled the snack locker, and gave the engine a thorough checkup. On Saturday morning we left the Atlantic Highlands boat basin at dawn. It took more than two hours to navigate north around Sandy Hook, into the Atlantic, and then back south along the beach to the latitude of our starting point. There were lots (LOTS) of little fishing boats for the first few hours. I didn’t see anyone actually catch anything, but from the volume and diversity of boats (and the salty language on the radio) you could tell these folks were serious about their sport.

The Atlantic Highlands boat basin has an amazing view of downtown Manhattan.
After much messing about in inland bays and sounds it was a good to finally be out in the ocean and heading in the right direction.

Weather conditions were generally good with a few clouds and a light drizzle in the morning. A few scattered showers were predicted for the evening. It was cool enough and with enough rain potential that I put up the bimini to provide a windbreak and keep the cockpit somewhat dry. And I bundled up too.

Winds were light and from behind. On a flat sea we probably could have sailed the whole way but with a 2-3 foot quartering swell we were rolling and the sails were not effective on their own. So the engine ran for the first half of the trip to keep us moving at a reasonable pace. The genoa did help stabilize the boat as long as there was enough wind to keep it full. To escape the noise and smell I spent time forward of the cockpit as conditions allowed.

An almost glassy Atlantic

The Jersey shore is not particularly photogenic from 1-2 miles offshore. In some areas there were lots of little cottages and families at the beach, in others the entire beachfront looked commercial. Each of the towns was different, none more so than Atlantic City. The high-rise buildings were visible from more than 20 miles away in daylight and the gaudy lights further still after dark.

Barnegat Inlet is known for its occasionally rough and dangerous conditions. The wreckage of a sailboat was being cleared as we sailed past. The Barnegat Lighthouse is one of the taller and more attractive along the coast.

With the glassy conditions I was disappointed to see no whales. But I was ecstatic to see some brown pelicans. These are generally warm-climate birds that migrate to the mid-Atlantic states in summer and are very rarely seen as far north as Cape Cod. More evidence that we are making significant progress southward.

An afternoon rain shower provided some interesting colors. The full rainbow was visible but I was unable to get a photo of the complete arch as my camera lens wasn’t wide enough.

Right around sunset the wind picked up as a few more small storms passed over us This let us shut down the engine and sail for the second half of the trip. It was glorious cruising along at 7 kts on a starry, moonlit night.

Storm coming

Cape May is a well-protected harbor with an easy-to-navigate inlet. Which is good, because I had to navigate it at 0400 this morning after 22 hours of sailing. Fortunately there was still some moonlight. And also GPS. And radar. And a very effective range. And lighted channel markers. And I had studied other accounts of finding the anchorage in the dark. So using just those few tools we found a nice spot to anchor just off the beach adjacent to the Coast Guard training facility. And then went to bed.

We are literally a stones throw from the beach. We’re well-protected from the weather. Not so protected from the fisherfolk who started zooming by before 6 this morning.
Coast Guard training facility in Cape May

From Cape May the fundamental routing decision is whether to continue south on the outside to Norfolk, or head inshore up the Delaware Bay, across the C&D Canal, and down the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk. I’m looking forward to having some family visit us in the Annapolis area — so we’ll be taking the inshore route this time.

Today, besides napping, I’m working on planning our transit of Delaware Bay and the C&D canal. It looks like the weather should be passable tomorrow – not perfect, but workable – and the all-important tides and currents align nicely with daylight hours. The leg from Cape May to Chesapeake City (near the Maryland end of the C&D canal) is about 75 nm but should take less than 10 hours if we can ride a favorable tide the whole way. A substantial gale is expected Tuesday and Wednesday. If all goes according to plan we’ll ride that out in Chesapeake City. From there its on to Annapolis, then down the Chesapeake to Norfolk to join the ICW.

New York, NY

Well that was fun.

After a very peaceful night in City Island we enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous day today on the East River and New York Harbor. Its hard to imagine better weather conditions for this leg in late October: Sunny, clear, and warm. And we timed the tides just right so that the passage down the East River and through Hell Gate was a non-event and we were pushed through the Narrows at more than 8 kts. Vessel traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. There were plenty of large ships and tugs and barges and ferries and jet skis (really) but it wasn’t the total mayhem I expected.

As a result I was able to take a ton of photos. I’ll share and comment on a few below and put some others on the Gallery page linked above.

The day started at the far western extreme of Long Island Sound at the Throgs Neck Bridge. That’s SUNY Maritime under the right tower. Winds were calm for the first time in days. They perked up again later allowing us to beneficially motorsail for a while in NY harbor.
First glimpse of Ms. Liberty from under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. I learned that a sailboat is not the best camera platform. More than half the photos I took have some bit of rigging in the picture, sometimes faking out the autofocus. This one isn’t too bad.
Freedom Tower from under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Battery and the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The East River is to the right, the Hudson on the left.
I was able to get right up to the buoys marking the restricted area around Liberty Island. This was probably the busiest area of the harbor with all the tugs, tour boats, ferries, kayakers (really) and helicopters. The helicopters didn’t impact my navigation but there sure were a lot of them.

I really looked forward to this leg of the trip. It was very satisfying to both get the logistics of this just right and to enjoy such nice conditions, especially after the past few days in Long Island Sound.

On to the next challenge: Sandy Hook to Cape May. As of right now the weather is looking reasonable for a departure late tomorrow or early Saturday.

Escape from Port Jefferson

Its a nice town. Can I leave now?

Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind. This is the origin of our word zephyr, the lightest of breezes. Clearly somebody did something to piss off Zephyrus because the west winds have absolutely howled for the last few days. Except for one rainy afternoon the sky was sunny and the temperatures were moderate. It just blew like stink. The highest wind speed we saw (on a mooring in a “protected” harbor) was 42 kts and it rarely dropped below 25. So we sat tight in Port Jefferson for three days until the various weather forecasts suggested the winds would begin to ease up.

It is impossible to capture with a still image the pleasure of 30+ kt winds and 1-2 ft waves while on a short, non-compliant mooring. Its a very unpredictable and jerky motion that is different from a vessel underway or on anchor.

During this forced downtime I went ashore twice to do some grocery shopping. There was plenty of time to do some boat maintenance and some more laundry. I made some improvements to the jacklines and tethers that keep me aboard. And I assembled and hoisted our radar reflector. The next few legs are going to be in highly-trafficked areas (like New York harbor) and I want to be easily seen.

Last night the forecasts all indicated we should see a lessening of the wind this morning. The forecasts were, as usual, optimistic. The forecast predicted 18 gusting to 27 with 1-2 ft waves. In fact we saw winds today of 38 kts in the middle of Long Island Sound with 3-4 ft waves. Andante handled the conditions as she was built to do and I just tried to point her in a reasonable direction and not do anything stupid. As you can tell from our track we didn’t try to take this weather head-on but tacked back and forth across the sound. While it made for a longer journey it was much more enjoyable than just bashing into waves all day.

In late afternoon it was rewarding to see the NYC skyline appear as we approached City Island, just NE of the Throgs Neck bridge and the entrance to the East River. We found a calm spot to drop the anchor for the night. Its a pretty area and a nice anchorage but for the intrusion of city noises (cars, sirens, what I can only assume is a gun range).

Tomorrow is a big day. One of the two legs I’ve most anticipated is the transit of the East River and New York harbor. This is one of the busiest waterways in the world and can be challenging to navigate with sharp bends, strong tidal currents, and lots of big ships. Because of these currents the timing of our departure is important. As it turns out we will need to leave later in the morning than I’d usually choose for a trip of this length (about 37 miles) which means we may arrive at our destination after business hours and possibly close to sunset. Fortunately I was able to reserve a mooring at Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club so even if was arrive late there should be an easy end to the day.

Its supposed to be a nice sunny day tomorrow with light winds. l’ll do my best to take some photos while dodging traffic.