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
Moonlight

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.

Long Island Sound

Its longer than I thought.

The timing of a trip like this is a compromise. Leave New England too early and you risk encountering late-season tropical storms on the way south. Leave too late and you get slammed with early-season winter storms. While the tropical Atlantic is clear for the moment, a frontal system has brought strong gusty winds to Long Island Sound for the past two days — and the forecast suggests this will continued for several more. We’re currently moored in a substantial harbor rocking and rolling in 37 kt winds and wondering if we’ll ever get to NYC and beyond. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Saturday we left Fishers Island for the leg to Milford, CT. It was a long day of more than 50 wet and bumpy miles. We sailed the whole way but the strong wind acting against the strong current resulted in especially steep and uncomfortable waves. Andante is a big heavy girl who can usually punch through 3-4 foot waves but these were a challenge. I got completely soaked during a sail change and anything loose in the cabin went flying. The only serious casualty was my lone head of garlic that was violently ejected from its hammock and exploded on impacting the floor. I’m still picking up garlic shrapnel.

At least it was sunny.

We found a spot to anchor in the Milford Gulf close behind a little (very little) island that provided some protection from the south wind. But within an hour of anchoring the weather alarm went off with a severe thunderstorm warning associated with the oncoming frontal passage. When it hit just after dark we saw winds in the low 30’s accompanied by a rapid 100-degree windshift. I’m really happy with the performance of our Spade anchor – especially its ability to reset on shifts like this. Its the only reason I get any sleep.

With winds still whipping we attempted a shorter leg today from Milford across LIS to Port Jefferson, NY. This choice let us make a little progress towards our goal without having to sail upwind for long. The short hop also put us in a secure location with most of the afternoon available to restow and secure gear, catch up on some maintenance and do some grocery shopping.

Port Jefferson is a an interesting town connected to Connecticut via a ferry service from Bridgeport. It seems well-equipped for summer tourists and all the shops and restaurants were still hopping today.

From our mooring we have a good view of both the superyacht dock and the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry terminal.
Port Jeff has a nice harborfront park that was hosting a farmer’s market this afternoon. Though heavy on the cupcakes and kombucha, I did find some good vegetables for supper. Andante is visible with her flag flying just above the head of the guy with the baby stroller.

Unfortunately some of the tourist services have shut down for the season. For example, I had hoped to do some laundry using the much-advertised facilities in the harbormaster’s office. Closed.

Laundry, Plan B.

I’m sure the folks on the superyachts (and the adjacent Port Jefferson Yacht Club) praised my resourcefulness as my underwear hung pinned to the lifelines flapping in the wind.

One of the things I’ve been concerned about when sailing in rough conditions is Dinghy. She’s seen a lot of use and is beginning to show her age, especially on the fittings used to attach her towing lines.

Losing Dinghy while underway is a possibility that I’d like to avoid. So I took the opportunity today to haul her on deck, deflate her, and lash her down. It took about an hour but was definitely worth it for my peace of mind. I expect we’ll gain up to a knot in boat speed without the additional drag.

Dinghy deflated, folded and stowed on deck. At some point I’d like to add additional hard points on the deck for a more secure tiedown. But this will do for now. Pay no attention to the random undergarments on the rail.

So getting through Long Island Sound is proving to be a bit of a chore because of the weather and this portion of the trip is taking a longer than I anticipated. The winds are forecast to be strong out of the west and northwest — exactly the direction we need to go — for the next couple of days still. But we’re in not particular rush other than to stay ahead of winter as best we can. We’ll push on in small bites as conditions allow.