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by Jason Thatcher - Bear Creek,  Pennsylvania - USA

Part One - Part Two

It has been quite a while since my last post regarding sailing, and I was hoping that, at this point in the summer, I would be well on my way along a course set from NJ to Maine.  But, two weeks ago I had to come to terms with the reality that I got a very late start, and, when I was finally prepared, the weather report was anything but favorable for me to venture out into the Atlantic for the first time in a 23 foot sailboat. The voice on the radio repeated ”winds south at 20 knots, waves 4 to 7 feet” for each of the following five days”. I had been advised to wait for  seas of 2-3 feet by the previous owner and I took his words seriously.
I needed a new plan, so I looked at the local charts and decided to set out in the opposite direction south along the ICW to Cape May, a distance of 90 statute miles. I planned on doing 30 miles a day and completing the round trip in 6 days. At 6 miles per hour, it seemed completely reasonable.

Day 1

The early morning light was dulled by a grey mist which would continue to be the case throughout much of the day. Preparations for the trip included a walk to the bathroom at the marina and a quick breakfast. I made a cup of tea to enjoy on the way down the river as well as a sandwich and a thermos of tea for later in the day. The motor had been running for a few minutes and was warmed up and ready to go. I cast off the lines and backed out of the slip and then proceeded down the fairway, past the fuel dock where they sell both gasoline and diesel, and into Toms river.

It was a quiet departure. Hardly anyone was stirring at the marina, the water was calm. I was motoring at 5 knots, anticipating  reaching Barnegat Bay in 20-25 minutes. Soon, I passed by the spot where the engine had failed two days prior.

Along with numerous repairs stemming from Hurricane Sandy, I had installed a new outboard engine which replaced the one ruined in the storm. Following the break-in instructions, I first ran the engine at low rpm’s for two hours. It was after this that I filled the second tank and switched the fuel line to test out the new tank. A minute or two after leaving the fuel dock, I twisted the throttle, expecting to feel a smooth surge in speed accompanied by a higher pitch, indicating increased rpms. Instead, the engine seemed to choke on itself, and soon died. I was heartbroken. My first thought was ”how can I possibly expect to sail through New York Harbor with an engine that is unreliable?” I checked everything that came to mind - the kill switch, the tank vent, the pressure in the bulb. All seemed to be in order, and yet, the engine would not start. I checked the wind and prepared a plan for sailing back to the marina. Under jib alone, I turned the boat towards the fuel dock but had to bide my time while two large cruisers filled their massive tanks. Finally, it was my turn. the dock was clear, the wind was light, and I made my way in, making an ideal landing which no one happened to witness. The mechanic at the marina looked over the situation, tried to start the engine a few times and then declared that the only option was to take it to the nearest Tohatsu dealer.

The first question from the dealer was “where did you get the engine?” I anticipated the question, and timidly replied that I had bought it online. I had to eat crow for 2 minutes while he yanked my chain about buying online and bringing it to him to remedy the problem. But it was mostly good natured, and he ended the conversation by inviting me to bring it down right away.

We arrived at his shop half an hour later. He was impressed that "at least you laid the engine on the correct side". He was working on another small outboard but made room for mine in the test tank. He had determined that the first engine would not start because of water in the gas and soon after, he determined that mine would not start because it was trying to burn diesel! Ahhh, in an instant I replayed the scene from earlier in the morning, getting out of the boat, placing the tank on the ground and watching the girl from the marina pump the gas, or what I thought was gas. In fact, she gave me 3 gallons of quality diesel fuel. The engine ran while there was still gas in the carb, but it did not take long for the diesel to make its way through the line and into the bowl. No wonder the engine choked!

“What is this world coming to”, he asked no one in particular. ”I have one guy trying to run his engine on water and another guy trying to use diesel. “ We laughed, but it cost me $120 to get the engine running and I bought an extra prop from him to assuage my guilt about buying online! What he really did, however, was to restore my faith in the engine, and that was worth a great deal more.

I was the only one on the river at this early hour of 7 am. The mouth of the river marked the true departure for this trip. What I had intended was to head north to the top of the bay, then on through the Point Pleasant Canal and out the Manasquan Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean for the 22 mile trip to Sandy Hook. But, instead, I would be turning south, directly into the the predicted 20 knot wind. The previous owner had tried to prepare me for what it would be like going to windward for any length of time, but I was not too overly concerned.

A minute after making the turn, I was drenched. I cut the engine and went below and donned my foul weather gear top and put my bating suit on. After securing the hatch and drop board, I forged ahead, the only boat on the bay for the next two hours and at times struggling to pick out the next day mark through the mist and droplets on my glasses. For a period of time, I took my glasses off and found that I could manage quite well for the long distances that were involved, but had to put them on again as I checked the chart for some indication about where the next mark might be. After a few hours of being showered by the spray every 10 – 15 seconds, the sandwich and hot tea that I had prepared earlier were a godsend. I slowed the engine and enjoyed them and then pressed onward.

It was an adventure, for sure. My expectation was that both the wind and the water would calm down at the south end of the bay where it was considerably narrower. Thankfully, this seemed to be the case. The hours passed more quickly than I imagined they would under such conditions. Later in the day, a few boats ventured out, but I was largely alone for most of the trip. Although I had charts covering the area between Toms River and Cape May, my intended destination, I did not have a cruising guide for these waters. This put me at a bit of a disadvantage, having never been this far south on the bay, but I was fortunate to find a marina at Beach Haven that had a transient slip available. A long hot shower never felt better. After checking the lines on the boat a second time, I headed into town to explore. I had never been to Beach Haven, but found it to be a pleasant spot, with good restaurants and a nice tea room where I was able to enjoy a hot cup of Earl Grey along with an over-sized chocolate chip cookie. It felt awfully good to settle into my bunk that night, and sleep came quickly. Distance travelled - 28.5 miles, almost on schedule! Tomorrow’s destination -Ocean City.


The Quest for Cape May


It is a quest because there is a real possibility that I won’t make it, but time will tell. So now, for the rest of the story.

Today was a wonderful day for gaining experience and for facing humility right in the eyes. Being among friends, it is perfectly ok to share the truth and the whole truth - no need for any fiction! (I already spilled the beans about the diesel.)

So, I am heading out of Beach Haven. The sky is looking a bit gloomy, but I am prepared for rain anyhow, so who cares. I made my tea and my sandwich before shoving off. I am beginning to be able to pick out the markers a little quicker and that is reassuring. In fact, I was beginning to feel pretty accomplished and proud of myself cruising along at 5 knots thinking I was a real sailor.

Time for a small break. On the ICW, the plan is to keep the red triangles to starboard and the green squares to port when headed south. Somewhere I read that an easy way to remember that is to keep the mountain (triangle) between you and the mainland. I love it and it makes so much sense that I adopted that as my guide and it has worked wonderfully. Keep the mountains where they belong toward the land but what if the channel makes and S turn? Hmm, which it does from time to time. Well, I am reminded of a saying that was one of my dad’s favorites: "he who hesitates is lost." And guess what, I hesitated. The wind was blowing at least 20 and the channel was very narrow and I ended up on the wrong side of red aground. It happens to me all of the time. Just when I begin to feel a bit to sure of myself life slaps me down.

I was motoring so I quickly raised the engine. The plastic bolt on the rudder snapped. No problem, plenty of spares. I am not sure if I said a bad word or not. I might have and then I tried to figure my way out. Thinking first of all, I really should have renewed my Boat US membership which ran out on the 30th of June. I let it go when I decided against the Maine trip and bought insurance elsewhere. Ok, first dumb move - I set the jib thinking the boat may heel enough to get me off. No luck with that plan! There were some fishermen about 100 yrds away really intent on fishing and totally oblivious to my predicament or perhaps just reluctant to acknowledge my predicament. At any rate, I reluctantly sounded the horn 3 times - twice before they looked my way. They came over but said that it was too shallow for them to do anything and offered to radio the tow boat. I thanked them and told them that I would place the call.

I sat on the bow thinking, when a nice couple on a C dory happened by and offered a tow. The gentleman hooked up a swell looking tow rope with floats on it. The intention was that the rope would float my way. It did not work and got caught in their prop and he had to lift the engine to untangle it. The next time I just jumped in the water to snag the line and I did, but it got caught again and separated. This time he had to drop his anchor to keep in the channel while he untangled it. While he was doing that, I started to push the boat and it moved, little by little. By the time he got back to me, the boat was nearly off. He said that he did not want to try again and who could blame him! But many thanks the the C dory folks (I think that the name was C Pod.)

A bit more pushing and the boat was off. I had to scramble aboard, and get the motor started, only to have the prop hit the foil rudder. Oh no! I stopped the engine and by the time I was ready to go again I was aground again on the other side of the channel. Back in the water again and push but this time it was not quite as difficult. Getting back into the boat is rather difficult without a ladder and it was second dumb move - passing on buying a fixed boarding ladder.

So now I am ready to get out of there and I really am at a loss to explain this, but I ended up exactly in the first spot that I was aground. I think this time I got a bit annoyed, but I knew that I could handle it. Back in the water and out of the corner of my eye I saw a cruiser coming up and stopping. I tried to wave it on, not wanting anyone else to have a problem, but he stayed put. A bit later, after some pushing, I noticed a tow boat coming from the other direction. Hmmm, do I bite the bullet? He stops and says: "you have one option." I think that he meant for me to hire him. I told him thanks, but that I would work on it a while. He then said, no problem, he would see if he could help the cruiser. Ahhh, that was why the cruiser had stopped and was so successful at maintaining position in this wind! I kept tabs on them as I pushed and pulled. The towboat really had to work to pull that cruiser off. By the time he did, I was nearly off and continued to work. The tow boat kept an eye on me for a bit, but I got Adagio floated and climbed aboard again luckily while the water was still relatively shallow. It would have been really challenging if I had not been standing waist deep when I pushed off. I was spooked for a bit, forget the mountain thing and just keet the red triangles on the starboard side when headed south! To add insult to injury, no sooner did I get settled and headed in the correct direction when I was ambushed by green head flies, hundreds of them. By the time I got through that area, the cockpit deck was littered with the dead bodies of umpteen flies.

Atlantic city with its temples to financial fortune (or ruin) was in sight - no interest in stopping there. But this is where I would encounter drawbridges for the first time on this trip. With limited experience (my first and only drawbridge experience was last summer) I checked the chart and tried to develop a mental image of the next few miles which included 5 bridges. The bridge personnel were helpful and it turned out to be a pleasure to contact each one of them. Having focused my attention on getting through Atlantic City, it was only after the last bridge that I realized it was getting late. I lost at least two hours with the grounding fiasco, and I was bucking both wind and tide for a good part of the trip, so my actual speed much of the day was in the 3-4 knot range. Looking at the chart it seemed like Margate might be a good prospect. It was after 5 when I got there. I stopped at a fuel dock that had all kinds of signs saying open for business, but they weren’t. I tied up anyway and went ashore and asked a kid at the hot dog stand associated with the docks if I could stay there. He called the manager. The manager said, no. Dejected, tired, and just a bit achy, I returned to the boat and headed out. As I made my way down the channel I spotted a sign that advertised transient docks. I called and got a recording. Given another number I called that number and got Luciano. He would be happy to give me a dock at 3 dollars a foot. I needed a hot shower - done deal.

I tied up and took care of the boat first, washed it down, took care of some maintenance issues and then I headed to the shower. I spent quite a long time in there - loved it. Then I walked around town.

I think I liked beach haven more. Actually, I am sure that I did! So, the big question - would I make it to Cape May? It is not looking all that promising. I thought that it was 35 miles from here and I just don’t see the need to push it. I would much rather take my time going back and stopping by to visit my friend Bob, a fellow Compac 23 sailor in Surf City! Perhaps I will make it to Ocean City, take it easy, get a slip early tomorrow and then head back north on Thursday.

Things I learned (is anyone still reading this)?

1. Red triangle to starboard when headed south - keep it simple;
2. You can beat the towboat from time to time, but if you sail in Barnegat Bay and the ICW in Jersey, he will very likely win in the end!
3. It really does not matter if it is raining when you are waist deep in water, trying to push your boat off of a bar!
4. Gotta line up a transient dock before 5 pm. After that, everyone is home eating dinner and not the least bit interested in the $60 you are willing to fork over for a slip and a hot shower;
5. Think long and hard before putting a Good Samaritan in a predicament that is just as bad, if not worse than your own!

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