Sailing To New York City

An Unexpected Detour To Atlantic City

Friday, June 22, 2007

Although we didn't encounter the thunderstorm, we did pass through some sort of front that resulted in strong winds. I was below unsuccessfully trying to sleep and Jesse was at the helm when I felt the boat heel and heard the wind increase dramatically. As I went on deck I heard a sail flogging, and once in the cockpit Jesse asked me to sheet in the staysail, which tamed the sail so it stopped flogging. Jesse was hand steering with care in the brisk wind, steering the boat over small but bouncy chop.

As time passed, we all took turns hand steering since conditions were too boisterous to use the autopilot. In conditions like these, the autopilot tends to overreact to the bouncy seas and steer too coarsely. This, in turn, causes the boat to wallow clumsily in the bouncy seas and strong winds. An attentive helmsman, even in the pitch-black night, can sense the oncoming seas and steer smoothly over the hills and dales without letting the boat wallow.

Well, this went on for some time, the boat bashing along in building seas and strong winds under a double-reefed main and staysail. It was a very tiring night, made more so since sleep was impossible during the sporadic and informal off watches.

During one off watch just before dawn, I was below trying to sleep and felt the boat suddenly tack; we were now on a new, easier, course. When I went on deck later, after daybreak, Jerome explained that he had decided to turn around and head back to Atlantic City. This is how his thinking went: Our old plan had been to sail on one tack, angling away from the Jersey shore, until we could tack again and sail in one stretch to New York Harbor. But with the present winds and seas, when we would have turned towards New York, we would have had to bash our way dead to windward, close hauled and tacking for hours through rough seas to reach the harbor. Jerome had decided that it wasn't worth the wear and tear on the boat and crew to fight the now more vigorous winds and waves. This is still a new boat for Jerome, and he's still learning all about it. Right now, he's not feeling too confident in the strength of the rigging, and he didn't want to risk breaking something in the strong winds and rough seas. In fact, we had already discovered a few broken items during the trip (like a reefing pad eye and a sail track slug), and if something were to break now in the boisterous conditions, it could be something big and expensive, like a shroud or a stay that could bring the mast down. Continuing on to New York just wasn't worth the risk to the boat, the crew, and to Jerome's wallet.

After we turned around, we had a terrific sail back down to Atlantic City, especially in the beginning. Conditions were boisterous, but in the very best way. The vigorous 20 to 25 knot winds propelled the boat forward with urgency, while the lumpy four to six foot seas rolled on and on under the boat which rose and fell with seagoing poise, all under a bright blue hemisphere of cloudless sky. I steered for hours, enjoying myself immensely, feeling like a nautical cowboy galloping across the waves. You had to pay constant attention using all of your senses, feeling how the boat, winds, and waves were interacting moment by moment. Then you would use your skill and fast reflexes to steer carefully but confidently, feeling the boat respond and carve a path through the jumbled and bouncing seas. I felt very much alive and intensely in the moment, and I was smiling continuously. I thought then, and I still think, that it was the best part of the trip.

While we were sailing down the coast, two big ships passed, heading outbound from New York City. Despite the rough conditions, I saw several recreational fishing boats head out from coastal inlets, including a couple of small boats powered by outboard motors. I though the little boats were pushing their luck, since as they headed farther and farther from the coast, they would experience bigger and bigger seas. It's not so bad powering through following seas heading outbound, but when they have to turn around and come back inbound, they will have a very rough and slow time pounding into the steep seas and strong winds.

As the day progressed and we angled closer and closer to the coast, the rough seas abated but the strong winds persisted, though later in the afternoon, even the winds decreased (we let out the jib to keep up our boat speed). Over the course of hours, Atlantic City first peeked above the waves, then grew bigger and more distinct as we got closer. At one point, we saw dolphins frolicking in the distance. Finally, we skirted Brigantine Shoals, furled the sails, and Jerome began motoring into Absecon Inlet.

Jerome had been hoping to get a slip in the big state marina so we could go ashore and play, but the marina was booked solid (as you might expect on a Friday afternoon heading into a sunny and pleasant weekend). Nevertheless, we'll stop at the marina fuel dock to pick up some diesel. Also, by now, Jesse is definitely ill with a bug and is feeling uncomfortable, so he was given the option of leaving the boat in Atlantic City to convalesce at home. Having accepted the offer, Jesse went below to pack, since he'll leave the boat at the fuel dock.

There was a cigarette boat poker run finishing up as we motored into the inlet, and several long powerful cigarette boats came roaring down the coast, frequently being heard before being seen. At the inlet they would hang a sharp right and roar into the harbor, dodging fishing boats and other nautical visitors. (In a poker run, boats make several stops, picking up a playing card at each stop. At the final stop, competitors compare hands to see who wins the poker game; prizes are then awarded.)

Looking toward shore and a neighboring boat, from the anchorage in Atlantic City. Click on the picture to see a bigger version; use your browser's "back" command to return here.  

Once we got inside the inlet, Jerome wanted to explore, so he motored down a side channel, checking out the small marinas and restaurants. In the working harbor, we saw several commercial clam dredges tied up at their docks. Heading over to the state marina channel, we slowly approached the fuel dock and tied up with assistance from the dockhands. As we took on fuel, Jesse hopped off the boat, shook hands, then headed off to catch a cab to the train station.

Jerome asked the dockhands about nearby anchorages, and they told him that boats frequently anchor out of the channel near the highway bridge, and the Coast Guard doesn't seem to mind. With our fueling complete, we cast off and Jerome motored out to the main channel near the highway bridge, where two other boats were already anchored. He sounded out the water depths, which were deep and uneven, but found a good enough spot and dropped the anchor. We anchored around 3:00 pm, practically within a stone's throw of a giant Harrah's casino.

It felt good to be anchored after a long and bouncy passage. There were many small fishing boats nearby, and I saw one fisherman catch a decent-size flounder. We tidied up the boat, although the salt-crusted decks will have to wait for a rinsing. After cleaning up I took a long nap but I still felt tired afterwards.

In the evening, we were treated to a different kind of light show. The nearby Harrah's casino was a tall rectangular building, and on the wide flat side of the building, there were numerous strips of lights that could vary in intensity and hue. Throughout the night, the casino displayed intricate patterns of colored lights that changed frequently, at one point displaying a stylized red, white, and blue flag. Also nearby was the Trump casino that was next to the state marina. At night, there was a huge flock of white birds that circled overhead in shafts of bright light streaming up from the casino. You could see the birds soaring and swooping, looking like bright fluttering stars against the dark nighttime sky.

That night, I went to bed and slept like a rock all night.

Click on a picture to display a chart. The left-hand chart is an overview of the Atlantic City area (105 kb), the right-hand chart is where we anchored in Absecon Inlet (245 kb). Use your browser's "back" command to return here.

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