We feel we have been remarkably lucky with the weather on this one-year trip. Having said that, we survived Superstorm Sandy and another huge storm when we were at City Island (the Bronx). We also had several windy systems ‘sock in’ while we were in the Bahamas, causing unpleasantly strong winds for days on end. But, relatively speaking, in these days of climate change and wierd weather, we have done pretty well compared to many travellers. We had great summer weather for our trip down the St. Lawrence – unlike people who did it a year earlier and were never out of their foul weather gear. Other than a day or two here or there, our planned itinerary has never been really upset or delayed by weather. So our first really annoying and unpredicted delay occured on the return journey, when our patience was really tested for 5 days in Cape May, New Jersey.
We left Chesapeake City at 5:45 am on Friday, May 3, bound for Delaware Bay, our departure a little delayed when a routine engine check revealed no fluid in the coolant overflow tank. Suspecting a small leak somewhere, Steve topped up the coolant and we watched the temperature guage on the engine like hawks all day. The first part along the C&D canal was pretty in the early dawn light – watching herons fishing beside us – but slower than anticipated due to 2 knots of current against us. However, we had based our timing to catch the ebbing current in Delaware Bay. As anticipated, the current turned in our favour as soon as we left the canal and turned south down Delaware Bay.
At first conditions were good, and we sailed with reefed mail and genoa, making 9 knots in the favourable current. There was a significant amount of commercial traffic – barges, tugs and freighters so we kept out of the shipping lanes as much as possible. The afternoon was a different story – the wind against current created an uncomfortable chop, and conditions deteriorated and got rougher as we approached the wide mouth of Delaware Bay, and the shoals around Cape May.
The winds were much stronger than forecast at 20 knots plus, and too far forward to sail without frequent tacking across our rhumb line, so we motor-sailed through increasing chop. Our mast was 3 inches too tall for the 55′ fixed bridge over the Cape May Canal (built expressly to circumvent the need for the wide route around shoals to the Cape May inlet) so we aimed directly for the shortest safe route around. But rough seas had us worried, and our hearts were in our mouths as we continued on our plotted route through the shallow shoals around the Cape, with rollers breaking on both sides of us. However, this route seemed to be the lesser of the evils – versus motoring 3 hours more in a wider circle through the rough seas via the shipping lanes.
We made it safely through the shoals, and the last hour to the Cape May inlet was, to our great relief, much easier going. We were all glad to drop anchor inside the Cape May basin, near the Coast Guard Station, where there were already about 8 other anchored sailboats, hunkered down in the blow. The wind was still over 20 knots strong from the east, skies were overcast, and the current causing all anchored boats to swing around on their anchors. …often we were all pointing in different directions. I made dinner and we all collapsed, exhausted.
Sadly the predicted weather window for further progress north had evaporated, as a low system stalled over us. The new forecast was calling for continued high winds and nasty cold weather for the forseeable future, and our weather guru, Chris Parker, said there was no chance of making for NY/New England until Wednesday or Thursday of the following week. We had hoped to depart on Sunday. No way.
The next few days blew like crazy. A few sailboats left the morning after we arrived, but over the next few days other boats arrived until there were about 10-12 of us anchored, waiting for a break in the weather. It was not the best place to be. The anchorage is a long dinghy ride from the town, and the bay is exposed, making dinghy rides difficult (cold and wet). The current was strong too so we swung on our anchor in odd directions. Most of the boats did not even lower their dinghy. Everyone just battened down the hatches and stayed below decks. The current and winds threw us all around a bit, and I was grateful for the provisioning I had done in Annapolis. There was no wifi. It was cold too – and sadly our Espar heater failed again. Paul, who had joined us in Chesapeake City, was stuck here with us, unsure whether to return to his cottage to get on with chores there, or hang in with us to wait for weather for the part of the trip he had been looking forward to the most – the 24 hour run down the Jersey shore to New York.
However, with days on hand we were able to spend time on boat chores – and Steve fixed the Espar heater again on Monday. We were all happy to be able to keep warmer and dryer as the cold, nasty weather continued. We ventured out on Sunday in the dinghy to make the trip into Cape May. The trip there was relatively easy. Once in the harbour and sheltered from the relentless wind, it turned out to be a nice sunny day. We walked the mile or so into the pedestrian mall area and the beachfront of this lovely seaside resort, full of charming Victorian homes with spring flower-filled gardens. We admired the town, browsed shops, ate lunch at the Fish Market, and went to an internet café for coffee and wifi.
We were glad we had come into town. It was a good day for sightseeing – blue skies, cool but sunny, with a slight breeze. The town of Cape May was well worth the visit… and we thought we would like to return for another day of sightseeing. However, the freezing cold, salty shower we suffered on the long dinghy trip back to the boat against the wind and waves, served to change our minds. We were soaked through from head to toe, despite wearing our foulies.
So the next few days we stayed on board. We played cards, read books and did boat chores and repairs. Paul and Steve filtered most of the dirty fuel from the front tank through our ‘Baja’ filter into jerry cans and then into our midships tank. Steve called James, our engine guru, and, with Paul’s help and James’ guidance, was able to track down and repair the coolant leak. They changed the oil filter. They took down the staysail which had ‘snapped’ towards the end of our trip up Delaware Bay and examined the breakage. Steve went up the mast to take a closer look. A twisted metal shackle at the head of the sail witnessed the strong wind conditions and pressure that sails are under. Unable to repair or replace the shackle, Paul and Steve bundled up the staysail (aka “Stacey”) who joined our gennaker (aka “Jenny”) in sharing the aft cabin with Paul. We won’t tell Mary too much about Paul’s escapades with Stacey and Jenny who tended to jump him in the night with every sideways pitch of the boat! Meanwhile I cooked and cleaned and got on with a few other tasks. We all read several books….which helped to some degree to fend off cabin fever.
We did chat on the radio with some of the other cruisers we had met earlier who were holed up like us, including Martine and Christian on Marsea – a Montreal-based Cabo Rico Northeast 400. The wind finally calmed down on Wednesday May 8, and several boats left then. However, it was foggy, and the seas still rough after almost a week of strong easterlies, so we (and most of the other Canadian boats there) opted to leave on Thursday May 9, as per Chris Parker’s advice.
Boats seem to like to have the upper hand always. With time on our side, we made ready for the offshore leg to New York, putting in our waypoints, and route, planning meals in advance and doing engine checks etc. We listened to NOAA weather updates several times a day. We received Chris Parker’s weather updates via Single Side Band (SSB) as we had no wifi connection or data plan. We conferred with other boaters. We were really, really ready when it came time to leave as per our plan, at 10:00 am on Thursday May 9. Steve and Paul went forward to raise the anchor. I was on the helm as usual. I switched on the instruments, radio, radar and chartplotter. WTF?!? Error message…no GPS position. I rebooted everything. Still no GPS. I called Steve back from the bow. We ran diagnostics. Hard to believe but our GPS had suddenly gone on the fritz. No chartplotter. No waypoints, no route. We could not open the junction box on the back by the GPS unit to check/repair the wiring as the screws were rusted and stripped. We were heart-broken. But still anxious and adamant to leave. The weather window was just that – a short, two-day (max) window to make the 24 hour ‘outside’ passage. We had our iPAD (thanks to our kids – a gift when we left home) with Garmin Blue Chart software, maps and our backup route and waypoints….as well as our BadElf which attaches to the iPAD to provide our satellite position – so we can also track our path. Paul had his iPad too with Naionics software and an external GPS puck, and I had MacENC. So with sufficient redundancies/back-ups, we decided to leave anyway, and use our iPad as a chartplotter.
Despite the bad start, we had a pleasant trip with fair winds and following seas. We found ourselves leaving the Cape May inlet at the same time as three boats from Quebec – and we were all in touch by VHF radio along the way and through the night. The sky was overcast and the wind was stronger than anticipated, from the South and South-West, which was great for us. We raised the main sail before leaving the inlet and pulled out the genoa just after. We turned off the engine, and had all canvas flying for the whole day, doing between 5 and 9 knots, with relatively benign sea conditions. We managed to avoid the rain showers which we could see in the distance, and enjoyed some sun. It was a new moon, but the stars shone brightly through the night.
We kept a 2-person, 4-hour watch schedule, although none of us slept very well off-watch. The wind was a little lighter in the afternoon, so Steve and Paul tried to fly the Gennaker but lost that battle – again. Score: Steve 3, Gennaker 6. At midnight, the wind had dropped so we turned on the iron jenny and motor-sailed until 5 am when the wind picked up again. I came on watch at 4 am and we pulled out the genoa again and sailed around Sandy Hook but turned on the engine again as we approached the Verrezano Narrows Bridge just after dawn.
What a sight! The Manhattan skyline was hazy in the early morning light. The sea was balmy calm and as the sun rose higher, the sky cleared to an azure blue. As we entered New York harbour, found ourselves third in a line of “weather window” sailboats, having caught up to Marsea and Amicus 2 ahead of us, and with the 3 Quebec boats behind us as well another boat who slipped in after Sandy Hook.
In the early dawn, traffic in New York harbour was lighter than the usual frenzy, and we were able to fully enjoy the wonder of the experience. We contacted Marsea, just ahead of us, and both of us made a slight detour to get a closer look at, and pictures of each other in front of Lady Liberty!
We brewed coffee for the crew and enjoyed sightseeing as we cruised up the Hudson River. We were very excited to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise on the USS Intrepid en route to our chosen destination – the West 79th Street Boat Basin, where we anchored at the end of the mooring field to enjoy a few days sojourn in New York.
The very pleasant ‘outside’ passage made the wait for a weather window totally worthwhile.
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