Having sailed down the East River through New York city and still floating on that high, we steered for Sandy Hook, NJ just across the bay from NYC. We pulled in just as it was getting dark and put the anchor down behind a breakwater next to The Atlantic Highlands marina. We raced to get our dinghy in the water and outboard engine on the back so Al could make it to the dock in time to fill a couple of jerry cans with extra fuel.
We had two factors to contend with on this leg of our journey which would eventually end in Annapolis. Hurricane Matthew was coming up the coast and the New Jersey shore loomed large. There’s not a lot to choose from in terms of anchorages on the New Jersey coast, because the waters are shallow and there’s some tricky tides and currents on that coast that shift the sands, so entrances to harbours tend to fill in and boats can run aground, even if they follow the charts. We decided to fuel up and if conditions were good we’d get as far as possible down the coast ahead of weather and avoid sketchy harbour entrances.
There are two options to make it down this coast, either enter the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) or sail outside the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. As our mast is too high for many of the bridges and frankly because we favour ocean sailing, we chose to go outside. Fortunately we have a friend back home who was sending us 2 daily detailed weather reports, on the state of the hurricane which was extremely helpful. Thank you Kris!
We arose before the crack of dawn and headed out the bay, round the hook of Sandy Hook (guess that’s where it gets it’s name) and out into the Atlantic. It felt so good to be sailing again! Our original plan had been to stop in Barnaget Bay, about 50 nms from where we started. However, there were several boats out that day and one of them, S/V Dagny, hailed us on VHF early in the day. Bev and Alan, it turns out are fellow Canadians and wondered where we were going and what our plans were. They informed us they were heading to Atlantic City, which was further than we’d planned, almost 86 nm down the shore. This would mean we’d be arriving in the dark, but on the plus side, it has a clearly marked entrance. Making it to Atlantic City would put us in a good position to make it to the town of Cape May the next day and set us up for rounding the cape into Delaware Bay. Our goal was to sail up the Delaware Bay and access the Delaware Chesapeake canal, a short cut into Chesapeake Bay. With Hurricane Matthew coming up the coast, our intention was to get into Chesapeake Bay, a protected area with little history of hurricane strikes. In addition, there was some high winds coming in a couple of days so if we didn’t haul ass we could get stuck out on the New Jersey coast and it really is not a hospitable place for a sailboat to be in gusty winds.
We heard a conversation between Dagny and another sailboat, S/V Thistle who were heading as far as Cape May that day. As we were making good headway and we were in the company of these two sailboats, we decided to push on and pulled into Atlantic City at around 7pm that night. It was dark by that time but the blinding lights of Atlantic City made the place easy to find and we made it safely inside with time to lower the anchor alongside Dagny.
Filbert was fascinated with the lights and general bustle of activity all around us and I had to coax him into the boat for the night. I would have loved to have let him roam on deck but there was significant tide where we anchored, near a bridge and I was afraid he might slip off the deck. So we all settled in for a good nights rest after a gourmet meal of chips and beer. The glamorous life of the cruiser.😉
The next morning we left Atlantic city, with cumulus clouds building on the horizon and a decent swell that threatened to make our sail less than ideal but once we got underway conditions were perfect. Our destination was Cape May, a town near the tip of the southern New Jersey shoreline. We dropped anchor and were surrounded by fellow Canadian and US sailors who were all headed up the Delaware Bay next day. We were also finally going to meet Bev and Allan in person, who we arranged to meet for dinner that night in the town.
I took the opportunity to take my TRX up on deck and get a workout in, as it isn’t always easy to squeeze one in. Al says he has no need to actually purposefully work out because sailing is enough to keep him in shape. After a shower we headed into town and met up with Bev and Allan, who were tied up at a dock alongside some friends of theirs who just happened to be in the same marina. We had a fabulous meal, the seafood was excellent, and had an even better time getting to know Bev and Allan.
The next morning we headed out early to get a head start before the winds were scheduled to pick up to 25 knots. Rounding Cape May can be a bit gnarly as there are many shoals and boats typically have to go out outside and around to avoid them, adding a couple of hours to the trip. There is a canal, Cape May canal that provides a short cut across the cape but our mast is to high for the 55 foot bridge. There were many boats out that morning and as we navigated out of the channel many of them headed close to land choosing an inside channel. Dagny had also come to the same conclusion after talking with Thistle, who was heading closer to the coast. The currents and tides here were significant and the depths were really shallow. At one point it was 6 feet of water under our keel. Coming from Newfoundland where 100 feet of water is shallow, this can be a real mind blower but all went well and we made it around the cape into the Delaware Bay.
There were about 14 sailboats and 10 power boats who travelled up the Delaware Bay that day, all trying to reach the entrance to the Delaware Chesapeake canal. The sail was one of the best we had since leaving with awesome winds and beautiful company all around us. Thistle passed us halfway up the bay and Dagny caught us before we reached the canal. At this point we still had not met the awesome crew on Thistle, Linda and Grinnell, but hoped to connect somewhere in the bay. Delaware Bay is awesome with huge tide markers covered in cormorants, large container ships and a large and looming nuclear plant at the end of the bay.
We reached the canal at least 2 hours earlier than expected due to the excellent sailing conditions. Once again, tides and currents play a significant factor in how comfortable and speedy your transit will be in the canal and lucky for all of us that day we nailed it and the tide and current played in our favor. We decided to pull into a small town inside the canal called Chesapeake city and put the anchor down. Al dinghied over to invite Bev and Allan on board for a happy hour drink. Getting to meet fellow cruisers is a blast, and Bev and Allan are super sweet and fun. We planned on hanging out for the next couple of days and eventually make it to Annapolis.
The next morning we sailed out of Chesapeake city, very carefully I might add as we had seen less than 1 foot under the keel coming in the night before. The Chesapeake is a beautiful and lush bay but very shallow so you have to be very careful when navigating that you do not end up on a sandbar or a shoal. Theres a great variety of birds in the area as well and we saw eagles fishing and birds of prey riding thermals for hours.
Our next destination was the Sassafras river, and not only because it sounded cool. I don’t know why but I just love the word Sassafras. We headed into the Sassafras because Steve, a fellow boater from RNYC, had been in here earlier the year and recommended it as a good hurricane hole. As we sailed up the bay we were struck by the lushness of the area and the refuge it offered. We were concerned at the time that Hurricane Matthew would continue a northwesterly track and potentially cause some problems for us but thankfully it veered offshore. Al had read that the Annapolis region had never had a direct hit by a hurricane and that’s what we were counting on.
We anchored in a secluded cove that had several marinas and many boats on moorings. We headed into town, a pretty 1.5 km walk part farmers fields and lovely houses, in order to get provisions. There was an amazing little market that offered an excellent variety of local produce, organic groceries and homemade bottled pickles and veggies. After filling our bags and walking back to our boat we headed over to Dagny for a get together before turning in for the night. The night was perfectly still as we motored back to our boats, and we were treated to a painters sunset, only to be bested by a silver sliver of moon and twinkling star filled sky. It’s days like this that make us supremely happy and content to be living this life.
Once again we checked the weather to determine what the hurricane was doing and decided that it was probably safe enough to head to Annapolis. There was a boat show in Annapolis that weekend and we had a few items that we needed to research. Before we head offshore there are several things we have to clue up such as single side band (SSB) for communicating, buoying up our power reserve and we also wanted to meet the Salty Dawg group to determine if we would join them on their rally to the BVIs.
We had an uneventful sail down Chesapeake Bay and arrived in Annapolis around noon. We had intended on dropping our anchor inside the bridge but the harbour master informed us that it was full so instead we put our anchor down just outside the downtown hub, next to the Naval Academy, and a short ride from the boat show. We’d had a fun week sailing the New Jersey coast and after closely monitoring the weather, we were happy to have finally made it to our destination in Annapolis.
Life aboard is wonderful and fulfilling but the people we are meeting is the cherry on top. It’s challenging and we are learning a great deal but with a little help from our friends we’re able to arrive safely, and feel comfortable with less stress and more smiles.