Heading South – Our First Days

September 30, 2018
Cape May, NJ
Days Aboard - 2
Nautical Miles Sailed - 146
Moving Average Speed - 4.9 kts
Trip Max Speed - 12.5 kts
Birds Killed - 2

We left our slip at the Oakdale Yacht Club yesterday “morning” at 3:45am. Let me just say that there is nothing “morning” about 3:45. We knew we had to leave at this hour in order to slide comfortably out of the the Fire Island Inlet with the outgoing tide so we spent the night on the boat in our slip on Friday night. I probably slept less than 10 minutes the whole night. The excitement of the trip ahead had my mind reeling. I kept trying to silence my monkey-brain but the thoughts kept coming. A non-stop stream of barely connected thoughts and worries. Mostly worries. Lots of worries. It’s part of the responsibility of being the Captain. I do the same thing when I fly. The responsibilities of the Pilot in Command or the Captain are awesome and I take them seriously. I’m confident but I’m always thinking about what could go wrong. Can you worry too much? Probably. But I guess its good to consider the problems that could be encountered in advance…

My thoughts were like…

  • What if we get to the inlet and the waves are breaking across the bar?
  • Should I change the raw water impeller? I changed it in the spring and it is working but maybe I should just change it…
  • I hope the fuel in the port tank is clean.
  • Our docklines are wet. I need to dry them out before I put them away.
  • I hope the dog doesn’t explode.
  • What if we can’t find a good place to anchor?
  • Is there fuel for the generator?
  • Is the dinghy ok? We need a new dinghy.
  • Do we have enough food on board?
  • I need a new wallet.
  • What if our anchor drags?
  • How are we going to run the business from the boat?
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Nothing is going to be fine… We are going to sink.
  • We won’t sink. We are going to be fine…
  • Do we have enough propane on board?
  • Are there any hurricanes brewing?
  • I need to lash the kayak down better…

I’d start to fall asleep, have another thought and the whole process would start again and again and again until 3am when it was time to get up and prepare the boat to go to sea.

It took us about 3 hours to motor across the mirror-still Great South Bay to the inlet in the dark. The Fire Island Inlet is notorious for it’s breaking waves, dogleg turn 200 yards off the beach, shoals, constantly shifting channel and generally challenging conditions. The sun was not yet up but it was light enough that I felt comfortable navigating out. Getting out to sea went very well. Aside from a few small breaking waves, it was unremarkable.

Robert Moses Bridge at Dawn

Unfortunately, the first 3 hours on the ocean were with the wind and waves on our nose. Although the predicted waves were 2 to 3 feet, we actually had steep 4 to 6 footers. The whole boat shuddered as we pounded into these waves. We were making great speed though averaging 6.5 knots but hitting as much as 12.5 knots surfing in the gusts. And then, after we had travelled about 20 miles from the inlet the winds began to shift to the west and then northwest. The seas calmed down and we enjoyed calm seas for the remainder of our journey to Cape May.

Here’s Feather taking a little rest on our microwave. According to the thermometer, our propane/electric fridge was perfectly chilly.

Soon after the seas calmed down a lovely little yellow bird landed on our boat. He looked like he was tired and he should have been because he was about 20 miles from the nearest land. Our hatches were open because it was warm and this little bird made himself at home. He would go inside the saloon for a while and hang out and then come back topsides to sun himself. On one of my off-watches, I was napping in the cabin when he flew in and landed on a pillow right next to me. I fell asleep with him there. Cindy named him Feather. Cindy put out some water for him and he quickly became a form of entertainment. I was surprised that Willow didn’t eat him but I think the boat was moving too much for her to be concerned with anything other than staying comfortable in her little spot under the helm seat.

During one of my off-shifts, I woke up to Cindy shrieking and crying hysterically. I thought the dog had fallen overboard or something. I felt terrible but relieved when Cindy told me that she had accidentally stepped on Feather. Apparently, he had been walking around on the floor when Cindy… Well, you get the idea. After a few words, Feather was laid to rest at sea. Feather… we hardly knew, ya.

Here’s Feather resting on our microwave. According to the thermometer in the background our fridge was perfectly chilly.

Shortly after Feather was left in our wake another bird landed on board. Cindy named him Friend and vowed not to squish him. He remained aboard for a few hours and then he flew off… Or so we thought. After arriving in Cape May we discovered that he had somehow wedged himself behind a case of drinking water that was stored on the floor of one of the guest cabins. From the looks of him, the water shifted while we were underway and sadly, he too was squished.

As the sun set behind the New Jersey coastline the winds calmed down and finally just died. We started the engine and motored into the night, taking alternating shifts at the helm and in bed. We were both exhausted from lack of sleep the night before and it was starting to catch up with us.

Sometime in the overnight, the winds began to pick up out of the west allowing us to first, motor sail for a hour and then to turn off the engine and sail the rest of the way to Cape May. I don’t like relying on the engine to get me where I need to go. I prefer the quiet simplicity of sailing without the complexity and all the possible ways an engine can let you down but I’m gaining confidence in our little Westerbeke diesel engine. She motored for about 13 hours on this passage and purred like a kitten the whole way.  During the passage our engine crossed the 1000 hour milestone.  They say these Westerbekes will last many thousands of hours if well cared for.  I sure hope so!

Remarkably for 30 hours, Willow did not use the bathroom… At all. She didn’t whine, she didn’t complain. She didn’t even look concerned when the boat was getting slammed around. We had purchased a piece of artificial turf for her to use to relieve herself on when we were on passage but she refused to use it for anything other than laying on. At one point Cindy had the awesome idea that perhaps if I peed on it maybe Willow would understand. Needless to say, this didn’t work. But imagine a small catamaran on the Atlantic Ocean. On the bow is a kayak, a strip of artificial grass, two humans and a dog. The male human is peeing on the fake lawn while the dog is looking at him as if to ask “Why are you peeing on my bed?” We now have a piece of turf that smells a bit odd.

Overall it was an amazing and comfortable overnight passage. We arrived at the Cape May inlet without any drama and I called up the South Jersey Marina for a slip. We had planned on anchoring out but after the journey the dog really needed to get to shore ASAP. We needed fuel and water anyway and we were exhausted. South Jersey Marina also has some amazing, spa-like showers and we really were too tired to start dealing with finding a spot to anchor, getting it all set securely and then dropping the dinghy and finding a place to land… So here we are in the marina. We walked into town for lunch and to get us (and the dog) some exercise, we had hot showers, enjoyed a cocktail, filled the boat with diesel and water, had an on board dinner of chicken kebabs over a fresh salad and now it’s time for bed.

Tomorrow we have another big day of travel. We need to sail up the entire Delaware bay to the C&D canal where we plan to spend the night at Chesapeake City… We will leave at dawn… But for now, it feels good to be tied to a dock.