Friday, September 07, 2012

Baltimore to NY: Day 2

[Kyle]A closing weather window and the desire to take full advantage of Delaware Bay’s strong tides necessitated a departure in the dark the next morning. I realized once it was too late that I could have skipped the coffee before leaving. The adrenaline of motoring down a pitch black river full of unlit “no wake” buoys, fish trap floats and other debris was more than enough to wake me right up. I kept thinking about the huge stump I saw floating up the river with the tide the night before. I was constantly running to the bow to scan the water with the spotlight, then running back to the helm to change course. I tried to use the spotlight from the helm, but so much of the light fell on the boat in front of me that it completely washed out the background. As soon as I made a course change, I worried I couldn’t see and as soon as I spotted something with the light, I worried I wouldn’t make it back to the helm in time to dodge it. {It looks like we'll be adding a wireless remote autopilot to Kyle Christmas list!}

I arrived at the Bay proper just as the first hint of light made seeing a little easier. I forget who said it, but the Delaware Bay has been called the nautical equivalent of a root canal: nobody enjoys it, but it’s something you just have to get through. That sounds about right to me. I’ve been through it a few times and it’s always a chore. I was going to write my shortest blog entry ever called “Things to Like About Delaware Bay”, but I decided to have the longer rant about it here. The entire entry would read: “If you’re going from Baltimore to New York, it’s a lot shorter than going all the way out the Chesapeake Bay entrance”. That’s it. There is nothing else to like about Delaware Bay. Like that other awful body of water, the Irish Sea, Delaware Bay is shallow and brown and has such strong currents that even calm wind days are choppy. In addition, the Delaware Bay has nothing of any interest on either side, which is fine, because the route from the center runs a maze of shoals and hazards. A very busy shipping channel that is just littered either side with fish trap floats cuts the wide bay. {Visitors might sense Kyle is getting a little curmudgeoney.. Time to get him home soon I think}

The first few miles were due south directly into the wind until passing the Salem nuclear power plant. In order to avoid the procession of ships, I had to weave my way through the float zone. There were so many of them that I didn’t dare leave the helm for even a drink of water or a pee. I dipped into the shipping channel during a gap and put the sails up. Begonia is much faster under sail than under power. It was a pleasure to go zipping down the bay ticking off the miles. The current heaped the bay into an uncomfortable boiling froth, but at least it was going my way.

As the current peaked, I was “enjoying” a nail-biting slalom run through the floats. I turned upwind to dodge one only to have to turn further for another, using my inertia to carry me past and then swinging the wheel to leeward before the boat stalled. Another float appeared and I didn’t have enough rudder authority at the low speed to avoid it. The boat slowed and the steering became sluggish. The float had not popped out from the stern.

I tried hard turns both ways, hoping it was just caught on the rudder and that would free it, but I still couldn’t get hardly any speed. I had to pull the sails down, stop the boat and have a proper look. Leaning way over the side, I could see the offending string of floats sticking out between in the area of the sail drive between the keel and the rudder. I leaned and yanked and poked it with a boathook all to no avail. With a dock line tied to me to keep the boat from drifting away, I donned mask and fins and went in for a look. The float line had somehow managed to get wrapped around the drive leg, two prop blades and the rudder shaft, even though the prop was not turning and the boat was going basically one direction. It took me four dives, but I finally managed to unravel the whole thing. I emerged gasping for air, spitting seawater, covered in rubbed off blue bottom paint and screaming obscenities at all fishermen.

With the fish trap no longer dragging me down, I was drifting fast through yet more traps. I didn’t dare start the engines so, still dripping wet, I unfurled the jib in the hope of getting enough steerage-way to point upwind to raise the main. I was just slowly making the turn when, unable to steer fast enough, I snagged another line. Again, I had to furl the sail, stop the boat, dive in and untangle the line. I now officially hate fishermen.

I had lost the current, which was reversing fast, and I now needed to point as far upwind as I could to have any hope of eventually clearing Cape May and making it into the Atlantic without tacking.

It was a long, root canal of a way, but I finally made it into the Atlantic. Ahh, the Atlantic, so free of stuff to hit. I made a turn downwind and had such a fast sail that I decided to skip the stop at Cape May and push on to Great Egg Inlet, near Ocean City.

Distant lands of Cape May

It was a race to arrive by sunset. When I got there, a huge thunderstorm was over the inlet, making it even darker. I could see some breakers on radar, but it was getting confused with the rain return. I got to the safe water buoy at the entrance and turned in on the prescribed course towards the next buoy.

After a few minutes, the water started getting weird. The two-foot waves I had been in all day were turning into five-foot swell that seemed to be getting steeper and steeper. Ahead, I could see that I was approaching the back of a surf line. I checked my depth and the chart and they seemed to be in agreement. Still a little nervous, I picked the least swelly looking bit and continued on. The depth sounder reading went from 10m to 4m, the charted depth of the channel. Then it went down to 1.7m (our draught is 1.2m) before a breaking wave hit and it went to dashes in the turbulence. Begonia slewed thirty degrees and then righted herself, and then the sounder showed 6.5m. Whew!

I was jacked up all over again, just like in the morning. Five-foot breaking waves are not a danger to the boat by themselves. My concern was WHY they were breaking. The 1.7m reading could have been caused by underwater turbulence or there could have been an uncharted sandbar there.

It was clear on the other side and I had no other issues coming in, except for the stress caused by the waning light and the sound of the breakers on either side of the deep channel. I looked back for a smooth way out the next day and could not see one. I was NOT looking forward to going back out.

I wove my way a couple of miles into the inlet and set the anchor in a protected spot. Bug filled marsh again surrounded me. This one had the unfortunate addition of smelling like a cross between low tide and a warm dumpster. I was glad it was only for a short night.

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