Friday, September 07, 2012

Baltimore to NY: Day 3

[Kyle]I woke up while it was still dark, dreading the prospect of going back out of the inlet {Maryanne: I insist you have to go out the outlet, and it isn't called an inlet when you are going out}. The weather was supposed to be flat calm all day. I thought about it a while and decided to leave on the highest tide that would allow me to get under an intervening bridge. That way, there should be less chance of surf and what surf there was should have more water under it. I should be able to go out with a meter and a half more water than when I came in.

I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sleep with all of the worrying, so I just decided to get up. I checked the NOAA site over coffee and found out that they had issued a rip current and heavy surf warning for the east coast due to long period swells pushed ahead by Hurricane Leslie 500 miles to the east. They were expecting it to last all week. Yikes! I only had a few days before my 15-knot tailwinds were forecast to shift to 30-knot headwinds for the foreseeable future. It's definitely time to keep pushing north.

At first light, I braved the bugs and the smell and went out on deck to see what I could of the distant inlet through the binoculars. What I could see was pounding surf that looked worse than the day before. I tried to remind myself that it was dead low tide and that it should improve as the water rises and that I couldn’t see the whole inlet from my anchorage.

As the tide rose, I busied myself with making a big meal and getting the boat ready. While I did that, I kept trying to distract myself by playing podcasts on our radio, but I couldn’t stop worrying about how I was going to have to go out there eventually. I decided that I would take a look. If I couldn’t find a way out, I could always come back for as long as I needed – to the marina, not the stinky anchorage.

Just after I pulled up anchor, I saw a Coast Guard patrol boat leave the inlet. With our AIS (Automatic Identification System), I was able to see his route into the ocean. When I got there, conditions weren’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. I could see a clear path out using the Coast Guard route. There was also another option along the buoyed channel. Not sure of the CGs draught, I chose the latter route with nothing worse than steep swell. Toward the end, I could see my mistake from the previous evening. Another buoy had been placed off the direct line between the safe water buoy and the one I headed towards. I hadn’t seen it because it was frequently hidden by surf from that angle. My shortcut was still in an area of alarming surf. The zigzag took me completely around it on the way out.

For the rest of what was a short day compared to the previous two, not a breath of wind blew. I motored on one engine up the coast on a sea only broken by Leslie’s swells. I stayed just outside the surf where the motion was somewhat soothing until I arrived at Little Egg Inlet.

The Coast Guard and Tow Boat US performing practice rescues in the Atlantic - and Atlantic City in the distance

Once I got near enough, I could clearly see the breakers on radar, then by sight. A big sport fishing boat blasted by me on his way into the inlet. I followed his target with the radar as it appeared on the chart to travel right across several sandbars and avoided deep water. I followed his track until I could spot the buoys then crossed the same 'sandbars' in smooth water. The depth never went below 11m and the deep water on the chart was a mess of jumbled breakers. The Coast Pilot says the buoys along the NJ coast aren’t charted because of shifting inlets that change too often. This particular inlet had no resemblance to the chart at all.

Once safely inside, I followed the buoyed channel around the corner to my selected anchoring spot. As I was getting ready to turn out of the deep channel into the anchorage, the depth sounder reading started plummeting. I was on the correct side of the adjacent buoy in water the chart also said should be deep, but it was still getting shallower. I turned, but that made it worse. I turned the other way and it still got worse. I put the engines in neutral and had almost stopped when I touched bottom.

Just then, a guy on a SeaTow boat called me on the radio to tell me it was shallow there. Well, no kidding! He came over and directed me back into deep water, which was nowhere near the buoy, by the way. My grounding had been soft enough that I was able to just put the engines in idle reverse and back off. Once I was back in deep water, he helpfully told me how to get back to the inlet so I could get to the ocean. {Since we are not even Sea Tow members, this fantastic assistance and information was extra nice}

I explained that I just came from there and I was trying to anchor for the night. He suggested a protected spot nearby and told me how to avoid coming to more grief along the way. Inlet channel buoys are changed all of the time. They’re right. The other buoys are all wrong. Jeez, how does anybody find their way around here?

As I applied power for the trip to the anchorage, the right engine started shaking wildly. I brought it back to idle, then put it in reverse. Reverse seemed smooth. Back to forward. It started rough, and then got smooth. When I backed down on the anchor, it shook again wildly, I tried forward again and it was rough too. I was worried that I bent or even threw a blade or perhaps the shaft was bent. Once I was finished with securing everything, I once again donned mask and fins and once again found a fish trap float line wrapped around the prop. This time it was wrapped loosely so that it didn’t interfere with the operation, but swung around and threw the whole thing off balance.

My anchorage smelled better, but was still surrounded by miles of buggy swamp, forcing me inside for the evening. I’m beginning to understand why I don’t recall seeing any books entitled “The Cruiser’s Guide to New Jersey”. If only Maryanne were here. I wouldn’t need to stop for sleep and this whole thing would have been two offshore days of sitting alternating watches. But then I would have missed all of these great New Jersey destinations. {Maryanne: He's still grumpy isn't he? Clearly Kyle was never meant to sail alone, we'll have to sort that out soon}

And missed another beautiful sunset!

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