Feeling the pressure of a delivery schedule we left City Island a day earlier than planned, it was fortunate we did. Weather is always a factor in a sailing schedule and this week geopolitics entered into the departure equation. In two days, the East River would be closed during daylight hours to provide security for the UN General Assembly meeting. Running the East River at night was high on the list activities to avoid. The weather in the next few days looked favorable and then deteriorating by the end of the week. Waiting a week was not an appealing option.
On Saturday, September 18 we departed. Twice a day the East River tides run west to east, draining Long Island Sound. Currents can reach 4 to 5 knots which means a passage on a slow sailboat must be timed to coincide with the tides. In what was part planned and part luck we passed under the Throggs Neck Bridge at the peak current level, soon we were making 11 knots over the ground, 5 knots faster than our speed through the water. We flew! The river lived up to its reputation with swirling eddies, upwellings, and good-sized standing waves, the helm required constant attention. I was reminded of my whitewater kayaking days, only this time I had a 36’ boat weighing 15,000 pounds, not a 12-foot 30-pound kayak.
Arriving at the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club in midafternoon, we met Robert and Michelle aboard Elixir a sistership to Second Star. Elixir was headed from its home port in Ithaca, NY to Bahamas. The two boats would sail together down the Jersey Coast and on to the Chesapeake Bay. Buddy Boating is a common and popular practice on longer legs. In the SBYC the four of us began discussing our plans, options, and weather conditions. Weather forecasts out 48 hours are fairly reliable, especially for experienced meteorologists. From our amateur perspective a good weather window would arrive Monday afternoon. Robert had scheduled a Sunday morning consultation with Chris Parker, an experienced meteorologist and weather router. We agreed to talk after the consultation.
Robert’s call came at 10:40 Sunday morning, Parker’s advice? Leave today. The conditions would become “sporty” as the week progressed, leaving now would give us ideal motoring and sailing conditions for the passage. At 11:00 Sunday Susan and I cast off to find a pump out station in Atlantic Highlands, NJ as there were none closer. Apparently, Brooklyn sailors never pump out their holding tank.
In midafternoon we rendezvoused with Elixir off the Jersey Coast and began our passage. It would be hard to imagine more ideal conditions for Susan’s first overnight and first offshore passage; light northeast winds gradually building to 10-12 knots under clear skies with a near full moon. At 11:30 pm we raised our sails and for the next 11 hours sailed down the coast, a perfect introduction to offshore and night sailing for Susan.
We arrived in Cape May in late morning and entered the harbor in an ebb tide opposed by 15 knot easterly breezes. The wind against current passing over a bar created boisterous conditions with waves in the 6-8-foot range and irregular, dicey conditions for any boat. Once secured in our berth, it was nap time.
The Delaware Bay and River were the next challenges. It is a long slog up the bay, frequently with adverse current and against the prevailing winds. The Port of Philadelphia lies just beyond the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and is a major thorough fare for freighters and tugs. Before we could step up to the challenges of Delaware Bay, there were two bridges to pass under. The question, how much clearance did we have?
The bridge clearance was listed as 55’ at high water. At a little over 53’ our masts are very close to the bridge height and our VHF antennas might actually touch, the margin for error was small. We spent the day researching and calculating, could we safely pass under the bridges or would we have to add miles to our trip going back to the ocean to round Cape May?
In the still of the night under a full moon, we eased out of our slips and into the Cape May Canal at the 3:15 am low tide. Carefully navigating our boats through the shoal waters of Cape May Harbor, we approached the bridge. The anxiety was high. From the perspective of the helm, it is impossible to predict bridge clearance, the sight angles just don’t work. Our first pass was aborted yards away from the bridge. Steeling nerves, we gingerly returned to bridge passing as slowly as possible, listening and watching for masthead equipment to fall to the deck. Nothing fell. Elixir followed suite; we passed both bridges without incident and reached Delaware Bay around 4:00 am.
Leaving at low tide was to our advantage the tide would be with us going west on the Bay. At dawn the winds were light and variable while we passed over the shallow waters of the bay’s east end. The day wore on, the winds and tidal current increased. Entering the C&D canal the winds were dead astern at 15-20 knots.
Once in the canal and sheltered from the east wind, we motored through. The tide was beginning to change and soon the ebb tide added another knot or to our speed. Looking ahead while leaving the canal we recognized a familiar boat. MugUp, with Jeremy, Jillian and their three kids, was ahead. We last saw them in Block Island. The kids were excited to see a familiar boat from their home marina on Lake Ontario.
By 3:00 pm, fewer than 12 hours after passing under the bridge, we reached the Bohemia River and dropped anchor. We were in the Chesapeake. A lot of ground was covered in the four days since leaving City Island. We were ready for a few days of rest and solitude. More on that next time.
The photos of Second Star are courtesy of Robert and Michelle on Elixir. We appreciate their support. Sailors photograph many things, but seldom have the opportunity of photographing their own boat.