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Madcap Sailing
The Hook and the Highlands
06/07/2008/3:07 pm, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

It was a day of motoring, napping, playing scrabble, plaiting with some of my Bahamian palm fronds, reading and munching.

We pulled out of Atlantic City on July 4th after Jim took a run in to the marina for diesel, using every ounce of his strength in holding the dinghy steady while I dropped the motor. That maneuver is a real trick when the waves are high. After a very long day, we turned the corner into the Sandy Hook anchorage off the Coast Guard Station about 10pm. During the last hour or so, the fireworks all up and down the shoreline entertained us, and the drizzling rain didn't appear to have caused much trouble. Part of the entertainment for us was listening to the VHF radio too. We found out later that boats flock to the East River to watch the New York City fireworks and that they aren't allowed to anchor - they just mill around. That went a long way to explaining what we were hearing on the radio.

There were numerous reports of boats aground and of fast boats swamping others. A few of the conversations went like this: "You (...expletive deleted but it contains the word mother...) just swamped me and a couple of other boats. SLOW DOWN!" A query about whether "mother...." was a nautical term came back! Someone else reported a boat on the rocks and the Coast Guard asked, "What is the water depth?" The man slowly replied, "They..." whereupon she asked about the depth where he was. Another fellow was reporting boats going aground and colliding, and then with great consternation in his voice, he said, "Something bad is happening here. There's gunfire breaking out!" Another voice broke in to say, "That's fireworks, hammerhead" and the first guy went curiously silent.

After all this, we quietly dropped our anchor and headed below for some rest and blessed quiet from the noisy engine.

On Saturday, we motored the short distance to Atlantic Highlands because we'd decided to bring Alex here and allow him to experience the thrill of sailing into New York City.

Atlantic Highlands is a curious sort of place. We anchored first before checking out the moorings. We wouldn't bother to anchor next time - the mud we brought up was horribly stinky and black and sticky. Moorings cost $45. - on the expensive side, but besides the mud thing, there is a launch service and the transient dinghy dock is really hard to find. (It's down at the end between the last pier and Pier 1) Moorings are handled by the Yacht Club (Pier 4) or call the Launch on VHF. The showers are in the casino building, and the key must be obtained from the launchmaster, meaning that there are no late night or early morning showers. The place is jammed with sport fishing boats, and there was a carnival on while we were there - only in the evenings. We found that a bit strange since most others we've seen have been running in the daytimes for the kids.

A laundromat is just a couple of blocks up the street from the waterfront, with Charlie in charge. "Cholley" - if I try to find my New Jersey accent, was a terrific source of information for us and I teased him that he had "Info" in neon lights on his baseball cap. While we did several loads of wash and dry, he told us about a great restaurant and where the grocery store was (both very easy walking distance)as well as looking up ways of getting to La Guardia without paying an arm and a leg. The fast ferry didn't run to Atlantic Highlands on Sunday, a limo/taxi that we found would cost $120. each way!! and we couldn't find out bus information on the phone. We also couldn't find bus schedules anywhere, and didn't have wifi from the boat. A clerk at the convenience store told us that the buses ran every two hours from 6:45 am onward, and when we finally lugged the computer to town and logged on, we confirmed that.

Accordingly, 8:15 on Sunday morning found us at the bus stop. (We took the dinghy in because the launch service didn't start till 8 but the fellow towed it back to the boat for us rather than leaving it on the dock all day - a no-no in these parts.) The bus took us to the Port Authority in a little over an hour, from where we took the subway to Astoria and picked up a bus to LaGuardia. - a long way and lots of changes of rides, but an experience nonetheless. Despite Alex's flight not showing up on the arrivals board he appeared on time and after feeding the starving fellow, we headed for downtown. If we had hurried, we could have caught the 2 o'clock bus back to Atlantic Highlands, but who wants to hurry the first glimpse of the Big Apple? We took bus and subway back to Times Square, boggled his mind with the size and scope of it, checked out what was playing in the theatres and eventually caught the 4 o'clock bus. Once back in Atlantic Highlands, we tossed his bag on the boat and went to check out that restaurant Charlie mentioned. It was a great find - a fine ribs 'n pulled pork kind of a place - with the pig theme very tastefully carried out all over the walls. We'd put Memphis Pig-out on our dining list anytime.

Then it was back to the boat for more catchup conversation with our turning 21 year old son and some sleep before moving along to NYC on Monday morning.

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Beautiful Houses and a Friendly Encounter
03/07/2008/3:04 pm, Cape May, NJ

We spent a couple of days in Cape May - exploring the streets with their gorgeous Victorian Houses - huge ones. We ate at the Lobster House and then got more seafood to take home - clams, shrimps, smoked salmon.

We met Christine and John and little Thomas on Margarita from Montreal - yeah - another Canadian boat! Susan and Mike (Tabby Cat) last seen in Eleuthera came in and we had a quick chat with them.

Cape May is an interesting place - some gorgeous areas - some very touristy areas. Lots of marinas - some sketchy depths at low tide. No good place to tie up a dinghy and go exploring (and spending money) in the town; the nice long dock at the Lobster house goes straight into the restaurant and we felt a little funny about traipsing through; the man at the South Jersey Marina said we could tie up there for an hour to get groceries, but not for all day. The pedestrian Mall downtown is pretty, but very touristy, the coffee shop charged for wifi access even on our own computer, the tourist bureau people didn't have much of an idea about what was where. However, just walking around the old streets and gazing at the magnificent Victorian houses was fascinating. I might take the trolley tour next time just to find out more of the stories about them.

Next morning, we took the dinghy to tiny beach at the Corinthian Yacht Club beside the Coast Guard Station because we wanted to go for one last brisk walk before leaving. We had the walk and came back to find the sailing classes ready to start at the club so we sat ourselves down on the wall to wait for the way to clear before we took the dinghy out. We were worried at first that we were in the way (and we were, but folks were nice about it.) Apparently there is no problem tying dinghies to their docks during the week. It's all occupied on the weekends. I'd still check with them in person, but it makes a good option from the Coast Guard Station anchorage if you want a walk. If the goal is the Wawa convenience store, the South Jersey Marina or the Lobster house are the best options.

On that wall, we got talking to Judy Lord who was there watching her grandchildren, and discovered a really genuine, lovely person. She told us about the club and how her family had been part of it for years and how friendly people were. She didn't just talk about that friendliness - she glowed with it herself. Then her daughter-in-law, Gigi came along and we chatted some more. The connections we shared made me think this was one of those coincidences that aren't really coincidences - it was one of those times when we felt we are on the "right path"!

We moved on out of there about 11 am, and had a good motor sail to Atlantic City. The wind came up and the waves grew as we blew through the breakwater about 5pm to the anchorage in the little area just off the Casinos and before the bridge. Several boats were over in the marsh area, but this duck around the green buoy and just out of the channel worked reasonably well for us - same spot as last fall. I made shrimp&grits for dinner - the recipe from Embarassment of Mangoes. Oooh - they were delicious. Even Jim, not the biggest grits fan, liked the dish. Hey Sue - does this mean we're developing a "southern side"?

There was an amazing fireworks display on Thursday night - a prelude to July 4th I guess - and we had a front row seat. Unfortunately the wind blew hard and the current was really strong so between the boat turning in circles and the wind generator howling,(we've discovered it does howl when the wind really picks up) the night was less than restful. We think perhaps another trip, we'd just do the long haul all the way from Cape May to Sandy Hook and skip Atlantic City.

Next stop - Sandy Hook (July 4) to be ready to greet our son, Alex, when he arrives in New York on Sunday!

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20/07/2008/7:24 am | Sue Campbell
Without a doubt, Beth, if you can cook grits you have a southern side! Eating grits takes you in the right direction, but cooking them, a skill I have not quite mastered, now that's southern. But the true test of a southern leaning is if you can eat those things with just butter, salt and pepper and no other adornments. Now that's how a real southern eats their girts!
In and Out of Delaware Bay
01/07/2008/3:01 pm, Cape May

On Nancy's (Adventuress) advice, we stopped in Still Pond just below the Sassafras River. It was perfectly lovely - peaceful and pastoral - with a few houses tucked among the trees. For the first time on this trip, we heard some loud, mean talk from a boat near us. It didn't last too long but we were reminded how sound carries in quiet anchorages. We didn't get the dinghy down and in the water, but will certainly come back here next time to do some exploring.

In order to work with the current in the C&D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal, we got up and got going by 6am on Canada Day, July 1. The timing worked so well that we made 7 knots through the canal and were out of there by 11 o'clock. Once in the Delaware Bay, we watched the knotmeter read 8 and 9 knots for quite a while. Our plan had been to stop behind Reedy Island for the night and continue on to Cape May on Wednesday, but as we traveled we adjusted that plan - a couple of times.

First off, we decided to skip Reedy Island stop and take advantage of the current to get us further down the Bay. Cohansy River looked to be an interesting stop - pretty winding little river, controlling depths of 10 feet, little town further along that we could visit by dinghy. Well, it wasn't quite that good.

The tide was dropping and as we approached the green buoy at the entrance to the river, the depths dropped rapidly too. We went quickly from 10 to 8 to 6 feet and then we touched bottom. There was quite a current that threatened to push us onto a mudbank and we have had quite enough of that thank you, so we executed a rapid 3 point turn and got the heck out of there!!

Delaware Bay probably has great anchorages for shallow draft boats but there was nothing else we could consider so our only option at that point was to keep going and hope we wouldn't have to fight too much current at the bottom of the bay. The Bay has a reputation for giving a wicked ride if wind and current oppose each other, but we were lucky on both transits; no big or choppy waves. Our speed decreased and Jim started to closely examine the information we had on the Cape May Canal.

This canal cuts through the bottom tip of the Cape and takes boaters into Cape May harbour by the "back door". We hadn't taken it in the fall but it would save us an hour and get us in there before dark so we decided to try it. Once again, the water depths looked OK and the bridge height - the deciding factor for many boats - would be OK for us if we had things figured right.

Most fixed bridges are 65 feet - a few feet more or less depending on tide, but for some reason, the two bridges crossing this canal are only 55 feet high. The top of our mast is about 51 feet above the water and even though the tide was quite high, we figured we could make it. Going under bridges that have only a couple of feet to spare is always a heart stopping experience for us. Even though we figure it all out ahead of time it is still unnerving to look up and think for sure that the mast is going to hit that steel girder. When we move on through, we each breathe a sigh of relief. I can't imagine the experience of doing it when there are really only inches to spare.

A boat following us had to anchor and wait for the tide to fall after the mast touched the bridge as they were creeping forward, and last fall, a boat with a really high mast used water bags to tip itself over in order to clear the ICW bridges. There's some amazing footage of that out there in the ether somewhere. We're not up for either of those kinds of risks although we sure do admire the folks who meet them successfully.

There was plenty of room to anchor among the 4 or 5 other boats east of the Coast Guard Station in the harbour and I threw together a chicken and vegetable stirfry seasoned with soy sauce and ginger with a little Maple syrup to make it suitable for a Canada Day dinner. Last year at this time we were drinking champagne with Mary and Blair in Baie Eternite, Quebec! Happy Canada Day!!

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