The Final Four Hundred

Miles that is. Weather forecast still good. Check. Diesel tanks full. Check. Offshore preparations done. Check.

From Top Rack Marina we still had one remaining opening bridge to contend with. For some reason the Gilmerton Bridge is no one’s favorite. Possibly because it’s at a bend and you can’t easily see boats heading the other way, but also because it’s the closest to Norfolk and gets more traffic. Since spring of 2011 the old bascule span has been replaced by a lift bridge that will raise to 135ft max, normally open to 75ft and sit closed at 35ft. More boats will be able to pass under in the closed position and that should relieve some congestion.

Our first boat parade this season, going under Gilmerton Lift Bridge

Our first boat parade this season, going under Gilmerton Lift Bridge

The 37nm trip would take us through the big ship area between Norfolk and Portsmouth, then cross over the channel to head for Kiptopeke Beach on Cape Charles, just below the old ship breakwaters and in between the fish trap stakes.

We’re not crazy about anchoring in 20ft- so much chain and then the time to rinse it all off. The local dolphins however love the area and at least a dozen were playing and eating around us; some even mistook us for talent scouts when they jumped high out of the water providing a free show.

Up and going bright and early with breakfast underway before we rounded the tip of the Cape to head NE to New York. Sounds so simple when put like that. Main got raised early; we hoped to at least motor-sail for half the 240nm trip. The weather usually runs true to forecast for the first half of the trip, but after that the accuracy drops miserably; oh visions of last season’s trip make my stomach churn. Overall, the trip was relatively boring and uneventful, but the anticipation of 15kts ratcheting up and the waves along with it, made me a nervous Nellie for more than a few hours.

Crossing the Delaware entrance area where several big ship lanes converge, plus you always see a bunch at anchor waiting for their turn to go in, takes a good four hours. We are always doing this at night. A nearly full moon was invisible thanks to overcast skies and approaching rain. The “off-Delaware entrance” passage was easy and not once did we need to alter course to avoid a ship; most were at anchor so that helped. If only they showed a different color on AIS that would be a huge help. Checking 8 green triangles to see if they are moving or not takes a while, then what if they begin to move? The triangle becomes solid red and enlarges if the distance or approach becomes dangerous. Various options allow you to set up your warnings based on time and distance.

My fears of big winds and seas off New Jersey were for naught- thank goodness, but I was too anxious to get any sleep. When sailing or motor-sailing the daggerboards and base of the mast move around, making too much noise for me to sleep. Russ did better, still; we knew Monday night would be a long, wonderful slumber.

We found a trip speed calculator on our Garmin that would display our average speed. We also did a check every three hours of distance to go and the speed we had to average to arrive by 7pm Monday. An average speed of 6.7kts would do it and anything more was gravy. Between all possible combinations of two sails and two engines we had no difficulty maintaining the required average, in fact during much of the “off New Jersey” stretch we sped along when the wind picked up . The main stayed up the entire trip, but Mr Finicky Jib fusses at apparent wind less than 40 degrees so he did his best squeeze box imitation- in and out. No feathered visitors, precious few pleasure boats and dolphins; the trip did prove to be mostly uneventful. As you well know, it’s not over until it’s over… and anchor down. But even then, maybe not.

Around 3pm Monday our trip average speed hit 7kts- sweet. Russ changed over the display that showed that number and I made a log note, also noting that we were off Long Branch, NJ. Don’t ask why I wrote down where we were; just seemed like a good idea at the time. Long Branch is about 6 miles north of Asbury Park and we were two – three hours from arrival. Roughly an hour (more or less?) later the CG made a Pan Pan for a report that a white sailboat might be in need of assistance off Long Branch. Hey, that’s the place I made that notation at 3 o’clock. We didn’t see anything although at that time we were about 2 ½ miles off the coast; much closer than the 12 miles earlier in the trip.

When the wind picked up a bit I’d stowed some loose counter items figuring being over-prepared works every time. As we approached the Sandy Hook Channel I put them back out- hey we’re almost there. We’d just discussed if big ships used that channel (it’s the smaller of three) when I looked back to see Mr Big heading in, checked AIS and sure enough he was moving along at 10kts. He’d be right there when we wanted to enter the channel and cross it so we could jibe and continue in. Pulled throttles back to 1000 rpms and bobbed along until he passed, but before he came by I re-stowed my counter items just in case his wake was yucky. (it wasn’t). The Coast Guard patrol boat was heading out from the station at Sandy Hook.

By 5:30 we are anchored near the CG station – in 20ft again! No debris spotted bigger than a foot long piece of wood once or twice. Balloons won as most spotted- at least 10 for the entire trip, just bobbing on the water. We ate and crashed, running the genset so the heaters could run for a while. Cold here and no sun all day. 54 degrees and colder at night. Brrrr. My warm weather PJs gave way weeks ago to a long-sleeved night-shirt and non-matching PJ bottoms- but who cares, right? Matching or not they keep me warm. Russ’s mantra is “electric blanket.”

Winkin’, Blinkin; and Nod are upon me when I hear an odd sound (the anchor chain?) then a horn/siren noise. What the? Russ is asleep. I hear the horn noise again and instantly I know who it is. Do you? The Coast Guard patrol boat paid us a visit. I tell Russ to get up (just in case) and I go up, dressed in my night best, open the stern panel and stick my head out. No, we’re not getting boarded (phew), nor asked to move (double phew), they want to know 1) where we came from 2) did we stop and 3) are you ready?- did we hear the announcement about a vessel in possible need of assistance? I answered and by the second question I realized that they were trying to determine if WE were the subject vessel or did we see anything. Not us and didn’t see anything. But isn’t it really weird how I made that notation off Long Branch and that’s where the sighting took place? We didn’t turn the VHF back on but I know the CG went out there (took them what 30 mins one way) and found zilch. Came back and saw us. Figured they’d better check. Good-night, sleep tight, do not let anything else disturb us tonight!

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