Monday, Cape May NJ to Barnegat NJ

June 8th, 2009 john Posted in The Loop (Ft Myers to Winter Harbor NY) | No Comments »

Day: 233  Miles: 79   Total Miles: 2889  Locks: 2

I was up at 3:45 AM, took my time, hoping to get ready for an early start.  I was worried about running out to the Atlantic Ocean and running it up the NJ shoreline.  Winds were predicted to be 5 to 10 mph with waves 2-3 feet and the winds out of the South, chance of fog in the morning and possible thunderstorms in the afternoon. 

This would be our longest day yet and in the ocean no less.  I was anxious to be underway.   The problem was they were correct with the weather.  The harbor was completely fogged in.  I showered, ate breakfast and went back to planning.  By six a.m. the fog began to lift so out we went, winding our way though the delicate Cape May harborage.  We then went out the Cape May Inlet. It was a bit rough but we successfully made it into the ocean.

Everything was as predicted.  The wind was at our backs or off to our quarter, gentle swells, but not bad motion.   The only problem was that the ocean fog set in.  Before we knew it we were three miles off the coast and could not see more then an estimated 1/8 of a mile.  I knew that because we passed a buoy that showed on my chart-plotter and the radar confirmed it to be ¼ mile away, but we could not see it as we went by.  Twice our AIS system picked up vessels heading south but not crossing our track, so they went by unseen.  But what about boats that do not emit and AIS signal?  Our new HD Radar system worked like a champ.  Once I was able to filter out the sea clutter I could see each boat and each sea buoy along the way.  

Many times during the day, my mate would say, “I think the fog is starting to burn off”, only for the fog to re-intensify a few minutes later.  We watched boat after boat on the radar although there weren’t that many crazies out here with us.  Once during early afternoon a radar target started to converge on us.  I changed our course and it seemed to change with us.  Then all of a sudden a white fishing boat came out of the fog about 500 feet away and steered straight for us.  We had been running the automatic fog horn all day, that sounds a 5 sec blast once every two minutes.  This time I jumped on the manual horn and held it down.  The boat came closer and then turned away.  We watched on radar as it circled behind us. In retrospect we had been running straight down a line of crab-pots and I suspect the fishing boat was the owner coming to make sure we were not getting into his pots.  A scary experience any way you look at it.

For the last two hours of the trip, our course line moved us to within 1 mile of the coast.  I was hoping the heat from the land would kill the fog but no such luck.  We then started to approach Barnegat Inlet, at one time reputably the most dangerous inlet on the East coast.   However about 8 to 10 years ago they rebuilt the jetties to the inlet and it is much safer now.  The 2-3 foot seas were building to 3-4 footers and the inlet was running at full ebb (outgoing tide)  again making for the possibility of a harsh entry.  The guidebooks state that if you see breakers just outside the inlet, turn away.  Ha!  They assume that you can see the inlet.  The fog was the densest it had been all day.  We had not seen anything since leaving the Cape May Inlet, other then the white fishing boat.

Radar is wonderful.  I had some blips start to appear on the radar and they were lined up in pairs.  Ah, there are more markets in the channel then appear on the charts or the chart-plotters.  This is not unusual.  They often have uncharted buoys that they move around as the shoals change. On Radar I could see the one sea buoy and then two sets of buoys leading us in.  I aimed for the outer most set of paired buoys and behold they appeared in the fog just a few hundred feet in front of us.  They were towering markets and looked eerie in the dense fog, but to us they looked great.  We turned port and headed into the channel.  I could see the next pair of buoys on radar and soon they appeared before us and the two more appeared.   Ah they were not buoys they were day markers marking the end of the two jetties.  The water became a little rough with the ocean waves coming in against the outgoing tide, but the Emery El did her thing.  We did slow to about 5 mph due the outgoing current but that was ok.  Though the surf we went into the calm waters between the jetties with a lot of steering going on.  About an hour before we had entered the channel I had had called Tow-Boat US on the VHF radio and they had answered.  I had asked for local knowledge to be shared for entering the inlet.  They were very helpful and told me to specifically hug the north jetty due to shoaling near the south wall.

We successfully navigated in and like a curtain the fog dissipated and we could actually see the harbor.  We slowly maneuvered around a small channel to the south and to the High Bar Harbour Yacht Club.  Barbara’s cousins are members and own an empty 50 foot slip so it was offered for our use.  What a wonderful gesture. We were greeted at the dock by Margo and Tommy and some friends. 

It is always a great trip when it ends successfully.  We had come seventy one miles up the New Jersey coast in total fog and made it.   Electronics were wonderful, they did the trick but you should realize that you cannot do it on electronics alone.  Barbara recorded and plotted a GPS fix on our manual charts about every 30 minutes throughout the day so if the electronics ever went out then we could continue traveling using the old manual dead-reckoning methods.

At this point I need to make special point of complementing my traveling partner.  The stresses of today would have done many a crew member in, but not my mate.  She was a real trooper.   I won’t say she enjoyed the day but at the time she pitched right in and took everything is stride.  It was stressful but a wonderful day to share, (specially, when it was over!)

Well we made it to New Jersey, have a lot to be thankful for and more to still look forward to.  The problem is we have a hard decision to make.  My knee is getting worse again. I am going back on crutches today.  You just haven’t seen a true captain unless you see one with a black seaman’s cap, pipe, and crutches.  Ahoy Matie!

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