July 25 to August 13, 2017. New Jersey to Beaufort NC

Retracing our steps

Our stay at Great Kills Yacht Club in New Jersey was very enjoyable.  Without question it was the friendliest yacht club we have visited.  Each day there were people working on their boats or in the evening spending time in the bar.  Most made a point of chatting to us, and several came along the dock to look at Nine Lives and ask questions.  She likes that kind of attention!  We rode our bikes into town and found a very nice Italian grocery.  Although we didn’t really need any provisions we couldn’t resist a few things on the shelves.  We also rode over to the park on the Atlantic side of the basin.  We were amused to see many people relaxing and sunbathing on lounge chairs set up in front of their cars in the parking lot.  Wide sand beaches and acres of grass were completely ignored in favour of being within spitting distance of the car!

Eventually we got a one day weather window that was enough to get us to Atlantic City.  Here we were again stopped for several days.  We had planned to stay at a large marina in front of one of the casinos, but it was fully booked for the weekend and instead we docked at a small family run facility across the basin.  The Coast Guard Station was opposite, and we could hear Reveille and Taps across the water each morning and evening. The next day a huge out of season nor-easter blew in.  The waves were right on our beam, which meant rocking from side to side so much that one of our lines frayed nearly through.  We had to get out at the height of the storm and move the boat further into the slip and retie everything.

We did have an interesting stay in Atlantic City apart from the storm (which was a different kind of interesting).  We rode our bikes all the way along the boardwalk through both Atlantic City and Ventnor.  The dreadful tourist souvenir shops, attractions,  and hot dog stands show that the British by no means have the monopoly on tacky when it comes to seaside resorts.  On the other hand, the mostly closed casinos are fascinating architecture, and it is rather sad that they are so quickly becoming derelict.  Ventnor is entirely different, with large gracious homes with beautiful gardens all along the shoreline. Atlantic City is trying to diversify their economy, and local residents are quite pleased that there is a university currently building a new campus near downtown.  Why they would not take over one of the enormous empty casinos I do not know, probably the casino owners or the debt holders are holding out for more money than it will take to build a new campus from scratch.  One can only shake one’s head at the waste.

Shortly after our arrival another boat came in to the marina and the captain walked over and introduced himself.  It was a sailing catamaran, also built by Endeavour (the builder of our boat).  We enjoyed two evenings of docktails with this very nice couple, and it was fascinating to compare the similarities and differences in the two boats.

Finally, the weather calmed again and we made a fast run to Cape May.  We tried a different marina this time, and hope to return and spent a bit more time next year.  The town seems very quaint, with lots of interesting shops and restaurants to visit.  The next day was also calm and we were able to proceed up Delaware Bay and through the C&C Canal to Chesapeake City.  This is a lovely little town, that has done a wonderful job of sprucing itself up and turning into a boater’s destination.  We docked at one of the restaurants, and even though it was a weekday it was packed until very late, both the fine dining restaurant and the more casual outside deck.  We enjoyed a great meal in the dining room, lobster for Dick and red snapper for me. The houses in the village are beautifully restored, not just the mansions, and most have nicely kept lawns and gardens.

Our next challenge was to make our way down Chesapeake Bay.  The forecasts were good for the mornings, but blew up each afternoon to small craft warnings.  Our first stop was Annapolis, staying two nights.  We made a good run to Solomons, where we filled up with fuel and stayed two nights again.  This time I joined Dick on a bike ride around the town, and later we rode our bikes to the restaurant for dinner.  We liked Solomons on both our visits, and plan to stop there again next year.

Having taken on fuel, we decided to make a single high speed run to Portsmouth, rather than stopping overnight part way.  We left by 6:30 am, and made it to our destination before the daily blow up of wind and waves.  Being a weekend, we had to dodge sailing boats that were busy tacking back and forth across the channel, as well as watching for the huge wakes being thrown up by weekend fishermen.  No military vessels or cargo ships to avoid this time, but at least those are predictable when they are underway!

Portsmouth is struggling to attract visitors, especially with extensive new waterfront facilities across the river in Norfolk.  They have many beautifully restored homes and downtown buildings, but as so often happens with these old towns, they don’t seem to be able to attract the mix of shops that will make downtown liveable.  We spent nearly an hour in a wonderful antique shop, and then another happy hour in one of the most interesting kitchen shops we have seen.  So many unusual gadgets and things that you never knew you needed! For the most part, we resisted temptation. The Portsmouth lightship is one of a very few lightships.  They were used when construction of a lighthouse was not practical.  Can you imagine spending time on a vessel like that, rolling around in heavy seas, not to mention climbing up to tend the light!

After a two night stay in Portsmouth we set off down the Elizabeth River and onward to the small town of Coinjock, about an hour north of the Albemarle Sound.  Almost immediately we were held up by a railway bridge that is usually in the open position, but it was down for a train to pass.  After fifteen minutes of stooging around (an important skill for mariners that involves maintaining position in a channel without running onto rocks or into other vessels while waiting for a bridge or lock to open), the bridge lifted and we could proceed.  That fifteen minutes put us behind on all three subsequent bridges and the single lock, turning what should have been a three hour trip into nearly five.  The offending railway bridge is next to an unusual style of highway bridge, that lifts instead of opening.  We have seen this type of bridge for railways (usually open) but never for a highway.  Just after we passed it lifted for a boat that was too tall to fit under, quite interesting to watch.

Albemarle Sound is one of the two crossings that I had been dreading, as it is very shallow and winds pile up the waves and can make a miserable trip.  This time the winds were higher than I would have liked, but they were behind us, so in theory it would not be so bad.  As the day progressed it got rougher, whitecaps appeared, and there was a corkscrew effect that made Tucker and I most unhappy.  At the end of the crossing there is a zig zag required to get into the mouth of the Alligator River, so that put us broadside to the waves and made things worse.  Fortunately, it was a short time before we were tied up at the marina and I could sit still and be quiet for a while!  We watched two sailboats make their way into the marina a bit later.  The broadside whitecaps had them wallowing, and even experienced sailors find that much rolling very uncomfortable.

That evening we invited the couple on one of the sailboats to join us for docktails.  Such an interesting life they are leading!  They left Falmouth, England, in 2008 on their two masted sailboat headed for Spain and the Mediterranean.  A year later they crossed the Atlantic to Brazil, and spent time there, and in Uruguay and Argentina.  Some years on they came north, with stays in Panama, Cuba, and other Caribbean islands before crossing to the US and making their way north on the ICW.  Their current destination is the Chesapeake, and after that, they will go where the wind takes them!  An adventurous life that would not suit everyone, but what wonderful experiences they are having!

Our trip down the Alligator River to Belhaven was dry and uneventful, in spite of threatening skies.  In calm weather this part of the trip is two hours of boredom followed by two hours of tedium, but that is better than the excitement of a rough passage! Perhaps Belhaven is an interesting town, but apparently August is low season, and the best restaurant closes for 3 weeks.  There were very few boats in the marinas.  It is very strange to me to be told that August is low season, but I suppose with so many American schools starting mid-August there are just not that many families travelling.  Most boaters are much further north during the summer months.  One marina owner told Dick that August is just too hot for boating! We were told that the Alligator River Marina has had up to 30 boats in overnight during the season for travelling south in October and November. The night we spent there, we were one of only three boats staying.

We decided to leave Belhaven very early, because we are still seeing high winds and thunderstorms coming up in the afternoons.  Our transit of the Bay and Neuse Rivers was completely calm, and a welcome change from the dreadful crossing we had on our northbound trip.  We stopped in Oriental. Waterway Guide waxes lyrical about the attractions of this sailing town, but we were seriously unimpressed.  The marinas offer little protection when the winds are from the south, so we spent an uncomfortable night rocking in the waves.  Dick went for a bike ride (dodging raindrops), and was not enthused.  Again, we decided to leave early for the short journey to Beaufort, NC. The brief crossing of the Neuse at 6:30am was calm, and the Adams Creek Canal is interesting. We were travelling slower than usual, in order not to arrive to early in Beaufort, but that proved to be a slight error in judgement!  As we came into the tricky part of the trip, navigating through various shoals in the busy Newport river, we were enveloped in thick clouds and torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning.  We have radar, which we use on those rare occasions of low visibility, but when Dick updated the firmware on the chartplotter he did not realize that it would change how the radar is accessed.  He didn’t dare risk losing the chart (and taking his eye off the waters ahead) while he poked around trying to find the radar screen.  I was very concerned that not only could we not see any boat coming toward us, they couldn’t see us either.  Eventually, after what seemed like a long time but was probably only about 15 minutes, the storm cleared enough that we could see again.  In addition to a large shrimp boat ahead of us, we came on two kayakers paddling across the channel.  What possessed them to be out in busy waters in such poor visibility I do not know.

We arrived in Beaufort to find it celebrating the annual Pirate Invasion.  Beaufort was the home of the famous Blackbeard, and it celebrates all aspects of its nautical history with grand enthusiasm.  Shortly after we tied up there was a battle between a fully rigged pirate ship and a large rowboat with 8 pirates and a cannon on board.  Our view of the naval engagement was blocked, but we could hear the cannons firing and the screams!  Arrrr!  The town was infested with pirates, along with a number of women dressed as heaven knows what.  However, everyone seemed to be having a good time.

We have seen some interesting wildlife behaviours on this trip.  On our way north we passed hundreds of osprey nests; sometimes it seemed as if every channel marker had a nest with osprey rearing chicks.  Now, two months later, the chicks have flown, but I have noticed that there is often a bird perched on the empty nest.  I wonder if it is one of the young, still staying around familiar places.  On one of our ocean passages we saw at least 30 dolphins herding fish into a tight circle to feed from them.  We passed an area on the Chesapeake with hundreds of gulls swooping on waters that were literally boiling with fish.  In addition to the gulls there were pelicans, and even a few osprey diving to catch dinner.  We couldn’t tell what was making the fish rise to the surface, but there were several areas like this over a couple of miles of shallow water.  One of the most fascinating episodes I watched was while I was sitting in the cockpit at the dock in Great Kills.  I heard a repeated banging sound, and turned round to see a young gull with a huge clam.  He was jumping up about 10 feet above the dock and dropping the clam, then following it down to make sure it didn’t roll off the dock.  After dropping it about 20 times, the clam developed a crack in the shell, and the gull was able to break it open and eat the meat inside.  I was so fascinated I forgot to get a camera and take pictures!

We are nearly finished this year’s journey, expecting to be home in about a week.  We have not anchored overnight since we left North Carolina on our outbound journey, and we enjoy the peace and quiet, so we plan to anchor most nights, and to stop just one night at a marina in Southport and one south of Myrtle Beach.  It has been an interesting trip.  We have made lists of things that we want to fix, or improve, before we set off again next summer.  Tucker has finally settled into the various routines, and seems to be reasonably content.  I have enjoyed cooking on board, using some of the special things I spent so much time collecting this winter.  The pressure cooker/slow cooker has been an unqualified success, but I have also found some great recipes for one pot meals and casseroles that work in the toaster oven.  We do plan to replace the Australian style grill for a more familiar type.  I had expected to be able to work on pictures during some of the quiet times, but this has not been possible.  Even a slight motion of the boat makes me feel queasy if I try doing close work on the laptop in the salon, and the table in the cockpit is too high for me to work on. We find that while the cockpit chairs are comfortable, the helm chair leans back too far for me to be able to sit in it and drive, and we both miss being able to relax in a recliner chair.  So we are hoping to replace both cockpit chairs with some that we saw at the boat show that have more adjustment and also a recliner position and footrest.  Dick is going to replace the bulbs on the interior lights, plus a couple of inoperable fixtures, and we hope that will solve the problem of the dim lighting at night.  We are also hoping to get screens made for the side doors of the cockpit, to add more air circulation while keeping the insects out.

This was Tucker’s last voyage for some time.  Between the heat and the continuously changing routines, he became more and more unhappy in the last few weeks of the summer voyage.  He now spends his summers with his other family in Hilton Head, and everyone is happier.

storm at Great Kills
Storm at Great Kills NJ
Great Kills basin
Great Kills Basin, after the storm
whats in there
What’s in there?
Atlantic City Coast Guard Station
Atlantic City Coast Guard Station
Atlantic City
Atlantic City
Chesapeake City 2
Chesapeake City
Chesapeake City
Chesapeake City
Annapolis sunrise
Annapolis sunrise
Sunrise leaving Solomons
Sunrise as we leave Solomons
Tucker and the view of Norfolk
Tucker and the view of Norfolk
lobster dinner
Lobster dinner
Portsmouth lightship
Portsmouth lightship
Portsmouth old town
Portsmoth Old Town
highway lift bridge
highway lift bridge
Carolina Reaper Shrimp
Carolina Reaper Shrimp
a good place to sleep
A good place to sleep
fishing boats on Adams Creek Canal
fishing boats on Adams Creek Canal
rainbow leaving Belhaven
rainbow as we leave Belhaven
keep watching the chart
Keep watching that chart!
Alligator River
Alligator River
Pirate ship
Pirate ship
pirates
Pirates at Beaufort!
red snapper
Red snapper
What do you want
I want to go home!

June 1 to 19, 2017. Hilton Head to Delaware City

(a note for our regular readers: I am adding the earlier issues of the blog from 2018 and 2017 that were published elsewhere.  Apologies for the blog now being somewhat out of order!)

We are now about 2 and a half weeks into our summer 2017 voyage.

We left Wexford on June 1st, with Tucker on board and looked forward to our first night out at anchor in a creek just north of Beaufort.  There was a small setback when we discovered that our chosen creek was silted up and no longer accessible, so after a slightly frantic search of our two guides, Waterway Guide and Skipper Bob’s, we chose an alternative slightly farther north and the rest of the evening was uneventful.  The next day we travelled through Charleston, towards a planned anchorage north of the city, and “enjoyed” a two hour unplanned excursion up one of the rivers when the helmsman failed to notice the location of the magenta line on the chart.

What is this magenta line?  It is the centre-line on the chart of the Intracoastal Waterway, and is a big help in staying on course.  The boat has an electronic chartplotter, so we mostly don’t use the big paper charts.  We use autopilot, but the helm chair is never empty and it is important to remember that the actual markers in the channel are always to be followed when they disagree with the magenta line!

After Charleston we carried on north, staying with our planned itinerary and stops until we got to our first weather delay.  High winds and thunderstorms were forecast, so we extended our stay in Southport, North Carolina to 3 nights.  The thunderstorms never materialized, but it was very windy the first evening and I would not have wanted to anchor in that wind.

The next and possibly most valuable lesson was two days later.  We set off across the Neuse River, and after his miscalculation in Charleston Harbor, Dick was determined to stick with the magenta line.  Well, we headed straight up the centre of the very wide river, and conditions got worse and worse.  The boat pounded into the waves, stuff fell down inside, and Tucker was terrified.  I had to bring him up into the cockpit and hold him on my lap.  The dinghy jumped off its support and hung in the davits (fortunately it stayed there), and Dick’s bicycle looked as though it was about to flip over the front rail at any minute.  We later discovered that most of our fresh water tank had emptied out of the overflow valves it was so rough.  There was a certain amount of language from me, and Tucker said some very rude words in Cat, but to give credit where it is due, Dick remained calm and handled the rough seas very well, and eventually we were able to make our way into a wonderfully quiet river and anchor for the night.  Two lessons were learned.  One, be sure of your actual destination, and two, when it starts to get rough, and you can see it will only get worse, turn around while you still can and find a place to wait out the weather.

This lesson stood us in very good stead on the Chesapeake.

However, before the Chesapeake, we spent a nice evening in a very small marina on Alligator Creek.  Just five boats were in, and amazingly, three of them were Endeavour TrawlerCats.  The other two were the newer style with the high bridge, a 48 and a 40.  There are very few of these compared to other manufacturers, so to see three at once was most unusual. A very pleasant evening was spent in the large upper lounge of the 48 chatting with the other owners and comparing experiences.  Two days later, we came out of our anchorage to find both of them just behind us, so we led a parade of Endeavours through several bridges and a lock before we all went our separate ways.

Our trip through Norfolk was fascinating.  Seeing all the navy ships was interesting in itself, but the town also has a dock with a number of tall ships.  That day there was a special event of skipjack (working fishing boat) races, so the town harbour was full of hundreds of spectator boats of all sizes, some anchored, some cruising around, and it was quite a challenge to make our way through them all.

We stayed two nights at Hampton Yacht Club, and were delighted to welcome our friends Marilynn and Winkie on board for drinks and a pasta supper.  Our first dinner party on board!  I used to work with Marilynn many years ago at Brookhaven Lab.

The day we came out of Hampton we were just ahead of a warship.  It was fascinating to listen to the radio communication between that ship, another warship that was already out to sea, and a tanker with a tug that was waiting to enter Hampton Roads.  Later that day there was more interesting communication as NASA required all vessels to observe a ten mile exclusion zone where a rocket was scheduled to plunge into the sea. One owner of a pleasure yacht was most annoyed to be told to take a specific heading, not where he planned to go,  and stay on it for 8 miles!

From Hampton we began our journey through the Chesapeake.  The first night was at the quaint fishing village of Tangier Island, all crab huts and working fishing boats.  Dick made me laugh.  He read in the guidebook that due to a strong Methodist influence, the island is dry.  He interpreted that to mean that there was a water shortage on the island.  He was quite surprised when I explained that there would be no beer or wine with dinner that evening! The next day the Chesapeake lived up to its reputation for misery and a gale blew up not long after we set off.  We had to travel well south before we could get close enough to the western shore to gain some protection, and it took a long time to make our way to Solomon’s Island.  There we waited out the weather again, for two nights this time.  The third morning was clear and the bay was (relatively) smooth, and we were able to get as far north as Rock Hall.  From there we passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and then into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.

The C&D Canal is the busiest in the nation.  It was first built in the 19th century and widened and modernized in the 20th.  It saves 300 miles in travel between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it is used by enormous cargo and tanker traffic.  We were very fortunate that in the 12 mile length we met only one tanker, just as we were exiting the canal.  They create huge wakes that reflect off the canal sides and make for an uncomfortable ride.

We are now at Delaware City, a very picturesque old town that was once an important port between Philadelphia and Baltimore at the mouth of the canal.  The marina is on the only remaining piece of the original canal.  The old canal was dug by hand by free blacks and Irish immigrants who were paid 75 cents a week.  It was (is) 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep.  We visited Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, an important fort that was used to house hundreds of confederate prisoners during the civil war, and was again used for prisoners of war during world war two.  It is gradually being restored, and is staffed by volunteers in period costume who take on the characters of the civil war occupants of the fort.

The marina manager gives an evening briefing for the transit of Delaware Bay.  We were already aware of a small craft warning, but the briefing was very interesting.  We learned how to interpret the symbols in the NOAA wind and current databases and how wind, fetch, and current combine to make huge waves.  We are delayed again by high winds in opposition to a fast current, and expect to be here at least another night if not two.  Apparently it is very late in the season for this strength of wind opposing the currents. Interestingly, there are 5 other “looper” boats (boats, like us, doing the Great Loop), here in the marina with us, so in spite of our late start compared to most of the pack, we are by no means the last ones heading north.  I expect there may be some docktails and trading stories in the next couple of days while we wait for calmer waters in the Delaware Bay.

One of the more interesting boaters awaiting calmer seas is a man in a rowboat.  Granted, this is not your father’s rowboat, it is a modern looking skiff style.  He started his trip in Miami and is heading for New York City.  He expects the whole trip to take him just 55 days.  He says he usually travels 50 miles in a day.  Amazing, comparing that to our usual 50 to 80 miles a day.  I am not sure where he sleeps, but his boat is full of plastic bags with all his stuff.  Needless to say, not the sort of adventure that would interest me!

Goodbye Wexford
Goodbye Wexford! Leaving our Hilton Head harbour to begin the adventure.
Charleston Yorktown
The Yorktown in Charleston Harbor
Nine Lives at Alligator Creek
Sunset at Alligator Creek
Endeavour TrawlerCats
We were 3 Endeavour Trawlercats in a row!
waiting for the lock south of Norfolk
Waiting for the lock south of Norfolk
boat traffic in Norfolk
Boat traffic in Norfolk
Tucker sleeping on the step
Tucker sleeping on the steps
tall ship in Norfolk
Tall ship in Norfolk
Solomons Island
Zahnisers at Solomons Island
Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Tucker asleep at the wheel
Tucker asleep at the wheel
Delaware City Marina
Delaware City Marina
original C&D canal
The original Chesapeake and Delaware Canal
a new vehicle
A new vehicle for Dick?
checking out the cannon
Checking out the cannon

June 1 to 17, 2018: Norfolk to the Hudson River

After an enjoyable break at home in Hilton Head for a few weeks, on June 1st we again collected a rental car and drove back to Great Bridge, a town south of Norfolk, Virginia. We had left the boat in a highly regarded repair facility, with a long list of small jobs that required a more specialist approach than Dick could expect to do himself.  Most of the work was completed, although one or two small items were forgotten.  Dick was pleased that the bill was considerably less than he had mentally braced for, and I am pleased that the forward air conditioning, while still not as effective as the unit aft, is definitely working better.  We spent the morning at the grocery store getting in the provisions we would need for the next few weeks, and Dick was able to get our propane bottle refilled.  We use propane for the galley stove, and also for the grill, and there is no gauge on the bottle, so we don’t really have a good sense of how much is left at any time!  I had done some baking at home for the freezer, so with that and the groceries safely stowed we were ready to depart.

The plan was immediately changed.  We had intended to travel north as far as Deltaville, just off the Chesapeake, and anchor for one night.  However, a look at the weather suggested it would probably be better to stop for the first night in Hampton, and then make a fast run on the only good weather day through the weekend and get to Solomons.  Hampton is at the north end of the huge Norfolk harbour.  Dick had in mind that we would stay at the city run town dock, but they were fully booked for a pirate weekend, so we stopped at another marina.  Looper gossip the other day suggests this was no bad thing.  Someone who was staying at the town dock a few weeks ago had a bullet go through their cockpit and embed itself in their ceiling while they were sleeping!  Police were called, but what exactly had happened is a mystery.  The boaters slept through the incident, awakening in the morning to broken glass and said bullet in the ceiling!

Our ride up Chesapeake Bay to Solomons was pleasant and uneventful, just the way we like it.  We were welcomed on arrival with a fly-past by the Blue Angels.  You may recall that they also welcomed us to Norfolk last month!  The town sits across the river from the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and our arrival happened to coincide with their annual air show.  Solomons is a pretty little town, settled since colonial times and very boating oriented.  We walked around the harbour and enjoyed several nice meals at different restaurants.  We also launched the dinghy and did a harbour tour past all the marinas and up a couple of the channels to see interesting houses and nicely kept gardens.

After waiting an extra day in Solomons to avoid some nasty winds on the bay, we set off for Annapolis.  Although we stopped there last year we didn’t really explore, this time we stayed long enough to see some sights.  We docked at one of the large marinas, and because we are 19 feet wide, they decided we would be best in a slip where they put the mega-yachts.  Talk about playing with the big kids! We walked into town and took a boat tour up Spa Creek. Annapolis is a very historic city, with buildings dating back to before the Declaration of Independence. It was briefly the capital city of the newly formed United States in 1783. It is also the home of the United States Naval Academy.  We would have liked to visit the naval base, but there wasn’t enough time.  We walked to the top of the main street, which is very lively and a nice mix of boutiques and interesting restaurants.  There had been a lot of rain, and we were surprised to see one of the parking lots full of water.  It didn’t seem to worry the visitors, they just drove right through the puddles and parked regardless!

We enjoyed a visit with Marge and Fred Conroy, Dick’s former boss from his Prague days and his wife.  After docktails and a tour of the boat we went for dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in town. Fred regaled us with stories of his days as a midshipman in the town.

We are very conscious of the weather this year, and far more careful about our planning.  After Annapolis we decided to miss Chesapeake City and go straight to Delaware City, as the long range forecast was deteriorating.  Delaware City is such an interesting little town.  The marina is situated along the original Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  The 14 mile ship canal connects Delaware Bay with Chesapeake Bay, and gives cargo ships access to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington without having to travel 500 miles around and all the way up the Chesapeake.  The original canal was dug by hand by 2600 men earning an average wage of $.75 a day.  In the 1920’s the canal was bought by the Federal Government.  The entrance was moved a few miles south, all the locks were removed, and the entire canal was deepened and widened.  The remaining piece of the original canal is now used by Delaware City Marina.  Tidal currents and a narrow fairway require careful maneuvering, and this is one of the few places that Dick does not make any adjustments to the way the dock hands have tied us! The evening briefing on expected winds and currents is well worth attending, and as a result, we decided again to cut our visit short and leave the next morning for Cape May, rather than be stuck there for several days.

We had planned a 3 or 4 day stop in Cape May, but this time it wasn’t weather that frustrated our plans, it was a shark fishing tournament!  Every marina was fully booked through Saturday night.  We anchored in the river, not an entirely pleasant solution because although it is a clearly marked no-wake zone, local fishermen ignore the signs until they are much closer to town (and the Coast Guard Station).  Last year we took the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway north from Cape May towards Atlantic City, and we had thought about repeating the adventure in spite of having run aground 4 times.  However, the tide times would have meant a 6am start, and the weather forecast for the Atlantic the next day was quite benign.  If we had any thoughts of changing our minds we discarded them as a fellow Looper who had decided to take advantage of longer daylight and travel with the afternoon tide turned around after running aground several times and returned to Cape May and the anchorage.

It was a very pleasant fast run to Atlantic City.  For most of it the water was like glass, with just small and gentle swells.  Nine Lives loves to run at her best speed (18 knots, just under 21 miles per hour for the landlubbers) in these conditions, and we arrived well before noon in Atlantic City.

This visit we stayed at the huge marina in front of the Golden Nugget Casino.  It is one of the few casinos still operational in Atlantic City, and has a great choice of restaurants with no need to leave the complex.  We explored the Boardwalk and the town last year, so we just relaxed and caught up with reading and emails.

Much of the trip so far has been a case of zip between destinations on carefully planned weather windows.  We were determined to try the northern part of the New Jersey ICW this year, and Dick was able to get excellent detailed advice from one of the experienced Loopers who lives in the area and travels the route regularly.  We got up at 5am (there simply has to be coffee before we start out!) and were underway by 6am.  This meant we were travelling on a rising tide for the first part of the trip, and it was happily uneventful.  Our depth sounder never showed less than 4 feet below our keels, and the trip was considerably less stressful than our previous experience!  The area is very pretty, with peaceful marshes, lots of osprey nesting, and clusters of beachy houses between the ICW and the Atlantic.  Travelling during the week means the yahoos in speedboats do not trouble us, and the keen fishermen in their big Viking Trawlers are already out at sea.

The excitement for the day all happened at the end, just as we were breathing sighs of relief that the trip had been so uneventful.  There is a canal between Barnegat Bay and Manesquan River and Inlet. It is extremely narrow, and highly affected by the tide.  We entered the canal on an outgoing tide, and Dick had the engines at idle speed (the slowest speed that still turns the propellers and allows control for steering).  Our idle speed in calm water is about 4 knots (4.6 mph), and yet we shot through that canal at about 9.6 knots (11 mph).  It was like whitewater rafting without the fun. We had already been warned that locals seldom give right of way, so it was a nail biting 2 miles until we shot out the other side into the Manesquan River.  The excitement was not over.  There is a railway bridge just before Manesquan Inlet that we had to pass under to get to our marina.  The gap spanned by the bridge is only 31 feet wide.  We are 19.  The helpful Waterway Guide suggests, “Favor the north side of the channel.” Right.  Dick was hard put to keep us in the centre with the swift currents!  Arriving at the marina we were instructed to tie up at the fuel dock and await instructions.  This is never a favourite practice, but for once there was a very good reason, as maneuvering the boat into a slip in the currents requires highly experienced dock hands to give good instructions and catch lines.

The next day we again took advantage of a single day weather window and headed out into the Atlantic for the passage to Staten Island.  The conditions were at the upper limit of what an experienced Looper describes as “marginal”.  That is, winds 15 to 20 knots, and seas up to 3 feet.  On this occasion, the winds were going to be behind us, and the tides in our favour, so we decided to go.  It was quite an experience.  The instruments showed the boat travelling at 15 knots as she climbed up a swell, and then up to 18 knots as she slid down the other side.  I can’t say it was a pleasant run, but it was short, and we were into Great Kills Yacht Club on Staten Island well before noon.  The next two days would have been miserable to travel, as the winds switched to the north.  The main lesson learned last year is that opposing winds and currents are always going to be unpleasant.

We enjoyed our visit to Great Kills last summer, and we glad to return to the friendly welcome and quiet harbour.  We took out our bikes and rode to the Italian grocery.  Last year I wasn’t allowed to buy much because we were in “eating up” mode, but this time I could browse and fill my cart!  Imported tins of tomatoes, pasta of every shape and size, useful tubes of concentrated garlic paste and onion paste, and some very nice frozen vegetables that are always good to have on a boat.

Yesterday morning was the first time we did not quite get the forecast right.  We left Great Kills shortly after 8am to head towards New York Harbor.  The hope was to be there after rush hour, so to avoid some of the water traffic that creates wakes from all directions.  We knew we would have the tide giving us a push up the river, unfortunately we did not expect the strong wind from the north.  Opposing currents and winds make for heavy chop, and it was a very uncomfortable trip.  Dick’s bike on the front of the boat kept jumping up and crashing down, and at one point he had to put on his life jacket and get out and retie the knot before the bike flipped over the lines.  He had to hang on with both hands, and it was scary for me to watch, let alone for him to do it! There were no water taxis and only a few ferries, but the heavy waves continued long past the city and only settled down a few miles from our destination at Croton-on-Hudson.

The first day here was a very enjoyable sightseeing break.  We collected a rental car, and drove first to the nearby Croton Dam.  This dam creates a reservoir that forms part of the New York City water supply.  It was built between 1892 and 1906.  It is unusual in that it is built of masonry rather than poured concrete.  It also incorporates a spillway that is partly man-made and partly a natural cliffside waterfall.  We walked around in the park at the base, and then were able to take a road up to the top and walk up and see the construction in more detail as well as the reservoir above.

After the dam, we drove to the interesting town of Mt Kisco. Like much of Westchester County, it is a bedroom community for New York City, and is surrounded by lovely estates and many well kept acreage homes, some obviously built in the 19th century or earlier.  The town is full of tiny restaurants of all different ethnicity.  We chose a creperie, and enjoyed a very nice lunch.  A nearby Asian food market offered a few more treasures for the pantry.

The highlight of the day was a visit to the Culinary Institute of America in the evening.  We had heard that to eat in one of their restaurants you must book months in advance, and being on a boat and subject to weather we couldn’t do that.  On Friday I decided to just see whether there might be an opening, and to our great surprise we were able to get a table for 8pm in the Italian restaurant, Ristorante Caterina de Medici. They are trying a new offering, after pressure from the public to be open on weekends.  After a glass of Prosecco we were brought a beautiful plate of antipasti and a Caesar salad to share, as well as a basket of bread.  Next, they brought round five different pasta dishes, ranging from gnocci, shrimp bucatini, a risotto, and two others that escape me!  You could have as much or as little as you liked of each offering, and seconds if you happened to still be hungry. The evening finishes with an interesting dessert.  Ours was a polenta cake with strawberry sauce and mascarpone.  We weren’t sure we liked the polenta cake, but the sauce was delicious! The wines were very nice choices and moderately priced.  It was a highlight of our trip, and any time we happen to find ourselves nearby we will make an effort to return.

We are booked in here at Half Moon Bay for 5 nights.  Dick has rented a car, and left this morning to  drive to Toronto for a reunion with his friends from his early years with Ingersoll Rand.  I will leave tomorrow (another rental car) and visit friends on Long Island.  We will reconvene on Tuesday evening and head north again on Wednesday.  Meanwhile this is a popular stop for Loopers, at least 7 boats in tonight and likely more expected in the next few days as the weather allows them to travel up from the Chesapeake.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton