Friday, May 29, 2015

The Jersey Coast

Atlantic Highlands Sunset
We were stuck for 10 days at Atlantic Highlands, NJ as Sub Tropical Storm Ana decided what she was doing. We didn't have much weather there, but where we were headed lacked any good spot to hide if the storm took aim at us. The last two days at anchor, the wind made it too rough to row ashore in the dinghy.

Once we got underway and out into the Atlantic, Eleanor sailed for the first time in a decade. Boat and crew settled into a rhythm and I took the first watch. The captain went below to rest up for his coming watch. We made our way toward Cape May on a nice beam reach as the wind blew from the coast of New Jersey. Fresh wind was in the forecast so we had raised the mainsail with two reefs and rolled out just a bit of the jib. It was a gloriously contradictory sight, to starboard the beach condos of the Jersey Shore; to port the global expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

Alex, the captain, took over about 8:00 pm and got a sleigh ride! In the strengthening breeze, Eleanor picked up her skirts to run. She topped 9 knots a few times during the night; under shortened sail. Down below, the roar of the ocean passing the hull was deafening. I knew we were flying but my job was to try and sleep. It would be my turn at the wheel again soon enough.

When the Captain woke me at 2:00 the next morning, to starboard were the beautifully ugly casino lights of Atlantic City. I had just recently been there with Ed and Ben, my cousin Sherry's husband and son. I knew the tired city that hid under the garish lights. "Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City."

The casino glare made a grey dome in the sky like a gigantic bandshell obscuring the stars above the city. Further down the coast, the stars began to regain control of the heavens. Untold numbers twinkled in the night sky interrupted only by swaths of the Milky Way and the occasional wispy cloud.

Eventually the moon came up behind me, chased soon after by the sunrise. Slowly the horizon lightened to grey, then yellows and oranges bled in from the other side of the globe. The sun took over and just as the day began, we had arrived at Cape May. Eleanor is a gracefully swift lady and we had made our way faster than we had planned. At the Delaware River, the tide was against us as we had arrived early. Eleanor bucked enthusiastically at the square waves of wind against current, but continuing would have been brutal, if not futile. We decided to stop for a nap and let the tide turn.

We ducked into Cape May and dropped an anchor just off the Coast Guard Station. Two hours later, we hoisted the anchor with renewed swagger and began the strange but important detour up the Delaware and over to the Chesapeake on the C&D Canal. This route was extra miles, but we were out of the ocean swell that Ana had left us.  Thirty some hours after departing the Highlands, we dropped anchor behind Reedy Island just below the eastern entrance to the C&D canal.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Max's Hill

Atlantic Highlands Anchorage
We were up at 4:30, had our coffee and were underway before 6:00. We needed to make time and would be motoring most of the day. Leaving Atlantic Highlands in nearly calm conditions, we followed our previous GPS track back out past Sandy Hook and into the ship channel. The towers of the Verrazano Bridge and the Freedom Tower just poked above the fog behind us. The Atlantic! I have never sailed in the Atlantic.

We followed the channel for a time and then cut south along the coast of New Jersey. In perfect contradiction, to starboard the beach and all its condos were a couple miles off, plain as day; to port the endless Atlantic Horizon and the early morning sun. It was glorious.

The Captain had been ambivalent for a couple days about our leaving and the storm brewing off the Carolinas. We had to wait for a part to arrive that was needed in the engine room. The original plan was an overnight offshore passage to Cape May, but we were keeping a weather eye. After the part arrived and was installed, the next plan was to just hop down to Atlantic City on a long day's cruise.
Sunrise this morning

A couple hours into our jaunt, Alex got a text. A concerned weather geek friend informed us of the storm's strengthening and the changing track predictions. Another friend sailing north was thinking of skipping Cape May to join us in Atlantic City. His weather had changed and not for the better. He pulled into Cape May to discover the anchorage was closed for dredging. After leaving, he turned back in deteriorating weather to find marina.

On board Eleanor, the winds were oddly fickle and did not match the forecast. Things were changing but clues were elusive. Yet another friend called and reminded us that the Atlantic City anchorage was subject to a lot of current. The ever changing winds of an approaching storm will eventually oppose the current setting up a rough ride.

We faced the following problems: Barnegat Bay was likely too shallow for us to get in far enough to be safe, Atlantic City was going to be rough and Cape May was closed. Beyond Cape May, Delaware Bay has no protected anchorages. The few anchorages on the C&D Canal are shallow. After the C&D is the Chesapeake which was on the border of the storm's track.

Vagabond sailing can be a lonely endeavor, but trusting your gut and sticking to it is lonelier yet. The captain paced about. He sighed and scratched his head.

"That's it," he said slowly, "we're going back."

Eleanor is going to be Alex and Carla's home. And while he is missing his wife and motivated to get moving south back to Panama, it is more important to be as prudent as he can stand. Carla has yet to see Eleanor in person. This beautiful boat will carry them wherever they wish to go for as long as they are going. It is an honor and a privilege to be helping Alex bring Eleanor to Carla. I think I am nearly as frustrated that we had to turn back.

At the same time, I visited the Atlantic! It was a beautiful morning which only served to make it more frustrating. The weather here was still fine all afternoon. Tonight we watched a movie after supper with the wind howling over our heads. We are in a protected spot from all but wind straight out of the east. South of us is a good hill. We've heard that Max Weinberg, E Street Band Drummer, lives in the big house looking down on us. The wind is out of the south, so Max and his hill are protecting us right now. We may be stuck here for a few days, but it was the right decision.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Atlantic Ocean Tomorrow

This is our third day at anchor at Atlantic Highlands. We came down from Stony Point on Sunday. Monday I never left the boat. It was wonderful. Tuesday we went into town for some diesel and provisions. A super nice lady, a fan of Alex's movies, lent us her truck. That evening she made a wonderful Nicoise Salad, topped with fresh grilled salmon, which she and her husband brought out to us. We had a nice evening aboard and talked about boats, dogs, food and working in Manhattan.
Alex and I took the day off today; reading, writing and napping. In the wee hours tomorrow morning, we will cast off for Atlantic City, a shorter daylight sail than we had planned. There is a storm brewing off the Carolinas and we are not in a rush to get closer. It will, however, be progress in a southerly direction. Every bit helps.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ready, Set, Go!

Starting to get neighbors in time to leave.
Strangely, I was a little uptight on Wednesday. Its not even my boat but we were finally installing the new roller furler we had put together from pieces on the dock. To Furl is to gather or roll a sail. A roller furler is a system that allows this to be done like a window shade turned sideways on the bow of a boat. The headsail does not need to be hoisted each time, but is rolled out and then rolled in as needed.

The furler consists of a foil the length the headstay holding the sail, connected to a drum at the bottom, both turn together to roll the sail in or out. The foil, an aluminum extrusion, came in seven foot long pieces which we put together like high tech Lincoln Logs to fit the 52 foot headstay. The pieces connected together with intricately machined aluminum slugs and plastic bits. All held together with marine adhesive and little tiny machine screws which we assembled over the gaps between boards on a floating dock swaying to the motion of the Hudson.
The Furling Drum


To commission the furler, one end had to be raised to the top of the mast and the drum end attached to the stem fitting at the bow. In raising it, the furler bent in a luxuriously dangerous arc from the dock to the knot we had tied on. Knowing the intimate details of what was holding it all together, it was nerve wracking to watch the strain on the joints in the foil. It is a heavy thing too. We had to be careful in the lifting, as well as the 'not dropping,' parts of the operation.

Adding to the unease was the fact that we had put the furler together based on the length of the old furler we had removed. Sailboat rigging is complicated. On Eleanor the mast is held up with two stays and eight shrouds which all work together to keep it straight and straight up. The complexity of the constuction of the new furler meant that any necessary change to the length would be a tremendous amount of work. Additionally, we worried some components would not stand being reworked.

Bowsprit, Anchor and Furling Drum. 
Furling is quite prevalent these days. There a few old school hold-outs, like me, who still 'hank on' our sails. If we need less sail, the bigger sail must be lowered and stowed and a smaller one raised. To furl or not to furl is a question that can become a debate. Eleanor's headsail is very large and as a cutter ketch, she has two headsails. It is a safety issue when contemplating manhandling that big sail down in any amount of wind. The Captain made the right choice installing a furler on this boat. Its a technical and tedious project but the installation manual was well written. Once we got going, it went up without a hitch. We did it - ourselves.
All 52' of the furler

The furler was one of the last of the big projects aboard Eleanor. It looks like we are leaving on Sunday. We may anchor out Saturday evening as we need a high tide to get out of the marina. Then down the Hudson River to Atlantic Highlands inside of Sandy Hook, NJ. There we will wait for good weather to go offshore to Cape May. If the weather holds we may continue offshore to Norfolk, VA. Otherwise we'll sail up the Delaware and over to the Chesapeake on the C&D Canal.

At Norfolk, we will enter the Intercoastal Waterway(ICW) to get past the Carolina Capes on the inside. Then we'll jump offshore to Savannah, GA and then again to St. Augustine, FL. In Florida, we'll cruise the ICW again to get to South Florida. From the Miami area we will head east - totally the wrong direction to get to Panama - because it is shorter to go around the east end of Cuba. The Bahamas and Jamaica may be stops on the way if we are not pressed for time.

Our departure is upon us. After a month of seven day a week work, when departing was just a vague notion, we know it now plainly. Barring a change in the weather, we are heading out!!  It is a privilege to be learning so much about boats and vagabonding.

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