Timing is Everything -
September 4, 2003
It seems like it was only a few days ago when we left the Chesapeake hell-bent on reaching New England in time for a scheduled commitment in Boston (see our July 24th entry "Boston Marathon"). We broke a cardinal rule of comfortable cruising: we let our plans at sea be determined by events on land. Delayed in leaving Chesapeake Bay, we didn't have the luxury of properly planning our passage north. We made it in time (barely), but paid the price for being in a rush: we fought current through the C&D canal and down Delaware Bay; we ran out of wind and had to motor all the way up the New Jersey coast; we had the current against us again in Block Island Sound; and the new autopilot compass (which we didn't have time to check out before we left) didn't work. Seven weeks later, we're back in the Chesapeake - Baltimore to be exact. The trip down was a piece of cake. Timing is everything.
A week ago we were in Port Washington near the southwest end of Long Island. We liked it there. The town dock provides a secure spot for parking dinghies. A big supermarket is within walking distance. There's a great public library with lots of computers providing free internet access. Last Thursday we enjoyed an excellent (and reasonably priced) lunch in a Greek restaurant. As he polished off the hummus, David remarked, "We should hang around here a bit longer."
"We have to be in Baltimore by September 9th for the Southbound Cruisers' Reunion," Eileen reminded him.
"That's almost two weeks away," David observed, popping the last kalamata olive into his mouth. "We've got plenty of time."
"Not if the weather doesn't co-operate. Remember our trip up. I wasn't exactly a happy sailor, and you didn't seem to be having much fun either."
David eyed the plate of honey-drenched baklava. "Okay," he sighed. "But at the moment the wind is right on the nose for a trip down the coast. We'll have to wait for a weather window." He brightened slightly, "They have good restaurants in Baltimore. That was a great lunch special we had in Little Italy last summer ..."
We listened to the weather report that night. A cold front was forecast to move through the area on Saturday, bringing with it northerly winds. "We're out of here," Eileen announced.
Saturday morning we huddled over the charts and current tables. We were a dozen miles from Hell Gate on the East River. "Charming name," Eileen said. "The slack before ebb is at 1238; let's weigh anchor at 1015."
There wasn't an eddy of current to be seen when we arrived at Hell Gate. As we continued down the river past Roosevelt and Governors Islands and into the Upper Bay, the numbers on the knot metre clicked higher: 6...7...8...9...10 knots. David was having trouble taking photos of the New York skyline. "We're moving too fast," he complained. "I just missed a good shot of the Chrysler building".
Eileen was more concerned about missing the darting water taxis and lumbering ferries. "Don't even think about turning around," she responded tersely.
We cleared Sandy Hook by mid-afternoon and the wind shifted to the north, as predicted. We unfurled the yankee, set the wind vane self-steering gear for a course down the New Jersey coast, and sat back as the waves began to build behind us. By nightfall we were doing close to hull speed. David looked around at the cresting following seas and remarked, "Sure am glad we're not going the other way."
We reached Cape May at the entrance to Delaware Bay at noon Sunday. The tide in the bay was just about to ebb, meaning the current would be against us after we rounded the cape. The wind was still out of the north - the wrong direction for going up the bay. "You know," David said, "I've always wanted to visit Cape May; we didn't have time back in July." We ducked into Cape May harbour and dropped the anchor by the Coast Guard station.
Taking evasive action in Delaware Bay
We were up at dawn the next day, motoring through the Cape May canal to enter Delaware Bay. The wind had lightened and shifted to the west. The current was beginning to flood up the bay. The wind continued to die and the current to build. Around noon we dropped the flogging sails and started the engine; with the assist from the current we sped along at eight knots. Eileen turned "Otto" on. Otto is the new autopilot we had installed in Rhode Island (an exercise that had required many contortions and a few lacerations in the least accessible reaches of the bilge and engine room). Otto worked. Eileen couldn't help playing with the "tack" and "dodge" buttons, features that our old autopilot didn't have. David observed our zigzag course as we approached the Salem nuclear power plant, the only landmark on the otherwise featureless Delaware bay shoreline. "I'm not sure it's a good idea to be taking evasive action in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility," he suggested.
No helicopter gunships intercepted us and we arrived at Reedy Point at the eastern entrance to the C&D canal just as the tide turned. The flooding current that had swept us up Delaware Bay turned into an ebbing current that pushed us through the canal. By the time we exited the canal fifteen miles later, we had a full two knots of current behind us. We motored into Chesapeake Bay and anchored near the mouth of the Bohemia River, which just happened to be the last place we had anchored before leaving the Chesapeake seven weeks ago. It was 1800 hours, cocktail hour. Perfect timing.