Brooklyn made this wonderful cruising calendar to help us to keep that close-to-home feeling this year. Each month had super pictures of friends and family while the days and weeks were framed with season-appropriate decals. We hung this calendar in our salon and each day Blair would enter miles run, weather, important events such as anchorages, whether he played his pipes and birthdays. Brooklyn got April’s weather pegged perfectly with her decals. Interestingly enough, Blair has not played his pipes once in April; just too dang cold.
We left Annapolis early on Tuesday. That decision was still up in the air on Monday night though; it was raining hard and we couldn’t tell where the bounce was coming from – either swell from the bay or motor boat wake coming in from who knows where. So, with all that weighing down on us, it was hard to tell what the mood or inclination would be come morning. Much depended on weather, as usual. When we’re in harbour or at dock, I can always get great weather forecasts via the internet. I’ve bookmarked all the good pictoral weather maps of the Chesapeake and other areas all the way up to New York City so I can simply click on any spot in these maps to have a great 5-day forecast at my fingertips. It’s displayed in logical text format and easy to peruse it at leisure so as to plan our day. The problem in Annapolis was that Tuesday was bad – real bad; cold, 15-20 knots, gusting 25 knots and all of that from the northwest right from Annapolis all the way north to the top of the bay. This meant we’d be beating both the boat and our heads into the wind, not the most comfortable point of sail. On top of that, we’d be wearing every stitch of clothing we owned so as to stay warm.
On the other hand, by my calculations if we left on Tuesday, we’d hook up with relatively good winds and weather to sail down the Delaware Bay and up the New Jersey coastline to New York City. It was a toss up as to whether we’d leave to catch this weather window or stay and “bob” a bit longer on our mooring ball in Annapolis. We took the bait and went and it was just as expected, cold and windy, but we made it. We made it all the way to the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) Canal that joins the Chesapeake and Delaware bays. Just before we entered the canal, the current changed directions and we were roaring along at 8.2 knots – what a treat to have the current with us for the 12-mile trip through to the other side. We passed two big ships heading the other way and squeezed way over to our own side to give them all the room they wanted. A tug, pulling a massive barge, overtook us at the far end of the canal but other than that, it was an uneventful passage. But we were pretty darn cold when we arrived at Reedy Island, our anchorage for the night.
I have a hat, a really warm hat, that suffers much verbal abuse from Blair. If he’s feeling kindly, he’ll simply say, “Mary, that hat really doesn’t flatter you”. If he’s feeling wicked, the insults never stop, starting with, “Oh, you’ve got the 10-foot pole hat on” (as in “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole”). I wore it all day and that night in Reedy Island, I actually cooked dinner wearing the stupid thing before the Espar heater had thawed me sufficiently. In fact, I wore that hat all the way up to New York City where I bowed to that city’s fashion sense and stored it away, much to Blair’s delight. Our stay at Reedy Island was the coldest we’d had in awhile and that night the NOAA weather broadcast on VHF issued a wide-spread frost warning an hour after we arrived. They actually announced “Bring in your plants”. That night I really would like to have been brought “in” somewhere. Perhaps April is a tad too early to start heading home from the Bahamas…
Heading down the Delaware Bay the next day, we had very light winds (4 knots) but 2.5 knots of current so we were making good time motor/sailing towards Cape May, New Jersey, a spot where we would face the wide open Atlantic Ocean once more. Delaware Bay is a bay with little to recommend it; muddy, a very strong current, non-stop tug and tanker traffic heading upstream to Philadelphia and not a marina within 25 miles once you are well and truly committed to it. About halfway down the bay, Strathspey‘s engine started sounding like a cigarette boat on a 1000-Island tour in mid July – think loud, think no muffler, think this is not normal! Even worse, water no longer spouted out her engine exhaust pipe.
Strathspey‘s engine is water cooled. A water pump, the size of a teapot, sucks water in from her saildrive sitting four feet below the water and pumps it through a series of hoses and chambers surrounding the engine. This cool water coming in cools the hot water in Strathspey‘s engine and hoses so basically it is a heat exchange. In order for it to work, Strathspey needs a constant supply of cool water coming in and going out – out the exhaust pipe. When no water is coming out the exhaust pipe, that is a bad thing – it means we are about to experience engine shutdown.
So, here in the middle of the Delaware Bay, miles from any help, we sailed slowly to the edge of the shallows and dropped our anchor out of the way of the big boats and started the deductive processes. The first thing Blair did was check the raw water strainer (clean) and inspect the raw water impeller and, because it was cracked, we assumed Bingo!, that was the problem. The fact it was cracked was a surprise, as it was only three months old, but we left that question for a while. I started the engine again, but still no water spouted forth from the exhaust pipe; okay turn it off and think some more. At this point, Blair feared the worst: those ever-present barnacles down here had clogged the water intake on the sail drive; a sail drive that was 4 feet below water – 16°C water! Blair donned his wetsuit (a short-sleeved, short-legged one at that), put on a neoprene hoodie, gloves and flippers to go overboard and try scraping the barnacles out. It was when he tied a line around his waist to keep him from drifting away from Strathspey, I had this terrible sense of dread. There was a 2.5 knot current, strong enough to hold our swim ladder out from Strathspey‘s stern at a 45 degree angle. Blair got into the water and as far as the last rung when he said, “I can’t fight the current” and came back aboard. Time to think some more.
We were that close to calling for a tow, using our US Boat Tow insurance package, purchased last year but as yet unused. Persistently running through all the scenarios, Blair figured as a last ditch effort, he would cut a section off the long hose that we use to fill our water tanks, hang one end overboard and attach the other end to the strainer and use that to supply water to the pump. Doing this, we could limp along to Cape May, dock, think some more and if need be, hire a diver to clean the water intake. Low and behold, when he took off the intake hose to the strainer, it spat out a 2-inch bony, lifeless DISGUSTING-looking fish. Crossing my fingers, I started the engine once again. Still no water. At this point, we were definitely thinking of calling for help. The problem seemed to be deep inside the heat exchanger and we had no means of attacking that one. As one last attempt, Blair dug out the spare water pump and began to replace the old one. Taking the old one apart and looking at it one more time – cleaning it and replacing the impeller, it just didn’t make sense that there was anything wrong with it, so he put it back on and said ” Give it one more try.” Success! Water shot out Strathspey‘s exhaust pipe like the proverbial fountain of youth.
During the inevitable postmortem, we figured that the impeller just self-destructed due to overheating because of the lack of water. That unfortunate fish had probably been nosing around the sail drive at some point and when we started the engine, he’d gotten himself sucked up inside. We also thought that all our manipulations – starting the engine, sucking hoses dry, starting engine, priming pump etc etc, had finally worked our little fish far enough up in the system. That little sideshow took a good 2-hour bite out of our day and we didn’t arrive at Cape May ’til close to 7 pm, glad to be in shelter with another frost warning for that evening. Once again, I’m so proud of Blair and his troubleshooting prowess; an absolute must for any boat contemplating this trip. I tip my hat to him, even my 10-foot pole hat!
Last fall, when we stayed at Cape May, we were part of a big migration heading south. In early October last year, the anchorage off the Coast Guard station was full and it was warm enough for Blair to play his pipes. Not so this time. Here, on the last day of April, there were no boats anchored as we motored past at 7 pm. We went straight up the harbour to South Jersey Marina to top up our diesel tank. Once there though, it was too tempting to leave the prospect of hot showers and unlimited power so we secured a slip at low season rates because of the cold, plugged in, set the Espar on high and settled down to a fine dinner of Chesapeake crab cakes. A nice bonus was an inbox full of emails waiting for us. We’re often parked where we can’t get any emails so it’s great to savour all the missives when they stack up like this.
We left Cape May and had a nice sail up to Atlantic City. All morning, we’d contemplated just continuing on, sailing overnight all the way up to New York City. How nice it would be to get this relatively inhospitable coastline over and done with we thought. But it was just too darn cold. Despite being well-bundled, we were still cold and eventually put up the entire doghouse even though when it’s up, it’s hard to see the sails, hard to keep them well-trimmed and hard to see any other boat traffic. I just kept thinking about how cold it would be once the sun went down and once again I was the one who called “Uncle”. Blair’s got far more tolerance to discomfort than I do. We can be heeled up, sailing on an angle of 20 degrees (for non-sailors, think standing on your apartment walls), and Blair will say, we’re not heeling, we’re simply listing a bit to starboard. Ah yes…. In this case, rather than face a windchill of 10°C all night, we made a relatively early day of it around 1:30 pm and turned left into Atlantic City. This situated us well the next day for a long 13 hour run up to Sandy Hook just south of New York City. Relaxing, we enjoyed the greenhouse effect of the sun on our doghouse all afternoon and made an early night of it in order to up-anchor at 6 am the following morning.
The whole of the following day, running up the long New Jersey coast, we kept thinking, “We’ve did this bit before…” Last fall when we traveled the same stretch going the other way with Madcap, we left Sandy Hook at 3 am and arrived at Atlantic City 13 hours later. This time, the trip was just as long, the scenery just as monotonous and the only redeeming factor was that, because of longer daylight hours, we started our trip at a more reasonable hour. The New Jersey coastline is long and straight with few harbours for a sailor to take refuge in. I’d look over my shoulder at the shoreline and see a never-ending row of condos and high-rises with a large water tower to one side. An hour later, I’d see the same scene repeated. From this angle, New Jersey seems to be one long beach-side city. This was a day we were grateful for our autopilot which took us from waypoint to waypoint for 86 miles down the coast. The highlight of the day was a little redbreasted nuthatch that landed on Strathspey and stayed with us for a hour or so. He had absolutely no concept of humans; landing on my shoulder, my hat, Blair’s head, the steering wheel and often flying in and out Strathspey‘s cabin. At one point, he spied a mosquito flying inside our dodger area and snapped it up with lightning speed. When we started dropping the mainsail for the swing around into Sandy Hook, this little hitchhiker disappeared. That night, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from our anchorage.
The next morning, we sailed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and fought the current up the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty, all the way up to the 79th Street Boat Basin. It was an auspicious day for Strathspey and crew as the Verrazano bridge marks the end of our time on the Atlantic Ocean. During this past year, we’ve spent 10 months on this ocean or parts thereof. As great as it was, Strathspey is like a fish heading upstream, homing in on that fresh water, up the Hudson River and then more than 100 miles of canal to burst out into Lake Ontario and home. New York is a great place to start that journey from. We’ll stay here a few days, wander around the city, pick up some boat parts and charts that we had sent to our friend and neighbour Derek, then head north a bit further.