Somnium

In the dream, the feelings, sensations and levels of stimulus on a sailing adventure that starts at 4 am in Long Island and ends one day and seventeen hours later in a hurricane-hole 209 nautical miles away in Chesapeake City, is real. But in reality, “…this is how WE do it, baby!”

300 feet away...

We left Manhasset Bay with excitement. It’s a good staging spot and all, but we’d been there too long. Our anchor was caked with the thick mud of the southern end of the bay and even the anchor snubber showed signs of having dragged around in the muck.

The dinghy stowed surprisingly well on deck. Even pushed forward far enough to sit as low as possible, it was easy enough to move around behind the sampson post. The two sides hugged the dorade boxes in an as-though-made-for-this kind of way, and the lack of motion in a pounding (foreshadowing, anyone?) was gratifying.

Dressed on the bow

The entire trip down the East River to the Verrazano Narrows in a little under 4 hours. That’s around Rikers Island, through Queens, The Bronx, East Harlem, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island…all of New York City before lunchtime and we still hadn’t reached the Atlantic Ocean.

S/V S.N Cetacea at the U.N.

Our top speed for the entire trip was entering the East River at Hell Gate doing 10 knots on glass water but we never got under 7 knots all the way through the City. We were doing a respectable 4-5 knots as we were disgorged by New York Harbor.

Full sail in the Atlantic Ocean

All sails aloft, a broad reach off the Jersey shore took us into the maw of the Atlantic Ocean.

From Sandy Hook on a freshening ocean easterly, we watched the local star burn the beach inhabitants two miles west of us for most of the day. The ocean swell was from the southeast and the winds were increasing at east-northeast, giving the seas a random jumpiness like riding a pachyderm on rocky terrain…a really big pachyderm. But as the continent fell away to the west, we maintained the lubber line that took us further from the lee shore and into the night. 

Night descended on my (Dena’s) watch. The blaze of reflected and refracted light dazzled me, but we were alone on the ocean and I had no need to be overly attentive in that moment.

Off Barnegat Bay inlet

We do one hour watches throughout the day and three hour watches overnight from 9 to 9.

I (James) got the odds-watch, 9 to 12 and 3 to 6, so when I stepped to the helm (out of a deep sleep) at 2100, I saw the moonless dead of night off my portside and fucking Atlantic-fucking-City to my starboard buried in the post-glorious hues of an afterburner sunset.

I like for my eyes to get adjusted with the world of nighttime sailing but being only 6 miles offshore from Atlantic City never gave my eyes the opportunity to adapt to true darkness. Also, there was spooky traffic on the water for the first couple of hours. At one point a boat did a perfect one-mile circle around us to the right. They showed me only their starboard running lights…in the ocean…at night…I think that’s weird. Must’ve been a cop.

I (Dena) took over at midnight after three hours of failing to sleep. I rested as best I could, but once I was at the helm, it was all about scrounging energy from the recesses of my being. Luckly, the winds had gotten just strong enough to solidly surmount every set of swells (and require a reef in the main). As the hours went by, I steered less and less, until I realized that I did more harm than good interfering with the boat’s trajectory.

The sails balance to make steering easy if you’re trimmed right, but weather helm is a factor that’s designed into boats. It means that, uncorrected, the boat will turn its bow toward the wind. It’s a bit of a safety feature, slowing it down every time the boat turns up far enough to flog the sails and making it more likely that a fallen-overboard skipper can swim back to the boat.

The slow, swelling 3 to 5 foot waves were rolling at us from slightly forward of the bow, which shoved the bow away. Rather than correcting the weather helm by steering slightly off the wind, I steered slightly into the waves. At first the effect was so light that I didn’t even need to engage the wheel brake…the whole interaction was self-correcting with the rudder moved by the waves and the sails kicking the bow into the wind when the boat veered to far. Finally, the waves got just far enough behind the beam that I locked down the wheel brake and we continued on, the boat driving herself.

Beginning my (James’s) 3-to-6 (dog) watch, I discovered that Dena had dialed in the reefed rig and we were clipping along at 5.8 knots, hands-free! As a matter fact, for the first 45 minutes of that dog I never even touched the helm. We were perfectly balanced and grinding through the seas with an almost vengeful hiss. That’s when the moon rose from the hazy black beyond. Dressed in her most dramatic red-orange waning crescent, Luna pulled herself out of the ocean like a hook from a finger then paled and dominated my imagination for the rest of my watch.

Sweet sleep! I (Dena) had managed a good solid amount in the three hours since I’d last been responsible for shepherding 12,500 pounds of boat through wind and waves. The sun had risen, this being 6am, but it wasn’t certain whether to shine or hide. The seas hadn’t grown much, but they had gotten sharper. We were approaching the shore to get on a proper approach for Cape May, and faster, meaner waves showed us the frustrated power of the ocean with both wind and swell driving toward the shallows. The entire Atlantic Ocean represents quite the fetch.

I eased in and the main blanketed the yankee. I turned back out and the waves slapped the quarter and sent us reeling. Poor James, trying to sleep through a rodeo ride. Finally, I rolled in the yankee and we downwinded on main alone. This allowed me to smooth the ride a little, and it sent us toward shore at a good clip. The motion was exhausting, though, and I simply wanted to get that portion of the trip over with.

The next time I (James) registered consciousness, I was at the helm driving a tight curve around Cape May, New Jersey with a sweeping following sea attacking the hull at ascending angles as we rounded up into the Delaware Bay. 

Ah, the Delaware Bay…

The angry Delaware

The first time we sailed this body of water was the summer of 2012 and it was no less dramatic than it was yesterday.

Back then, we were heading down-east with the boat pointed at the Hebrides. We came out of the dreamy calm of the C&D Canal right into the bite of that year’s first “Named Storm”,  Joaquin.

I had been listening to people whine and moan about how terrible the Delaware Bay was for the two years prior in the Baltimore sailing community so we’d gone into it with gritted teeth.

And that was a good thing I believe. Psychologically it paved the way for us to survive a pretty bad storm and it set expectations for future experience.

For example: yesterday!

Now this is the part where I get to talk about how great a navigator Dena is!!!

Remember last year when we sailed from 79th Street, Manhattan around the Island to Manhasset Bay on a single fair current? 

Well, on this last adventure Dena plotted a course that took us all the way from Manhasset Bay to Chesapeake City,  MD, with only one foul current (off the Jersey shore where it had little to no effect on our overall speed average.)

At home

Four states, two bays, one ocean, two rivers (up one, down another) and a canal at night with only a single foul current that we didn’t even feel…brilliant!

Well, thanks, James! It was a near-run thing because we got to Cape May a couple hours earlier than I’d thought likely. The current was barely turned around when we got into the Delaware, hoping for a respite from the wild wave action we’d experienced for several hours. Of course James already said…we don’t expect it to be too easy.

The less said about the lower Delaware, the better. By the time we reached Ship John Shoal Light, the chop had begun to lay down considerably and the navigable water narrowed.

Ship John Shoal Light

We entered the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal as the sun was extinguished in clouds, and the fast passage under bridges and to Chesapeake City was noteworthy only in our forcibly intense attention. Entering a narrow channel with a 2 knot cross current that would die abruptly is even more fun in the dark, but we managed without too much stress. We dodged the boat that had chosen to anchor between the marinas and moved to the more-open east side of the little cove.

Hook down, we settled the boat, covered the main, toasted each other with al rum, ate fried egg sandwiches, and went the hell to bed.

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