Our extended stay in Atlantic Highlands was so enjoyable it was difficult to leave; but, with a forecast of a light NW wind and calm seas, it was time to move on! We departed at first light with 2 other sailing vessels headed to Atlantic City or Cape May depending on conditions and the crews stamina.
Once the sun rose and warmed the cockpit it became a comfortable morning. In fact, the Captain could be seen on top deck in a bathing suit doing chores! The trip was uneventful until our first feathered guest arrived! A Dark Eyed Junko landed on deck, poked around a bit and then joined us in the cockpit! What a delight to see him up close! Very inquisitive, he hopped around the dash, forward and aft before decided to rest in the sun and warmth of the enclosure. When it was time to go, he unsuccessfully searched for a way out until Adrien guided him in his gentle hand to the opening. He was quite comfortable being photographed up close and very calmly accepted a guiding hand. Junko’s visit our feeders on land all the time but we could never got close enough to take a few pictures much less hold one. What a treat! We had six other visits (Junkos and Black Capped Chickadees) as the afternoon wore on, each as delightful as the last. One even enjoyed hopping into the Mum plant to hang out.
We motored along at between 5- 6 kts about 2-3 miles off the coast. By mid afternoon the winds picked up, became choppy and Dolphin was taking waves on the nose. There was just enough movement to make reading or doing chores down below uncomfortable so I was a captive audience in the cockpit. Let me tell you that the NJ coast line is pretty nondescript and boring. I’d liken it to bouncing on a teeter totter watching grass grow! Catnaps came easily!
As we did not want to arrive in Atlantic City in the dark we had decided we would go straight to Cape May. Of course I thought about food in advance, so no frills pre-prepared sandwiches and salad was the menu of the day. At about 18:00 a thin line of lights dressed the coastline. Adrien captured a beautiful sunset on watch while I took the first snooze to prepare for our overnight sail.
About 20:00 the Atlantic City lights looked like an oasis rising out of the black sky. We watched as it got larger and more colorful, passing on starboard at 23:00.
Adrien got some shuteye while I reset a cooking timer for 15 min intervals. At each interval I was instructed to stand forward of the helm for several minutes, with the instrument lights behind me to get my night vision, so I could identify lights of any vessels that may be around us. Then I’d check the instruments (GPS to compare our auto pilot track to the waypoints, engine temperzture, fuel level, voltage level, etc.) Then consult the Marine Traffic app to identify any ships that might be headed our way and Navionics app to confirm your course and speed synced with the GPS. That routine took about 7 minutes, then I had a few minutes to myself to read or catch up on email, etc. We agreed to take our shut eye shifts in the cockpit so that meant I had to monitor the cooking timer as it reached “0” so I could reset it before the alarm went off and woke Adrien, since he did that for me! It sounds excruciating; but, it was actually a good way to pass the time, since I had to stay away….. until I saw bright white lights in front of us that appeared to come out of nowhere!
My heart skipped a beat! In the black night it was difficult to determine if it was moving and how far away it was. I skipped my repeated protocol and went right to Marine Traffic….no vessels out there transmitting AIS. Was the app working right? I’ve become so reliant on the app to keep us informed. I’d recently read that tugs, barges, etc can not see sailing vessels from 5 miles away, yet when traveling at average hull speed it could take them over 6 miles to make a very slight course change. Were we in their track? I couldn’t detect much with the binoculars, my eyes still untrained to distinguish different types of vessels, but maybe a fishing vessel? Do they have nets out? Do I hail them on VHF? Should I wake the Captain… YES.
From a snoring sleep he jumped up and with a quick look identified it as a fishing boat with working lights in deck. The light went out as quickly as it appeared and they were gone from view. I’d come upon my first black ship; fishing ships that don’t transmit AIS signals and keep their lights off until they have work to do on deck. Thankfully nothing else eventful on my watch!
Our plan was to stop at Cape May but knowing we were on course to arrive in darkness; a risky proposition in an unfamiliar, tight and dark harbor, the Captain opted to adjust our course and speed to grab the favorable currents up the Delaware River. We arrived at the mouth of the Delaware at 06:15 to another beautiful sunrise. Will we ever get tired of these? Thankfully the bouncy ride subsided. With sun, seas and current behind us we literally flew up the Delaware with the genoa flying, exceeding 9 kts.
We arrived at the C&D Canal at 13:30 and once again favorable currents so even though the Captain was tired and the Admiral beyond cranky, we passed through the canal quickly at 8 kts. With heavy eyelids we opted for safe refuge in Chesapeake City at 15:30. With 33 hours of motoring and the never ending sound of the engine behind us, we set an anchor watch and slept in peace and quiet! Thank God that leg of the trip is over!