If a messy departure is a good omen for a long journey, then we’re going to have very good luck getting to the Bahamas.
We must have lost some of our skills during the long wait for our refit to be finished because we had a super sloppy cast-off yesterday in 30-knot winds. Our bow line was released a little too early, resulting in Hideaway sliding cock-eyed across two dock spaces and coming to rest with her bow on one slip and her stern on another, which is a difficult position to maneuver out of. I imagined our live-aboard neighbors eating popcorn and peering out their portholes during the shouting spectacle that ensued, placing bets as to whether or not these two idiots would ever make it to the Bahamas alive.
And then there was panic aboard when we hit a floating wooden beam in New York Harbor on the way out. This was a particular worry since two years ago Hideaway was taken out of commission for several months by a similar floating beam which smacked into our rudder and bent the post, taking out our steering. We immediately checked the steering this time and it appeared to be fine. Ryan and I both exhaled, muttering that we’d never survive having to wait another 2 months in New York to repair our rudder.
Our departure from the harbor wasn’t in the calmest of conditions either with 30-knot winds and gusts up to 35 knocking us around the Long Island Sound and jostling the poor cats about the cabin. But all that happened was Charlie ran up on deck and happily fell asleep in the sun while Celia promptly vomited on the teak floor. But at least one cat has her sea legs.
Fortunately, we were prepared for this, even if the cats weren’t. We knew the weather would be a little gusty at first and then it would calm down, as we had looked it up on this neat little meteorology app called ZyGrib, which our friend Thomas introduced us to. The downloadable weather maps showed that the wind would be with us (and therefore feel calmer) as soon as we turned off to Hell Gate and down the East River, so we assured the cats it would all be okay.
I, myself, am usually happy with vague weather forecasts of sun, clouds, rain and snow, but I’m now learning that detailed forecasts including the wind direction, tides, and the height and frequency of the waves are actually important when heading out to sea. Before we left, our friend Thomas explained to us how to read the wind direction and speed on the weather map by the symbols, which looked to me like little Zen garden rakes. Each “prong” represents 10 knots of wind and the “handle” points in the direction the wind blows, which helps immensely in making decisions about when to depart (and when not to). The handy thing about this particular app (besides that it’s free) is that you can download forecasts for the next 8 days when you have internet and then use the detailed information offline to do your planning when you don’t have internet, which will be very useful on this trip.
This was all new to me – especially since our past methods for determining the ideal time to sail has always been based on whether or not it was the weekend. If it was the weekend, or a holiday, and it wasn’t raining, then it was time to go sailing! What? Is that not scientific enough for you?
Yeah, I didn’t think so. Which is why, before departure, I now spend hours studying the little Zen garden rakes on the weather maps and checking the tide tables on our handy Ayetides app.
Sure enough, just as the forecast said, as soon as we headed towards Hell Gate, the bouncing stopped, Celia stopped drooling miserably, and we settled in for a pleasant, albeit cold journey. Now, if you’ve ever been through Hell Gate – the washing machine of crazy current on the East River – you’ll know how ironic this is. It is, after all, called “Hell Gate,” the reason being that the current is so strong that it can run up to 5 knots with you or against you, depending on the tides. So planning the timing of your entrance into Hell Gate is essential.
Our plan was to hit Hell Gate around 10 am, shortly after the tide turned in our favor, so we would be carried through the East River with about 1 or 2 knots of current. But then we realized we had to buy milk, say good-bye to the marina staff, get fuel and tie down our bikes. So, we ended up coming through Hell Gate around noon, which meant we were going about 6 knots under motor with a 4-knot current in our favor.
I have to say, whizzing past the Empire State Building at 10 knots is pretty exhilarating, though perhaps not great for photography. “Quick, Ryan! Pose in front of the… oh, it’s gone.”
This was much better than having the opposite problem, though: 4 knots of current against you, which is a mistake we’ve made before.
So, I guess I can’t say I’ve learned nothing in my 5 years on Hideaway. I’ve learned about tides, dodging debris and what the little Zen garden rakes on weather maps mean.
Finally sailing away from New York, after one last run through our old familiar sailing spots in the Long Island Sound and New York Harbor, I was reminded of all the good times and learning experiences (i.e. screw-ups) we’d had in these harbors. It was good to have that run-through with the familiar before launching out into the Atlantic, headed for a new port – the first in a long line of new ports to come. It re-instilled a little of the old confidence that we had lost during the seemingly endless weeks in port, waiting to leave.
And compared to our morning departure, the nighttime sail through still blackness, with 12-15 knots of wind in our sails and not another boat in sight, was blissfully uneventful, even if I was wearing every item of clothing I owned to keep warm. When we finally turned into Cape May about 12:30 this afternoon, bleary eyed from doing 2 to 3-hour shifts all night, it felt like we’d accomplished something. All that waiting was worthwhile: we had finally arrived at our first port.
You might be wondering how we celebrated this milestone. Well, Ryan slept (since he got very little sleep during my hours of watch), and I went out and ran 20 miles along the boardwalk of Wildwood (marathon training requires this of me), not realizing that the south Jersey coast is essentially shut up and abandoned for winter this time of year, turning Wildwood’s boardwalk amusement park into something like a creepy horror movie set. Then I returned to my expensive marina ($2.95/foot), looking forward to nothing more than a long, hot shower to soothe my aching muscles…only to find that South Jersey Marina’s temporary shower (they lost their facilities in a recent electrical fire) only has cold water. Ice cold water. $100 a night and no hot water. There are not enough words for how I felt about the dockmaster in the moment I discovered this. But I’m sure I’ll come up with something when I see him in the morning.
I guess I can make this the first lesson learned on this trip: when making reservations at expensive marinas, make sure to ask first if they have hot water.
Note: In fairness to South Jersey Marina, they were very apologetic about the lack of hot water the next morning and discounted our stay to $2.00 a foot.