26 September 2016

Cape May, Delaware Bay, and on to the Chesapeake Bay

Cape May

After the off shore leg from Block Island to the southern tip of New Jersey, we welcomed a couple of days in one place. The anchorage in Cape May harbor is one of these that has a strong enough tidal current that you end up re-orienting every 6 hours. For half of the time, the wind is coming over your transom and you are over your own anchor chain. This increases the risk that ones anchor will drag or not re-set and can be disconcerting; but we have been practicing anchoring regularly these past two years and felt confident in the holding thus we were able to leave Argon unattended while exploring the town.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Cape May is one of the oldest seaside resort communities in the US and the entire town has been designated a National Historic Landmark because of its many Victorian homes and buildings. (Cape May is second only to the much larger San Fransisco regarding the number of Victorian buildings in the US.) Its harbor is filled with commercial and pleasure fishing vessels of all kinds.

A couple of the many Victorian buildings that line the main streets of Cape May all leading to the vast beaches that curve around this southern peninsula of New Jersey.

I was able to go swimming very near a school of dolphins that were feeding along the beach seemingly not bothered by the proximity of people.

Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

We departed Cape May Harbor well before dawn 19 September to time the flooding tide at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. We had planned on a 50nm sail stopping to anchor for the night at an unattractive but functional alcove before proceeding northward to Philadelphia. We decided to skip the rest stop and to skip Philadelphia (which would have been 35nm up the Delaware River potentially requiring a lot of motoring,  followed by another 35nm run back down the river). We proceeded through the Chesapeake and Delaware (C&D) Canal that same day resulting in a generous run of 80nm over about 14 hours.

Miah Maull Shoal Light in Delaware Bay.

Elbow of Cross Ledge Light in Delaware Bay.

Delaware Bay is a major throughway for tankers, barges, and cargo ships.

The C&D Canal connects the northern parts of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. The canal is 14 miles long and has 7 bridges.

The C&D Canal is lined with lush marsh lands.
We finally set the hook in the early evening hours at the mouth of the Sassafras River about 12nm southeast of the Chesapeake end of the C&D Canal. The Sassafras River has some beautiful and calm anchorages. The silence is broken occasionally by various booms from the Aberdeen Proving Ground over on the west side of the bay.  They have definitely proven that they can blow stuff up over there.

Anchored at the mouth of the Sassafras River after a very long trip from Cape May up Delaware Bay and across the C&D Canal.
Working on my paddle boarding skills in the calm, protected waters.

Northern Chesapeake Bay: America's Mud Puddle

After a few days of sailing and much examination of the charts, Bob has taken to referring to the northern part of the Chesapeake Bay as America's Mud Puddle. I hope this is not offensive to locals or those with fondness for the area. The waters are mostly shallow with vast areas off-limits to boats that draw 6-ish feet like Argon. The dredged channel cutting the center often must be used not only for the large commercial vessels that transit this waterway but also for many pleasure craft. There are a maze of rivers flowing in to (and out of) this brackish bay washing in the fine silt and clay that causes the water to be grainy and opaque. However, the water temperature was an inviting 80 degrees and the myriad of inlets and coves provide seemingly endless opportunities for anchoring and exploring.

After  a peaceful evening in the Sassafras, we decided to head to the town of Havre De Grace at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Bob's home town of Binghamton, NY is a few (hundred) miles upstream. We stayed at Log Pond Marina which is a bit of a work in progress since it changed hands a few years ago.  Earlier this year, they spent about $700,000 dredging the marina slips and fairways. This is apparently a losing battle with all the silt brought in from the Susquehanna. They are in the process of replacing all the docks but have not gotten to the section where we stayed.  Some negative reviews on Active Captain left us wary, but compared to some of the docks we're used to at home, these were really not all that bad.

As we initially approached Havre de Grace, the instructions from the dockmaster were something like "pass the big condos to port, then the small condos, and our entrance is right after the wrecked sailboat". Well, he was right - a partially sunken ketch made a very unmistakable landmark.

This ketch broke free from a mooring in the Susquehanna and wrecked/sunk against the marina's bulkhead. Apparently, the owner only owned her for five days when this happened. If you look closely, you can see that the jib is still furled on the headstay.

Havre De Grace is a cute town with some great restaurants. We ended up staying three nights so I guess our review is pretty good. We visited the Decoy Museum and are now better informed about duck hunting and the history of decoys. Havre de Grace was also the primary town on the Eastern route of the underground railroad in Maryland as slaves could cross the Susquehanna in to free territories of Pennsylvania and on to Philadelphia and New York in the 1800's.

While we had access to some flat/grassy areas, we took the opportunity to straighten out our twisted up spinnaker.

Untwisting the spinnaker and sock.


Bob transporting the spinnaker back to Argon docked at Log Pond Marina in Havre de Grace.

Bald eagles are plentiful. This one perched each morning on a breakwater very close to where we were docked in Havre de Grace at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. (My photos do not compare to the expert bird photography by my friend Marty!)

We continued to explore several beautiful anchorages in the mud puddle.

A rare heavy rain shower gives Argon a much needed rinse while at anchor.

Shaving under sail.

Most evenings we examine the charts and cruising guides to decided where to go next.

Thinking and writing anchored at Morton Creek.

Another spectacular sunset across the Chesapeake Bay as experienced from anchor at Morton Creek.

Early mornings are my favorite time of the day. This is my office these days.

This veil of morning fog over part of the horse farm that lines one side of the anchorage in Eagle Cove.
Sunrise while anchored at Eagle Cove - an inlet off the Magothy River just a short hop south of Baltimore.
Not bad for a mud puddle.
Next it was time to be city folk again for a few days. We docked at Henderson's Marina in the trendy Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore and spent time exploring not only a bit of Baltimore, but also taking a train in to Washington DC.

The streets of Fells Point are lined with an enormous number of restaurants and bars. Fells Point is along the water just east of the more popular Inner Harbor.
Fells Point reminds us of Charlestown, MA (our most recent Boston home).  There are lots of yoga pants, baby carriages and designer dogs.

These friendly ladies invited us to join their "Women that Wine" gathering at the end of the docks. Bob was the only non-woman of the night.

More socializing in DC with Kelly, Christine, Lori and Todd.

Bob got to meet Andy Zaltzman after his show in DC. Andy is a British  comedian / satirist who regularly performs in London (SoHo). Bob is a devoted listener to Andy's podcasts including The Bugle and was excited to see that Andy was doing a US tour with a performance near us.
Now time to make our way a bit more southward as we continue to explore Chesapeake Bay. We have been blessed with fantastic weather all summer but seem to be in for a spell of unfavorable conditions for a few days so we may just sit tight in a calm anchorage for a bit.  Next major attraction for us is Annapolis... a drinking town with a sailing problem.

Until next time...  we ARe GONe!

21 September 2016

Training Run: Off Shore to Cape May NJ

Argon's anchor was weighed in the dark, pre-dawn hours on Thursday 15 September in a windy Great Salt Pond Block Island and to a spectacular full moon setting on the western horizon. As we carefully motored our way out of the skinny inlet in to the choppy seas, the sky became pitch black but speckled with stars as the moonlight diminished. Then, as if waiting for the moon to depart before appearing, we were greeted by first light and a brilliant rising sun behind as we sailed a broad reach in choppy seas and18kts of wind towards Cape May.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

We had two routes to chose from as we sought to make our way further south pulling away from New England. The more common route for recreational cruisers is to stay in the relatively protected waters of Long Island Sound between Long Island and the Connecticut shore heading to New York City; then hug the coast of New Jersey to its southern tip, Cape May. We desired more off-shore experience and chose the direct route to Cape May traveling south of Long Island in the exposed Atlantic waters. As our trip was only 220nm, and not directly away from shore, this was like a training run, a mini off-shore, helping to prepare for the main events that will come later in our trip (650nm to Bermuda followed by 900nm to Antigua).

This is our route from Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island to the southern tip of New Jersey:

The winds had been high and out of the southwest for a couple of days earlier in the week; we were waiting for a shift to a better direction to avoid having to beat heavily up wind. The winds quickly altered about 180 degrees, exactly as forecasted, shortly after midnight a few hours before our early morning departure. And the seas were confused and choppy, exactly as predicted. But we were rested, bundled up, and prepared.  Another thing we did for this trip was enlist our (very) trusty weather router Ken McKinley at Locus weather. We wanted to go through the process of getting forecasts and recommendations and making decisions based on that. Once again, everything Ken said would happen... happened.

We practiced our 3 hours on and 3 hours off shifts which was needed during the initial 24 hours especially as the heavy seas and winds low downwind required diligence and active steering. I had some anxiety going in to this off shore leg anticipating a long, dark, windy night in potentially difficult seas and reflecting on the challenging night we experienced on the way to Nova Scotia back in July. But I also knew it was important to face this unease and get more practice in the open ocean. 

Bundled up for the chilly, windy morning before dawn. Full main and genoa were hoisted just outside Great Salt Pond. The seas were initially confused and chaotic but then fell in to more of a pattern of generous waves in the 18kt northerly winds. (I do not feel as horrified as my face looks in this picture.)
Bob helming as we welcome first light a few hours in to the first day.
Actively navigating the following waves while enjoying the fast speeds. Argon maintained well over 7kts the first 140 nm.

The first 24 hours of this mini off shore passage were in 3 to 5 foot seas with many 6 footers. However, with the winds mostly 18-22 kts (gusts to 26), this was very manageable with diligence.

Brief video midday of Day 1 after the sun had risen, temperatures had warmed and the seas had calmed a bit:

In anticipation of the large following waves and swells, we decided the prior night to not travel with the dinghy on the davits (as is standard for coastal sailing), but rather to tie the dinghy to the fore deck. This requires some rather arduous maneuvering to lift the outboard motor from the dinghy and attach it to a mount on the stern rail (we have practiced a method several times now which minimizes the chance that the outboard, or Bob, will fall in the water); and, using the main halyard with a lifting sling, hoist the dinghy on to the fore deck securing upside down with several dock lines.

Securing the dinghy on the fore deck the prior evening in anticipation of generous following seas. Normally the dinghy hangs off the stern on davits for coastal cruising but it is safer on the fore deck for off shore as large waves may hit up against the bottom of the dinghy causing damage to the davits or come up over and in to the dinghy adding dangerous weight.

The rhumb line from markers near Block Island to Cape May indicated we were to aim for a course of 227 degrees true and the total distance was expected to be 220nm if sailing a straight line. But with the wind blowing precisely the direction we were going, we stayed north of the rhumb line the first 30nm to maintain a broad reach, then jybed over to starboard tracking a bit south of the rhumb line. However, as predicted the wind slowly veered and we were able to gradually curve our way back towards the desired heading as the wind veered more easterly over the ensuing 15 hours. Sailing directly down wind wing on wing was impossible due to the consistently zealous seas and winds reaching 25kts at times. The boom preventer was secured virtually the entire trip as we worked to sail very low and keep the rolling waters from causing us to accidentally jybe.

Broad reaching towards Cape May with full main and genoa enjoying brisk winds, clear skies, and warming temperatures.

Coffee break. Side cockpit panels were attached on the windward side helping us stay warm.

Preparing for nightfall still moving along nicely at 7+kts.

The skies were clear and beautiful for the entire transit and we were swiftly following a current averaging well over 7 kts for the majority of the trip.

Initial glimpses of Atlantic City with the full moon setting the morning of Day 2.

Welcoming first light the morning of Day 2. Seas have calmed quite a bit since departing Block Island nearly 30 hours ago.
Atlantic City skyline. Another 40nm to Cape May.

We hoisted the spinnaker as the winds lighted up.
Our initial brisk average speed (yes, 7.5kts is fast for a sailboat such as Argon!) was thwarted during the final 30nm. But we still made the transit in a respectable 35 hours. And although this was just a mini off-shore trip, it was good to practice our helming and another overnight in the open seas. The trip to Bermuda will be much longer:  4 1/2 days and 650nm. I guess this is like a another training run for the real event.

Until next time.... we AReGONe!!

14 September 2016

Block Island and My Friend Hank

The hustle and bustle of the mainland is behind us and the regular social engagements abruptly ceased after leaving Newport. Argon's hook is set in Great Salt Pond among only a handful of other boats in the anchorage.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Block Island

Most people traveling to Block Island are familiar with the small, downtown inlet for ferry traffic. A short walk to the northwest leads to Great Salt Pond which is normally packed with hundreds of occupied moorings and a crowded anchorage where one, if arriving by boat, risks not finding space during a summer weekend. But upon Argon's arrival more than a week after the end of summer Labor Day Holiday, there are less than a dozen sailboats in this vast anchorage and the majority of moorings are off duty.

Keeping a close lookout in the narrow entrance channel of Great Salt Pond.
Entrance to Great Salt Pond is lined with people fishing. There is a sharp drop off in depth along the channel.

Snubbing the anchor chain. Winds were light on the first day but kicked up to 25+kts later in our stay. The anchor held tightly.

Sparse anchorage peering westward at dusk.

Off Shore Wind Farms

Off shore wind farms have stirred much controversy in the US with several projects in the northeast being stalled for years. Many New Englanders are familiar with the Cape Wind project that has been in the planning and permitting stage for 15 years finally to apparently die last year. Cape Wind aimed to build 170 (then decreased to 130) wind turbines in Nantucket Sound but had been blocked repeatedly due to opposition stating safety (heavy boating area) but also aesthetics. There were rich and famous among the outspoken opposition. Interestingly, in Europe, wind farms are quite plentiful (more than 25) with the UK boasting the two largest in the world: London Array (630 MW) and Gwynt y Môr (576 MW). Overall, Europe has more than 3,000 wind turbines across 84 farms producing electricity to power more than 7 million homes! Come on, America, get with the program.

Sailing southwest from Newport to Block Island one can see the five wind turbines from the first wind farm to be build in the US.

Block Island Wind Farm is the first wind farm in the US and will initially consist of only five turbines but may expand to 15 in the coming years. Each turbine is 270 feet and weights 440 tons. This pilot program is lead by the company Deepwater Wind. Construction began almost a year ago and the turbines will begin producing electricity for Block Island by end of this year.

View of the wind farm from the Southeast Lighthouse. Score is Europe: 3000, US: 5.

New Normal

I have fallen in to a routine of daily swims (even if for a just a quick swim and salt water bath followed by a fresh water cockpit rinse), practicing my stand up paddle board, and reading and writing in the cockpit. The warmer waters south of Cape Cod Bay are welcoming and I am hoping that as we travel more southward and explore the Chesapeake Bay in the coming weeks, the waters will remain inviting.

Getting the hang of the SUP in calm waters and light winds. I also ventured out the following morning in 15+kts of chop staying on the board but only barely being able to stay stationary against the wind and current; it was good balancing practice even though I made no geographical progress.

Morning swims remind me of 0500 meetings with Taisa at Miller's Pond.
We are enjoying the 70-75 degree waters.

A new toy that I brought along on this trip is an inflatable stand up paddle board (SUP). We have rented the hard / solid boards a couple of times in the past and were pleasantly surprised at how quickly we learned to balance and paddle in (smooth) waters. My inflatable, however, has proven to be more challenging. It is a little shorter and a bit squishy compared to the solid boards and I have experimented with estimating the appropriate pressure (15 psi) to stiffen it up enough as I have no gauge on my pump. After several attempts on the water I am getting acclimated and feeling more confident.

Exploring by Land

Block Island is wonderful for biking as long as one is prepared to handle some hills. We have enjoyed sailing to Block Island most summers for the past several years and I was sparked to looked up blog posts from prior visits here: July 2015 and August 2014

Scene from Southeast Lighthouse towards Mohegan Bluff.

The Oliver Hazzard Perry (aka The Perry) pulled in to Great Salt Pond. She is a civilian sailing school vessel named after the US Naval officer from Rhode Island. The building of this 196 foot long steel hulled ship was just completed two years ago.

My Friend Hank

Turning abruptly on to the dirt patch by the ramshackle fishing hut, careful to avoid the three sleepy hounds of varying mixed breeds, I dismount my rickety rental bike. I asked the obviously approachable, heavily bearded man in the doorway "I stink at fishing... can you help me?" Hank kindly but sternly replied "Nobody stinks at fishin'. Ya just need some guidance, a few pieces of gear, and to get out there in the water." Hank's enthusiasm for fishing gushed immediately as we struck up a conversation and I agreed to return with my two poles for some advice, instruction, and of course, some tackle. My return visit with Hank later that evening was worth way more than the $92 of gear he sold me as he also examined and tweaked my rods, confirmed their lines were good, taught me how to feed the hook through the slugs for both weedless surface jigging and deeper casting. In addition, Hank walked me through how to catch squid at night to use as Striper bait or to clean it for calamari.

A true fishing enthusiast! Hank was generous with his time, knowledge and advice from this little side road fishing shack.

Hank showed me how to rig these common bubblegum slugs for both surface / weedless skimming and slightly deeper reeling. The small bright green piece on the combing is for jigging for squid. We also now have trolling lures for Stripers and, when further south and off shore, for Mahi. (By the way, I have no idea how we would clean a big fish out under sail should one be caught but will cross that bridge when/if we come to it.)

Stay tuned to see if any of the instruction pays off in the coming weeks. If any readers have fishing suggestions and feedback for me, please send along your comments - I need to make Hank proud.

Preparing for a Mini Off Shore to Cape May, New Jersey

New Jersey does not sound like a particularly sexy or adventurous destination. However, our next transit to the southern tip of the Garden State will mark our foray in to waters new to us and provide an opportunity for more off shore practice.

We have been keeping an eye out on the near and mid range forecast and have started to check in with our trusty weather router, Ken McKinley from Locus Weather, as we prepare for this relatively short off shore trip (~220 nm heading southwest south of Long Island Sound). If we average 5.5kts, the trip will take 40 hours; based on conditions I am optimistic that our average speed will be a bit faster.

Currently we are nearing the end of a couple days of moderate to high southwesterly winds and are waiting for the shift from the north and northeast. Departing while the winds were still out of the SW would make the transit both very uncomfortable and long (nose to wind in high chop and waves with lots of tacking adding to the distance and time). We will time our departure to be several hours after the shift from SW to N/NE likely providing for some moderate seas (3-5 feet) for our first few hours but steadily calming as day 1 progresses. The plan is maintain a broad reach port tack heading a bit south of the rumb line initially but pulling back to the line as the wind clocks from N to NE. We expect to have our hands full with active steering and moderate following seas especially the first 12-18 hours but safe conditions under clear skies with a full moon.

Preparing for a short two day (~40 hours) off shore passage with a pre-dawn departure Thursday 15 September. As we leave Block Island, we will be in waters that are naive to Argon and her crew as we venture further along our journey.

Off line until after we settle in at Cape May.
Until then...   we ARe GONe!