City: Baltimore, MD
Vessel Name: Sean P. Sullivan
Vessel Model: Apollo 32
Join Date: Mar 2014
Well, there's news. Good and bad. I suppose I should start with the good.
First good lesson I learned was that I should have incorporated one or two more days into the trip to compensate for weather. I had been studying the weather patterns religiously for the period covering this trip, and they were favorable... right up to the point it was time to leave. The previous reports of weather with highs in the 70's and lows in the 40's were bold faced meteorological lies, as a massive cold front moved through the area. More on that later.
Another good lesson learned was that ActiveCaptain is an invaluable tool. A free app on your iPhone or iPad that puts Quimby's to shame.
Now, for the bad. I expected issues on this trip, as maiden voyages can be problematic at best. When departure time arrived, the previously mentioned cold front was almost on top of us, so it was raining and somewhat windy. I consulted with my broker, who is familiar with the waters we would be cruising in, and he said that travelling in such conditions wouldn’t be hazardous, but probably a bit "sporty". Boy was that an understatement. I came to the conclusion that if it was too much to bear, I could duck into a marina someplace and wait out the weather, which of course is a good contingency plan, but not necessarily a good foundation for how your day afloat should be conducted.
We left Toms River and experienced 1.5 footers in the river alone, nothing to terrible. As we entered Barnegat bay and headed south, waves were two, then three, then 4.5 feet with heavy rain and wind. The amount of water coming over the top of the boat was absolutely incredible. The crashing water created enough pressure to blow out the cabin and pilot house window seals, which made for quite the mess just about everywhere.
My buddy and I were busy mopping up water with towels in the pilot house, and my wife and son were below doing the same. Directional control was nonexistent at times as we were tossed around like a cork in a bathtub. Now, I've been in some scrapes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can honestly say that I have never been that scared in my life. I got on ActiveCaptain and found a marina not far away, and we ducked into there for the night.
I was extremely upset as we tied up. I felt like a fool for even trying to depart Toms River, and really didn't do much sleeping that night, partly because rain, sleet, and wind were pelting the boat, but mostly because I had made a very poor decision regarding the operation of the boat in crappy weather on waters I wasn’t very familiar with. My plan at that point was to take the boat back to Toms River the next day and just wait until June to move it; I also looked up ground shipping fees as I restlessly laid in the V-berth that night as well.
Once daylight broke, it was still rather windy and damn cold, and all the weather decks were coated in sleet and ice. I was seriously ready to throw in the towel. I was committed to returning to Toms River. My wife suggested going out into the bay, taking a look at the conditions, and if they were favorable, we could continue the trip, and if they were crap, we could then head back to where we started. I wasn’t too optimistic because the National Weather Service had issued a gale warning the night prior, and it was still active until noon that day.
At any rate, as we entered Barnegat Bay we were greeted by severe clear skies, a stiff wind, but 1 foot seas. We headed south.
Day 2's plan was to make it to Cape May, but if we didn’t, no big deal; despite having a place to be, we weren't pressured by that, so wherever we ended up was fine with us. The seas picked up a bit in the Barnegat, but after the previous day's activities, I considered them benign. The farther south we traveled, we got into very narrow and shallow passages on the ICW, but it was very picturesque and calm. Other than being cold, it was really fun.
Somewhere around lunchtime, a horrid noise came from aft, I was certain we had hit a crab pot or something. I got on ActiveCaptain again and found a marina a mile down the ICW. A quick call to them ensured they would be ready when we arrived. We pulled directly into the travel lift slip and were out of the water in minutes. there was nothing wrapped around the prop, but we discovered that the rudder wasn’t very tight, it had about 3 inches of play in it when moved port and starboard with your hand. If you shook it back and forth, it made the exact same noise we had heard earlier. I'm guessing that the turbulent water from the prop was causing the rudder to flutter back and forth, hence the noise.
The mechanic there took the whole mess apart, re machined the keyway in the rudder shaft and put the whole thing back together in less than an hour. It handled like a completely different boat then!
Still hoping to make Cape May, but not counting on it, we then shot for Atlantic City as a stopping point. We continued down the ICW. There were a few tricky turns in there and the tide was going out, so I called the local BoatUS people to talk to them about the area. They were very helpful and knew the area like the back of their hand. As we passed through Atlantic City, we attempted to raise a railroad bridge operator on the radio, but apparently he had gone home for the day, even though we were told via radio and phone that he would be there. We had to backtrack a few miles to get to the marinas at Atlantic City.
We still had a considerable amount of daylight left so we elected to proceed out the inlet and see what the Atlantic looked like, and if we could make an open water run 10 miles south to Longport, we would stop there, and if it was too nasty, we would just stay in Atlantic City. We could see before even getting out of the inlet that the Atlantic would be kind to us, so we proceeded south.
The part of the trip that concerned me the most was the most fun. Decent sized swells, but they were slow rollers and it really made for an enjoyable time. ActiveCaptain to the rescue again as I found a marina in Longport and made arrangements for overnight dockage on the phone. Given the last days events, my spirits were much higher as we tied up, my confidence in the boat, and my own abilities had increased significantly.
Day 3 was started like day 2, we hoped for Baltimore, but really didn’t care where we ended up as long as the ride was good and everyone was having fun. We all had to go to work the next day, so if we didn’t get to Baltimore, we would have to arrange transportation, dockage for a week until we could get time off to move the boat again, etc. Again, we didn’t let this pressure us and proceeded. We left Longport and proceeded down the ICW instead of the Atlantic, as the winds were still very strong and 5-7 foot seas were reported out there, which was evident as we crossed the inlet.
We had left on a rising tide, and a call to the BoatUS people again about the stretch of ICW we were going through was very helpful. I had heard all kinds of awful stuff about this stretch, but other than having to slow down as we headed through towns and also for numerous rowing teams conducting practice, it was extremely enjoyable. I actually liked slowing down to look around and enjoy the scenery.
We made it to Cape May, and again consulted the NOAA reports, which were calling for 5-7 foot seas in the Delaware Bay. We decided to go look at it because the weather report was old, and if it sucked, we would stash the boat at a marina in Cape May and head home.
The winds were strong out of the east in the Bay, but it really wasn’t that bad. I had to alter course to stay sheltered as much as possible on the eastern side of the bay, which added time to the trip, but we made it up to the C&D canal in 7 hours. I knew we could make Baltimore, but it would involve running at night, which wasn’t a concern because the winds were laying down and the markers are well lit and pretty easy to navigate. We would have hit home port at around 2am, and the admiral was none too pleased about it, so I decided to end the trip in Chesapeake City, feeling not one bit defeated that we didn’t get to Baltimore.
My son took the helm in the canal as we were greeted by calm waters, and setting sun in our face as we were dwarfed by passing ships of all kinds. Tie up in Chesapeake City was uneventful and I had a friend meet us there to drive us back to Baltimore.
Needless to say, the learning curve on this trip was damn near vertical. We didn't make it to Baltimore. But you know what, who cares? The last 90 minutes standing behind my son as he piloted the boat through the canal was a great way to end the journey, and is something I consider to be one of the best moments of my life with him, second to the day he came into this world. In the end, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?