26 Sep 2006 – Atlantic City, NJ

Full sails at night
Sunrise over the Atlantic
There it is...
Grace anchored in Atlantic City
Harrah's from the deck

The New Jersey coast is rather inhospitable with few safe inlets to escape the open ocean.  We decide on an early start (very early 2:00AM) so we can make 85 miles to Atlantic City and arrive in daylight to enter its shoaling, swell-filled inlet (and get a decent spot in the anchorage). 

Cranky and testy would be a polite way to describe the crew at that early hour after only 3 ½ hours of sleep.  Megan was having some difficulty with the anchor getting hung up on the bow roller.  She came back to the cockpit and said only “I need tools” before ducking below.  With my eyes adjusted to the night I can make out the other boats in the anchorage well enough to circle them while Megan’s working on the anchor.  She returns with a hammer and a flashlight which she proceeds to shine in my direction.  Temporarily blinded I decide to take this as an opportunity to discuss night-blindness and proper light management.  “I got a few things going on,” comes the curt answer.  Later I learn that when she went to get tools, the drawer in which they reside fell apart on her dumping tools all about.  She was not having a great morning (but does anyone when the morning starts 4 ½ hours before sunrise?).

Leaving the NY/NJ area in darkness is an “interesting” initiation to night sailing.  The sea is filled with mysterious lights marking ships of indeterminate size.  A narrow channel past Sandy Hook is marked by lighted buoys.  We enter the channel sticking the sides to stay out of the way of any behemoths.  Ahead we see a couple white lights and consult our handy slide rule of ship’s lights which, in theory, will allow us to identify the ship by its lights.  We begin to debate the lights ahead of us.

“As far as I can tell that’s a vessel at anchor.”

“Good.  Must be an anchored barge.  I’ll just stick to the channel’s edge and we should be golden.”

“We seem to be closing in on that vessel at anchor pretty quickly.”

“I think that vessel at anchor is coming toward us.”

“I don’t see it on the radar.”

“I think it’s that blip dead ahead of us.”

“Maybe I’ll just duck outside the marked channel.”

Moments later the shadow of a relatively small freighter (small relative to other freighter but certainly not relative to Grace) looms over us and churns through the waters that we just vacated.  Disaster averted!  With some degree of anger we both comment on how poorly the freighter is lit.  Grace’s running lights are more visible than those of the hulking mass of metal that nearly devoured us.  Immediately we begin to pay close attention to identifying every visible light.

Megan goes to check on the rest of the crew who we think are sleeping in our aft cabin (we’d put them to bed there so as not to wake them with the chain rumbling in the v-berth when we raised the anchor).  “Mummy, are we going to keep sailing in these big waves because Teague and I really like them!”  So it seems no one is asleep on the boat.  Not long after, Megan pops up to the cockpit for the small bucket used nearly exclusively for vomit.  Perhaps the boys don’t really care for those big waves as much as they thought…  The wind is picking up.  We’re sailing into it and the boat is heeled over and pounding the waves.  We’re making good speed but a tired and sick crew isn’t happy.

A beautiful sunrise seems to bring some calm to everyone.  We’ve already logged 26 miles and we’ll make Atlantic City by 4:30PM. 

8:26AM Megan returns to the cockpit.  “This is not a good day!” There is absolutely no humor in how it’s said.  The wind and waves have picked up.  We’ve got 25 knots 60 degrees off the starboard bow, the swells are high and steep, we’re heeled at 20+ degrees with the traveler all the way out and Grace is doing over 7 knots.  Finn is sick.  Books, toys and other loose items are strewn about the cabin.  Megan will later describe the atmosphere below decks like being in an elevator falling sideways at 7 knots with the cable catching and jerking every few feet.  On 3 ½ hours of sleep she is not enjoying watching her children trying to maintain vertical positions and fearing they will try to move about too much.

The sun is finally up high enough for the solar panels to perform their function which puts my mind at ease.  Having had a few cloudy days at anchor without the engine running and now sailing at night with all our lights, instruments, autopilot and radar, our battery charge is lower than I like to see.  The sun brings power to the panels but not much warmth to us.  I’m bundled up and have even broken out a fleece hat I never expected I’d use on this trip.  But I’m very glad I did.

Megan and the boys join me on the deck.  Fresh air helps to raise the spirits.  Singing nursery rhymes over and over for hours also provides a good distraction from the elements.  After a few hours there is no doubt that all of us, all of our pets, all of our relatives, all of our friends, everyone we’ve ever met and even a few people we haven’t “know the Muffin Man who lives on Drury Lane...”

A little later the wind drops to 15 knots, shifts abeam and the waves begin to follow us.  The ride smoothes out and it will be a good day.  We arrive at Atlantic City and surf huge swells into harbor.  Now I understand why you don’t want to go into many inlets on the Jersey coast.  The roller coaster through this wide and well-marked inlet is enough excitement.

We drop the hook right off Harrah’s casino and dinghy into town to give everyone a break from the boat and reward the boys with a dinner out.  We leave our trash in one of Mr. Trump’s dumpsters (thank you Donald), go into the Trump Marina Casino, turn around and walk out.  Not really our style.  Back in the dinghy we cross over to Gardner Basin.  We are greeted at the free municipal dock by a Baltimore-accented man who helps us tie up, gives us the code to get back into the dock and recommends a place to eat.  Gardner Basin is just our speed.  It reminds me of Key West with its little old wooden houses with porches and antique street lamps. 

Following the friendly dock attendant’s advice we go to the Back Bay Ale House and have a great meal.  Finn wants to try crab and loves it!  He’ll be in for a treat when we get into the Chesapeake.  A nice ending to a long day.

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