Friday, July 1, 2016

Cape Henlopen to Sandy Hook

June 19 - 22

We stayed at Cape Henlopen for two nights. It was just a short dinghy ride to a beach (covered with dead horseshoe crabs) so Tilly was happy. We had one other boat join us in the huge empty anchorage for the second night. 

Father's Day dinner.
Shrimp and Grits
Out-of-service lighthouse
on the breakwater at Cape Henlopen

Tilly resting after a hard play

Sunset over the breakwater - a big rock wall.

We set our alarm to get up early on departure day to sail offshore, overnight up to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. This would be Tilly’s first ever overnight passage and our first in a while. It looked like we could get ahead of some potential thunderstorms if we were past Atlantic City by noon. That would mean getting underway by about 5:00 am – just after first light.

Unfortunately, when the alarm roused me at 3:30 am, I could see the flashes of an unexpectedly early first round of thunderstorms. We battened down the hatches and sat through a decent little 90 minute  squall and then pondered what to do. In the end, we picked up and left even though we were a couple of hours behind. It was going to be mild weather until / if we ran into the storms associated with the approaching front. We sailed a bit, motorsailed a bit more and watched the ocean. 

We were behind schedule and near Atlantic City in the mid-afternoon when we heard a nearby trawler calling the Coast Guard. They wanted someone to know that they were out there and that they would probably not make it into the harbor before the severe storm cell arrived. Wait, WHAT? We were about 6 miles offshore and out of cell phone data coverage. The storms were still too far away to show up on our radar. We should have been listening to the VHF weather channels. We immediately dropped all of the sails except a severely reefed staysail and angled in toward shore so we could get cell phone coverage and weather info.

Us in the middle.
Once we saw the radar picture, we knew we could be in trouble. There were, not one but, two large storm cells coming west to east at roughly 25 miles an hour. Winds to 70 knots, damaging hail, heavy rain, high waves. Lovely. Our morning rain delay had slowed us enough to put us right in the path. We were motoring hard trying to get north enough to get in between the two cells and, hopefully, dodge the worst. Unbelievably, we did just that. However, that is not to say that we got off too easy.

 I hate to think what it was like under the dome in one of these cells. As it was, we started to get a building, following sea that grew with every wave. The wind pushed from 12 to 20 to nearly 40 knots. Our autopilot, Horatio, was not doing a great job with the sudden arrival of steep 10 – 12 foot following seas so I had to steer by hand to smooth the ride. Needless to say, there were some nervous sailors on SeaClearly.

This is where I usually stop to talk about our boat – and I will again. SeaClearly has such a sea-kindly motion that it is difficult to describe. Just about the time you thought that you were in for a jolt because of some unusually ugly wave, she would slide over a bit, point her bow, kick out a hip and smooth things over. Just phenomenal.

This went on for over 3 hours. We ducked through a hole and started seeing blue skies coming from the west. The seas started to subside and the winds dropped away. By 9:00 pm, we were motoring along under a full moon peeking through the clouds as they skittered away. Lightning persisted further offshore for hours and I felt sorry for anyone out there. We dodged a bullet. Tilly got a hell of a ride for a first overnighter. She did good. She did spend quite a bit of time curled up against Junie.

The rest of the night was easy and smooth. We all got some sleep. Not at the same time, of course. Once things settled down, Tilly wanted to be inside and in her bed (the aft cabin – Roux’s old room). Roux, our wonderful Chocolate Lab, never wanted to be inside with the boat moving.

As the sun rose on June 22, we were closing in on Sandy Hook and making the turn towards our destination for the day, Atlantic Highlands. The seas were smooth, the weather settled and New York City was shining in the light of a new day.  

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