19 December 2010


If we learn by being tested, then New Jersey has to be counted the most educational leg of our journey. In fact, it's hard to pick from all the 'lessons' taught by this most enlightening State. But I am running so late in my blog that I must pick just one or two, and then quickly move on to the finale. I've already started on my winter projects, including my build of the traditional round-bottom boat Vintage, and I don't want to fall too far behind, blogging about that!

Like most New Yorkers, I tend to be overly harsh when it comes to New Jersey, so I should start by saying that the NJ ICW is really a beautiful stretch of the waterway. Most of it is incredibly wild, particularly in November, when you have most of it to yourself.

I just had the wrong boat, and even worse, I was rushing home, trying to beat the really bad weather that loomed on the horizon.

The ideal boat for exploring the NJ ICW would be something like John Atkin's Little Bear, a roomy, flat-bottomed cruising boat that he designed specifically for "poking into creeks and shoals."

John Atkin's "Little Bear"
The perfect shoal-draft cruiser.
But unlike Little Bear, which can float in 20 inches of water, the Blue Moon needs 4 feet, and that made things 'exciting'.

The first lesson I want to discuss occured in Little Egg Harbor, about half-way through NJ. I was headed up the waterway, of course, and it was late in the day, because I was trying to make as much distance as possible, each day.

Not surprisingly, there are relatively few anchorages in NJ, because there are so few places with water deep enough to anchor. But the very reliable "Skipper Bob" anchorage guide promised an anchorage behind Mordecai Island. 5-6' of water, with enough room for 5-10 boats.

In this case, Skipper Bob was wrong. There wasn't enough room for even one boat. I ran aground several times, just to make sure.

Anyway, the next anchorage was over an hour away, and I didn't have that much daylight left, so I headed to the nearest marina, just around the next bend. The following chart will set the scene:

Click for full-size image
The marina was the Beach Haven Yacht Club Marina. The light was fading and there was a brisk breeze from the North (of course), but one of the guys (I'm sorry to say, I've forgotten his name) was super-helpful and guided me into one of the slips on the southern side of the marina (for best protection.)

This was one of those marinas where you have to tie your stern lines to large piles. These slips are designed for much bigger boats than the Blue Moon, and I always have a hard time tying up, because the piles are too far back. In fact, the slip I was in must have been designed for a 50 footer, because there were two sets of piles behind me.

With some difficulty, I tied my stern lines to the nearer two and was happy to have a berth for the night. After catching up on some laundry and walking across the street to a nice restaurant for a decent meal, I hit my bunk for some sleep. I wanted to get an early start in the morning.

Unfortunately, during the night the winter-like wind shifted around to the North West, and proceeded to blow hard. As you can see from the chart, this marina is pretty well protected from all winds except from the NW. NW winds blow all the way across Little Egg Harbor and kickup 2-3' waves. These waves rolled right into the marina. Not exactly the best thing for sleeping, as I wrote in my log:

5 Nov 2010 - Lots of pitching & rolling in slip. Had to adjust lines several times because some of them chafed half-through during the night. Amazing how fast a 1/2" can chafe through in these conditions. Doubled-up the ones taking the most strain.

As you can imagine, I was dying to get out of there in the morning, but as the light came up, I realized this was not going to happen.

First, I had a 15-20 knot crosswind blowing from port to starboard across the slip. Next was the 2-3' surf rolling along in the same direction. Finally, there was a 2-3 knot current ripping from stern to stem.

If the Blue Moon was in a floating dock type of slip, I could probably have maneuvered her out of it. But there was no way I was going to be able to slip the web of 18 dock lines I had holding her safe, while backing past two sets of barnacle-encrusted pilings without scraping all the paint off my starboard side. Or worse. It was all too easy to imagine getting sideways in that slip, and then pinned up against a piling, or dock, or other boat.

I was stuck.

Most galling was that I could have predicted this problem by checking the wind forecast. I didn't even think about it because it didn't occur to me that conditions in a marina could get so bad that I couldn't get out. I'm sure it's happened to lots of people before me, but I'd never heard or read about it. I was taken completely by surprise.

After resolving NEVER to get boxed into a slip like this again, I spent the day figuring out how to get out. The forecast was for several days of strong NW wind. I was starting to worry about the weather getting too bad to go 'outside' from Manasquan Inlet to NY Harbor, as was necessary. I had to get out by tomorrow.

Plan B was to use Cabin Boy to put an anchor in the channel outside the slip. By hauling in this anchor line over the stern, while letting out a bowline doubled up on the dock, I could warp the Blue Moon into the channel, with a minimum of risk, even if the conditions tomorrow were similar to today's. The very helpful marina staff promised to help with the dock lines.

However, the detailed GRIP forecast predicted a dip in the wind speed for 5 am the next morning. The V-shaped forecast predicted a low of 5-10 knots at 5 am, picking back up to 15-20 knots, shortly after dawn.

Therefore, bugging out at 5 am the next morning would be my Plan A, even though I'd have to handle all the lines myself. It all depended on the wind.

I set my alarm for 4 am. It was cold, but the wind had definitely gone down. I took a cup of coffee out on deck. There was a 2-3 knot current pushing me out of the slip. That was a bit more than I wanted, but the current was supposed to weaken until it turned around dawn.

Ideally, I wanted a weak current pushing me out of the slip, so the longer I waited, the better, but if I waited too long, I risked having the wind pick up suddenly. 5 am still looked like the sweet spot.

I gradually removed dock lines, first taking off the slack ones that did their work when the tide reversed, then removing the doubled lines, finally getting down to the 3 lines needed to keep me in place: the port-side bow and stern lines, and a short, mid-ship starboard line that didn't have much strain on it, but kept us steady.

At 5 am the wind was around 5-7 knots, the NW swells had gone down to less than 1 foot, and the current was favorable, at about 1 knot. It wasn't going to get any better than this. I fired up the engine, let it warm for a few minutes, and then cast off the starboard line. I warped us out as far as I could with the stern and bow lines, then cast off and backed out between the two end pilings.

Despite the still considerable pitch and roll, we got into the clear without touching either piling. I remember yelling something like 'Yahoo!' But it was pitch-dark and I had no intention of trying to run the NJ ICW in the dark, so we motored out to an open spot near the fuel dock, and lowered the main anchor. We were out of the slip, within spitting distance of the ICW channel, without damage.

To say I was relieved would be an understatement.

I treated myself to a full-cooked breakfast, called Helena to tell her the good news (she's an early riser), and waited for the rose-red fingers of young Dawn to appear in the sky.

I'd get another lesson from King Neptune, that afternoon.

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  1. Good to hear that you're not still stuck in NJ (fellow NYer here).

    Hurrah!! You're building a REAL boat. Vintage is a real beauty of a tender ... and not stitch-n-glue! Can't wait to see your progress.

  2. Wow! Your sail home is turning into an adventure. Following your blog with great interest.

    I am happy you are building another boat just so I can follow your blog. Are you building Vintage as a tender for a larger boat in your future? What are your plans for Cabin Boy and Blue Moon?

    Eagerly awaiting your blog entries.

  3. I will be fixing up the Blue Moon over the next few years. First up is a total re-working of her running rigging, which was never set up very well. After 2000 miles of experience with her, and reading every book on gaffers that I can find, I've got some very definite ideas, including making a whole new set of wooden blocks.

    I also want to give Cabin Boy some TLC and finally finish his construction. He deserves it!

    I am building Vintage for two main reasons: 1) I think I'm ready to tackle a small, round bottom boat (although it will be a big challenge), and 2) Cabin Boy is a bit small for two people, and Helena and I plan to do a 2 week cruise out to Nantucket, etc., next summer.

    Since even Cabin Boy is too big to lash onto the BM's deck, it doesn't matter if I tow a 8' or 10' tender behind me. I suspect that Vintage will be no more drag on the BM than CB, because of her hull shape.

    The plan is to finish Vintage in time for the Wooden Boat Show in Mystic where I'll show her at the "I built it myself" part of the show.

  4. John,

    If you pass through upper Barnegat Bay let me know as I live in Manasquan and keep by boat in Mantoloking. I'd love to stop by and say hi. Blue Moon is one of my favorite designs.

    Where is your final destination?


    Russ Manheimer

  5. Russ: sorry, my blog is way behind 'real life', partly because in NJ I just had to focus on getting home, and when I did get home, I had to catch up on work. I was in your part of the world in early Nov. I was right to focus on getting home, because I sure wouldn't want to be out there now! Too darn cold for cruising in a small boat!

  6. My final destination was Huntington Harbor, on LI. That's where I live.

  7. So! You are safe at home, and we are left anchored out in the NJICW? Thanks.


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