03 January 2011

The 'Hop'

I hit Barnegat Bay in NJ the second week in November. That was about a week too late.

Just a few days before, I'd been sailing up the Chesapeake with a lovely southerly wind at my back. That weather had ended the day I turned into the Delaware River, and since then it had been nothing but cold and nasty northerlies, with a bit of icy rain thrown in for fun.

If I'd arrived a week or two earlier, the 'hop' to New York and Long Island Sound would have been easy. I'd have been home by now.

"Too late, too late," I kept thinking. And I almost was.

I had a big decision. The Weather Service was issuing small craft advisories for the next few days. The inconvenient north wind was due to turn into a dangerous north wind as a storm front passed through. Winter was coming. Making the 'hop' in the next few days was out of the question.

The 'hop' is what the guide books quaintly called it. As in, "the short hop offshore from Manasquan Inlet to Sandy Hook".

The 'Hop' from Manasquan (bottom) to Sandy Hook (top)
click for larger image

The ICW ends in Manasquan, NJ, 25 miles or so short of New York Harbor. The only way to get from Manasquan to New York is to 'hop' through a bit of the North Atlantic Ocean.

That little 'hop' sounds so simple in the guide books. And, from all accounts, it is simple -- in the summer. My friend John made the 'hop' a few summers ago and reported a flat calm. "No problems!" he said.

The seas on the Atlantic were already 8', and that was before the storm arrived. No way I was going out in that. I was going to have to wait out the storm, so the only question was: should I go all the way to Manasquan, or crawl up a river here in Barnegat Bay?

If I went up to Manasquan, I'd be right by the inlet, ready to 'hop' when the weather was right. But better protection was available here in Barnegat Bay, where there were very sheltered rivers with almost no tides.

I tossed this question back and forth as I sailed through the southern part of Barnegat Bay. I wanted to wait out the storm in a snug harbor, but I didn't want to be a whole day's sail from the inlet. The weather was too changeable. Unless I was right there, I could easily miss a one-day weather window. And one day was probably all I was going to get!

After a bit of dithering, I decided to try for Manasquan, but as I thrashed up the Bay, the weather got worse and worse. By the time I had reached the mouth of the Forked River, I was beating into short, nasty, 4' waves, with the wind rising every minute. My calculus changed: suddenly, finding that storm hole seemed a lot more important than reaching Manasquan.

Luckily, the Forked River is literally lined by marinas, and since everyone with an ounce of common sense already had their boat shrink-wrapped on shore, there was plenty of room at the inn. I chose the State Marina, as far up the river as I could get. The ranger promised excellent protection and a 6 inch tidal range. This was perfect for the plan that was quickly taking shape in my head.

Forked River State Marina
As soon as we shot through the entrance on a broad reach, I knew I'd made the right decision. While it was howling out on the bay, the river was a ribbon of calm. I quickly doused the sails and motored the long way up the river. The marina was almost glassy calm. A huge change from the last marina we'd been in!

I quickly docked and tied up (I'm getting pretty good at this docking thing!), and after making a pot of tea to warm up my chilled bones, I called Helena.

"How would you like to pick me up?" I said.

"I'd love it!"

I was only two hours away from home by car. I'd wait out the storm at home.


But had I missed my last chance to make the 'hop'?

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