06 January 2011

Weather Window Waiting

A funny thing happened on my long journey up the side of America: the farther I sailed, the more cautious I got.

This seemed odd, even to me. I'd accumulated an enormous amount of experience and practical knowledge. You'd think I would have gotten bolder as I went along, more confident in my abilities to pull through difficult situations. Instead, I found myself avoiding difficult situations.

And my increased self-confidence... well, we will see how that helped me.

After leaving the Blue Moon and Cabin Boy in the Forked River, I had my first shore leave home since leaving Jacksonville. Suffice to say, I enjoyed every moment of it. After 6 weeks of being outside all day, every day, it was delicious to watch the storm  from the warmth and comfort of home.

And blow it did. I monitored buoy 44065, at the entrance to New York Harbor. At the height of the storm, on 8 Nov 2010, the wind was blowing from the NW at 33 knots, with gusts up to 40 knots. Not a hurricane, but enough to worry my Uncle Marty, who called my mother to find out where I was (one of the many reasons I wished I'd been able to keep current with my blog, but that just wasn't possible.) He was relieved to discover I was safely ashore.

And then it kept on blowing out of the North, gradually swinging from the NW to the NE. I was determined to wait for a fair wind -- that is, a wind with some South in it. I preferred a SW wind, or even a W wind, since that would keep the seas down, but as time ticked by, I started to think I might have to settle for 'good enough'.

For months I'd been confidently telling everyone I'd be home by 1 November. Each time I did, Helena would pipe in with "He means Thanksgiving." I thought that showed a distinct lack of faith on her part.

Well, here it was 11 November, and it looked like the wind would howl out of the North all winter. Helena and I started to talk about 'final deadlines', and what we would do if the wind didn't let up in time to get home before the really bad weather set in. We decided that 1 December was my drop-dead date. If I couldn't make 'the hop' before then, then we'd lay the Blue Moon up for the winter in the Forked River.

I was determined, however, that that scenario would't happen. I still had some faith in the GRIB forecast, which showed a decreasing wind trend for the next few days. The Blue Moon was still a day's sail from the Inlet, so I decided to sail her up to Manasquan, and wait for 'my' wind.

At 4 am the next morning, Helena drove me back to NJ, so I could get an early start. Did I mention she's a saint?

After a quick kiss goodbye, I backed out of my slip just as the sun was coming up. There was no wind and the Forked River was glassy smooth. But as the sun rose, so did the wind, and by the time I motored out of the mouth of the river, into Barnegat Bay, the wind was again blowing 15-20 knots, out of the NE -- right on my nose, of course.

That kicked up a 3-4' sea in no time, making the run up to Manasquan pretty exciting, particularly the terrifying run through the fiendishly misnamed Point Pleasant Canal. But those stories will have to wait for another day, if I'm ever to finish this blog!

The next morning, I woke up in the Glimmer Glass anchorage, about a mile from Manasquan Inlet. True to it's name, the anchorage was like glass. The sky was clear and here wasn't a breath of wind blowing. I couldn't believe my luck! It looked like the storm had finally blown itself out and today was the perfect day for making 'the hop'.

As I hurried through a quick breakfast, I turned on the weather radio. As I happily sipped my tea, while congratulating myself on being the luckiest sailor ever, I was shocked to hear the NWS computer voice utter the words "Small craft warnings".

That couldn't be right, I thought, so I listened all the way through the forecast cycle again. And then again. Until there was no doubt: the National Weather Service had clearly lost it. It was a beautiful, flat calm day, and here they were issuing small craft warnings for New York Harbor and points south.

As my old rowing coach used to say, "You don't know what the weather is until you are standing on the dock." Clearly, I needed to go 'stand on the dock'.

So I climbed into Cabin Boy, rowed ashore, and walked the mile or so to the inlet.

Okay, so the NWS hadn't lost it. A mile from my flat calm anchorage, the wind was blowing NE at 15-20 knots, with 10' seas. Dang.

Manasquan Inlet on a beautiful, but dangerous day.
photo jalmberg

This photo tells the story, but the scale is hard to judge. That swell against that massive sea wall on the other side of the inlet is about 10' high.

So, there I was in Manasquan, a mere 26 miles from NY Harbor and home. My heart said "go for it", but my head said "No."

With a 15-20 knot wind out of the NE, and 10' seas, it would probably take me 10 hours to beat all the way up to Sandy Hook. At least. And I didn't have 10 hours of daylight. No way I was going to get stuck in the traffic lanes off New York City at night, in a gale.

I would just have to wait.

North side of the inlet


Here's a video I shot on my iPhone at the inlet that day.

This was a pretty big sailboat, coming down from NY (i.e., he was running with the wind behind him, all the way.) He had lined himself up with the inlet, but there must have been a strong cross-current, running from north to south across the inlet. This current pushed the sailboat south of the inlet. You can't really see this on the video, because of perspective, but when I start the video, the guy is already 100 yards south of the seawall.

Instead of turning around and making another run, this time allowing for the current, he decided to try to motor around the seawall. As he does so, the wind and current are trying to push him onto the wall. It's hard to see this in the video. It looks like he his just heading straight in, but he's really cutting across the end of the sea wall.

As you can tell by my 'narration', this scared the begeezus out of me. I wasn't sure whether to keep filming or alert the Coast Guard!

As you will see, he made it, but it was waaaaaay to close for comfort. If his engine had stalled at the wrong moment, he would have been on the rocks for sure. I was talking to some fishermen the other day, and they told me a fishing boat had been wrecked not long ago in this inlet, with the loss of several crew members. Not a place to take chances.

>>> Next Episode: The Ticking Clock

* * *

Help build the "Boat Builder's Search Engine" -- a custom search engine designed specifically for locating hard-to-find boat building supplies. Check it out!


  1. A very wise move John. Coastal waves and chop off that part of the Jersey shore are insane. And just how big is Blue Moon? And beating into it? That would be a bit nuts. "More cautious"? Nah, just a smarter seaman. Especially single handing!
    Smart move, now just write some more details about the trip while waiting for the right weather...I have cabin fever here all landlocked sitting by the woodstove!

  2. Ralph: The BM is 23' on deck. I have a video of a 45 footer nearly going on the rocks that day, but I can't figure out how to post it to my blog.

  3. Thanks for the video John. Couple of things I don't understand. There are two things that catch my attention watching this video. The first is the amount of unfurled jib showing which would have a real tendency to push the bow into that southern seawall that he was crowding. The second is that he is not really using his sails in that situation. The size of the rollers would certainly have an effect on his prop and I am one sailor who would rather trust his sails, the primary mover of most sailboats, over the iron wind. Winds out of northeast with an east-west inlet? To me motor sailing in with reefed sails would make the most sense in that situation. Of course it's hard to argue with success and thank goodness they made it. I welcome other opinions as I am always trying to learn.

  4. I think conditions in NY harbor were probably very good when he left at dawn, and when it picked up, it was too late to turn back. He had to get in the inlet, but the current almost got him. Glad I wasn't on the boat!


I'd love to hear from you. Please comment!