Friday, October 21, 2022

The Jersey Jump

Now where was that stupid charger? I had already torn the boat apart from bow to stern, seemed silly to do it again. It had to be hiding in plain sight.

So I went back through the electronic closet again and sure enough, there it was - pretending to be the charger for something else, when it actually belonged to the big flashlight. Aha! It was going to be a very long sail today, definitely an overnighter, gotta get some juice in that flashlight!

The Coney Island Light

Probably wise to look around at the other emergency equipment too. The little lights attached to our life vest are all charged and ready to go, they will come on automatically if wet. Snacks are prepared and standing by. Radio was working well, backup radio on standby and charged, inreach tracking and broadcasting our location, chartplotter and iPad playing well together, backup iPad charged and ready to deploy. Hopefully we never need any of this preparation, but we do it anyway.

We settled into easy shifts, taking turns at the helm while the off-duty crew napped.

Somewhere around 2am we lost all the wind, exactly as predicted. So we rolled in the headsail, tightened up the main and mizzen, and fired up our trusty new Beta. As Lance drifted off to dreamland I found myself obsessing over a weird collection of white and yellow lights offshore. It sort of reminded me of the big container ships we frequently encountered off the coast of Long Beach, CA, difficult to tell which direction they were going without visible red or green lights, just a mass of indecipherable white and yellow.

For a while they kept pace with us, sometimes veering away from us, sometimes getting closer. As we approached Atlantic City the vessel made a definite course change and the chart plotter started blaring alarms - we were on a collision course. I turned off the audible alarms and kept an eye on it, we were on a steady course and they were not changing course either. The GPS predicted that we would crash into one another within the hour.

Barnegat Light, on the Jersey Shore

As we drew closer, the vessel name popped up on the AIS - the Jersey Devil. A little more online research revealed it to be a fishing vessel, which gives it the right of way since we are motoring. I could have slowed down and passed behind it but if it was long line fishing... we do have a line cutter on our prop. I hope to never test it.

My thoughts drifted back to the story our friend told us last summer about the Jersey Devil as we passed by the family home built in the 1700s. He was the 13th child born on a stormy night and was greeted with disdain, until one day he reportedly turned into an actual devil, flew out the window and into the swamp where he was, and still is, blamed for all kinds of mischief.

Well, this devil with the strange lights and indecipherable intentions wasn't going to worry me. I picked up the radio and we worked out a deal, I would speed up and he would slow down and we would miss one another with no course changes. As he passed behind Minerva I noticed the lights that looked so strange from head-on were attached to huge outriggers, so it's good that I didn't try to pass behind him, he probably WAS dragging nets or lines. At least all of the weird motion offshore made sense now. Fishing activity. Now I know what that looks like in the dark: random. It looks totally random.

Atlantic City, NJ

Lance came up for his turn at the wheel as we left Atlantic City and the Jersey Devil in our wake. All the stars were out, and the breeze was starting to pick up a little bit. We debated sailing across the mouth of the Delaware Bay to our intended anchorage at Lewes, but ultimately decided since we were likely to encounter container and fuel ships en route to Philadelphia in the channel, and since the current would be against us and the wind was still slow, we would just motor the rest of the way, it wasn't far and keeping the motor on would reduce our exposure to the large fast-moving vessels.

Now, we both know the rules, it's best not to approach shore at night, but we felt confident here. We had been here before, the chart plotter was behaving and seemed to line up well with the markers, so onward we pushed, although Lance did reduce speed as we passed the breakwater wall. There should have been plenty of room between the end of the breakwater wall and the shore, imagine our surprise when we ground to a soft but sudden halt. According to the chart plotter and the markers, there should have been thirty feet or more between us and the shore. Surprise!

Remember that flashlight? Yeah... It revealed shoaling quite far out into the channel. Certainly beyond all indicators. Sometimes you do everything right and you screw up anyway. Freshly charged flashlight to the rescue - escape route revealed.

A friend once told us of a "good captain box" theory. All the little things you do to check, recheck, make backup plans, rest, buy and maintain top of the line equipment - it all goes into this imaginary box. And now and then when shit goes sideways, you hope that you put enough good things in the box to make a difference.

Jersey Devil vs AIS and a good radio, win.
Delaware shore vs flashlight, we'll call that one a draw.

Lighthouse at Lewes Anchorage

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