It has been quite a while since my last post regarding sailing, and I was hoping that, at this point in the summer, I would be well on my way along a course set from NJ to Maine. But, two weeks ago I had to come to terms with the reality that I got a very late start, and, when I was finally prepared, the weather report was anything but favorable for me to venture out into the Atlantic for the first time in a 23 foot sailboat. The voice on the radio repeated ” winds south at 20 knots, waves 4 to 7 feet” for each of the following five days” I had been advised to wait for seas of 2-3 feet by the previous owner.. and I took his words seriously.
I needed a new plan, so I looked at the local charts and decided to set out in the opposite direction.. south along the ICW to Cape May, a distance of 90 statute miles. I planned on doing 30 miles a day and completing the round trip in 6 days. At 6 miles per hour, it seemed completely reasonable..
Day 1 The early morning light was dulled by a grey mist which would continue to be the case throughout much of the day. Preparations for the trip included a walk to the bathroom at the marina and a quick breakfast. I made a cup of tea to enjoy on the way down the river as well as a sandwich and a thermos of tea for later in the day. The motor had been running for a few minutes and was warmed up and ready to go. I cast off the lines and backed out of the slip and then proceeded down the fairway, past the fuel dock where they sell both gasoline and diesel, and into Toms river. It was a quiet departure. Hardly anyone was stirring at the marina, the water was calm. I was motoring at 5 knts, anticipating reaching Barnegat Bay in 20-25 minutes. Soon, I passed by the spot where the engine had failed two days prior.
Along with numerous repairs stemming from Hurricane Sandy, I had installed a new outboard engine which replaced the one ruined in the storm. Following the break-in instructions, I first ran the engine at low rpm’s for two hours. It was after this that I filled the second tank and switched the fuel line to test out the new tank. A minute or two after leaving the fuel dock, I twisted the throttle, expecting to feel a smooth surge in speed accompanied by a higher pitch, indicating increased rpm’s. Instead, the engine seemed to choke on itself, and soon died. I was heartbroken. My first thought was ” how can i possibly expect to sail through New York Harbor with an engine that is unreliable?” I checked everything that came to mind.. the kill switch, the tank vent.. the pressure in the bulb.. all seemed to be in order, and yet, the engine would not start. I checked the wind and prepared a plan for sailing back to the marina. Under jib alone, I turned the boat towards the fuel dock but had to bide my time while two large cruisers filled their massive tanks. Finally, it was my turn. the dock was clear, the wind was light, and I made my way in, making an ideal landing which no one happened to witness. The mechanic at the marina looked over the situation, tried to start the engine a few times and then declared that the only option was to take it to the nearest Tohatsu dealer.
The first question from the dealer was “where did you get the engine?” I anticipated the question, and timidly replied that I had bought it on line.. I had to eat crow for 2 minutes while he yanked my chain about buying on line and bringing it to him to remedy the problem. But it was mostly good natured , and he ended the conversation by inviting me to bring it down right away.
We arrived at his shop half an hour later.. He was impressed that “at least you laid the engine on the correct side “… he was working on another small outboard but made room for mine in the test tank.. he had determined that the first engine would not start because of water in the gas.. and soon after, he determined that mine would not start because it was trying to burn diesel! Ahhh.. in an instant I replayed the scene from earlier in the morning, getting out of the boat , placing the tank on the ground and watching the girl from the marina pump the gas.. or what I thought was gas.. in fact, she gave me 3 gallons of quality diesel fuel.. the engine ran while there was still gas in the carb, but it did not take long for the diesel to make its way through the line and into the bowl.. no wonder the engine choked!
“What is this world coming to”, he asked no one in particular.. ” I have one guy trying to run his engine on water and another guy trying to use diesel.. ” We laughed.. but it cost me $120 to get the engine running and I bought an extra prop from him to assuage my guilt about buying on line! What he really did, however, was to restore my faith in the engine, and that was worth a great deal more..
I was the only one on the river at this early hour of 7 am. The mouth of the river marked the true departure for this trip. What I had intended was to head north to the top of the bay, then on through the Point Pleasant Canal and out the Manasquan Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean for the 22 mile trip to Sandy Hook. But, instead, I would be turning south, directly into the the predicted 20 knot wind. The previous owner had tried to prepare me for what it would be like going to windward for any length of time, but I was not too overly concerned.. A minute after making the turn, I was drenched.. I cut the engine and went below.. donned my foul weather gear top and put my bating suit on.. After securing the hatch and drop board, I forged ahead, the only boat on the bay for the next two hours.. at times struggling to pick out the next day mark through the mist and droplets on my glasses.. For a period of time, I took my glasses off and found that I could manage quite well for the long distances that were involved, but had to put them on again as I checked the chart for some indication about where the next mark might be. After a few hours of being showered by the spray every 10 – 15 seconds, the sandwich and hot tea that I had prepared earlier were a godsend. I slowed the engine and enjoyed them and then pressed onward.
It was an adventure, for sure.. My expectation was that both the wind and the water would calm down at the south end of the bay where it was considerably narrower. Thankfully, this seemed to be the case. The hours passed more quickly than I imagined they would under such conditions. Later in the day, a few boats ventured out, but I was largely alone for most of the trip. Although I had charts covering the area between Toms River and Cape May, my intended destination, I did not have a cruising guide for these waters.. This put me at a bit of a disadvantage, having never been this far south on the bay, but I was fortunate to find a marina at Beach Haven that had a transient slip available. A long hot shower never felt better. After checking the lines on the boat a second time, I headed into town to explore. I had never been to Beach Haven, but found it to be a pleasant spot, with good restaurants and a nice tea room where I was able to enjoy a hot cup of Earl Grey along with an over-sized chocolate chip cookie. It felt awfully good to settle into my bunk that night, and sleep came quickly. Distance travelled- 28.5 miles, almost on schedule! Tomorrow’s destination.. Ocean City.