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Ballard Sailor

The Unseen 40 miles to Atlantic City

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May 3rd, Thursday morning, our day to transit the Atlantic Ocean. 40 miles up the coast to Atlantic city. This trip entails transiting two inlets from the ocean, Cape May’s jetty protected entrance and Atlantic City’s dredged and well marked inlet. Both nothing like the breaker covered entrances along the NorthWestern coast but still something to plan on and not take lightly. Our planned departure was to leave Cape May at slack water so there was no current to stack up the southerly swell, then turn left and run the 30’ line up to Cape May which is a bit over a mile offshore. Not too far that you can’t see shore so we had a view but far enough to avoid breakers and shoals. Best laid plans....

The bay was socked in with fog, not a thick pea soup, you could see about 1/4 mile so we could find the channel markers but it was fog. Forecast to lift by 8am right? We headed on out and figured we’d just see how it went. The Cape May inlet was fine, a little swell but nothing breaking and as we rounded the deep water buoy, marking the end of the channel, and found our compass course up the coast we settled in to wait for the fog to lift as we motored up the coast in still air. Wait we did, 25 miles up the coast at Ocean City we where still socked in with fog, it hadn’t lifted by 12pm - forecasters.... But we did finally find another stowaway on board, drying his wings from the fog while clinging to our topping lift.

We had a nervous moment here as sirens began blaring from the beach, the swell began building and our depth began showing in the 20’s instead of the 30’s. I’m guessing the siren was unrelated, probably the volunteer fire department, but it added to our confusion in the thick fog. We turned directly offshore until we found deeper water again, but it was a nervous 30 minutes not knowing if a shoal had moved or if we were too close even though our GPS had us well offshore. I’m guessing it was the warmer water rushing out of the inlet at Ocean City that confused our depth sounder into thinking it was shallower and the current probably pushed the waves up. But in the fog your mind wanders and what if’s become real when you can’t see what’s ahead. Certain disaster avoided we settled into the fog once again to search out the deep water mark at Atlantic City and work our way in, hoping the fog will have lifted by then!

No luck! We found the deep water mark, no problem, right where it was supposed to be, but the fog was still with us. And of course those noises in the fog that make you jumpy. Something was happening on the shore, near the casinos that sounded like cannon fire. Big booms would bellow out from our port side as if a fleet of schooners were firing upon us in the foggy light. Very odd, but we stuck to our course with Jennifer on the bow looking for the dredged channel marks and signs of breakers while I steered the boat to her commands.

The waves built as we got shallower, but with the now incoming current they were not breaking but rolling under us harmlessly. We found mark after mark and were able to stay in the channel when out of the fog came the image of a huge ship to starboard! A moment of panic followed by the realization that it was a huge dredge apparatus that was anchored next to the channel and not moving, phew. Finally we found the edge of the breakers to port marking the outer end of the jetty and all of a sudden we were thrown into the world of light as the fog stopped just inside the entrance, we saw the light! - and the inlet, thankfully.

The guides talk about expensive moorage in the casino basin and a current and wave riddled anchorage near the channel but I had spotted what looked like a good anchorage on the NE side of the channel through a very narrow entrance into a nice large bay. With the incoming tide raging alone it was easy for Jennifer to stand on the bow and watch for the deep water as passed just feet from the shoreline into this great bay with no name on the chart.

We never saw depth less than 7 feet on the way in and this was a low tide - it really should be charted better as this is a very protected deep anchorage for the Atlantic City or Absecon Inlet. We anchored in 14’ of water and headed ashore to a nice long sandy warm beach blocking the entrance to the bay. We walked around the corner and looked back out at the entrance to Absecon Inlet and wouldn’t you know it, NO FOG! Only an hour had passed since we came through and now we could see all the way out to the deep water buoy - it looked just too easy when you could see it! We walked in the sun, Mac swam and ran as we walked passed the beach fishermen in the warm soft sand knowing our boat was anchored in a very protected smooth water bay. It couldn’t have been a better ending to our first Atlantic Ocean passage where we never saw more than 1/4 mile around us.

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East Coast Cruise for 2012