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Ballard Sailor

The New Jersey ICW - Atlantic City to Island Beach State Park

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.

The New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) begins for us this morning, and fortunately coincides with the opening day of striper season, and it’s Saturday, so the entire southern New Jersey recreational fishing fleet will be out. At least it won’t be boring! So the NJ ICW is known as a shallow, shifting and shoaling stretch of inland waterway that needs dredging and can be crowded and uncomfortable. The guide books generally describe it poorly and recommend cruisers just make the long delivery from Cape May to New York or Cape Cod before returning to the coast. Yet for us, as it’s still early in the season and we have a small boat we saw the NJ ICW as a chance to explore the shallow marshes, waste some time as things warmed up in the Northern climes and generally enjoy cruising rather than passage making.

So with this goal we snuck out of our private anchorage before the tide went out too far and made it into the inlet channel for Atlantic City without incident. We then turned West and made our way into the inland waterway where we found the absolutely largest crowd of recreational fishermen we had ever seen. It was amazing to think that there was enough fish in these waters to keep them all coming back out. But there must be, otherwise they wouldn’t be here in such huge numbers. Most were out of the channel and/or drift fishing so it was easy to weave our way through them, even to the point that it became the “fun” of the day as the grey overcast never left us and marsh land stretched off into the distance. We easily passed the areas the guide book said were shallow, never finding anything shoal or shifting so we settled down into the now deep water of the channel leading out to Little Egg Inlet.

No sooner had we relaxed in the 10 feet of deep water around us then Bam, the bow went down, right in the middle of the channel! Seems a red channel day marker had caused a shoal to develop off its’ post out into the channel as the tidal current dragged sandy water around it. A somewhat nervous moment as the tide was only halfway out, the current was running strong and there were plenty of power boat waves about. 10 minutes of focused wiggling of the boat finally got us free and around the shoal. But the current got stronger and stronger and it took some serious focus to find the channel as the current pushed us sideways. We managed, found our way past the rough open inlet and back into the ICW and into the town of Beach Haven and the Beach Haven Yacht Club Marina.

We were one of two boats at the dock, obviously really early season here, but we had a nice walk around the town, found a grocery store just 4 blocks away and took some welcomed showers and relaxed while Jennifer did the laundry. This was a marina, not a yacht club as we know it. But they did have a unique situation with a number of condos along the breakwater. I’m guessing moorage customers own or have use of the condos as part of the Yacht Club/Marina membership. A fun little town at the Southern end of the Long Beach Island, Beach Haven had a bit of everything. Tourist traps, working areas, recreational fishing marinas and street end parks. A nice blend of every aspect of coastal living.

Sunday morning we headed North up the ICW - well afternoon really as we were only planning a short day to one of a few possible anchorages we found on the chart. So by the early hour of noon we were on our way. This section of the ICW makes a huge arc to the West and takes us under the span of the Route 72 bridge in Manahawkin Bay and then back East to the barrier Islands at a town called Harvey Cedars - a very unique name. At Harvey Cedars we found an uncharted locally marked channel into what looked like a very deep and protected anchorage. A small bay if there was a lot of traffic but this early in the season we didn’t expect anyone coming in and out of the bay. Once past the shallow channel entry we anchored in 12 feet of water just off a huge waterfront park. No docks to dinghy into but plenty of beach access, what a huge find! We’re learning that the guide books are not too descriptive about anchorages and possibilities of shore access as they are more focused on the marinas that spend the money to advertise in their books. But with a little searching, exploring and risking a little bump on the sandy bottom we can find some great anchorages along the ICW, Harvey Cedars being one of them.

This was a very narrow section of the barrier island with only one block on the inland side and two blocks on the outer side before you reached the Ocean. There were no stores and businesses we could find within a few miles walk but the park was outstanding with huge open grass fields to play with MacIntosh in, benches to sit and enjoy the sunset on, and open restrooms, a luxury when you’re sailing on a small boat. We had an absolutely flat and still night anchored in this small cove and woke happy and refreshed in the morning. Something that doesn’t happen in all anchorages.

Harvey Cedars is very close to the Southern end of the Barnegat Bay - the largest body of water on the NJ ICW. So large that the dredged channel ends and you can actually freely sail across the bay! Such a novel idea! Another oddity of the bay is that it is so large and its’ few inlets so small in comparison that it has only a .5’ tidal range, that’s 1/2 of a foot when just across the barrier island it has a 5 to 6 foot tidal range, crazy! So with the winds out of the South East we set our main and 150 genoa and were able to sail the last few miles out of the channel into Barnegat Bay, past Barnegat Inlet and “Old Barney”, the lighthouse at the inlet. Once past the inlet we worked East again and sailed into an area known as Tice’s Shoal that is mentioned as an anchorage for the Island Beach State Park. We threaded our way in with the help of the GPS and threw the lunch hook over (well, we only have one hook...) in 5’ of water.

This baffled me beyond belief, we are on salt water and can anchor in 5’ of water without needing to check the tide chart and without our boat being aground when we get back. Even if it was absolute high tide when we anchored and the tide went all the way out we’d still have half a foot of water under the keel, wild. So we dinghied ashore to a conveniently located boardwalk that leads the mariner inland and over the dunes to the huge beaches at the Island Beach State Park.

This a beach for surf fisherman. No this doesn’t mean that people fish while surfing, it means that people can drive their 4x’s out on the beach and find that perfect spot to pull their truck up to the edge of the surf, sit on the hood and cast their lines out into the surf to be sucked out in the undertow and hopefully gobbled up by some surf fish and retrieved. It’s a huge activity in this area and rod holders can be seen mounted to the front of trucks and air pumps are found next to the park restrooms for filling tires back up after deflating them to get grip on the sand. We walked for miles down the beach on the sunny beautiful day with MacIntosh running after seabirds and diving into the waves whenever he wanted to. We went so far that we ended up with a long hot walk back in the afternoon heat but upon returning we found our dinghy where we left it and Libra still floating at anchor!

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East Coast Cruise for 2012