The tale of Sweet Allie Bluebeard – Day 2

The next day was Sunday. SeaTow woke me up at 7:10 AM with their bull horn, and post haste got me turned around pointed back out into the bay. I started the engine and between their pulling and my engine, Sweet Allie slid right back out into the bay.

I had originally intended to sail on down the coast that day, but I was in a lot of pain so when I got towed off and the SeaTow operator offered to lead me into a marina I took him up on his offer. I headed into a little place called Kammerman’s Marina and booked a slip which I ended up keeping Sunday and Monday. I just lounged the next two days trying to let my ribs heal.

I also walked all the way around Gardner’s basin to a restaurant directly on the opposite shore of the basin. Two hundred yards away as the seagull flies, a mile or so on foot. And a mile back of course. The food, meh. But a mile walk at least puts you in the mood to try to enjoy it. And the thought of another mile walk back, makes one a real food critic. Uhhh nope, not worth doing again tomorrow!

My boat had a slow leak around the packing gland. I had discovered the leak back at Barnegat Bay and had tried to get it fixed but the marina owner, who was a fine mechanic, just couldn’t get in a position to get at it. It was up behind something called the exhaust lift or something, pretty inaccessible. He told me that the next time I hauled the boat I could get it fixed. It leaked perhaps a pint an hour, a fair amount, but it really just meant that the bilge pump would run once a day or so to pump it out. Not good but not a real issue.

Until the silly screen filter in front of the pump clogged. It turns out that the bilge had crud in it, and I hadn’t really cleaned it. So after a few days of battling the seas, water sloshing around in the bilge, it stirred the crud up and sucked it into the pump. To be caught by the screen, which is what filter screens are for after all. And the pump stopped pumping because no water could get through the filter. And the bilge water got deeper, which is how I discovered the problem. Well the pump never shutting off was a clue.

The bilge pump is under the sink, in the engine compartment, behind the trash container, a wooden door with a v shaped container that tilts out at the top to put your trash in. You lift that out and there is the pump behind it. And the plastic container holding the screen is screwed down next to it. All very convenient unless you have severely bruised ribs. Because you have to get down on your butt and sit in front of the door, reach back in there and use a screw driver to get it loose. Every single part of which, getting down and getting back up, and using the screwdriver, requires using my right arm, which tweaks my injured ribs. In fact I was to discover that pretty much everything I had to do on the boat required using my right arm and tweaking my ribs. In any event, I found the pump, the screen, the problem, and cleaned the screen. In fact I would clean the screen pretty much daily. Painfully aware that I shoulda fixed the damned leak.

I talked to the marina guy about the next leg, down to Cape May. He assured me that the bay was quaint, and that I could get fuel there. He told me I should motor into town, tie up at the dock and enjoy dinner in the quaint little town. I was naive. I was also assured that I could anchor in the bay, and sure enough I looked at Navionics and could see the little anchor symbols out in the bay. Again I was naive. So I made my plans to motor on down to Cape May and anchor in the bay.

I had no idea how big my fuel tank was (gasoline engine by the way), in fact I still don’t know for sure. As near as I can tell it’s 35 gallons but the only way to know for sure is to measure the length and the end, and being a cylinder, do the math. I still haven’t done that. What I did was buy two five gallon jerry cans and filled those with gas, lashing them to the rails. If I do run out I can at least motor on another 50 or more miles on my spare gas. And I was told by the previous owner that Sweet Allie used about a gallon+ an hour at full speed, hull speed being around 7.something knots. Doing the math there I figured I could get 250 miles or so, plus the Jerry cans. But it is an uneasy feeling not knowing.

Anyway, I didn’t bother to fuel up in Atlantic city, figuring I had plenty of fuel to get me to Cape May. Tuesday morning I headed out of the Atlantic City cut and headed south. It was a fine day, and I should have sailed, but I was still hurting and really didn’t want to manhandle the sails so I just motored. As I said, it was a fine day, blue skies, no real wind to speak of and so no real waves to speak of, and I made good time. If you can call 7 MPH good time. Yea. But Tillie kept her on course and the engine just ticked along and I made it into the Cape May bay by late afternoon, a long but uneventful trip.

As I came in the bay there were in fact a bunch of sailboats anchored off to the side of the channel, but they all look kinda small. I am now looking at the bay on Navionics expanded in pretty good and it looks to me like the bottom off the channel is only 4 feet or so.

Now you’d think that given my difficulties in Atlantic City I would have studied the Cape May bay in some detail but you’d be wrong. I am back at that idle crawl thing, trying to figure out whether there was any place for me to anchor, and not really finding one that I believed was deep enough. So I decided I’d motor on into the little town as my buddy had recommended. I was told I could go right in, so I did. I am looking at the sides of the bay approaching the town, looking for those fueling stations, and not finding them. There are pilings along the sides, with some commercial boats tied up, but no sign of fuel.

The channel comes in and splits into a Y with the starboard branch heading on out the other side of the bay (I learned later), and the port side heading into the cute little town.

Now I’m here to tell you that it is indeed a cute little town. Emphasis on little. I’m doing the idle crawl thing motoring on in and as I zoom in further and further I suddenly discover that I am coming to the end of the canal / and there is a low bridge on the leg I thought I was going to go into to motor on out of town. This is when I suddenly understood what every sailboat owner must understand. We have a big stick sticking up into the air and many bridges just won’t let us past.

So I am alternating between enjoying the cute and panicking over what the heck am I gonna do next cause this canal is getting real narrow real quick. With the restaurant along the starboard wall of the town, folks at dinner looking out at me motoring in, thinking to themselves that I must not know what I am doing, cause there is no place to go!!!

There are boats tethered on every foot of the wall and no docks until the very end, where I see an unoccupied tiny little dock sticking out. Just for me?!?!? With a piling off to the port side, there is just enough space to slip in between the piling and the dock. So I try to slip in. Only for some reason the bow starts swinging towards the dock on the starbord side, pointed right at the end of the dock, and I’m gonna hit it. I put it in reverse and reved it hard and discovered just how bad my prop walk is. The ass end swung to port. My bow swung starboard and I executed the cleanest turn you have ever seen. I put it back in forward and reved it slightly and I am heading right back down the channel I came in. NO idea how I managed to not hit that piling, or the boats on the far wall. In fact I would have sworn there was not enough width to make that turn.

I decided that discretion is the best part of valor and I proceeded to motor on back out of town the way I had come in. As I am leaving, I am waving to the folks eating dinner, thinking to myself “I bet they think I know what I am doing!” From up there at the restaurant tables I must have looked like an expert seaman.

Unfortunately, the sun is now going down, the wind is kicking up, I need to anchor, and it seems that the bay is questionable for my size boat. So I headed out the other leg of the channel, the Cape May Canal. By now I am resigned to just heading out into the Delaware river basin and anchoring off shore in the river for the night. Little did I know.

The mouth of the Delaware river is wide, perhaps 12 miles from the tip of Cape May Point over to Lewes Point, where I don’t want to go anyway. And when I clear the canal, the winds are now blowing 15 knots or so and bad chop, short duration, 2-3 feet directly on the bow. Which means my plans to hook a right and anchor against the beach isn’t going to work because I will be anchored in this nasty chop. There’s really nothing for it but to motor on across the bay to the other side and hope that the shore will shelter me from the wind and waves.

Have I mentioned how slooooow boats go. Well 6 miles per hour directly into the chop for 18 miles across the bay… yea, three HOURS at the end of an already long day. And did I mention that my boat has no dodger? What no dodger and short chop on the bow means is that one gets wet. I am cowering down behind the front wall of the cockpit, but it doesn’t help. The nose dives into the chop, the wind blows the spray up and over and drops it precisely behind the front wall of the cockpit. What’s a responsible captain to do except go below and get dry. Of course one has to pop up every 15 minutes or so to check for hazards, and you can bet your sweet bippy that when you do, that will be the precise instant that water comes into your face as you plunge into another wave. Boating is so much fun.

I had been told that I needed to catch the tide moving up the river because it would add to my ground speed, and that I really didn’t want to catch it coming down river as it would subtract from my ground speed. As it happened when I got to the other side, around 9 that night, my plan had worked, the winds died and I had glassy calm water. And as it happened, the tide was coming in. While my intention was originally to just find a place to anchor, once I discovered that I was making stellar time upstream, and remembering the caution to make hay while the moon shines, I just turned up river and motored on into the night, staying a half mile or so off shore.

I have to admit that this is what makes sailing fun. Out there on the water, pitch black, the lights of the big ships at anchor in the middle of the channel. The engine purring and glassy smooth water. Navionics was functioning great, showing me where I needed to be, how far to stay out from shore. A beautiful night.

It was probably midnight when I saw the lights across the river, no clue what it was but like a huge factory or something. Hope Creek generating station as it turns out. Nuclear it seems, though I didn’t know that at the time. So I cut back across the river, which at that point is around a mile wide and dropped anchor.

This was also the very first time I had deployed the anchor by myself. I had practiced it with my instructor a couple of times but it’s a little different single handed. In fact now that we are on the subject I just want to mentioned that everything is a little different single handed. Another of those “never really thought of it that way” things but single handed means I have to do EVERYTHING! By myself. Thank goodness for Tillie. And the fact that a boat really doesn’t go very far very fast. So I could do the idle crawl, with Tillie getting me heading some direction, take her out of gear, and I could go up forward and drop the anchor without the boat really moving very far. It was very satisfying though, dropping the anchor that second night of travel, all by myself out in the darkness. Feeling the anchor bite and stop the boat.

I hadn’t run aground. I hadn’t hit that pier, or the piling. I had somehow miraculously hooked a u turn and extracted myself from Cape May. Two days on my own and I hadn’t even damaged my boat or anyone else’s.

I sat in the darkness listening to the silence, wondering what that big mass of lights were.

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