Following our chaotic morning at Hoffman’s Marina, we made our way out of Manasquan, New Jersey around noon. We had nearly 60 nautical miles ahead of us and by sailing standards it was already late in to the day. So off we went, sails up, starting to toy with the autopilot. We’d never used our autopilot before because the instrument is, like many things on the boat, old and a bit of a hassle to set up. It didn’t do too well navigating through the waves and often preferred to have a mind of its own, but this was our longest passage to date and for the most part it got us to where we needed to go without having to steer actively.
The afternoon seemed to pass too quickly as we made our way down the Jersey coast, watching the sun make its final farewell into the evening. The sky was absolutely golden and I desperately wanted to hold onto it. This was our very first sunset sail on Talaria, and it’s during these moments you get to reflect and truly appreciate the beauty of the journey. It was all worth it; the fights, the stress, the breakdowns, all of it. The ups and downs go hand in hand, but the tough times make you even more grateful for when things are going just right. And this was the perfect moment.
We saw a couple of other sailboats out in the distance and were slightly more at ease knowing we weren’t completely alone out there. The coast was also fairly well-lit and we could see the florescent lights from Atlantic City in the distance; civilization wasn’t too far! It was getting close to midnight and we began to approach the channel, but this was the first time we were sailing during the night and it was proving to be more complicated than I had imagined. We had hooked up the GPS, but it wasn’t fully installed, so the cord could barely reach the cockpit. I stayed crouched down in the bottom of the cockpit watching the GPS, careful not to move it too much, otherwise the cord would disconnect and the whole thing would shut off.
As we were getting closer to entering Atlantic City we still needed to take down the mainsail and turn the boat around in the opposite direction in order to do so. Of course, right when you need the wind to die down it decides to pick up and reach 20 knots. Romain turned us into the wind and I braced myself to get ready to take down the mainsail. With the wind right on our nose, I gripped onto the boat and carefully made my way up to the mast. Talaria was hitting the waves straight on, as we were lifted up and then slammed down. I was hugging the mast so hard you’d think it was permanently attached to my body. All I could think was let’s just do this fast so we can get into our anchorage.
I was pulling down the sail while still trying to hold onto the mast for dear life, but the waves were moving us around so much that I couldn’t take it down fast enough. I tightened my grip and prayed not to fall overboard, thinking what a dream it would be to have a furling main. I told myself, “You can do this, just pull that damn sail down,” and repeated it over and over. It seemed to take ages to get down but eventually I began to secure the sail ties as best as I could. Unfortunately, the sail was a total mess and I was having a hard time grabbing all of it. I could hear Romain yell over the wind to leave it alone and get back to the cockpit, but I was determined to secure the sail well and attached one more sail tie.
We turned back into the channel and tried to identify the buoys, which were extremely difficult to find in the dark since they weren’t all flashing. In the distance I started to see a white light coming towards us and said to Romain, “I think that might be a boat coming out of the channel.” Was it a buoy or a boat? Suddenly tentacles were appearing from both its sides, getting bigger and brighter as we moved forward. What could this monstrous thing be? Had we been starring at the water for too long that we were starting to see things that didn’t exist? It was official, I was definitely losing my mind.
We kept moving forward and slowly the monstrous thing came into better view – a massive fishing boat heading out to sea at midnight. As it passed us I could see two faint anchor lights in the distance and was thankful to know there would be other boats in the anchorage. We made our way through, dropped the anchor, and felt the exhaustion wash over us. We did it, we made it in, but I was too tired to feel accomplished and all I could think was that I never wanted to navigate an unfamiliar channel at night again.
The next morning the channel and anchorage looked completely different in the daylight, and from this view you’d never guess it could have been so difficult to navigate. You just go straight in and then turn left, easy. Sure. In our well light view we picked up our anchor and checked into the Golden Nugget Marina and Resort, which meant showers and full access to the rooftop pool. Yes! Now this was the reward we both needed.
Two glorious poolside days later we were set to leave for Cape May, New Jersey, but the weather had other plans. Of course. A small craft advisory was issued so we figured we could save our pennies for another marina and wait out the advisory back in the anchorage. The following morning, we left just at the tail end of the small craft advisory, but the swells were bigger than we thought they’d be. Worst of all, they were frequent and seemed to be just a few seconds apart. With the wind coming from behind us we were heading down on a run and couldn’t keep the boom from swinging back and forth. Each swell seemed to slam the boom louder and louder each time. While I’m trying to keep my breakfast down, Romain decides this is the perfect time to cut the engine and drop the newly purchased fishing line off the stern. Romain enthusiastically proclaims, “We’re having fish for dinner!” Are you kidding me? We’re rolling around, the boom is slamming, I can barely hold onto breakfast yet somehow this was the perfect time to enjoy some fishing. This was not the serene passage I was aiming to have. I buried my head in my hands and was utterly useless as we made our way to Cape May. The frequency of the swells completely freaked me out and needless to say we motorsailed the rest of the way in silence.
The only thing that snapped me out of my anxiety coma was the surprising sight of dolphins. All of a sudden I saw a fin appear out from under the water and as we got closer to entering the channel into Cape May we saw dozens of them! Leaping straight out from the water and up into the air; it was exactly the kind of welcome we needed. There were so many dolphins all around us and they swam so close to our boat I could almost reach out and touch them. We had read about dolphins in the Caribbean but we had no idea there would be so many of them this far North. It was the perfect start to our visit to the Cape May. We settled into the crowded anchorage right by the Coast Guard and docked at South Jersey Marina the next day. The marina had probably one of the nicest bathrooms we’ve come across cruising and a courtesy car to take you into town or to West Marine. Perfect, we always need something from West Marine.
We had been looking for a used dinghy for some time and I finally managed to convince Romain to go to West Marine and see what they had available. Since Romain was adamant about continuing down the Atlantic coast to Norfolk, rather than going up the Delaware Bay and into the Chesapeake Bay, our deal was that we would do the outside route only if we got a dinghy. After a considerable amount of time at West Marine debating whether we should splurge on a brand new one, we finally purchased the dinghy. We decided against buying a new outboard and would look for a used one later one, but at least we had oars and we could row to shore. Needless to say it’s been several weeks since we’ve had it and we still haven’t taken it out.
We inflated the dinghy, strapped it to the bow, and with our fresh purchase of marine toilet and holding tank cleaning products – turns out we needed to add a treatment into our tank after all – we planned to get to Norfolk in three days. Day one would be from Cape May to Ocean City, Maryland, then a quick stop in Wachapreague, Virginia for the night and then to Norfolk. Easy. Except, plans seem to find a way of getting off course and our passage down the Delmarva Peninsula was no exception.