The start of our very first passage out of the safety and comfort of our home port in Oyster Bay mirrored a recurrent theme: hectic stress interspersed with bursts of nervous excitement. On the morning of our departure we were still debating whether we should leave as planned or wait a few extra days until friendlier weather conditions arrived. The forecast showed rain and thunderstorms and I preferred to wait it out, which would also give us time to finalize a few things for the trip without having to rush; laundry, groceries, getting anchor chain… have a drink, calm down. I wanted to slow down our pace in an effort to lessen the intensity of my nervousness, but that wasn’t going to be an option. After our morning coffee we saw the chance of rain dissipate and just as quickly we decided this was our window to go. All right, lets do this! The mad dash to get the priority to-do items completed quickly began; fill up the water tanks, get diesel, buy the new anchor chain and hook it up, stock up on provisions, and finally say goodbye to the team at the marina. See you in 18 months, Oyster Bay, we’re off!
We made a plan to take it easy for the first few legs of our trip. Each passage was purposefully short to ease into this cruising thing and build up our sailing hours gently. Up to that point we had sailed Talaria only four times so we were still getting acquainted with her. We decided to split the trip from Long Island Sound to Cape May into five passages:
1. Oyster Bay to City Island (18 NM)
2. City Island to Gravesend Bay (23 NM)
3. Gravesend Bay to Manasquan, NJ (32 NM)
4. Manasquan to Atlantic City, NJ (58 NM)
5. Atlantic City to Cape May, NJ (43 NM)
The first leg to City Island was perfect; beautiful, sunny day with 10 to 15 knots of wind at our nose, forcing us to tack quite a bit, but this was the fun part and to our relief it had finally started. We turned on the engine only towards the end to get to our anchorage, dropped our anchor near Throgs Neck Bridge and settled in for the night. Being our first time anchoring with our brand new anchor chain purchased that morning, we began to question if we let out the right amount of scope. How did that ratio go again? Was it 4 to 1? Or should we do 5 to 1 just in case? We let out somewhere around a 5 to 1 ratio, and spent the evening frequently looking outside to check whether we were drifting. We didn’t have any other boats around us so at least we couldn’t crash into anyone. Unfortunately the constant bobbing on the water didn’t make it a peaceful night and sleeping in the v-berth was nearly impossible. I spent the night trying my luck in the saloon where it was a little less choppy, but even if the water had been perfectly still, my mind was too preoccupied with worrying about the anchor holding and the next day’s passage through Hell Gate that the chances for a good nights sleep were null.
Waking up on the grumpy side, we lifted the anchor and saw thick, black mud. Anchor success! There was no way we could have gone anywhere with that holding. Phew. It was now day two and we had to get through the dreaded Hell Gate, where we had to time our passage just right so we could get there at slack, before the tides changed direction and the water would be the most calm. The currents are strong at Hell Gate, and if our timing was off we’d either be fighting a fast current or potentially white water rafting through it. Yikes. Here’s hoping we calculated our timing correctly. We didn’t bother with the sails and just used the engine, but to our frustration we noticed we were the slowest boat. Why was everyone else so much faster? Was there something wrong with our propeller or it’s just a smaller engine compared to these bigger boats? We seemed to be crawling, watching everyone else pass us, making us regret our departure time. Second guessing ourselves, we began to wish we left earlier; it was taking us much longer than we planned. At this rate we would have a slight current going into Hell Gate, crap. We continued to make our way with impatience, passing Laguardia and entering Hell Gate. All right, we’re in it! And thankfully, it’s not as bad as we thought.
It was all going well, we were getting through it, and we just needed to pass Manhattan and then the Verrazano Bridge. We were standing tall with the feeling of accomplishment when we suddenly hear the Coast Guard on the radio, “Sailing vessel heading South to Roosevelt Island this is the US Coast Guard on channel one six, over.” Was that for us? We looked around and saw we were the only sailing vessel. We wait and again we hear, “Sailing vessel heading South to Roosevelt Island this is the US Coast Guard on channel one six, over.” Okay that’s definitely for us. We respond, “This is sailing vessel Talaria, over.” The Coast Guard informs us our planned route along the West side of Roosevelt Island is closed due to security and we must go down the East side of Roosevelt Island. What? We have to go down the East side? But there’s a 45 foot bridge and our mast is 49 feet. Panic. I remembered you could call the bridge at least half an hour before you approached it in order to have it lifted, but I could already see it from where we were, which would put us at the bridge in 15 minutes. Panic more. What was that number again? I read about a telephone number for the bridge and frantically looked it up in our Waterway Guide, but no one answered. Then of course I see in my notes channel 13 is for bridge communication. That’s exactly what the Coast Guard said at the end of our scrambled conversation. Now I feel like an idiot for not understanding.
I hailed the bridge on channel 13. No answer. I tried again and waited as I noticed the current was starting to carry us further along. I was about to make a third attempt on the channel but then we finally got a response. We took a breath and asked them to lift the bridge for our clearance; we were approaching it quickly. We got a confirmation the bridge would lift, which calmed us briefly but we were moving much faster and the bridge was dangerously close and remained unmoved. We could hear the bridge operators say they’ve stopped the traffic but someone ran the light. Shit. We lowered our engine power and tried to stall our approach. The bridge began to lift but then it stopped. Was it done? Did we even have enough clearance? Why the hell wasn’t anyone saying anything on the radio? We put the engine into neutral and tried to get a confirmation we could pass under, but now our boat was starting to drift sideways. Romain yelled to confirm whether we could fit. My heart was in my throat and I tried to make a coherent sentence on the channel, but it was too late and the current was pulling us under the bridge. I heard on the radio from the bridge operator we were all set to go but I looked up and watched our mast approaching the bottom of the bridge. I couldn’t watch this. No, I should check to see if we could actually pass. I held my breath and looked up. Nope, there was no way, I definitely couldn’t watch this. I clenched my eyes shut and every muscle tightened. At that point all I could do was pray it would be all right. When I reopened my eyes our mast was on the other side, untouched. I let out a breathe but the relief didn’t set it. Instead, anger replaced the anxiety and I was furious we had to go through that, thinking this was absolutely nuts. To top things off Romain and I started arguing and I found myself yelling and crying just for the sake of it. This was too much. Romain tried to deescalate the mood by focusing on the city view and thankfully we continued on in peace, focusing on getting through the harbor and past the Verrazano bridge, where thankfully we didn’t have to worry about clearance. We later learned about a sailboat that lost its rigging going under the Roosevelt bridge.
So on we went, managing just fine to get to Gravesend Bay, which was right off Coney Island. We dropped our anchor and it was time to celebrate with a drink, but first we had a quick ‘shower’ in the water. We both wanted to go for a swim, but even Romain was a little freaked out by the potential sharks. There’s been a lot of sightings off of Coney Island lately, and if Romain didn’t want to go in the water, then there was no way I was going in myself. A quick dip while still holding onto the ladder was all I could do.
The anchorage in Gravesend Bay was amazing for its view, but if I thought City Island was a bumpy anchorage, this one was even worse. The big swells and thunderstorms didn’t seem to help either. We spent two sleepless nights there, hoping we wouldn’t get struck by lightening, and psyching ourselves up for our first ocean sail to Manasquan, New Jersey.
The initial crossing towards New Jersey was the first time we were going towards a destination where we couldn’t see land ahead of us. This was incredible, we were really doing this, in the Atlantic! I couldn’t believe it. The winds were on the lighter side so we had to motorsail, but this was absolutely fine for us. We arrived in Hoffman’s Marina feeling so accomplished, thinking we were actually getting the hang of this. The area was almost exclusively for power fishing boats and we felt a little bit like the unwelcome black sheep, but we were thrilled to be on land, shower, have wifi and best of all free laundry. I finally was able to sleep like a baby knowing that Talaria was safely docked and in calm waters.
The next morning we were trying to figure out our route and whether we should stop in Barnegat Bay or go straight for Atlantic City. From what I had read about Barnegat Bay it was a tricky inlet and most of all, it was very shoal. Our six foot draft would be an issue so I called the local Coast Guard to find out if we could enter the inlet without concern. Unfortunately the Coast Guard couldn’t actually say if it would be all right but they did kindly give me a tip about a charter boat there with a deep draft. After some research I found the Barnegat Witch, who also has a six foot draft, and spoke with the captain. He was extremely helpful and recommended we enter only at high tide and could anchor just inside the inlet. This was great news. Now all we had to do was make sure we could stay another night at the marina and then we’d leave first thing the following morning.
Except, of course, the marina was completely full and couldn’t accommodate us for a second night; they actually had two boats coming in for the same slip. That meant we had to leave right away and it was already noon. Crap. We asked the marina about Barnegat Bay and they told us not to bother with it because it was a very shallow inlet, suggesting we go straight to Atlantic City instead. But that was nearly 60 nautical miles from Manasquan, and it was already getting late into the afternoon. It would take us 12 hours to get to Atlantic City, which would be mean sailing in the night, in the ocean. This was exactly what I wanted to avoid. What was that recurring theme again? Oh yes, stress and panic.
In another mad dash to get going, we refilled on diesel and water, overfilling our water tanks, which just pushed me right over the edge. I was exhausted from worrying and now we had to go on a sail that would bring winds of nearly 20 knots, in the night, into a port we’ve never been. This was not my idea of taking it slow, so I paused for a breakdown. I’m pretty sure the entire marina heard me. Excellent. Now that my fit was out of my system, we got ourselves together, did a quick pump out, and absolutely horrified the dockmaster when he saw the color of our holdings. No one ever enjoys dealing with the pump out, but this was a look of utter terror. Wow, we must have dropped some serious bombs. He told us it wasn’t supposed to be brown. What do you mean it’s not supposed to brown? Do you poop out rainbows or something? Apparently we needed to add chemicals to our holding bladder; we have one of those sacs instead of a tank, which doesn’t make it sound any more pleasant. We never added any chemicals to our tank because I had read chemicals destroyed the hoses, and after we spent several weekends changing all of our sanitation hoses, I definitely didn’t want to add anything that would deteriorate them. But I guess we got that wrong and needed to add something. In any case, this wasn’t the moment to deal with the lack of rainbows in our holding bladder, at that point we just needed to get to Atlantic City.