Good Bye News (York and Jersey), Hello Phantoms of the New Jersey Coast...

Posted Nov. 4, 2008 at 09:20

Leaving the Hudson, past the Statue of Liberty and into NYC Upper Bay was certainly an adrenaline-filled couple of hours... Just before that, as we stopped by Liberty Landing Marina to refuel, strong 20-25kn winds were blowing us onto the fuel dock as we were coming alongside, and a foot long, white streak resulted on our hull, as our fender slipped into a hole between dock segments, even though there were "dock hands" to assist us...  Fortunately and unbelievable, it was their white rub-rail strip along the dock and not our blue hull that got scraped - their guy was scraping it off with his nail from our hull to prove it - gone!  Phew!!

Out past the Statue of Liberty, in the Lower Bay before the Verrazano Bridge, there were a dozen of tugs, barges going in six different possible direction, yet another so many anchored in visually similar places.   Having charted waypoints to get through didn't help much as you constantly have to react to the situation and adjust course as necessary.  To simplify things, I ignored the countless, fast ferries running between Manhattan, Staten, Liberty, and Governors Islands, and concentrated on the larger, slower moving tows and ocean-going vessels.  There were at least three different 'main' shipping channels crossing with red and green bouys all over the place visually.  You really have to know the place to know where you're going (it's like driving downtown Rome, Italy). Fortunately, in the water world, things rarely happen in seconds, rather in minutes, so I had time to re-check the charts and figure out which behemots were in anchorages (a giveaway: their hulls had no whitefoam around, as they were not moving, at anchor) in the middle of the Bay, so they were a safe haven to pass nearby as you scope out the next hop toward that coveted freedom (in the direction opposite of the Statue of Liberty :-), that relaxing wide blue yonder beyond the Verrazano bridge, where reason returns and all you have to worry about is wind and its direction...  Yes we monitored VHF 13 and 16, and you wouldn't believe the number of "securitee, securitee, securitee..." messages trampled one over another mixed with "Hey Joe, where you're going with that tug in your hand?" - "Hey Jimmy, good to hear ya', don't worry, see ya' port to port..." (meaning they'll pass each other seeing each other's left side (like cars on a two lane highway)).

Sunset 4nm off the New Jersey coast

Dora's accelerated offshore boat-wallowing training in the Hudson paid off - she hasn't been seasick since we left the NYC area.  She's actually enjoyed the overnight passage and the nice, normal boat movement in a 10-15kn downwind passage along the New Jersey coast... We did the stretch from the Hudson to Cape May under sail (no diesel) in less than 20 hours...  In fact, we had to stretch it a bit near the end since we would have arrived two hours before sunrise.

The "fun" started much earlier... . Our navigation lights went out shortly after darkness fell - and in an instant I knew a ghost from the recent past came back to haunt me. The short, that caused the same during the overnight passage around the Gaspe Penninsula of Quebec, was still lurking in the dark channels of Dazzle pulpit rails and decided this night was it!  So we played the "i'll turn you on and see how long can you last" game...  We intermittently had navigation lights on/off a number a times until we got tired (and thought we should give the breaker a rest, lest we want to buy another one soon) and turned on the steaming light that lit our headsail as the only "navigation" light.

There was quite a lot of traffic coming northward along the New Jersey coast, mostly tugs with barges in tow.  We were running approximately  four to five natical miles offshore and lo and behold, the tugs seemed to like the five mile distance (I felt flattered for my random choice of waypoints).  I had my message prepared, so when I saw a tug/tow headed straight for us 7 miles ahead on the radar, I got on the radio... "securite, securitee, securitee... this is the sailing vessel Dazzle. Our navigation light have failed, we're under sail using our steaming light to illuminate our headsail headed south, 6 miles east of Atlantic City..."  So we got a "port-to-port" agreement with the tug and that felt good (this was 2am).

By the way, now we know one of the major reasons why global warming is happening.  You just have to look at Atlantic City from 5 (or thirty) miles offshore.

(ok, I need an image-stabilized camera for a 2s exposure at night)  Christmas trees on Christmas night are no comparison for Atlantic City on any night... It is unbelievably lit.  We could see it's beacon of light into space from thirty miles away.  All of Manhattan in the other direction behind us, was not radiating that much light.  We were so happy we didn't have to get any closer to Atlantic City and the Trump businesses (casinos) than that.

Now comes the highest adrenaline point... 4am, total darkness, me total tiredness, half asleep, radar at 12nm range...  Suddenly I spot a spot within the 1nm range on our starboard (right) beam (side).  What's that? I wasn't there...!@$%^ I see no lights anywhere around!!!!  I zoom in with the radar down to to 3nm range, acquire it as a "marpa" target and watch it head on a collision course right in front of us at a high speed...  And it's still absolute darkness! I grab the binoculars, heart pounding by now, and scan the horizon... For a second I think I see a dark outline I can't recognize move at the bearing and direction the radar is indicating, but it disappears from my eyes (binoculars) and can't find it anymore. While I'm searching, Dora's watching the radar signal on the navigation laptop below to make sure it's not changing course. The radar starts beeping it's within the 0.5nm danger zone and the dot keeps coming... Total darkness no navigation lights anywhere (we're lit by the steaming light). Screw that, we're tacking (turning 90deg to starboard (right)) to let this phantom pass in front of our course... And we keep watching the radar, and a minute later, once it's passed through our course, we tack back onto our previous course, look with the binoculars again, to no avail.  We can only see it with the radar and its straight trail/history across our course... Once it was 1nm away from us it stops... and seems to hover. And,... it disappears from the radar!  Now that got me truly...  Range out, back in, it's track still there, but no, it's signal is gone.  It was here for five minutes, a large and thick radar target and now gone.  And that's how it ended, no resolution.  Three possibilites 1) unlit, fast, quiet (no engine sound, we were sailing), stealth 'fishing/pirate/drug running' boat, 2) right whale, spending a lot of time on the surface, 3) mini-submarine surfacing then diving again (no depth for large ones), 4) etc..   Misterious.  Proves the point of having to watch your radar at all times when underway at night, because that may be the only eyes you have.

Around 8am or so, we were anchored just off the Coast Guard Station among half a dozen of other boats (with tidal current and 10kn of westerlies pushing us in opposite directions) and we both fell back into our bunks to snooze for a couple of hours. By 12am we had coffee and I had all my tools out to disassemble the bow railing and rip that damn wiring out.  Rationally, I knew the problem has to be close to where the rail meets the deck, as I had fixed the bow end where the light is in the summer at Riviere au Renard.  I knew at the time that I didn't find the short conclusively, but I dreaded the thought of taking the rail apart and fishing the wire out.

Fixing one of many great commissioning fubar jobs of our illustrious dealer.  It turned out the problem was within an inch from where the rail sits on the deck. When they had the rail removed at the dealer shop (the boat wouldn't fit in otherwise) it appears the rail tubing edge pressed down and cut through the wire insulation as it was put back. I had to take down the lifelines, lift the rail, fish the damaged wire out - the new one in, reconnect and reassemble.

In the evening the admiralty had a discussion with the skipper and expressed its dissatisfaction with the plan to continue straight to Norfolk with another 150nm overnight coastal offshore thereby skipping Delaware Bay, the C&D canal and Chesapeake Bay (the skipper was thinking of the admiralty's earlier wish of getting to Florida and warm weather asap).  But then we'll miss Chesapeake Bay... and there will be no other for quite some time.  Ok, that's true, change of plans, up the Delaware Bay we go, let me read the guides. Next morning (Nov 1) 7am we take off...