Monday 30 OCT
The winds are again very high today, though not quite as bad as yesterday. We get off the boat for a bit to go grocery shopping for our departure tomorrow. We stop for pizza for lunch where Ava learns that people in Jersey actually do use the phrase “Howyoudoin?”
Tuesday 31 OCT – Wednesday 1 NOV
SANDY HOOK to OCEAN CITY, MD
We bid a fond farewell to the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club. It was a wise choice to spring for the mooring ball. The two-day storm was a nasty one with gusts close to 50 knots. Although Netzah tugged and rolled in the howling wind I felt confident of the mooring considering the two robust pendants and the fact that many surrounding boats outweighed us by a significant amount.
At sunrise we raise the full main and make our way motor-sailing @ 6 knots across Sandy Hook Bay to the point of the peninsula. The forecast is for westerly winds 15-20 knots with gusts to 25. This will moderate, clock north than east – rebuilding in the ESE in the morning. The plan is to really hug the Jersey Shore by a mile or two so we have very little fetch and a smoother ride even though the winds will be gusty.
As we round the point we gybe the main and unroll the jib. The wind has yet to build to the predicted amounts and we have full sail out making 6 knots in a left over SE swell. Very close to us is another sailboat making its way south. We would continue to stay vary close to them throughout the day and into the early evening. We would be passed by bigger and faster boats throughout the day, all heading south – a real exodus after the storm. A testament to the given opportunity of a good weather window.
As the day progresses the forecast plays out as predicted. By the afternoon we’ve gone down to a third reef in the main and a scrap of jib – as the gusts are strong. Our buddy boat has taken his main fully down and is running under reefed jib alone. The wind has gone a bit further forward than expected and we are sailing more of a close-reach than a beam-reach. But due to our proximity to shore the seas are still flat and the sailing is pleasant and fast (6-7 knots).
By the time of our first shift change @ 11:30pm the wind has dropped to 10-12 knots and clocked to the north (behind us). We roll in the jib – as its blanketed by the main – which is now fully out. As I rest the sailing is fairly smooth and Anca reports speeds still of 6-7 knots.
At the second shift change @ 3:00am we gybe the main over and continue sailing down the coast now past Atlantic City, which is quite a spectacle when seen from offshore at night. Throughout my shift the wind continues to clock around further to the east and we are soon on a beam reach. As the wind will continue to go further forward on this tack throughout the morning we break from the coast just before Cape May and head due south – further offshore. We do this to gain some room from the coast – so when the wind goes further forward we can crack off a bit to head straight for our destination – Cape Henry (at the mouth of the Chesapeake) hopefully on a more comfortable beam reach. At least this is the plan.
By the third shift change @ 6:30am the wind is building and has come more forward. We have two reefs in the main and 50% jib up. I’m hoping this is its peak in terms of both its clocking and speed, but as I lay in the bunk I hear the gusts spinning the wind generator into a frenzy. Soon Anca calls me up to put a third reef in the main. A bit later she calls me up again to take the main down all together. We are sailing at 5-6 knots into a building wind and head sea of 4-6’ with occasional 9’ waves crashing onboard. The forecast was for gusts to 18 knots. This feels more like 25-30. We are still moving but steep short period waves on our beam make the going rough.
I look at the chart and see that Ocean City, MD inlet is about 15 miles away. If we crack off a comfortable 30 degrees we can make it in 2-3hrs. My only trepidation is that the inlet looks quite exposed to the swell on the chart and I’m not familiar with it at all. I check the tide tables and slack tide is @ 11:30 – we should make it right around that time which would be ideal, as any ebbing tide against an incoming swell can create big, steep, and often, breaking waves.
As we approach the inlet it looks frightful – waves stacking up at the entrance – and the buoys look pushed out of position by the swell. I look to my left and see a sport fisherman approach the channel. He goes through. I’m hopeful. Upon our approach a small coast guard boat has come out of the channel – and then another. They sit in calm water to the right of the channel. I think they are here for us. Reassuring? Perhaps not. I then see a pilot boat with them who then proceeds towards the channel. We follow him in, ignoring the channel markers. Once we are committed there is no turning back. By now I’ve started the engine, but decided to leave the jib up for added momentum, stability, and a fail-safe encase the engine should cut-out.
It’s about 11:15, but I’m perplexed – the current still seems to be ebbing hard out of the channel – well enough to stack 6-8’ waves with crumbling tops across the entrance. We surf our way in – rolling to the left and then the right. At one point it feels as if we are in the middle of a wave machine as the waves seem to be standing in place as we move through them. Soon we are through the worst of it and the waves quickly abate as we enter the sublime smoothness of the protected harbor. We drop the hook at a lovely anchorage behind Assateague Island and put our heads down for a long nap.
As we end up spending sometime here waiting for a window to head further south I learn more about the strange and powerful tidal streams in the inlet. I begin to recognize that slack tide is not at the juncture of high or low – as it typically is, but occurs in between them. A result of the unique geographic condition of the ocean tides meeting the two large bay/rivers on each side of the inlet. In hindsight also – I should have hailed the local coastguard – who are stationed right inside the inlet – about the entry conditions. They would probably had advised that I wait for slack (which I thought I was at!) Although given this advice we may have just continued south.
Wednesday 1 NOV
“Were you worried?” I ask Glenn, whose face is expressionless after we are on the other side.
“Yea,” he says.
Hmmmmm, I think to myself, I wasn’t. The luxury I have on this trip is that I travel with someone who makes me feel safe. I, on the other hand, am of no use in this area.
Thursday 2 NOV
In the morning Glenn and I take the dinghy over to Assateague Island to go for a long beach walk. Though we’ve been on the water for five months, this is the first time we will walk on a beach. The temperature is around eighty degrees, the skies mostly clear with small cottons of clouds sitting just above the horizon, and there is not a single thing in sight. Assateague Island is a national seashore entirely preserved as it was when it came into being. This has left it homeless and, at this time of year, people-less. It is famous for the wild ponies, 88 of them, that live free here, which we don’t see, but delight in the knowledge of their existence lost among the distant dunes.
This beach has been waiting for me. The minute the dinghy touches the back side of the island I throw off my flip flops, jump out, and sink into the semi solid surface. I am home. Nothing feels better to me, more comfortable, more familiar than being on a beach. As I walk I realize that it wasn’t just the ocean I had missed all those years living in the middle of the country, but the edge of it, this strip where the waves roll to the tops of my ankles, the water grabbing me into the earth. This place, simultaneously hot land and cool sea, that suspends me, delays me, from all impending conclusions. My appreciation for the beach began as a child. Like the rest of us I guess, this is rooted in its malleable sand-ground and tumbling waters, which occupied me endlessly in my early days. My later affection for the beach, however, was cultivated by the mother of my childhood best friend, Jean. Jean loved the beach. There was a time in our lives when in the summers she would pile us (her three kids and me) into the car and drive us to Ocean City, New Jersey. Sometimes my parents came and sometimes her husband came, but I remember Jean the most. She had a glamorous hippie vibe, mixing cleavage-y bathing suits with soft cotton peasant dresses with big seventies sunglasses with wavy streaky blondness. She would set up our spot with beach chairs and sheets, a cooler with sandwiches, and always, always a radio. Then she would completely relax, in her element, drinking it all in and enjoying every minute. At the end of the day, on our way out of town Jean would emerge from the beachside bathhouse a little more golden and Jojoba-fragrant than the rest of us.
Back on the boat in the afternoon Ava comes out of her room for the first time since breakfast. Her mood is dark. She has been laying low since we left New York staying mostly inside her head, but now, it seems, she will reach out. I can tell she’s angry, and I can tell her anger needs blame, and I can tell I am going to be the target. At first it’s a bit abstract, with accusations – which she, herself, does not believe – of how much I don’t care about her. These teen-barbs don’t land hard. She’s frustrated, I think, as I defend myself with examples of my maternal attentiveness that blow right past her. We go back and forth. Eventually, her frustration takes more shape. She is lonely and sad and is building a resentment towards us for putting her in this difficult situation, she says. She wants to go home she says. I feel my defensiveness rise. Yes, the trip is hard, I respond, but it also has many rewards, some that will only materialize much later. Of course, she very well understands this, but she is also… right. We have put her in a bad spot, maybe even a terrible one. For one, we have grossly underestimated how many young people we would meet on this trip. We have met exactly… none. So, we have unintentionally isolated her. For another, she has pressures of performance that we do not have. Where Glenn and I can work when, how, (and if) we want to, Ava has to complete a year’s worth of school work while here. The freedom we feel is not shared by her. I start to inwardly panic because this is a problem for which I have no solution: We can’t pack up and go home, I can’t produce a teenager, I can’t be a teenager, a movie is a ridiculous suggestion. My mind races and races with nothing to offer. On the exterior I pretend calm. I ask her what she would like me to do (such a lame parenting move). Maybe, I hope, she’s driving at a solution she already has in mind. She isn’t. She continues describing and blaming her aloneness. I sink lower and lower beginning only now to understand and feel the depth of her sadness.
A bit later, Ava and I go to the Starbuck’s, a 15-minute walk away. (I have a skype call to take with colleagues and, though I can stay on the boat, I figure that a bit of exercise might be good for both of us.) Surprisingly we walk along the side of the road talking as if nothing happened earlier, her mood considerably brightened. I am hesitant to dredge up too much of the earlier sadness, but I make an offer to have one of Ava’s friends come join us over Winter Break. Wouldn’t that be fun? I ask. She doesn’t take the offer. Instead she tells me that she feels much better in just having told me about her sadness. She doesn’t need more, she says. She has inherited Vovo’s get-over-it-quick attitude, for which I am grateful and relieved. Still, I have a bit of her burden pressing on me. I will carry this one for some time and am still to come up with a good solution.
By the way, dear readers, don’t feel sorry for me. (Did you?) I am aware of all of the benefits that a trip like this has to offer an American teenager, including the benefits of having to deal with isolation and pressure. I wrote this passage because I want to present a rounded image of our life throughout this trip. We don’t fight or get sad often, but I want to record it when we do.
Friday 3 NOV
This morning I convince Ava that she should come to the boardwalk with us even though – get this – she doesn’t know what a boardwalk is. HOW did this happen?
We dinghy across the wild inlet to the main island and “park” on a little bayside sandy patch which may or may not be public. (Poor signage, OC.) This puts us one block away. The Ocean City, MD boardwalk is a good facsimile of the real thing, the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. It has all of the proper elements: junky foods, arcades, herringbone wood pattern, rides, etc., but this one is a bit too clean and controlled. Of course, we are visiting it during the day in the off season, so we do not get the full sticky summer night effect. I try to imagine it with packs of cute boys, creepy lurkers, hair-swingers, short shorts, stubbed toes, laughing cramps, taffy, and tears. It’s much better that way. Poor Ava, though. No one should really visit the boardwalk with their parents… In the end, we walk from the southern, wilder, end until a point, 2 miles down, where the shops turn into high rise hotels. We turn around and come back. The reward? Soft serve ice cream with jimmies, of course. Don’t call them sprinkles.
Saturday, 4 NOV
Originally, we were going to leave for Norfolk today. However, the weather service has issued a Small Craft Advisory for the portion of the ocean in which we will be sailing. They say the wind gusts would be up to 35 knots and the waves would be 7’-10’, so we don’t leave. We will wait for calmer weather. Part of our dread is in heading back out through the harrowing inlet from whence we came. Having to fight breaking waves feels daunting. So we wait.
Fun Fact: the inlet we came through was formed by a hurricane in 1933. Before that, Assateague Island was part of Fenwick Island, the barrier island with Ocean City on it. The inlet’s formation actually helped establish and grow Ocean City, MD.
For some exercise and fun, we return to Assateague Island this time with Ava. She likes to call it Assacheek Island because she is funny. We walk a long way. We chat easily and every once in a while, Ava dances. Somewhere along the way, we decide that we will read Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye as our first family book club book. First meeting: next Saturday! See you there!
Later Ava and I return to Starbucks to charge our computers (for you, sweet readers) and to Crab Alley, our go-to restaurant for cheap eats. It’s a day of returns, I suppose.
In the evening I start Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply. I will finish it by the morning. I am taken with the story which tells of a six-week period of time when the author lost a baby, her spouse, and her house. But more so, I am taken with the way she tells the story. Levy comes from a journalistic background (New Yorker, gender related stories is her thing), so there’s a reportage-style, but I am referring more to the ways in which she unfurls the details of her life. She has a very matter-of-fact way of moving past details, like the fact that her spouse is a woman, that make us feel like she is part of a progressive contemporary moment of fluidity – to use the zeitgeisty word. The generous part of the writing is in how included we are. In her trust that we are all there with her, Levy assumes our reciprocal generosity and respect. What a pleasure.
Sunday, 5 NOV
A lay-low day mostly. All three of us walk to the grocery store in anticipation of tomorrow’s rain and Tuesday’s departure.
See you next week!