After doing City Island, NY to Barnegat Bay, NJ in one day, we finished off the Jersey Shore portion of the trip south in two 35-mile breezy but successful days.
October 16 – 17, 2021
Forked River NJ, Atlantic City NJ and Cape May NJ
Days 5 & 6
We’ve started to like doing at least parts of the New Jersey shore inside on the New Jersey ICW. We found ourselves in Forked River, NJ in Barnegat Bay at the urging of friends, and we loved it. Going there also got us inside the Jersey coast, and allowed us to continue south even in a very blustery southerly when conditions outside along the shore would have been prohibitive.
Forked River to Atlantic City
The forecast for the day was 20 – 25 knots, gusting occasionally to 30, out of the south: precisely the wrong direction. However, since we were inside, we could press on. Our biggest concern was to get in to Atlantic City before the strong cold front arrived late in the day. Our heated/air conditioned/enclosed pilot house would let us go in any weather, and the sheltered waters of the Jersey ICW would be fine even in the forecast gusty winds.
So after a delightful visit to Forked River and Silver Cloud Harbor Marinas, off we went, headed for Atlantic City, about 35 miles away. The wettest, bumpiest part of the trip was actually right outside the Forked River in wide-open Barnegat Bay. Esmeralde was fine and handled it like a champ, but she was regularly pummeled by spray dousing the pilot house. The wipers worked hard.
The first half of the trip was fairly straightforward and not difficult. Depths were shallow, but not of any real concern to us with our 3.5-foot draft. In addition, our running gear, a single propeller, is in an aperture and protected by a full keel. We would not have wanted to do this with unprotected twin propellers or pods.
Once we passed Barnegat Inlet and turned west into the marshes of Great Bay, things got a little — um — dicey. There were three spots in particular where the charts, the warnings, and the visual cues had us on high alert. Shoals were encroaching on already shallow portions of the channel. At times, we seriously thought we would be better off passing on the wrong side of some of the green markers. We had to keep moving even when we were uncertain, because the wind would have blown us out of the channel had we tried to pause and think things through. We went slow, but we had to keep moving.
In the end, we were fine. We made it through the challenging areas — which are clearly in need of dredging — without incident, albeit with a bit of adrenaline rush. By 3:00 PM we were entering the harbor at Atlantic City, in winds still gusting over 25 and a strong cold front bearing down on us. Special marine warnings were up for the entire Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut coastlines. All of this had been forecast well in advance and we were expecting it. We quickly got ourselves secured at the The Farley State Marina at the Golden Nugget, and went about tidying up the boat.
The last few times we have ducked in to Atlantic City we have stayed at Kammerman’s Marina, across from the Nugget. We have liked it because it is a family run business and the folks there are responsive and friendly. However, the docks are really, really run-down, and we just didn’t want to deal with that on this visit.
We had planned on having supper aboard, but something told us, No, go try The Chart House at The Golden Nugget. Neither of us had high hopes but we went anyway. And we are glad we did. In spite of the generic exterior that was totally uninviting, the place was almost full when we arrived and we grabbed the last couple of available seats at the bar.
The bartenders were friendly and efficient, our neighbors were chatty and fun, and the food was excellent. From our perch at the bar we watched the cold front sweep over the marina with dark clouds, wind and rain. It was very dramatic. By the time we finished dinner it was all over, and we had a dry walk back to the boat.
Back at the boat, we turned in early in anticipation of an early start the next morning. The forecast was not ideal for the run outside from Atlantic City to Cape May, but we were planning to go for it regardless. We wanted to keep moving, the inside ICW was too shallow even for our draft, and we believed that with the blustery wind, which had shifted behind the front from south to west-northwest coming off the land, would be OK for the trip planned.
Atlantic City, NJ to Cape May, NJ
We looked carefully at the forecast to try to confirm that it would still be OK to run outside to Cape May, and to see if we could find any advantages to make it easier. Not much had changed, the west-northwesterly was blowing, but there appeared to be somewhat less pressure in the morning, building slightly in the afternoon. Also, we would have a fair ebb tide out of Atlantic City early, and the slack before flood at Cape May was 12:50 pm, an ideal time to arrive.
It was a gorgeous, crip, blustery day — the coolest temperatures of the trip so far. I was in long pants for the first time. We dropped our lines and had a fast current-and wind-driven exit from Absecon Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean. Although there was a surface chop from the stiff breeze off the land, there was no swell.
We turned south and hugged the beach as close as we were comfortable, which was generally about a half a mile to a mile and a half off in 25 to 40 feet of water. We had a nice ride. Atlantic City and the other south shore towns sparkled in the morning sunshine and crisp air. We settled in for the 35-mile ride, enjoying the relative lack of stress of being offshore rather than in the shallow, twisty ICW.
We hit the Cape May breakwaters exactly at slack before flood, so it was a perfectly calm entrance. A few whale watch boats were returning from their Sunday morning cruises. Porpoises played around the breakwaters and birds were diving for lunch.
We cruised up the channel, past the anchored sailboats off the Coast Guard Station. There were eight or ten sailboats, all presumably waiting for the northwesterlies to lie down so they could head up the Delaware Bay in relative comfort. We proceeded up past the fishing fleet to South Jersey Marina, which we have enjoyed in the past.
We find South Jersey significantly more efficient, cleaner, nicer, and easier to take on fuel, than Utsch’s, which other cruisers seem to favor. South Jersey can be tricky to dock at when the current is running strong. We have seen a number of boats get into some trouble, but we had an easy time. The third option is Canyon Club Marina, which is more resorty with a pool, but that’s not really our thing.
It looks like we will be here for a couple of days waiting for better conditions to run up Delaware Bay. One of the tricks to cruising is figuring out ahead of time when you will be pinned down by weather, and making sure you are in a spot that is fun and pleasant. Atlantic City is not; Cape May is. We are happy to sit for a couple of days. We have moved daily since leaving Newport. The boat could use some TLC, the pups need some grooming, and we all need some exercise. Cape May is a great place for all three, plus some sightseeing for crew entertainment.