Winter sailing on the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic City to Cape May, New Jersey.
We skedaddled from AC as soon as there was enough light. The morning was cold and I skated around the frozen dock as I cast us off.
For our third mid-winter day offshore we again enjoyed freezing temperatures, sunshine and big, soft rollers. The Atlantic was still treating us nice, but we knew the weather window couldn’t stay open forever. Our gloves and boots were already stuffed with Hot Hands packets and we were layered up in every piece of clothing we owned. We were anxious to get off the ocean and into the Chesapeake before winter descended for real.
We put up the jib and motor-sailed a little, but mostly just enjoyed a calm day along the Jersey Shore, (hah, had to get that phrase in for the keyword juice) hoping for dolphins, taking selfies, watching for ships and seeking the last marker of our Atlantic Ocean passage.
Never has a buoy been so eagerly awaited.
We’d been hearing “you have to get south of Cape May” for months. Sometimes in tones that suggested it would be pretty scary to do so. So when Red Nun 2CM, which marks the entrance to Cape May inlet, finally appeared on the horizon we were elated. It had been a long, cold (some would say strange) trip. When we finally rounded R 2CM I wanted to grab her and give her a big kiss. We didn’t get that close however, we rounded her properly. Another thing we’d heard about R 2CM is that, though she sits far out from shore and the chart shows depths of 20 feet or more, she lines you up for a safe entry into a channel that features some shoals and a couple of submerged jetties which have been known to wreck the unwary.
We headed into the channel about 2:30 and began the search for a place to secure Sunshine for the night. I was hoping for a marina, or at least a fuel dock. We’d been at anchor or docked at closed marinas since Westbrook, CT. We needed fuel, water and showers. We hadn’t done laundry since Point Judith, RI, seven days before. So we were in search of a marina that had more than Christmas lights shining.
Two days after Christmas is a tough time to find an open marina on the New Jersey coast. As we motored through the harbor the docks looked very, very empty.
If we didn’t find an open marina we would drop anchor in the harbor. There were a couple of boats stored there – minus their sails – and it was well protected. The next morning we’d find fuel somewhere. Somebody in town had to have it. We might have to wait until the fishing fleet had fueled up, but we’d get a few drops of diesel eventually.
I got on the phone and started calling the marinas listed in our outdated cruising guide. My fourth call, to South Jersey Marina, reached the dockmaster who told me they were open for another half an hour and gave me directions to get to their docks. The channel to the inner harbor is narrow, we’d already been stumped as to how to get in. The only way, he told us, was to go right up to the side of the large fishing boats and motor along their hulls.
South Jersey Marina – so good you can sleep in the laundry room
South Jersey Marina was exactly what we needed and more. The expansive docks greeted us like a southern promenade, complete with New Orleans style lamp posts and benches. And the weather enhanced the similarity. Inside the protected inner harbor there was no breeze. It was sunny and 50 degrees. Bright colored fishing boats lined the waterway and people were barbecuing on waterside verandahs. We even saw a guy in shorts. He was rushing the season a bit.
The best thing about the marina though was the restrooms and showers. They’d had a fire a year before and during repairs, decided to upgrade. Boy did they do a good job. Granite tiles, fancy schmancy massaging shower heads, velvet settees, gilded mirrors. This was the kind of decor I’d expected to find in Atlantic City casino restrooms.
The price was right too, $1.50 per foot and the friendly dockmaster gave us a ride to the grocery store. Too bad he didn’t stick around to give us a ride back, we needed everything – including cat litter – and loaded down as we were, that 1.5 miles was a killer. But after so many days on the water with no exercise, we welcomed the chance to get a good hike and work our arms.
The route back to the marina ran along historic Washington Street, which made the chore nicer, as it’s lined with gorgeous Victorian mansions. The town has a lot of charm and does itself up for the Christmas season.
For anyone not chasing a weather window, we recommend staying longer in Cape May and devoting a day to exploring the historic town. We feel like we missed something by staying only one night. Those who have a little more sense and sail during the summer should plan to spend a few days, the town is also ringed with beautiful beaches.
Everything we owned was damp, so after dinner I packed up all our wet clothes and the bedding and headed for the laundry room. Completely zonked, I fell asleep on the couch to the drone of the dryers.
Dried out, and filled up with food, fuel and fluids we were ready for the next leg of our Escape from New England. We retired our New Jersey chart book and for our bedtime story, brought out the new one that covered Delaware Bay, The C and D Canal and Chesapeake Bay.
Next installment – Winter on the Intracoastal Waterway: The Big Bays
Read previous posts about the Escape from New England
Long Island Sound
New Jersey Coast