We anchored for just one night across the inlet from the casinos and all the excitement of Atlantic City, NJ. Because of the distance across the waterway; there was no blackjack or slots to be had to entertain us. What a bummer, gambling was how we had planned to pay for this trip, oh well it’s back to eating day old meat!
We dropped our anchor in a salt pond inside the AC inlet just before the bridge. On the charts it looks like… well… a pond, not somewhere a sailboat with a 5.5-foot draft should be heading into. Our friends Craig and Donna of m/v Might Fine had anchored in the pond before and were able to give us piloting tips to make sure we got in without running aground. Without their help, we would have never attempted to go there – according to our charts we motored right through depths of less than 5 feet! Once inside the pond it was worth the anxiety of the entry, it was just lovely, peaceful and calm.
At sunrise the next morning we made our way out of the anchorage and started for Cape May and the Delaware Bay. We were part of a caravan of boats, both sail and motor, who it seemed all hoped to make some southern miles after waiting too long for this favourable weather pattern. One of them, the sailboat called ‘So Far So Good’, was keeping pace with us and our paths crossed a few times as we transited the coast. At 11:00 Tim was at the helm when he spotted an orange and yellow, partially inflated floating object about a half mile to our port side.
What is that? It looked similar to a life raft and freaked us out a bit. We decided we could not ignore it and changed course to have a look. As soon as we changed our course we were called on the radio by So Far So Good as they too had seen the object and offered their assistance if necessary. As we approached it became clear (thankfully) it was not a life raft but just an inflatable toy, something we at home call a ‘party island’. It usually seats about 6 people and allows you to dangle your feet in the water. It has drink holders to boot! It clearly had been in the water for awhile as it had sea life growing on the bottom, but we decided to bring it aboard as it was unsettling to us and figured would be to other passers by. We used a rigging knife to punch holes in it as we hoisted it over our lifelines and onto the deck. So Far So Good circled our boat as we did this waiting to see that all was ok. The floaty thing was full of salt water and we struggled to get it aboard. Once we finally had it on deck we reported back to SFSG what we’d found and that everyone could resume their journey.
Not too long after this, we were checking in with Mighty Fine on the radio and shared our big adventure; Craig mentioned that he’d heard other boats report the object and that he thought the Coast Guard might looking for it. Tim put out the call to the USCG and reported the position where we picked up the party island. No longer a hazard to mariners.
Since Might Fine can travel faster than us, they had passed us earlier in the day, but stayed in touch and they gave us an air draft report for the bridges at Cape May As they transited, the air draft was 56 feet. Although we were making pretty good time, we were at least an hour behind schedule and were worried that our mast might not fit under the bridges in the Cape May canal.
Air draft is the height from the top of a boat (mast if it’s a sailboat) to the surface of the water, ours is 54’4”. The bridge clearance in the Cape May canal is 55’ at high water. Since the coast had seen heavy rain in the last few days, it was possible the bridge clearance at Cape May would be reduced, possibly less that 55’ at high water and already we had only 6” to spare. Mighty Fine was entering the canal at least 60 minutes before us and the tide was rising… if we could not cut through the canal, we’d add another 15-20 miles to the days journey – not good. After much discussion between Tim and I, we decided to enter the Cape May inlet, check the clearance marker on the bridge.
This chart is submerged in the water with the number of feet clearance available, as the tide rises, the water level shows how much clearance is left. When we got there it still said 56 feet – we decided to go for it. As we passed under the bridge, I watched and waited for the wind indicator to be snapped off or even the tv antenna. Apparently, the marker was correct and we cleared both bridges without losing anything off the mast. Whew.
By 2pm we were in the Delaware Bay and headed for the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.