We braved the teeming boat traffic on Independence Day proper to go for a sail. I did not expect to have to make the request “bring me my harpoon,” but, eh, sailing is unpredictable.
The Fourth of July may be the worst day to sail around here. There’s a small chance that it will be cold on Labor Day, or that someone hasn’t had the time to get their 50 gallon-per-hour noise making machine up to its maximum decibel levels by Memorial Day, but everyone is ready to load their party barge with 20 people and 202 Coors Lights by early July. Apparently even during a pandemic.
We got off to an auspicious start when I spilled most of a 20oz coffee on the starboard cockpit seat, which traveled down the channel around the locker and collected near the scuppers. My main sheet was in a coil on the cockpit floor, so, like a banker wearing a Jerry Garcia tie, the once-solid-blue Samson Trophy Braid now has the slightest whiff of counterculture with a mild tie-dyed effect, where some of it steeped in coffee and some didn’t. At least I take it black. We were already a half mile from the marina, so we rinsed it with bay water to deal with the worst of it until we could get nearer to a hose.
We put the sails up just outside the mouth of the creek. The wind was maybe 8 or 10kts from the northeast, and we headed north. At 38, we had to turn to go around Good Luck Point. I thought we’d be able to sneak past under sail, but on that heading the wind was too far forward. With no room to tack due to shallow water (and condensed boat traffic), we furled the jib and motored past Martell’s, out to 36.
There were a pair of ospreys on 36 and we saw one return with a stick to fortify their nest. We rounded the mark, furled the jib and cut the engine, and continued on to Toms River. Making the left turn into the river was difficult with powerboats crisscrossing every which way, and we couldn’t just wait until the light turned red and then gun it like at every other intersection in New Jersey, but we got there. I set the whisker pole, and settled in for a long downwind run.
These photos seem to show few other boats, but that’s mostly a matter of selective timing and framing. It seemed like the majority of boats were flying enormous flags for a certain presidential candidate, which is not something that I really want to think about when sailing or reproduce here.
We sailed into the Toms and observed the old buildings along the river. And the newer ones that seem to have been designed just so Kate Wagner has something to talk about.
There was less wind in the river. I thought it was just because we were so far inland, although other people at my marina would later complain that it lightened up everywhere. We were still sailing downwind when a skinny sailboat crept up behind us and easily passed us at close range. I couldn’t place it at the time, but some poking around online showed that it was an Etchells. I’m a sucker for dark hulls and long overhangs, and it was a great looking boat.
We went all the way up the wide part of the creek and turned around. The wind was almost nonexistent, and after a couple long fruitless tacks where I’m not sure that we actually covered any distance toward the bay, I furled the jib and fired up the engine.
Shortly thereafter, and without immediate explanation, I requested my harpoon. Yes, I know it’s technically a boat hook, but “harpoon” sounds better. I had spotted a balloon floating on the water, and wanted to retrieve it, because I hate trash on the bay. I put the engine in neutral (not wanting the balloon’s string to get it wrapped around the prop) and sailed to it on just the main. I wound up having to make a couple passes before Jenn could fish it out.
Of all the trash balloons on all the waterways, I don’t know how we managed to harpoon this one. I guess Father’s Day was only a couple weeks ago, but my dad has been extremely ill, and like the Dear Leader flags, I didn’t really want to be reminded of this either. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but like nothing else, sailing can cause me to wonder if I’ve pissed off a deity.
When I had to run the engine to get around Good Luck Point the first time, I actually thought “At least I won’t have to run it to get back,” but of course the wind had changed direction. I feel like a proverbial old person complaining about how I used to have to walk to school in four feet of snow uphill in both directions, but we did have to sail upwind both ways, and were forced to motor all the way back to 36 again before we could even do that. Powerboaters buzzed around us in a drunken dash to get home and explode their hands with illegal fireworks, but the wind had picked up a little by then, so at least once we got sailing again, we had full sails.
I’m including the above photo only to keep myself honest—in case I ever post a photo of my jib and have obviously superimposed in an image of my tells flying perfectly to obfuscate that they were really doing something wonky, you’ll know where it came from. The rest of the sail was uneventful.
I don’t usually post land pictures, but the setting sun on the drive home was larger than I’ve ever seen it. I’m well aware of the Moon Illusion, where the sun and moon look larger near the horizon, but I’ve seen a lot of sunsets and this was the most illusory version that I’ve encountered. Of course, the illusion takes place entirely in the mind, and therefore doesn’t show up in photos, but we tried.
In 1781, Immanuel Kant wrote about the Moon Illusion in the Critique of Pure Reason. “The astronomer cannot prevent himself from seeing the moon larger at its rising than some time afterwards, although he is not deceived by this illusion.” Somehow, this helps me reconcile how I feel about harpooning Mylar sentiments out of the bay.