We had a magical mini-cruise to Myers Hole. This is why we sail.
Without a whole lot of planning, we set out on Saturday to find Myers Hole—an anchorage near Barnegat Light. It’s commonly used by people sailing up and down the coast of NJ as a sheltered place to duck in from the ocean, and local sailors sometimes use it as a staging area before setting out on a larger trip. The Barnegat Inlet is notoriously treacherous, and it’s nice to be able to precisely time favorable currents when attempting to run it. We had no intention of heading out into the ocean, but we wanted to explore and had never seen the lighthouse up close from the water. Although it hasn’t been an official navigational aid since World War II, Barnegat Light is still an icon on the bay, and Myers Hole is practically under it.
The area around Trixie’s was packed with RVs, trailers, and Hobie Cats when we arrived because the Barnegat Breezer Regatta was in town, but we didn’t have any trouble loading the boat or launching. As we rounded Berkeley Island heading south, we could see the race, and cruised by to get a closer look. The wind history indicates that they probably had great wind early in the morning, but it had dwindled throughout the day and was below 10kts by the time we got out there. Not that we’re complaining; at least it wasn’t 100° or actively thunderstorming, which was practically the only weather pattern for the past month.
We crept south with a light easterly wind hitting us in that annoying broad reach area where the main blankets the jib too much to keep the jib filled but is too far from dead downwind to run wing and wing. We took a zigzag course with lots of jibes to avoid having to switch to the engine.
We entered new territory as soon as we made the left at BI to take the Oyster Creek Channel toward the inlet, where we fired up the engine and lowered our sails. The channel is subject to swift currents and constantly shifting sandbars, making charts fairly useless. At best, a sailor navigates this area through local knowledge, a depth sounder, and a faith that the buoys are placed correctly, and we don’t have any local knowledge or a depth sounder.
I’m not going to say that we didn’t bump, but overall we did fine. There were a couple sketchy spots where, for example, a nun was dragged mostly underwater to the point where it looked like an upside down Solo cup, and its corresponding can had so little green paint left on it that I mistook it for a piling. At one point, we approached markers that appeared to be impossible to follow (a red to starboard and a green to port when we were clearly not red/right/returning) but it turned out to be a trick of perspective. With Jen on the binoculars, we got it all figured out and were actually treated to a great ride through the Sedge Islands. I’m not sure if “sedge islands” is a proper name or if it’s just a general term, but they’re cool…undeveloped marshy islands that we’d never seen at that range (and the channel takes you extremely close at times).
While focused on following the channel, dealing with the current, and not getting destroyed by powerboat wakes, I hadn’t been taking in the big picture. That is, until we came around a bend and finally saw the lighthouse.
The lighthouse in its entirety! And the ocean! We could see clear down the inlet between the jetties straight to the Atlantic! Exclamation points!
The photos don’t really impart the proper sense of scale. The piece of water behind the lighthouse is relatively small, or at least the lighthouse has a kind of gravity that dominates your attention. It’s like you’re right there with it.
The piece of land opposite the lighthouse and Coast Guard Station is Barnegat Lighthouse State Park and we followed it around to the anchorage, most of which turned out to be a private mooring field. We wove our way around the boats that were already there to scope out a spot and eventually anchored outside of the main pack, away from the houses in High Bar Harbor. After we flaked the sail and tidying up the boat a bit, Jen started making dinner and I cracked a fine Rolling Rock to celebrate that we had found the place.
As we were eating, we were surprised to see fellow Windjammers Sunset motor past and say hello. They anchored nearby as the literal sun was setting.
Wendy rowed over in their dinghy and asked us if we’d like to join them for a drink, so Jen and I shuttled over. We were treated to strong gin and tonics, fresh fruit, and lots of good sailing stories. When had I arrived, Dale was hanging his spare anchor light since his masthead light wasn’t working, and we were able to confirm from that vantage that ours wasn’t working either. When I got back to Fortuitous I ruled out a fuse or a general “we have no power” problem, which is about the extent of my knowledge of where electricity goes. Fortunately Dale had a spare for his spare, and was able to loan us one for the evening. We probably needed an anchor light more in that anchorage than anywhere else that we’d ever overnighted.
We went to bed relatively early, but not before taking note of how amazing the stars looked from there. I don’t really understand how it could be so different from the view a mile inland, given that we were right by Long Beach Island, which must kick off its share of light pollution. I suppose that it could have just been an unusually clear night with the low humidity, but it was remarkable—if not the desert, it at least reminded us of the stars in the Thousand Islands.
I actually slept, which is unusual when we’re on the hook. A cool breeze being funneled down our forward hatch helped a lot. I got up around 4:00am and checked on things, but we hadn’t dragged at all (we had scooched a bit early in the evening after first setting, but Dale said that plough-style anchors will do that sometimes…they can till the mud a tad without becoming dislodged). I got up again a little before 5:30 to absolutely stunning pre-dawn skies.
We got up in earnest around 9:00, and made coffee and breakfast. We had considered going for a swim, but this became more of a necessity when I noticed that our anchor rode had fouled on our keel. Reversing currents and winds must have spun us over our rode, and it was unclear from the deck what we needed to do to fix it. The bay had been like bathwater the last few times we swam, so I just got right in…
Myers Hole is not the bay, at least not as we know it. All of that water blasting into the inlet is cold, clear ocean water. I think it was more the shock than the actual temperature that got me, because even the ocean is pretty warm this time of year, but it definitely took me a few minutes before I was able to function. Once I became acclimated, I dove down below the boat and was surprised to find that I could actually see things. It was obvious what had happened to the rode and Jen walked it around the boat and fixed the problem.
I was having fun swimming around, so Jen eventually joined me. She would later declare that swimming at Myers Hole was the best swim in natural water that she’d had since 8th grade. She didn’t even feel compelled to wear sneakers. The water was very salty and fast moving, with the current ripping through at about 2.5kts. I could swim against it, but it was difficult. The world record holder in the 50m freestyle did it in 20.91s, which, according to my math, only put him at an average speed of 4.6 knots. And we’re not him. It makes you appreciate how futile it is to try to swim to a sailing boat after you’ve fallen overboard. But for basic fun swimming, we just stayed close and put out a dock line so that we could grab on and relax if we wanted.
After swimming, Dale rowed by and we talked about timing the current to get back easily. We watched some people playing with dogs on the beach, including a dog with a sporty looking wheelchair for hind legs who was having a fantastic time playing fetch. I played some boat guitar and we slowly converted the boat from lounge mode to sailing mode. The weather was perfect, warm but not hot or humid with a steady 10-12kt wind from the southeast, and we only considered leaving to take advantage of the wind. We prepped the main, weighed anchor, and motored by Sunset to thank her crew one more time for their hospitality before heading back.
The channel was insanely busy and the boat wakes had the entire place churned up like a washing machine, but still, the view was spectacular. The clear water near the sandbars was a shade of cerulean that I didn’t know existed in New Jersey.
We navigated the channel with much more confidence on the way back and rolled out the jib as we neared the end for a lazy sail home. That didn’t really take though. Anton Chekhov once said “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it,” and someone on our boat was thinking of hoisting that prepped main. We quickly set it and were off, flying up the bay.
It was about that time that I saw a boat on the horizon. There were dozens of boats out, gracefully passing each other in what looked like a choreographed routine, but like a cheetah eyeballing a gazelle with a gimpy leg, I was focused on one, and we were gaining on him.
“Jen, can you bring in that jib sheet two inches?”
“Jen, can you put a little vang on?”
“Jen, can you sit over there and see if we go faster?”
I’m not sure if she knew that we were racing at first, but it slowly became obvious as we continued to close the gap. As we approached, my tactic turned from raw speed to stealth and I stopped singing Dio’s Holy Diver at maximum volume. I didn’t want them to become alerted to our presence and put out their jib. Yeah, that’s right, they weren’t flying a jib. Hey, we don’t get to pass many boats, much less a Catalina 320 with probably 10ft of waterline on us. As we came broadside, it became clear that they were like 140 years old and definitely not racing, but damn it, we won. I had Jen take dozens of pictures of them off of our stern: she’d take a picture, look at it on the screen, and then show it to me and ask me if it was what I had in mind, and every time it was just a picture of our cockpit. It turned out that the camera was just going back to “live view” or whatever and I was looking through the lens by the time she showed me. So that’s +1 for us in sailing, -1 in camera technology awareness. She did get some great shots though, despite my incredulity at the time.
This was one of our best weekends of sailing. I don’t have a large enough vocabulary of positive words to describe how good everything was: the adventure, the weather, the scenery, the swimming, the sailing, the camaraderie, kicking the crap out of a Catalina 320…just everything. Dale reminded us that the definition of “cruising” is repairing your boat in exotic locations, but even solving our mild problems was kind of fun, and while it might not be Bora Bora, Myers Hole was pretty exotic for us. A weekend like this makes up for any number of stormy, miserably hot weekends (and quite a few miserable work weeks) and reaffirms why we do this whole sailing thing.
The rest of the photos have been added to the gallery here.