Today was just a strange day all around.
There was some sort of power boat race going on in Berkeley Island Park, and Trixie’s was jumping as we arrived around noon. The ramp was the busiest it’s been all season and it took us forever to launch…plus some additional forever to de-couple the trailer since there was no way we were parking at Berkeley Island. So we got off the dock as quickly as possible and prepped the boat in little harbor area.
The forecast was for light winds from the west, which seemed accurate as we rigged the boat for full sails, drifting around slowly with the motor running in neutral. We saw a Coast Guard helicopter fly by at such a low altitude that I thought it was going to land in Berkeley Island park. In fact, its landing gear was out, and I didn’t think they usually flew around like that. It didn’t land though.
We motored out of the harbor and hoisted the sails. The sea state seemed unusually rough, but we figured it was just boat wakes or something—there were a lot of boats on the water. We had earlier considered trying to find Myers Hole, so we headed south. Almost immediately the wind started to move southerly, and we didn’t have the easy beam reach down the bay that we anticipated. We fell off and headed toward Tices.
At this point, the wind started picking up steadily, getting to the point where the boat was difficult to control. We were heeling quite a bit and there was so much weather helm that I couldn’t keep us sailing in a straight line though the gusts. It was clear now that the wave height wasn’t wakes; it was just rough out. After nearly rounding up a couple times, I heaved to and we came up with a plan for getting a reef in.
On a reefed main and partially furled genoa, we had a much better go of things. We were hauling, and aside from one panicked tack (oh, he’s ALSO on starboard tack and I’m leeward) we were back on course. And apparently directly into a search and rescue mission. That’s what the helicopter was for. We could only piece together so much from the pan-pans on channel 16, but according to The Asbury Park Press:
Authorities searched Saturday night and Sunday for a man who went missing after he and another passenger fell out of a speed boat in the Tices Shoal section of Barnegat Bay, near Berkeley Island State Park. State Police received a call around 6 p.m. Saturday that two passengers on a 23-foot scarab boat fell into the water, said Sgt. Brian Polite, State Police spokesman. One passenger was immediately rescued, but the second — a 25-year-old man — was not found, said Petty Officer Michael Lutz, Coast Guard spokesman. A wake from a nearby vessel rocked the scarab boat and was a contributing factor in the two passengers falling out, Polite said.
Despite it looking like there were about 400 boats at Tices, a couple powerboats ahead of us were intercepted by a NJ State Police boat and were turned away, so even though that wasn’t where we were headed, we gave them a wide berth. Our thoughts go out to the guy’s family.
Given the weather we decided to just continue going south and save Myers Hole for another day. We still had the VHF running, and out of nowhere, Edward G. Robinson came on and, in perfect 20s gangster diction, started describing a submerged barge near 40. It was so ridiculous that people were stepping all over the Coast Guard just to add “yeah, see?” to the ends of sentences. I fully expected that he would eventually say that some dame might hurt her gams on this supposed wreckage, but he seemed serious, however crazy the idea of a barge in Barnegat Bay might have been (there is exactly zero barge traffic in the bay). This was just pure ridiculousness. We sailed on.
We drew a bead on a 30-something foot Beneteau going our way and got within a few boat lengths of him before he saw us and started trimming his sails. And then the wind stopped completely.
We flogged and slowly spun around as the wind reloaded to come at us from yet another direction. Eventually it started to blow again from the west with a touch of north, and we were able to get underway. It seemed like as soon as the sails filled, I spotted what looked like a small capsized rowboat with three people in the water. I figured I must be imagining things given the SAR operations on the rest of the bay, so I asked Jen to get out the binoculars and confirm. Sure enough, it was an upside-down boat. Jen got the sails down instantly and I started the motor, and we went over to see if we could help.
As we approached they got it righted, and it became apparent that it was actually a jet ski. To be perfectly honest, this revelation brought forth a range of emotions. We cruised by and asked if they were ok, and they cheerily said that they were fine. They all had PFDs on and seemed coherent, so we left them trying to climb aboard their greased watermelon.
The marginal karma was soon repaid. Sailing toward the approach to the inlet, a huge powerboat crossed in front of us kicking up a wake that must have been 5 feet tall. I turned to take it head on, but the sails flogged as we hobby horsed over it. Stuck in the middle of his wake, I tried to come back onto my original heading, but the jib backwinded. In my frustration over the the squirreliness of the day, I stood up to get to the other side of the tiller and release the jib sheet and got blasted by the boom as we jibed. Taking it on the shoulder was better than a lot of alternatives and I fortunately stayed in the boat, but we don’t really make a habit of either standing or accidentally jibing. It was a good reminder that hubris will beat you down in a hurry on the water.
The rest of the sail back was relatively uneventful. We had to duck away from some more marine police and Coasties who were now searching a different section of the bay. There was no resolution on the gangster barge, see? and my shoulder didn’t really start hurting until later that night. The wind never really calmed down, and we continued to get our heel on, even on reefed sails. I guess you never know what to expect out there.