One of the things Mike and I try not to do is to have boat stories about some boating thing we have survived. Weirdly enough for those who think this whole trip is crazy, we are risk adverse. We love living and travelling on our boat but we choose, often, to do it only in the safest situations. That doesn’t mean, however, that we live only in our comfort zone. The last two days has been a great example of that.
Yesterday we started the Jersey coast leg of our trip. This was always planned to be a one-two-three shot from New York City to Atlantic City to Cape May and then, finally, up the Delaware Bay to the C&D canal.
The day began in the wee, very dark hours of the night. At 0400, we let ourselves loose from our mooring and started to pick our way out of Great Kills Harbour and towards the main water channel. Our early morning departure was intentional. We needed to hit Sandy Hook Point when the current was close to non-existent. Wait an extra hour and we would be fighting a 3 knot current as we made the bend south towards the Jersey coast.
Mike was at the helm and I was at the bow, with flashlight and handheld radio in hand, talking him through the mooring balls within the harbour, then through the red/green buoys that marked our exit from the harbour. This was our first time navigating in the dark and it was definitely an eye-opener. All you have laid out on the water to guide you are lights. Red and green flashes are for directional buoys. This is helpful but you see ALL of them. I mean, you see the ones close by that you are trying to navigate through and also “the others” that are for other routes, near and far. Then there are the white lights. These could be other vessels (moving or stationary) or even something on land.
Oh yes, and then there are the amber lights. Just as we rounded Sandy Hook Point, we got a call on our VHF. “Um, Wild Horses, this is commercial vessel XXX. I am dredging and have long cables across the channel that you are going to want to avoid”. Our response “This is Wild Horses. How do you suggest we proceed?”. “Yeah, Wild Horses, I have amber lights marking the end of my cables. You are going to want to let those amber lights pass you on your port (left) side”. Amber lights? There is only one amber light and it is on our starboard (right) side. Yikes! One quick maneuver and we are good as gold. Whew. Just a note – our Automatic Identification System (AIS) was essential through all of this. We can see all other vessels on our instruments and they can see us (and our boat name) on theirs.
Once the sun came up, the rest of our 12.5 hour journey was easy. We had light winds and a beautiful fall day all the way to Atlantic City. Life was gravy.
Today? Well, today was a little different. We knew the winds would be strong (20 knots) but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t experienced in the Thousand Islands. Well, hello, Wild Horses. Have I introduced myself? I am the Atlantic Ocean. Yeah, that’s right. We got schooled. As we made our way out of our anchorage, the 5 foot ocean swells right on our beam just knocked us around like we were its little play thing. Thankfully, we had most things in the boat well stowed. The only item that we thought was secure (but wasn’t) was Mike’s tool box that sits under our navigation station. For this, I quickly made a pillow barricade. It was actually quite eloquent.
Once we were out of the channel, the swells were 5 to 8 feet but were at our stern. Instead of getting knocked about, we were surfing, with a twist of churn 😉. Mike found it challenging to steer at first but soon found a rhythm with the waves so that it smoothed most of the hard edges of the steeper waves. We actually found some comfort in the uncomfortable.
And, we have new-found confidence in Wild Horses. She handled the sea state like a champ and we had extra belief in her because of the care she got from the crew at Loyalist Cove Marina in Kingston – a big thanks to Scott for ensuring our engine could take a beat down and win. And Ocean? She slept through it all. What a sea-dog. We actually realized our entire crew was pretty hearty. No one panicked and no one got sea sick. That is a big win!
With the weather we faced today and seeing forward to the next Hurricane Ian-fueled weather weekend, we decided that a safe harbour was necessary. Both our buddy boat Brise and ourselves checked into a delightful marina in Cape May (note that Sensai is one day ahead of us and has already traversed Delaware Bay). We will be here for several days, waiting for reasonable weather to make the journey up Delaware Bay. But, truly, we could not be stuck in a better place. Cape May is really a sweet town. Plus, it is littered with marine stores, grocery stores, restaurants and sights to see. Despite the weather, it will be a nice little break in our trip. And when the weather improves, we will be ready for our next leg. A little more rested and a little more seasoned.
Ocean is on the Ocean!
It has been a crazy series of days. It is hard to believe we left Hop-o-Nose Marina, near the beginning of the Hudson River, just a mere four days ago. We have been tired, overjoyed, frustrated, relieved, inspired and, now, after transiting New York City Harbour and the upper Atlantic, we can add “delightfully salty” to that list 😊.
Our trip down the Hudson started with a leisurely river cruise. Our sails are on but it wasn’t in the cards to sail on the Hudson. It is a narrow, busy waterway and, more importantly, we are destination bound and a leisurely sail just didn’t fit in.
Our first stop on the waterway was Poughkeepsie Yacht Club. We were able to get a mooring ball there and it was a good thing as the wind was really up. Trying to anchor would have been doable but challenging. And, as it turns out, luck was on our side at Poughkeepsie. As we always do when moored or anchored, we tie our dinghy to the boat’s stern so that it is ready and waiting for Ocean’s shore trips. In the Thousand Islands we had gotten into the (bad) habit of using a single tie up to secure the dinghy but with the wind hitting us hard while moored, we decided to add a second tie up to secure the dinghy to Wild Horses. Only a few hours later, Mike noticed that the original tie up (with a brand-new shackle) was hanging limply in the water. Yikes! Our second tie had saved us from losing both dinghy and motor down the Hudson.
After Poughkeepsie, our next leg landed us in Nyack, NY. Oh my gosh. Nyack is a beautiful and quaint town with lovely boutiques, restaurants and wonderfully friendly people. Once again, having Ocean by our side means interaction-city. People seem to come out of the woodwork to meet her, or go out of their way to say how pretty she is (I mean, “I” think so but I’m her mom 😉). The town felt like home. To get our energy levels back up, we stayed in Nyack a few days.
But today, wow, today. We left Nyack at noon and headed for The Big Apple. It did not disappoint. The city was grand, for sure. We had visited New York City by land several years ago but to be going by in our sailboat…there are no words. Still, New York City wasn’t content to just be a pretty landscape. No, she had to be dramatic. We were handed a very strong 25 to 30 knot wind on our nose that had Wild Horses bucking through the 5 foot waves. Add to that some big boat and ferry traffic. Add to that the heavily guarded and enormous HMCS Queen Elizabeth being anchored in our path in the harbour. Through a salt-encrusted windshield and breaking waves Mike maneuvered Wild Horses past the NYPD and military police boats guarding the 100 yard perimeter of the vessel. It was tense. At one point I mentioned that I might have to open a bottle of our good wine tonight. Mike’s response was “me too”. Ummm, I meant share a bottle…or did I? 😊
It was an incredible experience to transit the New York City Harbour and when we popped out from under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, an even more incredible scene laid before us. The Atlantic Ocean. Wow.
We are now very cozy on a mooring ball in Great Kills Harbour, Staten Island. Tomorrow will be spent exploring the town but also prepping for our first leg of the New Jersey Coast. We are planning to head to Atlantic City on Wednesday. It will be a 12 to 14 hour trip, Ocean’s longest on the boat. We think she will handle it perfectly, as she always does. A little salt is only going to make her, and all of us, more confident and definitely more happy.
One of the things that this sailing life naturally gives us is a sense of appreciation. We are constantly checking the levels of various things that matter to us – weather, batteries, water, waste, diesel, laundry and, yes, our own energy levels. When one of those things is on the positive side (be it “full” or “empty”), life just gets a little easier. We definitely appreciate those small moments.
Enter Hop-o-Nose Marina. This marina was only supposed to be important to us because it was where Wild Horses would become a sailboat again. But, really, we were able to use our time here as a real rest stop. We had the luxury of shore power which meant that we could use our on-boat laundry machine plus our boat batteries could get totally topped up. We also had (free) dockside water usage and pump out. Best of all, Thursday’s stormy weather meant we had an extra day to get some boat things done. It also meant we could sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. Wow. Our own personal battery levels were able to get filled up. We got some energy back.
Of course, the last few days weren’t exactly about relaxing with a good book and a cocktail. We arrived at Hop-o-Nose on Tuesday afternoon and were placed in the queue for an early morning mast stepping. By 1100 hours, we were a sailboat again! Ten days after her mast was laid on deck at Oswego Marina to transit the New York State Canalway (Oswego and Eastern Erie), it was put back up. The whole process went smoothly thanks to the expert staff at Hop-o-Nose. They definitely made it all look easy. They also were very sweet with our pup Ocean, who stayed on deck to supervise the mast stepping.
Once the mast was up, the work for me and Mike started. We had to tune the rigging (i.e. all the wires that keep the mast in place), reattach our boom and all of our halyards, get both sails hoisted and furled, reconnect our electrical wires for our instruments, and reattach our solar panels. Whew. And, in amongst all of this we pumped out the boat’s waste tanks, filled the boat’s water tanks, did a few loads of laundry and walked our pup Ocean. This is the nice thing about having a pup on board. She made us stop our work and get into the cute little town of Catskill nearby. It is a very artsy, zen-loving, lovely town with very friendly people. Nice!
The last few days was a lot of work but we appreciate that we have now been able to reset all of our “levels”. We feel refreshed and ready to take on the next leg of our trip. We also love that we can, once again, sail Wild Horses. Oh, and for the NFL fans out there, yes, we are watching Thursday Night Football tonight from the comfort of Wild Horses. That does wonders for Mike feeling like all is right with the world 😉.
We are off to Poughkeepsie, NY tomorrow morning. This will be one of two stops on our way to New York City Harbour. We have a few exciting days ahead of us. And it is hard not to appreciate that 😊.
It has taken us a week to transit both the Oswego and Erie canals, starting in Oswego Canal Lock 08 in Oswego, NY and ending with the Erie Canal Lock 02 in Waterford, NY (check out our route here). Our pod of three boats have made forward progress every day, getting up early and throwing off dock lines just after the sun comes up. Although we weren’t always able to travel as a pod of three (boat issues were usually the culprit), we made sure to check in with each other via text or phone calls. We are looking after each other on the water, fixing boat issues once docked, sharing info and advice, discussing options of where to go and when to go. We have an easy group that works really well together and all of this is so much easier being part of a three-boat pod. It has been a joy.
As we were preparing for our journey, we received lots of great advice from friends and family. One of the ones that has resonated the most then and even more so now came from a Trident Yacht Club member. It was “It is a big journey but just remember that it is just a series of day trips”. Oh my gosh – Yes! They were comforting words to hear before we set off, making what laid before us appear far more familiar. I mean, we are very used to moving the boat from one place to another. This journey is just a bunch of those strung together 😊.
Now that we have headed out and have finished our first week, those words “just a series of day trips” have taken on a whole new meaning. Moving the boat every day is tiring - working through the locks (not always easy!), avoiding shoals and deadheads, fixing boat issues, planning, and lots of re-planning, and just being at the helm for 7 or 8 hours at a time. Every day. Yes, very tiring. But we are also gaining new skills and confidence as we move along and that is making each day that much easier than the day before. I mean, if you had told me that I would be responsible to step off Wild Horses and quickly tie her three dock lines (bow, mid-ship, stern) to a single bollard by myself while being pushed off the rough dock wall by wind and current, I would have said you were crazy. Yet, here we are. And it isn’t even a thing. Mike echoes this sediment. This morning he docked Wild Horses at the free dock in Waterford, NY. This wasn’t just a swing into the dock and throw the keys to the valet situation. No, the docks were immediately after we exited Lock 02 and they were crazy full. The only space available was rafting up to a barge or taking the space being vacated by a catamaran. The maneuver Mike needed to get Wild Horses into the catamaran space was a little like parallel parking a car...on ice...with bald tires. But he did it smoothly and then immediately got to work helping Sensai raft up (attach alongside) to us. With Brise rafting up to the Barge, we were set for our night’s accommodation. Certainly, all six of us are learning as we go and learning a lot. It is extremely rewarding. I am not sure I have said “I am so happy” so many times in my life. 😊
We have a bit of weather to work through over the next few days but soon we will be on the Hudson River, facing tides and current for the first time ever. Very shortly after that, we will be in the Catskills to have our mast re-stepped and Wild Horses will, once again, be a sailboat.
And Then Thursday Happened…
I was very much prepared to write a sweet little blog today about how easy our trip has been so far. Thursday’s blood pressure raising moments changed that. It was probably our toughest day so far.
But let me start at the beginning. Our three boat pod (Wild Horses, Sensai, Brise) stayed last night at a cute little marina in Ilion, NY. Our plan for this morning was for each boat to leave in succession at 0800, with Wild Horses leaving slightly later as we wanted to take advantage of the free pump out 😊.
Wild Horses was off the dock by 0830 and all started well except our alternator belt gave a bit of a squeal until it warmed up. Hmmmm, odd but we put it down to the cool 10 degree morning.
By 0845, Brise, one of our pod boats, was turned around and passing us as they returned to dock. Huh? As it turned out they had a blown engine impeller that needed replacing. No worries, Wild Horses continued on but with updates from Brise as they fixed their impeller.
Separated from our pod mates, we proceeded along the Erie Canal, and finally arrived at our first lock of the day (13th overall) at Lock 18. All went smoothly. Our crew of three have found a great system for managing the boat in the locks. We are now avoiding getting lock slime all over ourselves and the boat, while also keeping Wild Horses safely off the rough lock walls. Ocean’s job? Well, she sits on the bow and has great discussions with the lockmasters. She sure gets a lot of attention!
Next came Lock 17, this is the highest lift lock in the Erie Canal and is only one of two locks in North America where the entrance gate is lifted above the boater (the other one? Well, in our beloved Ottawa, Canada of course!). Even though Lock 17 was impressive, it was actually the lead up to the lock that got our hearts pumping. We had called the lockmaster upon arriving and were told that it would be a 30 minute wait. Uh-oh. The currents and wind were strong and keeping the boat steady wasn’t easy. We narrowly avoided drifting into a rock and finally ended up securing to a cement wall outside the lock. Whew! Compared to that, actually transiting the lock was easy!
After Lock 17, we started towards Lock 16 when the alternator belt began squealing once again. Ugh, the belt obviously needed tightening but we would have to wait until we could get to a dock to fix it. In the narrow Erie Canal, anchoring to fix such a problem is not an option. But the belt was definitely slipping quite a bit and really slowing down the engine. We needed a dock before we had a complete engine failure. The next possible place was 6 nautical miles away (about an hour) so we kept chugging along, holding our breath.
Now, in the Erie Canal, we are getting used to seeing very odd vessels, equipment, and dock-type setups so it didn’t cause us too much concern when we started to go alongside a vessel type apparatus that seemed to be dredging the canal way (i.e. getting rid of built of silt and mud). We went alongside the vessel with the intention to pass until, at the very last minute, one of the crew gave us a panicked “STOP” signal. Yikes! Their operation had strung a thick cable right across the canal way and Wild Horses was seconds from running over it. Thankfully, Mike quickly hit the boat in reverse and we….stopped…on a dime. Wow. A few minutes later the dredging crew had removed their cable and Wild Horses was, again, on the move.
We finally made it to Lock 16 and secured ourselves to a wall so Mike could fix the alternator belt. Brise caught up with us and docked on the same wall. Their impeller was fixed but they also had an exhausting day avoiding hazards and dealing with boat problems. We are spending the night here, just before the lock. Engines will be fired up at 0730 tomorrow morning as we hope to make Amsterdam, NY before the locks close at 5pm.
What to know exactly where we are? You can find where we have been and where we are going right here. Click the "view all tracks" in the top right hand corner of the map to see our whole route so far.
We have always known that living on a sailboat would mean that weather would dictate our schedule. What we didn’t realize is that weather is only one of a gazillion variables that affect how our day actually unfolds. The others? Boat issues, surprise changes with marinas, and boat traffic are just a few of the things affecting our first few days.
Variable 1 – our mast de-stepping day was surprisingly moved up a day by Oswego Marina. They never step masts on a Sunday but they had a lot of boats on their list for early in the week so slotted all three boats in our pod to get the masts stepped today. We got the news yesterday morning and hightailed it to Oswego Marina from Henderson Bay by mid-afternoon so that we would have enough time to prep the masts for de-stepping. It was a slog. The 20 knot wind was at our noses, meaning lots bucking through of 4 foot waves crashing over our bow for several hours.
Mast stepping this morning went extremely well due to the crazy expertise knowledge of the Oswego Marina staff. It was an early morning start though. All crew was up and at ‘em by 0700. The good news? We are now officially canal ready with our mast securely set on deck.
Variable 2 – Sensai’s engine failure in our first lock. Yikes! We all went into the lock together and learned the ropes of lock management. It was a lesson! The ropes were slimy, we had to fend ourselves off the wall as the current of the “up” locks swirled us around. Exiting the lock we got a call from Sensai that their engine was overheating. The decision was for us to go ahead while they resolved their engine issue. We got through 4 locks today, learning on each one. Now we are comfortably docked, showered, bellies full and, well, we may or may not have an alcoholic beverage in hand 😊.
Variable 3 – Boat traffic. Or, rather, the absence of it. We are apparently a week ahead of the “rush” so we are finding that the locks are so far just our little pod. Yeah!
Tomorrow will we head for Brewerton, NY, at the mouth of Lake Oneida. If the forecast of light winds for Lake Oneida holds for Tuesday, we will cross the lake.
Oh, and Sensai? Their engine got fixed by 4pm today. They intend to meet us in Brewerton. Yay!!
The Adventure Starts
We moved up our departure date to September 9th to take advantage of a favourable weather window for crossing Lake Ontario. Of course, Mother Nature, had her own plans – we woke this morning to intense fog with a near visibility of zero. An early reminder that the weather is in charge and not us. No worries though. We waited until the fog burned off which just meant a late morning departure for Sensai (one of our pod-mates) and Wild Horses.
A big surprise for our departure – our two best friends, my maid of honour and Mike’s best man, both made surprise visits to see us off. And both of our dock slip mates were also there as well as others from our dock. It was a very special send off and one that means the world to us.
Also memorable – our pod-mate, Sensai, experienced engine issues on departing. We had already left the dock so the decision was to carry on to meet up with our other pod-mate, Brise. No worries though, Sensai was in good hands with lots of expert sailors to assist them to replace their mangled impeller and get off the dock.
We met up with our third pod-mate outside of Kingston and travelled along behind them under motor across Lake Ontario to Henderson Harbour. Easy to anchor here and then a quick check into the States and to get our US cruising license. Sensai joined us a few hours later.
Tomorrow we are off to Oswego Marina, the start of the Oswego canal and where we will have our mast unstepped and put on deck on Monday.
One week to go!
It is hard for us to believe it but we have now entered our final week in Canada. So far, the weather for our departure date of Saturday, Sept 10th and the whole of that weekend is looking quite good. Of course, we are keeping tabs on Hurricane Danielle and Tropical Storm Earl that have been brewing in the Atlantic but, so far, they don’t seem to be too threatening. Still, our eyes stay peeled to the National Hurricane Centre so that we are well aware of anything else developing along our intended route.
Besides weather watching, we are finishing off a few last-minute tasks:
Task One - Updated our navigation charts for both Aquamaps and Navionics
We like the redundancy of having three ways of accessing marine charts for navigating through the waterways – Navionics, Aquamaps and, of course, good old paper. Navionics and Aquamaps are both electronic chart systems, which we prefer. They are updated far more regularly than the paper and the GPS integration allows us to know exactly where we are on the waterway. Where does the paper fit into all of this? Well, they are exactly what the doctor ordered for our pre-planning as they give us a better overall view of an area.
Task Two - Switched our phones from our Canadian-only plan to a package that will suit us better as we travel beyond our borders.
We decided to go with a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) option called Fongo. It is a Canadian company and we were able to port our existing phone numbers over to the new service. Of course, all VOIP systems (think Skype or WhatsApp) require an internet connection of some sort to work (data or wi-fi) so we bought a couple of Canada-US-Mexico data SIM cards so that we weren’t totally dependent on wi-fi. At the end of the day, our little switchover has been almost seamless for our family and friends. And the best part? With Fongo they can always contact us for free (and we can contact them for free) no matter where we are in the world. Fantastic!
Task Three - Built our fender boards to protect our very delicate fibreglass hull from the rough canal walls.
This was all Mike and done quite brilliantly. We are ready!
Oh yeah, and visit with family and friends!
This has really been the highlight of our summer but, in the last two weeks, we have been so humbled by the number of people who have gone out of their way to wish us well, and so many who have reached out to support us in any way they can. People have shared gear, charts, advice, and stories of their southern adventures taken or those coming in the future. Amazing.
Truly, we have loved every moment of these connections – from those reaching out to us through the website or email or stopping by our boat or chatting with us as we walk Ocean. It has been the treasure of this adventure, without a doubt. Yes, we feel that we are leaving for the trip of a lifetime, but we definitely do not feel that we are doing it alone. Besides the two other sailboats that make up our travelling pod of three, we have a whole community of incredible people wishing us well. Geez, that is pretty special. 😊 A big thank you from the crew of Wild Horses!!!
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.