Monday, December 31, 2012

Rare Creatures of Raritan Bay

Raritan Bay is the home to a variety of animals.  If you are lucky, you may run into them during your sailing in the bay.  I have had encounters with each of the below and are always looking for a new one.  Seeing something different while on the bay is what it is all about.  The bay is not anything like your neighborhood and it changes all the time with the seasons and even the ever lurking thought of what can come from the ocean into the bay.  

The first interesting thing that comes to mind is the seal population in the bay.  Seals are really uncommon to most of us as they tend to be in our waters when we are not.  I was able to see my first seal four years ago on a my first sailing trip of the season.  We sailed out of Keyport and sailed across to Staten Island and there it was up on some rocks around a light tower just off the shore.  The seal was a grey color with black spots and did not seem alarmed at us sailing by.  The other was the following year while on a winter ride and walk along the shore of Sandy Hook. Just a little north of Horseshoe Cove was a small seal lying on the beach getting some nice warm sun.  Seals stopping in the bay are usually just stopping here on their way south or north, depending on the time of year.  Though more popular in mid-winter, seals can be seen from January through April.  There will be some sightings each side of those months and even more on the rare few that never leave the bay making it their year round home. Still the seals remain elusive to those only visiting the bay during the warmer months.  

Another odd occurrence is a Sunfish.  A one time encounter that stuck with me.  Single handing a nice sunny day I was sailing along just northeast of Can 1 and saw what I thought was a shark fin sticking out of the water.  I came hard to port to try to get a closer look and was able to get within fifteen feet of this strange looking fish that seemed to be looking at me and waiving it's fin saying hello.  It was almost erie and I think the eye contact got me the most.  Well, the waiving kind of sticks too.  It was strange... I saw another one of these while fishing off shore last year.  

While we are on the subject of fins sticking out of the water we will talk about sharks in Raritan Bay.  Do you think there are?  I don't mean these little sand shark type, I mean something substantial that could do damage if encountered.  And what size would you consider big enough to cause damage?  There are old stories about large sharks caught in Raritan Bay, even one from 1916 were we had a killer shark visiting Matawan Creek and eating swimmers.  In a body of water of this size the water clarity improving every year and bringing more fish into the bay, sharks will be a natural byproduct.  However, they are here already.  One day this past season of 2012 we were sailing back from Great Beds and saw to shark fins swimming together and than another just outside Keyport Harbor.  Three sharks in one day!  Size was about the four to five foot range and trying to identify was impossible. Just the fact they were four to five feet is a substantial predator in my book.  Being this was the first time I ran into this, I came home and checked the internet and immediately found a video from a kayaker with exactly what we had seen this day.  It just confirmed that others have seen sharks in the bay.  Not be to long winded, I'll move on leaving the thought of these large fish while fishing, swimming, or just wading.  Something I

Another, what I consider beautiful, is the Osprey, and I've seen more of these birds in the past couple years than before. 

I sat and watched this bird dive for fish which most likely weighed more than the bird.  There was one case where the Osprey could not pick up the fish because of its size.  It tried two or three times to get the fish into the air, but it just couldn't happen. After this fight, it took off out of the mooring field and did not see it again for a couple weeks.  My understanding is they come to our area in early spring to build their new nest and spend the entire summer here and leaving in the fall.   They share the same seasons on the bay we do, watch for them.

I have many disbelievers, but I have had big, I mean big, sea turtles.  I would consider them loggerheads, but I know little about turtles.  These turtles are in the three foot length.  They seem to come around on a light breeze and only when the stereo has got some bass playing from down in the cabin.  This isn't something that has happened once or twice, it has happened to us on numerous occasions. I have seen smaller ones, but they will not come close to the boat like these big ones.  I'd like to hear if others have been lucky enough to have had this happen.  

I've only touched upon the visitors to the bay.  There are many more that can be added to the ones above and maybe we can touch on them in the future. I'll stop here for now as I tend to get long winded.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sailing Raritan Bay Lighthouses

At least a couple times during the season we seem to have visitors that are looking for a nice sail on the bay.  For these times we do a great sail to take in all the lighthouses.  This ride takes a good part of the day and you can get in some great sight seeing of the Staten Island South shore mansions.  The typical trip is to leave our mooring in Keyport Harbor and head for Romer Shoals Lighthouse.  This lighthouse sits off of Sandy Hook and is at the entrance to Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay.  Lower New York Bay being the northern section near the Verrazanno Narrows Bridge and south and west of this area is Raritan Bay.

Starting with Romer Shoals Lighthouse is just a personal pick so that we can see all three lighthouses in this area of the bay. It is the furthest lighthouse from Keyport Harbor and the most easterly lighthouse in this cruise.  As I review this great cruise I will try to give you a little history of each lighthouse.

Romer Shoals Lighthouse became active in 1898, was taken over by the Navy in 1920 and finally taken over by the Coast Guard in 1939.  This 54' lighthouse was experimental in it's early days and was the testing home for various lamps and lenses.  In 1966 this lighthouse was automated and no longer needed human presence to keep her running. After a storm in 1992 she became inoperable and was destined to be scrapped, but Joe Esposito who was the caretaker of the Staten Island Lighthouse fought to keep this piece of history.   In 2010 she was put on the auction block and was purchased by  person from Staten Island for $90,000.00.  There are hopes of a restoration with tours from Staten Island.

As you round the south side of Romer Shoals Lighthouse you will turn towards the north and then north northwest to the West Bank Lighthouse.  This is a short leg of the trip!

West Bank Lighthouse was built in 1901 and it's original height was 55', but in 1907 two floors were added to make it 70'.  It was automated in 1998 working off solar power.  In 2007 the Coast Guard offered the lighthouse at no cost, but had no takers.  Finally in an auction in 2008 it was sold for $245,000.00 and again auctioned off in 2010 to Sheridan Reilly $195,000.00.  Expectations are to restore her to your original condition.

Rounding her on your port side you will turn and head southwest to the Old Orchard Lighthouse.  The distance is about the same as it was from Roamer Shoals Lighthouse to the West Bank Lighthouse.

Old Orchard Lighthouse became active in 1893 and was built at 51' tall.  She gave many years of service before the Coast Guard offered her at no cost in 2007.  There were no takers and in 2008 she was put up for auction.  The winning bid was $235,000.00 and in 2010 she was back on the auction block and sold for $95,000.00.  To the dismay of myself and many others Old Orchard Lighthouse was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

After we pass Old Orchard Lighthouse to our starboard side we turn northwest and head for the Staten Island shore and Great Kills Harbor. Once we get close enough to the shoreline we run along the shore headed toward Perth Amboy.  There are many nice homes along the shore and we just cruise along enjoying the nice scenery.  Once we get to close enough to where we can see the Great Beds Lighthouse we start to pull away from the shore and head directly for the lighthouse.

Great Beds Lighthouse is located where the Raritan River and Arthur Kill join together in what is known as the back bay.  This lighthouse was placed in this location because of the oyster beds and that is where it got its name.  Before the lighthouse was built New York dedicated some underwater property for the lighthose, only to find out the property was in New Jersey waters.  After some litigation it was settled and the 42' lighthouse became operational in 1880.  The Coast Guard offered out the lighthouse at no charge in 2010 and eventually put it out for auction in 2011 where it was purchased for $90,000.00.  

Once we round Great Beds Lighthouse we head back to Keyport Harbor.  This has taken most of the day and everyone is pleased with the wonderful tour of the bay.  It is disheartening that all of these lighthouses will one day be only seen in pictures.  Most are a hundred years old or older and have long histories of why they were placed where they stand today.  If you take this cruise, please take lots of pictures to make sure you save that piece of history.

Hoping you enjoyed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Raritan Bay Sailboat Mooring

Mooring your boat will be less expensive than a slip in a marina.  With a mooring you will not have running water, nor will you have electricity available.  How much electric and water will you really need during the season is a question only you can answer.  If you are like myself, our boat is pretty self sufficient.  We have a solar panel to keep the battery charged, an alternator to charge the battery while under power, and water has never been an issue.  We do maintain a 10 gallon tank on board, but find this is mainly used for washer your hands.  For cooking, coffee, or tea we use bottled water and always have a very good supply of that on board.  If I need to do repairs and it requires more than my cordless power tools can provide I bring my small generator out or use my 700 watt inverter to get the job done. The biggest problem you will have with a mooring is the ease of getting to and from your boat.  On a dock you can step right onto your boat, but the mooring will require a dinghy or launch service.  A launch service is usually only available at yacht clubs where your either pay for it in your dues or pay for it as an added expense.  I prefer to use my own dinghy which allows me more freedom.  When you use a dinghy you may leave the dinghy tied to your mooring ball or you may decide to take the dinghy with you on your sail.  Sometimes we do take the dinghy with us if we plan on having to go to shore or if we have planned to stop and eat someplace where a dock may not be available.

A mooring ball is a large round ball that floats on the surface and usually has a chain attaching it to a large mushroom type weight on the bottom.  When these weights work their way into the bottom they become very difficult to remove due to the suction they have in the sand or mud.  Some use a pendant from the chain to their chocks on deck and others use the chain directly to the chock.  Granted the pendant will be much better to your boat than a chain, but you really have to monitor the wear on these pendants.  They do offer abrasive resistant sleeves that go over the pendant, but they don't last for ever.   To leave your mooring you should have your sails up already or your motor started depending on how you will be traveling.  You would attach your dinghy (if leaving it) and then drop the chain or pendant, and off you go.  To get back on your mooring you need to note where your mooring is so you don't pick up on another persons mooring.  With each mooring is usually a float with a 4' or 5' fiberglass whip with a light nylon line to the chain so you can grab it from the deck without having to use a boat hook.  We place a flag on ours so it is easy to identify as you come into the mooring field.

Now that you have a reasonable idea of how a mooring works we can discuss where you can find these moorings.  At least in Raritan Bay you may not put in a mooring wherever you choose.  There are fixed areas so that you do not disrupt boat traffic within the bay. However there are a number of places throughout the bay area where a mooring is available.

1) Atlantic Highlands offers a protected mooring field -
2) Keyport Harbor offers a nice harbor mooring field - or you may contact Olsen's Boat Works who takes care of the harbor moorings
3) Perth Amboy is at the back end of the bay -

You may also find moorings available up some of the tributaries that feed the Raritan Bay.  Most will require you to go under bridges to get out to the bay.  This can be a real pain at times and I prefer not to deal with any bridges or anything for that mater that may infringe of my sailing.

I will throw this out there for what it is worth, Olsen's Boat Works in Keyport is the most reasonable cost for moorings.  The place is a no frills yard and you should not rely on the yard for supplies, water, rest rooms, gasoline, or anything like that.  It is the real basics of putting your boat in and out and setting your mooring, which they will provide. You may also be able to arrange for winter storage there.

Lots of luck with your sailing and mooring.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cliffwood Beach and Sea Gull Island

While sailing on the bay many of us have seen the small island protrude from the water near Cliffwood Beach.  This little island is not an island, but a reef.  The name came from seeing Gulls always sitting there when the tide came down enough to give them a dry spot to sit.  For years this was one of the places where Captain Kidd was thought to have hid his treasure or at least stopped there and carried it in to hide in Treasure Lake.  These are just some of the tales that give the Bay some interest and excitement.  During the past several years we had gotten as close as we could and tried to investigate this small island but getting out in three feet of water and walking through that slimmy mud was a real negative.  This year was the year we were actually stuck there. Yes, I mean stuck, what level headed person would take their sailboat into the shallows of Cliffwood Beach?  Yes, I am that individual.  It was a higher than normal high tide and we came closer to shore slowly with an eye on the depth finder.  There was four feet of water under the boat and that gave us a little more than a foot of clearance.  I knew there were old pilings along the old waterfront and made an effort to not go so close to them as I didn't want to find the one pointed piling hidden under the water.  We dropped the sails and started up the motor so we could react faster if needed.  Cruising a about 2 to 3 knots we came to Sea Gull Island on our port side.  This means we are between the shore and Sea Gull Island headed East which is known for shallows and old pilings.  The tide was so high that the island was under water this day and there appeared to be rapids atop the island.  We did get a little too close and got stuck in the mass of rock that makes up the reef.  The depth finder went from four feet to zero feet in the blink of an eye.  With the moving tide we knew we could not wait to try to drift off, I turned to starboard and gassed the engine in reverse which pulled us back until we were stopped by more rock.  Back and forth we went and finally backed us off of the reef.  I wasn't worried about any damage as we did not hit anything too hard.  But I was really glad to get off it.  A powerboat of weekend warriors came flying by pointing and laughing.  I guess we deserved it.  I now knew that this wasn't a sand pile or mud pile, but a rock and it goes much further than what you can see on the surface.  If you look at the picture below you can see rocks coming out of the water a good ways away from this obstruction.

 This area is littered with rocky outcrops with most below the water.  Keeping a good distance between this reef is a good idea.  In fact, make sure you stay on the North side of it as the water depth is not deep enough for a keeled boat during normal tides.

This picture was taken from Cliffwood Beach shore. You can just look out an imagine how shallow this water is.

To think this was once an exciting boardwalk with thousands of people visiting each year.  Cliffwood Beach had a great boardwalk, large swimming pool, a few simple amusement rides, places to eat, beach cabanas, and the area inland was filled with small cottages.  Back in the 40's and 50's the bay was very polluted and only a brave few would swim in the wicked water.  This was why they built a large pool along the bay.    In 1960 Hurricane Donna destroyed the entire boardwalk area and the only thing remaining today is many pilings sticking out of the sand or mud and the remains of the swimming pool can still be found.

But why didn't Cliffwood Beach rebuild this great tourist area.  Just a glance tells you this was the place to go in the 40's and 50's. There has been almost nothing done since the hurricane in 1960. Yes they have put in a few walking trails along the bay, but there is nothing going on from a town level to induce more tourism.

Maybe one day we will see the bay shore developed, but for now it is void of construction or attractions.  The walkway along the bay is a nice place to take a walk, but this is about all that Aberdeen and Cliffwood Beach offer today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Raritan Bay Report

It was the first full week of November before we could check out the damage in Keyport.  I decided to take a ride and drop a check off for the past seasons mooring.  As I drove down to Keyport, there was little to tell you we had recently been hit by a Mega Storm. However, once I made it to the route 35 draw bridge it was a totally different picture.  Viking Marina was in shambles and as you looked out into the bay it was littered with the half sunken boats all over the place.  The railroad had come in with a crane to pick boats up and move them from the train tracks.  I continued down 35 until I got to my turnoff for Keyport.   As soon as I got on Amboy Road I didn't even travel a half mile before seeing boats littering the sides of the road.  The closer one got to Keyport the more pronounced the boat damage was.  They were stuck on the bridge, laying in the weeds, swamped out in the channel, lying along the road where they had been pushed to clear the road, stuck on or in buildings, and upside down in parking lots. 

The closer you got to the marinas, the worse the the damage was.  By now many of the boats which were close to the marinas were gathered up and placed on blocks or racks.   Many will require a crane to pick them up and place them on trailers to return to the marinas.  As you peer down the roadway you see more damage and more boats.

The Blue Rock Cafe took a betting from boats piled up in front and behind.  I know this catamaran and it is usually park next door in the back, but it made it all the way around front to land on the steps of the Blue Rock.  The sides of the roadway were nothing but mud and puddles of water.  

 Here is another boat that had been pushed from the roadway and the stern drive does not look too good.  

This was another view of the Blue Rock Cafe.  This boat seems to have brought it's dock with it.

Now the picture that gets me the most is the following picture with boats still stuck on the bridge framework.  This would mean that the water was high enough to float these to the point they are and when the water reseeded, it left them stock on the framework.
As we went through the downtown all seemed fine, but as soon as you made the left to head down to the boat ramp you realized you were back in a war zone again. We worked our way to Olsen's Boat Yard which is next door to Keyport Yacht Club.  As we pulled in it looked somewhat normal, but once we drove in to the ramp area we noticed the pile of boats that had been piled up from the storm. This is where my boat would have been stored if I had not taken her home.  This pile of boats stopped the wave action from getting to the other boats sitting in their cradles or on blocks.  
These were boats that have not been in the water for some time and took the blunt of the waves and wind. There will be more room at the yard once these damaged boats are broken up and placed in a dumpster.

When you look around there were small pockets  of boats piled here and there.  Some damaged, some just off their cradle or trailer.
 It will take time to get this area back to normal.  There will be lots of boats headed for the dumps.  The biggest point of this storm is the number of people killed was held to a minimum.  May have no homes along our shoreline and many are in the process of rebuilding, but they are here to talk about it.

In closing of this blog entry I leave you with the following picture.m Be sure to note the name on the back.
Until next entry, be safe.

Hurricane Sandy comes to Raritan Bay

It was October 24th and the weather channel and the BoatUS hurricane warning system were calling for a very strange weather condition to happen in New Jersey.  A hurricane and Northeaster were going to converge on New Jersey.  The crazy thing was the storm was going to hang a hard turn to the west and crash into New Jersey.  Many thought this could never happen as it has not before, myself included.  As it got later in the week, the worse fears were still on the table and they were calling for a very bad situation for those who reside in the great Garden State.  It was October 27th and I went down to Keyport to get my boat out of there.  I have left her there before and she was well taken care of by John Olsen (Harbor Master and boat yard owner), but this time I wasn't taking any chances plus I was leaving for Korea on Sunday morning.  As usual, she was all ready for me to tie down and secure a few things before towing her home, but that went about as easy as you could imagine.  Once home she was placed in her winter retirement area where she could easily be worked on over the winter.  All went fine, I left for Korea on Sunday morning and arrived there 22 hours later.  Knowing of the impending storm, I called home to check on my wife who was home alone.  I had set up the generator, ran extension cords, bought batteries and flash lights, left her a bag of luminary candles, stocked up with food and water, and then spoke to the neighbors to watch over her while I was away.  When my call finally went through she advised that it was just a little windy and all was okay at that point and she would be fine.  It was about 11:00pm in Korea and 10:00am in New Jersey on October 29th.  I went out and had the meetings at the Korean factories and when I returned later that night I thought I would check on her.  I could not get through, I tried her cell phone, I could not get through, I tried facebook, I could not get anyone,  I was very concerned at this point.  I turned on the TV to CNN and was blown away by the news about this MEGA STORM that had crashed into New Jersey.  For the next couple days I tried and tried to communicate but without success.  This made me sick.  We had been flooded by hurricane Irene and this was suppose to be much worse.  Was my home still there, is my wife okay?  I carried my IPAD and kept checking the the news until I finally got my daughter who told me she had spoken to one of the neighbors and that everything was okay at home, but there was no power, telephone, cell phone, or gasoline.  Well, this made me feel somewhat better, but to think of your wife sitting at home trying to take care of everything when she was so accustomed to have me do it for her still had me worried

Thursday, November 1st finally came and it was time to head home.  We had a non stop flight from Seoul to San Francisco leaving in the afternoon.  Everything went fine but we were worried if we would be able to get the next leg of our flight into Newark.  We talked about what we could do if Newark was still closed and that would be to fly as close to New Jersey as possible and then rent a car and drive the rest of the way. Went we got to the United Club they informed us the flights were on time to Newark as there were not many planes there and the airport wanted to get the traffic moving again.  Thank goodness!

The flight was another long one and I worried and thought about what I would do when I got home.  We arrived about 11:30pm in Newark and moved as quick as we could to get our luggage and get to our car.  When we flew in there didn't seem to be too much problem with power being out as there were lights all over the place from the air.  When we drove out of the airport and got onto route 22 hoping to also get some gas, we ran into a big surprise.  There was no power which means no gas.  We came upon a couple gas stations, but the lines were about a mile long. We decided to keep going.  When you take away the power and lighting the areas that look familiar are now strange and erie looking.  I found it hard trying to figure out where we were and these were areas I knew.  We ran into detours and road blocks once we turned off of the highway and a simple 10 minute trip now took 20 plus minutes.

I arrived home around 1:15am on Friday morning the 2nd of November.  My wife was in bed sleeping under two down quilts.  The house was about 62 degrees and the generator was running keeping the food cold and one light in the kitchen on for me.  I was exhausted at this point and gave her a kiss letting her know I was home safe and she awoke to tell me about the storm.     The neighbors had been very helpful in keeping the generator running, going out to buy her gas, and checking in on her.  Good thing I had her take money out of the bank before the storm hit.  I sat on the bed and listened to all the things that had happened and finally got under the covers and went to sleep.

The next morning I got up and took a walk around our small one square mile town to see what had happened.  I was shocked by the trees and telephone poles that were down.  Power cables and wires are down all over the place.  Nobody has power and you hear the roar of generators running all over.  People were caring for their neighbors and running extension cords to the neighbors to help save the food in their refridgerator and freezers.  There was a sense of people pulling together to get through this disaster.  There little one could do, but wait for power and the streets to be made passable.

The storm brought with it damage like never seen before.  But once we had a chance to get out of the house we drove to Bethlehem Pennsylvania to get gasoline for my truck and containers for the generator.  I setup the television that afternoon so we could watch DVDs, I used the stove to heat the house, picked up all the branches in the yard, and recovered the boat in the backyard.

It was now time to check on my friends and summer hangout Keyport.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lets start this blog

It is now the end of the 2012 sailing season and many of us are going through the tasks of getting our boat pulled from the water and put on the hard for the coming winter.  During the winter most of us plan things we need to get done to our vessel before putting it back in the water, we plan things we want to do next season, we read books and magazines to get ideas or to learn some do it yourself things, and we also try to stay in touch with the inner self who wants to still be on the water during the New Jersey winter. For the past three years I have thought about starting a website regarding Raritan Bay, but thought we would start with a blog and see how things progress.  If we get a lot of response, we will certainly build a website focused on us Raritan Bay sailors.  I'm hoping for a good following and to bring a wealth of information to all of you that have chosen to follow this blog.

In Raritan Bay there are many places we can sail and enjoy ourselves.  We can stop and eat right along the bay, we can stop and pull an over night stay in some nice areas, visit New York City, travel the south shore of Long Island, or just sit back in your cockpit enjoying a good book.  We hope to bring more to your attention in Raritan Bay then you ever thought possible.  It will be a real challenge during winter, but we travel to the bay weekly in search of the things mentioned above.

There are many places one can keep their vessel.  Whether it is at a dock, on a mooring, or trailered to the bay, there are many options which we will cover.  We happen to keep our sailboat in Keyport Harbor on a mooring, but you can also keep it docked, or you can trailer your boat using the Keyport ramp.  So there are many options available in just one town, imagine what all the towns along the bay offer!  I hope to bring that to you with pictures to make you feel as though you are right there with us.

So do us and yourself a favor, signup as a follower of this blog and we will bring you as much as we can find about sailing the bay.