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.