LAST JUNE, my fiancé Josh and I settled on our new home together. Except this home wasn’t at our preferred location. And this home wasn’t a house. We just bought a new-to-us 1981 S2 9.2 center cockpit sailboat, named Sur la Mer. We got her from her second owners in Forked River, NJ, just off of the Barnegat Bay. We planned to live in Annapolis, but getting her there would be no easy task. We had two options: hiring a truck and paying per mile or taking a week off work and sailing her there ourselves. Being an adventurous couple, we chose the latter.
Over the course of a few weeks, we settled our affairs in Pennsylvania, where we were living at the time, sold Josh’s business, packed our belongings into storage, and kept a handful of items for living aboard a boat. We vastly overestimated the amount of room we would have for clothes. With two adult humans and a 70-pound golden retriever, some things had to be sacrificed. We didn’t need items such as long underwear and sweaters in summer, so those could go into storage until later.
On a beautiful Saturday morning, my parents drove us to New Jersey with a truck bed full of our downsized belongings and a dinghy. Jack, our golden boy, stayed with his grandparents, because we did not know when we would be hitting land or going ashore. After a three-hour drive, we successfully unloaded the truck, bid farewell to my family, and started loading the boat and stowing stuff away. For having a ton of storage space, it was grueling to figure out where everything would fit.
Early Sunday morning after saying goodbye to our temporary dock mates, we cast off our ropes from the pier and were honored with a mini impromptu ceremony from some old salts who sprayed an arc of water into the air. It was a beautiful and hilarious tribute to start our journey.
Our adventure began in Barnegat Bay. Unfortunately, a slight wind was directly at our bow, so we couldn’t raise our sails. We motored through the bay for a few hours before we came to a huge step in our voyage and our lives — the first time either of us had sailed in the Atlantic Ocean, or any ocean for that matter. It was emotional and strange to think that the next bit of land to our east was islands off Portugal’s coast. We hadn’t provisioned for a trans-Atlantic journey, so we just went south.
We were stunned as the ocean was strangely flat, and barely any waves made for a nice passage. Also, a couple pods of dolphins swam nearby, mamas and babies feeding in shallow areas.
After about three hours, the ocean became a little less calm as the wind picked up. Our last straw on the ocean was a wave breaking over our dodger-bimini combo. Luckily, we were only a short distance to Little Egg Inlet, which connects to the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway, and found refuge in calmer waters. Unfortunately, we fought the tide all the way to Brigantine. Beautiful marshlands and wildlife lined the shores of the narrow channel. We pulled into an anchorage in Brigantine Beach around 8:00 p.m., made tacos and promptly passed out.
Monday morning, we woke up, ate peanut butter sandwiches and went on our merry way. Our destination was Cape May. We decided to give the Atlantic Ocean another chance and were greeted with two-foot swells, which was a nice change. We were also greeted by 30 times as many dolphins, playing and jumping, being cute and making it hard to get any work done.
At about 6:00 p.m., we pulled into Cape May and found a mostly empty anchorage, only a short dinghy ride into town. Stretching our legs felt great after two days of sailing. We restocked provisions after going through A LOT of peanut butter in two days and walked around town before heading back to the boat for bedtime.
Tuesday gave us the chance to relax. We expected rough seas, so we extended our stay in Cape May for a day. Josh went into town to get gas for the dinghy and diesel for the boat and did his own explorations. I stayed aboard and got ready to go to the beach. Cape May’s free shuttle, or Jitney as they call it, runs from 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m. in peak season. It was quite handy and dropped us off right where we wanted to be.
During my internet wanderings, I noticed that Cape May has an abandoned military bunker from World War II. I had to go see it. After about a half hour walk up the beach, we reached the bunker, and I fought the urge to trespass into this fascinating piece of history left to the elements and graffiti artists.
A short walk up the beach was Cape May’s lighthouse. For a small fee, we climbed the 199 steps to the top of the structure. Holy cow! They definitely need a Gatorade fountain at the top. The amazing view unveiled the harbor where Sur la Mer was anchored, another WWII lookout tower on the Delaware Bay, and even bits and pieces of Delaware itself. Going down the lighthouse steps was easier than going up, but for someone as unabashedly clumsy as myself, it was a handrail-clutching nightmare.
On Wednesday, we started late, because the harbor’s only pump-out station did not open until 9:00 a.m. After we took care of business, we headed out into a little canal to the Delaware Bay. This bay was vast with relatively undeveloped coasts and no boat traffic, something we were unaccustomed to as we are local to the Chesapeake. It was a nice contrast — until we broke down in the middle of it.
Things have gotten worse. But when you’re in the middle of an unfamiliar bay with almost no phone service or passersby, and you lose all electric power to your boat, you feel helpless. Fortunately, we got a hold of a nice BoatUS towboat captain who happened to be a few miles away. He towed us to a Delaware City marina, just north of where we planned to anchor for the evening.
Under tow we diagnosed our issue and learned that our batteries were never grounded, so they were actively losing power and not holding any kind of charge. The shop where Sur la Mar had previously gotten repairs said they put in all new wiring and batteries. That was true; they just didn’t do it even close to correctly. Once at a dock, we spent a few hours sweating and turning our pockets out, and fixed the problem temporarily. We fell asleep exhausted, ready to continue our journey the next morning.
Thursday consisted of back tracking about half a mile down Delaware Bay to the C&D Canal that would take us to the Chesapeake Bay. The canal’s amazing landscape hosts banks lined with lovely houses and bike trails. The bridges were stunning, and the little towns built on the water looked like villages in a storybook. We saw our first lift bridge, an old vertical lift for the railroad and the only drawbridge left on the C&D as others were replaced with high-level fixed crossings.
It’s a perfect passage for coming down the coast, especially if you want to reach the northern Chesapeake but don’t want to spend days traveling on the ocean. The canal is dredged for shipping traffic, so the depths aren’t a problem for larger cruisers. We passed through Chesapeake City, a town split in two when the canal was built. It’s a picturesque village with marinas, quaint shops and restaurants on both sides.
We ended up at Hances Point Yacht Club, a hidden gem northeast of Havre De Grace. We weren’t members, but they were incredibly accommodating, taking a small donation for the beer fund in exchange for a mooring. The self-described “do it yourselfers” are members who care for the whole club, grounds and facilities by themselves. Their camaraderie made me want to join the club.
While attempting to take the dinghy up to the lodge, no matter how much we throttled up, we got nowhere. Turns out it’s hard to get anywhere when your motor doesn’t have a propeller. Who knew? We left Friday after Josh borrowed a club member’s car, drove to West Marine and replaced our dinghy prop.
The trip from Havre De Grace to Rock Hall was strangely uneventful compared to the prologue that began the week. The trip was swift. We moored at Swan Creek Marina in Rock Hall, one of our preferred getaways. This quaint town has a beach and Watermen’s Museum. Nicknamed “The Pearl of the Chesapeake,” Rock Hall was once home to the Tolchester Beach Amusement Park, long since closed in the mid-1900s.
On Saturday, we made our way to Annapolis. I motored the boat under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which was the first time I’d ever been at the helm when crossing under. I screamed inside as Josh dozed next to me in the cockpit. Once on the other side, we were FINALLY able to pull some sail and feel like real sailors, if only for a while. It was appropriate as we were just outside of Annapolis, ending our trip on a perfect note.
We pulled into the marina around 5:00 p.m., and our home finally arrived at where it was supposed to be, awaiting her new name. We christened her Long Winded.
After a few weeks, it still feels surreal to live on a 30-foot sailboat in Annapolis. It’s like being on vacation, but we still work and live normal lives. We feel blessed and grateful for the luck, love and help from family and friends to make it here. We couldn’t have done it alone.
Marissa Muller is the 3rd Place Winner of Marinalife’s 20th Anniversary Story Contest.