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  • Bruce Tate

Inlet

Nautical terms have mysterious origins. Ropes are lines, kitchens are galleys, and bedrooms are berths. Sporting is the nautical term for taking an absolute beating for hours on end. Sometimes, nautical terms mean exactly what you think they should.


Take inlets, for example. Inlets "let in" the ocean. Harbors, marinas, and major bodies of water like Barnegat Bay in New Jersey have strong banks to keep the hot, rolling anger of the oceans out and let in the water, wildlife, and boats that form the lifeblood of the towns along the bay.


In the best of times, engineers must bolster inlets to keep the sand and shore where it should be and hold up to the inevitable time and tide with minimal intervention. Jetties in new Jersey are usually raw piles of stone that form walls to hold up to the relentless pounding surf. Barnegat Inlet has two such jetties that bracket the inlet like a vertical equals sign, and that's where our chapter begins.


We were traveling with friends in a buddy boat, another Ranger Tug called Long Recess. The couple piloting that boat were like minded folks with a similar level of experience. After briefly connecting in Miami, we parted ways only to encounter them again in Delaware City, a place that marks the beginning of the most serious stretch of Atlantic Coast boating on the entire loop.


Delaware Bay has a nasty reputation for big waves, huge commercial traffic, debris in the water, and an unforgiving coast with few bail out points if things go wrong. After crossing that bay, most loopers run outside along the Jersey coast, navigating up to four inlets and eventually crossing into New York waters after crossing a marker called Sandy Hook.


We ran with Long Recess through Delaware Bay on a rough weather day and then followed them once again outside through the Cape May inlet to Atlantic City. From there, some difficult inbound weather demanded careful planning. We had one or two days in suboptimal conditions before weather would shift, locking us down.


We had two options. We could run slow and inside. The Jersey intracoastal waterway is a shallow, poorly marked place with some high-tide depths of around 4 feet. If we took that path, we'd avoid uncomfortable but safe winds of 15 mph and waves about 2-4 feet. On the down side, we'd need to carefully run on rising tides so that if we got stuck, the rising tide could possibly lift us off and out of trouble.


If we decided to run outside, we could go faster. We'd take a bit of a beating in our tiny Ranger Tugs, especially in the morning when winds and waves were high. We'd travel less overall distance with enough time to comfortably do the whole trip in one shot. Either way, we'd run one tiny 30 mile stretch on the mighty Atlantic.


Along that path, there were four inlets we considered. New Jersey has others, but most of them were too violent to send even your mother in law through. In most cases, those inlets are closed to navigation.


First was Atlantic City, the inlet we'd use to exit to the Atlantic if we went the outside route. Next was Barnegat Inlet, the surliest of this bunch. We'll come back to this one. Next, was Manasquan, a wide and beautiful inlet that's especially well marked and well used. Finally, the Sandy Hook inlet is wide enough to hold a city and has no problems at all.


We decided to plan a route to run inside for the first half of the trip, sneak out the temperamental Barnegat, and then run the whole rest of the trip outside. All told, we'd do one hundred and twenty miles, all in one day.


We left at 9, a time we picked that offered four advantages. First, we'd run the whole inside ICW on a rising tide. Second, we'd be able to spend some time running slow, conserving fuel. Third, time our predicted exit to let bad weather pass outside, hopefully emerging into kinder, gentler Atlantic. Finally, we'd hit the beast at dead slack tide when water would be near a standstill.


The first part of our plan worked brilliantly, leaving us staring down the barrel of Barnegat Inlet. Along the way, we picked up a hitchhiker, a buddy boat called Superior Passage. Our hearts were racing, but we'd done the research to know what to expect. We passed the green markers at the South jetty, and knew to look for the less conspicuous green cans toward the middle of the channel. Next, we throttled up to handle the expected turbulence. Finally, we knew to hold our course, avoiding the slightly covered North jetty.





We turned around and saw our buddy boats do the same. On that day, Barnegat Inlet chose to let us in to a sporting Atlantic Ocean. An hour later, the seas calmed. Still later, they turned to glass and we sailed around Sandy Hook, across two shipping lanes, and into Staten Island, New York.


Soon, we'd say goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean that gave us such joy. We'd leave behind the salt water that slowly dissolves boats one rusty stain at a time. We'd say hello to another state and our Canadian neighbors to the North.


As it stands, we're exhausted and excited. Of course we are. We're looping.


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