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Old 20-02-2016, 14:46   #1
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Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

Any advice on going from Cape May to Block Island single handed? I sailed down from Boston last year on my own, got beat up pretty badly on the NJ coast (big waves, contrary winds, lots of traffic, big gaps between accessible ports (5' draft), expensive marinas...) It was not fun at all and took a long time.

I'm planning on a straight run to Block Island from NJ. I'll be leaving from Baltimore around June 1, so ideally would leave NJ around June 5th or so.

What traffic would I expect? I'm hoping it would mostly be on the coastal portions and significantly less in between. I'll have AIS and hopefully radar.

Pearson Triton, at best I do 6 knots but usually do 5.

That would be my first overnight singlehanded passage so would love your advice. Other than not to do it (found that going coastally felt a lot more dangerous and I have no love for any of the inlets, I'd rather take my chances offshore).
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Old 20-02-2016, 14:57   #2
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

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Originally Posted by sully75 View Post
Any advice on going from Cape May to Block Island single handed? I sailed down from Boston last year on my own, got beat up pretty badly on the NJ coast (big waves, contrary winds, lots of traffic, big gaps between accessible ports (5' draft), expensive marinas...) It was not fun at all and took a long time.

I'm planning on a straight run to Block Island from NJ. I'll be leaving from Baltimore around June 1, so ideally would leave NJ around June 5th or so.

What traffic would I expect? I'm hoping it would mostly be on the coastal portions and significantly less in between. I'll have AIS and hopefully radar.

Pearson Triton, at best I do 6 knots but usually do 5.

That would be my first overnight singlehanded passage so would love your advice. Other than not to do it (found that going coastally felt a lot more dangerous and I have no love for any of the inlets, I'd rather take my chances offshore).
Done it many times.

Usually, it's not bad at all in June. Most of the traffic you'll see are fishing boats, and large yachts making the run north. Not much ship traffic except when crossing the NY entrance lanes.

Many of the boats you'll see do not have AIS, and I believe AIS is of limited use on this particular leg, except perhaps near NYC lanes. However, radar is VERY useful. We've done the trip in heavy fog which would have been impossible without radar. Even in clear weather radar is a big help, both with target acquisition, with navigation, and with watching for thunderstorms.

Last year we had exceptionally rough weather in late June, not due to winds but to heavy seas on our starboard beam/quarter, with just the right period to create a nasty rolling action. As we got up the NJ coast, we decided we didn't want to put up with that motion all the way along the NY/LI coast to Block Island, so we ducked into Atlantic Highlands. Then, next morning we went up the East River, across LI sound, all the way to Block Island in a single long shot; got in at 3AM.

I'd advise you to check out the possible entrances along the NJ coast closely, because you may well want to stop over due to weather, waves, illness, fatigue, etc. The ones which are easy north of Cape May are Atlantic City and Atlantic Highlands. I've been into Barnegat but you don't want to do that in any kind of weather.

Have fun.

Bill
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Old 21-02-2016, 05:39   #3
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

Thanks Bill. Do you have a time of day you usually leave?


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Old 21-02-2016, 06:22   #4
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

Here is an AIS screenshot from the first week of June last year





The red rings are 10nm each. So we are looking at 50nms.
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Old 21-02-2016, 06:38   #5
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

I just chucked it up on the computer. I haven't done that trip so this is just what I would do:
Its 200nms exact from Cape May harbour
I don't see why it wouldn't be a straight shot. I certainly wouldn't shore hug.
Its 36 hours.
Leave at dawn. Arrive late next day before dark.
Cross those shipping channels at night is easy.
As soon as 10nms off the coast there is no leisure boating to worry about.
I would wait for a 3 day weather window because if you get into trouble it takes a day to sort out so I would say: passage time 36 hours + 24 hours = 2 1/2 days therefore I need a 3 day weather window


Well, that's the way I look at it anyway there may be local factors I don't know about.
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Old 21-02-2016, 06:52   #6
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

Thanks that's great. So is that saying there were 2 other ships within a 50 mile radius? I can deal with those odds.

Cruising speed tends to be about 5 knots for me. With the self steering at night I'm guessing I might be slower and of course to some degree. So I'm thinking more like 40+ hours. What about napping all morning, leaving in the afternoon, planning on arriving early in the morning on the 3rd day?

What would your sleep schedule be like on this passage?
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Old 21-02-2016, 07:19   #7
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

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Originally Posted by sully75 View Post
Thanks that's great. So is that saying there were 2 other ships within a 50 mile radius? I can deal with those odds.

Cruising speed tends to be about 5 knots for me. With the self steering at night I'm guessing I might be slower and of course to some degree. So I'm thinking more like 40+ hours. What about napping all morning, leaving in the afternoon, planning on arriving early in the morning on the 3rd day?

What would your sleep schedule be like on this passage?
Have a better look at the AIS shot: there's 2 fishing boats I just passed and 2 streams of ships: one heading up the coast to NYC and the other stream along the north coast.
So enough ships, but not too many, and they are all in the shipping lanes which are clearly marked on the chart.

Yep, fine to leave late afternoon. Its easier to slow down than to speed up
If you do need to slow down only do it in the last few miles

Sleep is easy. Buy 2 loud kitchen timers and set them for 20 minutes. If you are nervy about sleeping, or there's a lot of shipping, don't go to sleep whilst crossing any of the shipping channels. they r only 5 miles wide.

I sleep a fair bit because I like to be well rested. Its safer. Making landfall when happy, relaxed and fully awake is safe seamanlike and prudent imho
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Old 21-02-2016, 08:17   #8
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

It's been over 30 years since I sailed this trip single-handed in a similar size boat, going the opposite way - Newport, RI to Cape May. I did it again a few years ago, but not single-handed and on a sport fisherman from Ocean City, MD to Buzzard's Bay. On both trips I had other boats in sight nearly all the time, but never requiring a radio contact or course change.
The first time without radar or AIS, the second time with all the electronic toys.
Although I didn't encounter many boats when crossing the NY traffic lanes, I suspect that is not normal. In any case, the large commercial vessels should all be lining up in the lanes in your area of crossing and should be easily avoided. You will encounter a lot of fishing vessels off the NJ coast and as you approach Long Island. For that reason, and the shifting shoals just north of Cape May, I would head well out to sea (5-10nm or even more from the Cape May Sea Buoy) before turning directly for Block Island.
I wouldn't worry too much about arriving off Block Island at night as the entrance to the Great Salt Pond is well marked and lighted. Also you are less likely encounter ferry and tourist boats in the entrance channel at night. For that reason I would plan my departure for a time of day when I was most rested rather than trying to secure an arrival time.

Good luck, and have a great sail

John
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Old 21-02-2016, 08:37   #9
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

We have done this crossing twice. Once in solid fog & once clear. With AIS & radar you are in fine shape. You will be crossing 4 commercial ships lanes between Narraganset Bay & Cape May so be aware. We travel @ 6.5 kts & it took us about 33 hours. My wife did rest along the way but I did not nor would I recommend it. Staying awake that long is not that big a deal.
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Old 21-02-2016, 09:37   #10
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

I have done it twice doublehanded. Once down inside and once backup outside. Backup outside involved two nights at sea beacuase left Altantic City too late to Make Manasquan and hadn't filled up in Atlantic City and got low on gas. Because I don't like sailing overnight by myself, I would harbor hop from Atlantic City to Manasquan to Sandy Hook. There is plenty of depth for your boat at these stops. Once through Hells Gate there are lots of options for an enjoyable cruise to Block Island. Atlantic City was expensive but anchoring is an option. Be sure and time the currents through the East River.
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Old 21-02-2016, 10:37   #11
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

I've done the direct Cape May to BI doublehanded, as well as the coastal BI to Cape May via Atlantic Highlands singlehanded. I'd like to reinforce what the previous posters have said, which is also my general experience, and add a couple of thoughts.

Going the direct route the shipping traffic does thin out, but comes from more varied directions as they converge/diverge from established shipping channels. Less predictabilty, but manageable.

Going coastal singlehanded I waited for 24 hour weather windows with west component winds and used lee of LI and NJ coasts to moderate wind and waves and had comfortable rides under sail. Both coasts have few obstructions. Definitely more traffic (no sleep), and crossing shipping channels coming into NY and getting to/from Atlantic Highlands is always an exciting experience.

I understand you have AIS, but predicting the maneuvering of fishing vessels that do not have AIS can be difficult to predict. Especially at night when their deck lights obscure their nav lights (or fog/heavy weather). Radar will definitely help track them but be prepared to lose some scheduled sleep if you take the egg timer approach.

IMHO getting a good weather window is key to either route.

Have a great trip!
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Old 21-02-2016, 13:59   #12
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

In general, assuming you pick a good weather window, this should not be a difficult trip. As has been mentioned, commercial traffic can be approaching NY from several directions, so an adequate watch should be maintained, with radar if you have it.

If you wish to avoid commercial traffic (and there's no real reason to, unless you are just uncomfortable with it), then you can hug the coast, between 3 and 6 miles off. At that point, you will generally see pleasure traffic heading up and down the coast, and fishing vessels crossing on their way out, and way in. Be careful to keep a good watch at night around inlets where the fishing vessels are coming from, as their lights can get mingled with those on shore (don't ask me how I know this!)

Ships will converge and head into the NY VTS scheme north of Ambrose Light. Once you cross the VTS, you can sail along the south shore of Long Island, free from any ship traffic and lobster pots. You will see an occasional fishing vessel, well lit, if you are sailing after dark. Besides that, there is nothing else and very little pleasure traffic, mostly around the inlets.

When you clear Montauk, Block Island will be visible about 20 miles or so away. This route is the two long legs of the triangle - most people will sail the hypotenuse.

The only weather issues I've experienced on these runs, is lumpy seas and cross wind - residuals from passing storms. Keep an eye to the weather for your passage, and just before you depart Cape May, and you'll do fine.
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Old 21-02-2016, 14:59   #13
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

I've done the trip a couple of times and concur with radar (which I realize on your Triton isn't probable). Biggest threat I saw was NJ fishing boats - draggers - on autopilot and nobody keeping a lookout.
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Old 21-02-2016, 15:50   #14
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

Hey good day, my wife and I just did it in reverse left Block Island on the 29th of July last year on our way to Key West. We left on 8/2/15 at 5:30 am and arrived at the NY shipping channels at 2:00am. with everything u read I did not want to cross the shipping channels at night, about 6 container ships with 2 tugs moving about. We ran a line in the dark up towards the entrance to the East River for 1 1/2 hours ( slow maybe 2 kts ) and then turned around and ran the same track back till just about dawn. What a waste of time!!!! When we crossed and entered the Sandy Hook Channel we found it very wide and deep. but the way Active Captain describes it you should never attempt at night and without local knowledge. I think you should run 5 miles offshore and do the 75-80 miles between Cape May and Sandy Hook which is 1 day sunup to sundown and then do Sandy Hook to Block Island as a straight shot. Also I see your leaving from Baltimore through the C&D I hope.
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Old 24-02-2016, 08:03   #15
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Re: Cape May to Block Island Singlehanded

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Any advice on going from Cape May to Block Island single handed? ...
This is an interesting leg in a small yacht. It often happens that wind and seas from the southwest will kick up a bit during the passage giving an exciting view out the "back door" of the boat and reminding the small yacht sailor of the likely impossibility of going in the other direction. In addition if you are towing a dinghy on this leg you will be very happy you planned ahead and fitted a painter well over 50 feet (yes, fifty!) each time the hard dink rises to the top of a big following sea and threatens to come aboard at the wrong time.

I think you are the chap who asked earlier about Newfoundland (if not, don't worry too much about it). Reason I mention this is that during that thread there was no discussion about your boat's steering aids (self-steerers and autopilots in particular). Like others who've responded here, I've done this leg quite a few times. My boat often wintered and also "summered" up the Delaware River above Philadelphia, and several summer cruises included Block Island and southern New England. In each case a robust steering setup with much redundancy was a key ingredient to a safe and successful passage.

You definitely need to keep an eye out for commercial traffic, but the same applies to yacht traffic. On this leg almost all boats will follow pretty similar tracks, and I have many times been overtaken by larger yachts (power and sail) who did not seem to have anyone on watch other than the autopilot.
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