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Capsized the boat!

June 6, 2011

June 1, Sea Bright, Carriage House Marina

I left the inlet knowing that the winds would reach 25 miles per hour in the afternoon. It was 8 and I had time to reach my exit point just before Sandy Hook. I chose to go over land to avoid going around Sandy Hook since the campground was on the west side quite close to the bottom. I had identified three different exit points leading to the inner waters. The first was the least favorable since it entailed going half a mile over land to reach a finger of water that would lead to the larger waterway. I was the closest and I put the coordinates in my GPS in case things got hairy on the ocean. The second exit was two miles further. That exit required a passage over the sea wall on a staircase: sure to be private. The last exit, my real objective, was another two miles away. I led to a parking lot with an opening on the sea wall. The parking lot was in front of another one that had a ramp on that led to the main waterway.

As I got to the ocean, the swell was quite noticeable. Bluefish jumped all over the place and there were quite a few fishermen. I had a moderate wind on my back. By 10, the swell and the waves were reaching 2 to 4 feet. At 11, the waves were 3 to 4 feet with the occasional set of waves of 4 to 6 feet. Since the current was going against the wind, these waves were quite steep and made my life miserable. I was being propelled forward and I was losing control from time to time. At around 11:30, the wind had reached 20 miles per hour with frequent gusts close to 30. I reefed a bit but it was the waves that were troublesome.

The waves were now breaking over my boat from the back every few minutes. I had to steer looking behind me to avoid capsizing. At 12 it was quite clear that I was now aiming for the first exit. It was only a mile away but not close enough. I made my way close to shore the waves got even steeper. I had stowed everything inside the boat and double wrapped the rest of my gear. I was ready for a trip in the drink. I rolled all of my sail and prepared to demast. I made a sea anchor with my seat. I was seeing people on the beach. I was at the seawall opening and I could see the electric polls indicating the street I was looking for.

I never made it to the breakers. The wave that capsized me never broke. My boat got propelled forward, the tip of the boat dug deep. I jumped in the water to use my body as a counter weight and a sea anchor. I was bear hugging the back of the boat. I flew in the air like a rag doll. Soon the mast went in. I landed on the bottom of the boat. The mast touched the bottom and the two outrigger pins broke at the same time. Even with the tramps, the outriggers were pulled back. One of the tramps plastic snaps broke under the pressure.

It was not difficult at all the put the boat back up. I grabbed the rope with my three dry bags and put them in the boat while a smaller set was now breaking on me. I tugged at the boat and soon touched the ground. I somehow got out of the beach breaks without further spectacle but I swear I had to deploy the strength of a line backer to do it and it was ugly. Had I not been able to pull out before the next large set I think the boat would have sustained a lot of damage. Fortunately for me, since the wind was from the south east, the waves were coming at an angle.

From shore, I studied the waves coming in and the breakers and concluded that the only way I could have made it would have been by rushing in and being very, very lucky. The correct way would have been to use the mast and outrigger all tied together in a big bundle, swim in and tug the whole mess with a rope, perhaps with the help of the people on the beach.

Since the boat was sure to dig in and flip before even getting to the beach break, I could not see any pretty alternatives other than using a huge sea anchor to make it right side up to the breakers. Once there it would have been a very unfortunate moment for the boat since it could not have escaped the beach break fast enough to avoid getting pounded to nothingness.

Once on the beach I got offered a bagel and water. Had I had a hat I could have made a bit of change for the spectacle I had just offered. A bunch of guys spending a few hours on the beach while waiting for a Fish concert helped me take my boat off the beach.

My ordeal was not over. The sun baked me good. I had to haul my gear on the sidewalk for half a mile. I was covered in sweat. I moved one pile of gear, then another, then pulled the boat, over and over again. I got to the “water”. It stank pretty bad since it was right next to a water treatment plant. It looked like a puddle and I had to cross 20 yards of tall and dense vegetation to get to it. I sure could have used a machete. Once I got the hull to the water I noticed that I was standing in deep black goo. Surely this was what was left of human wastes. It stank like a neglected porter potty. I was covered in cuts from the brush. I noticed poison ivy. Hoped I did not get any of its sap on me. By the time I put the boat together and repaired to two outrigger pins I was quite presentable and the boat was covered in black mud and everything was squeaky from all the sand that had made its way in every part of the boat. The rudder would not move without a bit of help from my paddle. I loosened it enough to put it in the water.

I was worried that there would not be enough water to get away from the water treatment plant. I imagined myself stuck in the much a few yards away; looking like quite the fool. Providence got pity and there was enough water for me to make it to the waterway. I stopped at the first docks I encountered and hose myself and the boat.

I saw a Carriage House Marina a little further. I was still aiming for the campground at the base of Sandy Hook but I wanted to ask about the region and consult with local on strategies and timing to cross the bay.

I met Lance, the owner, and he told me that I would not make it against the incoming tide that evening. He said it was no problem if I stayed at his marina and offered a boat to stay in since there were thunderstorms in the forecast; as if the crazy wind was not enough.

He explained that at around 11 the tides would be going out, that I could ride it to the tip of Sandy Hook. I would have to stay away from the very tip to avoid getting taken out to sea. I would then be able to buck the remainder of the ebb current to make it close to the Verazano Bridge in time to the flood. Piece of cake he explained.

I stuffed myself with pizza and went to bed.

  1. Scott permalink

    Well, adventure always starts when things don’t go as planned. I am glad you made it through the surf. Imagine what it would be like to “land” MY boat on the beach. PIZZA and sleep sounds like the best plan!

    • I got out of the surf losing only a few water bottles and two arm pin broken. That’s not bad. Anyone living in NJ south of Point Pleasant would be well advised to only go in and out at the inlets… oups, there is only one…

  2. steve permalink

    Keep it up, freshwater is close by! I think you’ll love the hudson and canal~

  3. Actually, I’m almost at Albany. I’m a bit late in my posts!

  4. Paul witort permalink

    Congratulations on getting through the surf in one piece!

    I’m very interested in accumulating any knowledge concerning getting through breaking waves to the shore; also in sailing in heavy seas. I was impressed that you took the time to rethink your experience once on the beach. Las year I talked with a hobie kayaker from Tillamook, OR who had a harrowing experience coming through the surf north of Seaside, OR with an Adventure Island, close to where the columbia river bar is. I believe he had the mast up and sail deployed. The kayak went over and the main damage was that one of the amas were torn off…I think one aka needed to be replaced .

    Yours is only the second account I have come across so it would be great to learn as much as possible from it. this should be helpful to a lot of folks who like to do beach launches.

    You said:

    The correct way would have been to use the mast and outrigger all tied together in a big bundle, swim in and tug the whole mess with a rope, perhaps with the help of the people on the beach.
    Since the boat was sure to dig in and flip before even getting to the beach break, I could not see any pretty alternatives other than using a huge sea anchor to make it right side up to the breakers.

    -is it best to keep the outriggers/amas deployed or in close -?

    -when you talk about tying the mast and outrigger together – did you mean both outriggers and the mast as a separate floatable bundle, separate from the boat?

    -how high were these waves and how deep was the water… apparently when you got off the kayak you could walk on the bottom. So, were you able to pedal in that close ( mast was pulled before getting to the break?. The picture in the blog show a wave breaking close to shore with no waves behind it… was there just one break…at the shore?

    -did pedaling help advance the kayak in the big waves…was the rudder useful at all?


  5. steve permalink

    OK, the canal will be fun! Great bar in the swamp in Schylerville (left turn down a channel on the west side of river), lots to do/stay/eat in Whitehall too. Somehow let me know when you enter the lake anywhere from the new bridge going in at crown point to Burlington. I have my boats in Charlotte. Let me know what you need.

  6. George permalink

    I’ve never tried breakers in a kayak, but based on the theory for bigger yachts I’d say you just need a better sea anchor/drouge. It should provide enough drag to prevent both pitchpole and broach.
    On the other hand if you wouldn’t use it much it may not be worth the space and weight.

    • George, if the breakers are big enough, nothing will prevent an AI to flip forward; except a contraption that would keep the nose of the boat on the surface, somehow.

      • paul witort permalink

        I’d be interested in hearing anyones’ account of using a sea anchor with a kayak, especially and AI. I have used a mini cargo parachute , maybe 6+ feet diameter with my 18′ Whaler Outrage and , when deployed from the bow, keeps the bow into the wind and waves quite well. Deploying from the rear on a kayak sounds interesting as it should keep the stern into the wave and therefore , theoretically the bow pointing down the wave. The chute might be enough pull to not allow the kayak to ‘pole over’….any body have experience with this with a medium to large chute?

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