I've had a lot of conversations about kayaking with non-kayakers that go like this: "Do you ever take any long trips?", "Well, I've crossed the Delaware Bay a few times.", "Both ways?" I got tired of feeling like a wimp when I had to reply, "No, just one way." So, for a couple of years, I've been looking for a day that has all of the right properties:
- it must be a Sunday to avoid the normally busy traffic of large, fast ships heading up the Delaware River
- high tide must be around 7 AM
- there must be no chance of thunderstorms all day
- there must be at least 12 hours of light
- sea conditions must be good
I figured that we'd never get a day like that and so far I'm right. I had tentatively scheduled a double-cross for August 24 because it was a Sunday with the right tides. When I saw 0% chance of thunderstorms on Accu-weather a couple of day beforehand, I started to hope. The only problem was that a front was due to come through on Friday night and Sunday was predicted to be one of those windy transition days. But, Joe Link and Bruce Jenkins were poised and ready for a double-cross, and I still had people saying "Both ways?" to me, so I thought that we could push the envelope a bit on the wind. When I woke up at 5:30 AM on Sunday morning, the Bay was roaring with breaking waves. As the light came up, I could see whitecaps in the distance, but it didn't look too bad in close, so on the 6:20 AM phone call with Joe, we decided to try it. I called Bruce and he started driving down from Ventnor. I dragged my kayak down to the beach for a 7:30 AM launch and found the wind howling out of the north with whitecaps everywhere and breaking waves hammering the shallow water near shore. No matter how much I wanted to do this trip, these conditions seemed impossible. I dragged my kayak back home and yelled to my wife to call Joe and tell him that it's too rough. Joe made me get on the phone and told me to see if I could make it for a mile down to his beach and then we'd decide what to do. So, I made sure that everything was securely fastened to my kayak and launched into the breakers. Luckily, the water crashing over me was nice and warm. I very carefully paddled down to Joe's beach among the 4 foot waves. I managed to surf into shore to find a very matter-of-fact group of Joe, Bruce, and Joe's wife Maria, going about the business of preparing for launch. Since I knew that I'd never get my kayak back home without carrying it up the beach, I decided to go. Joe said, "It won't get worse than this." Wrong! We launched around 8:20 AM from Pinewood Road beach, 2 miles north of the Cape May Canal. As I was working my way off of the beach, a wave crashed over me and switched off my GPS. We had planned to follow a heading of 230 degrees to compensate for the current, and visibility was unlimited, but I was relieved when I was able to turn my GPS back on. The waves were 3 to 4 feet with occasional breakers as we made our way toward Delaware. The strong north wind made it easy for us to average over 5 mph for most of the way. As we neared the south end of the outer breakwater at the Harbor of Refuge, things changed. The waves got bigger (as I snapped a picture of Joe, I noticed that he disappeared in a trough - all that's visible is his red cap), and there were large standing waves guarding the entrance to the harbor. In addition, the current threatened to beach us on Cape Henlopen, so this was not a fun place to paddle. I felt my energy being drained from me as I fought my way through the raging water. My main thought was that I might not have enough left for the trip back; however, we had a few tough miles to go yet on this leg of the trip. Bruce struggled with a weather-cocking kayak and lost half of his spare paddle in the waves. We worked our way in through a few more nasty rips and landed on Lewes Town Beach at about 12:25 PM to the muted yawns of the beachgoers. I called Cathy and Maria on my cell phone and told them that we had arrived safely, which was almost true. Joe got dumped by a wave coming in and cut his hand on a shell. I had packed some band-aids and duct tape, so we prepared a field dressing for the return trip. Our discussion of the trip back was simply, "When do we launch?" The people on the beach did a good job pretending that they weren't impressed by us. Even the nearby cute little blond feigned disinterest, when I'm sure her heart was pounding with excitement. We listened to the marine forecast on my radio; nothing had changed. We launched at 1:30 PM after another phone call to our wives stating our float plan. We headed out toward the ice breakers, avoiding that bad area to the south. The trip back was gorgeous! We had a moderate swell, unlimited visibility, low humidity, comfortable temperature, and good company. When we stopped to drink, the quietness was truly awesome. We landed a bit after 6 PM, greeted by Cathy and Maria. Our final mileage was 36.4. Bruce had to drive back to Ventnor, but Joe and I were rewarded by an awesome sunset, viewed from our respective houses.
I've decided that a group of 3 is the best for this kind of trip, and 2 of them should be Joe and Bruce. Those guys never, ever get tired. I've paddled across the Bay 9 times now, but I think that these 2 will be my favorites.