The Kayak Chronicles ©
by Darren Caffery
Kayaking Across Delaware Bay
Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, NJ
August 26, 2001
The annual Paddle Across the Delaware Bay was originally scheduled for August 12th. On a previous 22 mile kayak circumnavigation of Absecon Island and Atlantic City, I talked to another paddling buddy, Bruce Jenkins, from Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association who was also planning to paddle the bay crossing for his first time. We had discussed the safety requirements for the trip and after that I spent a couple of weeks ruminating whether I could safely participate. We later agreed to be paddling partners for the trip. He would also be navigational captain, using his GPS with the programmed waypoints for the trip guiding our course of almost 18 miles. We agreed to stick together for the duration of the trip. Although I felt confident in my endurance for this trip under favorable conditions, I also needed to be sure I was ready to handle the possible 'unpredictable' rough and confused sea conditions that could be encountered in the open water of the Delaware Bay. Since I don't know how to roll, I was at least prepared to do a wet exit and reentry if I was to capsize in my Perception Eclipse.
Since some of the 'unpredictable" factors were highly related to weather conditions, I'd also keep a watchful eye on weather forecasts for the area. I alerted Bruce that if , on the night before the trip, conditions were not predicted to be favorable for my skill and comfort level, I would simply wait for next year's crossing and he was understanding. Delaware Bay wasn't going anywhere and I value my life. A storm moved into the area the night before the trip and it was wisely rescheduled until August 26th. In the interim, I purchased a hand held VHF radio that I intended to bring along as an added safety measure.
With an anxious excitement, I awaited the day of the crossing. On the beautiful morning of Sunday August 26, I met the adventurous crew in Cape May as we hauled our kayaks onto the 7 am ferry headed for Lewes Delaware where we would then begin our paddle back to Cape May NJ. On the ferry ride I was very vigilant to the conditions of the water which did not look threatening in the least. The sun was shining and there was no threat of storms. This got me more relaxed and very psyched for a great paddle. We launched shortly after 9 am onto a relatively calm Delaware Bay from Lewes town beach. The 'hardcore' group of paddlers, most of which had done the crossing before, were out of my sight within two hours. Conditions were more relaxed than I expected making every mile of the paddle an enjoyable one. We didn't see any dolphin the whole way but we saw a fairly large stingray at one point, tons of jellyfish and a few very large freighters (which turned out to be the most intimidating condition all day). There were also some large swells, some of which looked intimidating in the distance, but as they slowly rolled toward us, they posed no threat to us staying upright. This was mother nature's version of an amusement ride and turned out to be a fun part of the paddle. The silence of the bay at the midway point, with no land in sight was intense. Bruce and I took a break from paddling for a little while and just absorbed it. After reaching the point of visible land, paddling became somewhat of a struggle as my endurance began to wane. Switching to a rotating torso paddling technique took some pressure off my arms and shoulders. Sucking up some water from my hydration tube and eating some fig newtons also helped somewhat but at that point I realized the 5 hours sleep I got the night before was really not enough to sustain the pace I had intended to keep. I concentrated on my paddling strokes with each remaining mile and felt more relief as land grew near. The sense of excitement of the impending landing gave me an adrenaline surge which helped me to increase my pace for the last quarter mile. I pulled safely onto the Pinewood Rd. Beach in Cape May NJ at around 3 pm with a few sore muscles and a rewarding sense of accomplishment.
Thanks to Bruce Jenkins for being an all around great paddling partner, a pillar of encouragement, and an excellent navigational guide for one of the highlights of my 2001 paddling season.
Thanks also go out to Bill McArthur for organizing the course, plotting GPS waypoints, and scheduling of the launch for optimal tidal conditions, to Joe Link for updating us on the message board while Bill was away and for hosting the post paddle festivities, and to members of the JSSKA who stayed to greet us as we landed, helped us carry and load our boats and gear and shuttled us to get our vehicles.
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