Delaware Bay Crossing
By: Darren Caffery
After finding a great paddling partner from my kayak club (Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association), I contemplated to join in on this this annual planned paddle that I had only previously read about. After discussing the safety requirements for the trip, and a few weeks ruminating whether I could safely participate, I finally committed to the trip with my partner, Bruce Jenkins. He would 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 should capsize in my Perception Eclipse.
I planned to bring along a hand-held VHF radio as an added safety measure. I also alerted Bruce that if , on the night before the trip, weather 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.
With an anxious excitement, I awaited the day of the crossing. On the beautiful morning of Sunday August 26, I met my partner and the rest of 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. One of our kayak club members who also participated in the paddle, and who lives on the Delaware Bay threw a party afterwards for all us who crossed.
This is a spectacular trip for those who have the required safety, rescue and navigational skills and are ready for the endurance of the distance and the challenge of open water paddling on the unpredictable waters of the Delaware Bay . There were a few hours of paddling with no land in sight and the course involves crossing shipping channels with huge tankers. This trip was well planned with optimal tide consideration and with GPS waypoints plotted to illustrate our course.