Since I am neither an avid fisherman nor a motorboat owner, it has never been my habit to pay attention to things like tide charts and marine forecasts. But since my wife got her kayak and we began exploring some of the local estuaries, I now find myself checking that information daily. This all started a few months ago when we happened to be out for a bikeride one night and our route took us alongside the mainland shore of the Barnegat Bay. As we paused at the water's edge to gaze out at the distant ribbon of lights along the horizon, we noticed that on this particular night there were no waves at all. The enormous, several-miles-across body of water was completely flat, and I honestly could not remember having ever seen it like that before, even though we have done that same route on our bikes a hundred times or more. So it was then and there that we got the idea to take the kayaks out some evening and attempt a crossing of the bay at night in one of those calm periods. Unfortunately, the conditions that are conducive to producing a flat bay, while not rare, are infrequent. I guess we just never took note of the difference between an 8 mph breeze and a 2 mph zephyr before. We have since learned that the former churns things up considerably, while the latter is evidently insufficient to provoke the surface into even small waves. So we waited for it to happen again. Sadly, it seemed that whenever conditions were completely calm like that, we always had other things to do. Eventually we got tired of waiting, and with the rising of the last full moon of this summer, we felt compelled to make our first crossing attempt together last Monday night. That story is the subject of the previous blog entry.
This story is about what happened a few days later, Thursday August 30th to be precise. It was FINALLY one of those nights. No wind, no waves, and no previous obligations. As a bonus, even though the moon had passed its full stage a few days earlier, it was still nearly full and would be rising before 9:00pm. Having already accomplished the crossing, we felt no need to do it again so soon. Instead, we decided to skip the whole shuttling of vehicles bit and just return to our put-in location when we were done for the night. So we loaded em up, grabbed our gear, and drove out to the nearest put-in spot on LBI. So excited were we at the prospect of paddling in these optimum conditions that it only took us about five minutes from the time we pulled into the parking lot at the Ship Bottom boat ramp to get in the water and underway.
It was just like we had imagined it would be. No, better! Our 14+ foot boats sliced effortlessly through the flat-as-glass water. Aside from the occasional fish grabbing a snack off the surface, there was no sound whatsoever from the water as we made our way southward. We traced the ins and outs of the irregular shoreline and chatted as we went. The sweet summer smells of a vacation paradise wafted across the water and added to the enchantment. We paddled silently through the darkness, reveling in the whole experience. We must have uttered the words "This is soooo nice!" a dozen times each over the course of the next three hours.
We went south for about an hour, then agreed to head away from the shore to see what it was like out near the middle of the bay that averages about three miles wide. We made our turn toward the west and ten minutes later we noticed that the background noise of the island was reduced to nil. Now it was truly quiet... so quiet that, as we approached one of the larger uninhabited islands that dot the waterway, the chorus of chirping crickets who lived there was a dramatic contrast. Barely audible at first while we were still a long way off, the volume gradually increased until it seemed these must be the loudest crickets in the world! It is amazing how normally unnoticed things like a crescendo of bug music can add to an already exhilarating moment in time.
As we paddled alongside this island, it blocked our view of the (now) far away LBI lights. Since we were at least a mile from the nearest light bulb, the canopy of stars above us seemingly became that much brighter. The reflection of the moon dancing on the surface was mesmerizing, comparable to watching the flames of a campfire late at night just before you crawl into your sleeping bag. We again stopped paddling altogether, curious to see what would happen. There was virtually no detectable drift even way out here! We sat in complete silence, overwhelmed by the beauty of the whole experience. We just leaned back in our seats, stared upward, and soaked it all in. Meanwhile... tiny, rhythmic undulations on the surface were being transmitted through our hulls and the gentle motion was working some sort of magic. It felt like we were floating on a cloud. There was a very strong temptation to just close your eyes and let the elements conspire to lull you to sleep. I wondered if anyone has ever succumbed to this fate under similar conditions and maintained their balance while in dreamland. It certainly wasn't hard to imagine just then.
With midnight near and the next day being a work day, we were eventually forced to snap ourselves out of the spell and head back toward civilization. That was NOT at all an easy thing to do. Even when we got back to the place where we had started, we tarried. Three hours was not enough! We again headed out toward the middle of the bay to extend our adventure just a little longer. Five minutes became fifteen and once more we had to force ourselves to turn around and head back. It was only after we promised ourselves that we would get back out here and do this again very soon that we were finally able to run our boats up on the sandy beach, put them back on the roof of the Jeep, and drive home. Hopefully we can get in a few more of these types of trips before the weather and water turns colder.