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Boating Stories

ICW Inlets

most Loopers have a story about Inlets...

Manasquin River Inlet

June 5. 2019

 Manasquin Inlet 
 New York, NY  


There are hundreds of inlets up and down the Atlantic coast. You have to be something pretty big, like the Chesapeake or Delaware Bays, New York Harbor or Long Island Sound to not be labeled an Inlet. Inlets are sometimes called passes in the Gulf. Probably less than 20% are used by anyone other than local boaters.

An inlet is either a river flowing into the ocean or a break between Barrier Islands where tides flow through. Barrier islands themselves are pretty much big sandbars that have stood the test of time, though they still move, sometimes because and sometimes in spite of human efforts otherwise. Nature is always at work, it just has a different sense of time than we do.

I crossed many inlets, but didn't traverse many out to the Atlantic because I prefered to explore the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway, i.e., the ‘inside’). Others, including some Loopers in bigger boats, prefer the Atlantic (the ‘outside’), to save time, avoid some tight or shallow places on the ICW or just because that’s what they enjoy. There’s no right or wrong route for the Great Loop. The rule is to enjoy it.

I learned to pay attention to inlets. Their size and spacing, as well as the sounds behind them, influence the tides and currents along the ICW. Timing tides just right to ride the incoming tide from one inlet and then the outgoing to the next is satisfying, if not exactly a matter of life or death. Ignoring them can be frustrating and waste a lot of gas.

There’s a lot of water moving through inlets either from the rivers and/or tides. Offshore sandbars periodically change the wave patterns, adding short sections of steeper and closer spaced waves. The smaller the inlet, the nastier it can be. Most Loopers will use the bigger inlets; small inlets are generally used only by locals who know them well. 

Manasquan  River Inlet is not the smallest inlet, but it’s not very big either. Many Loopers don’t use it, not because it’s small, but because the New Jersey ICW is a bit of a pain, shallow in many spots, crowded with local recreational boaters, industrial is some sections and poorly maintained in others. Loopers often hopscotch inlets instead. Regardless, if you’re not outside by the time you get to Manasquan, you have to use it because the New Jersey ICW ends there. The last 30 miles north to New York Harbor is via the Atlantic.

That didn’t particularly bother me, but I’ve learned to check wind and wave time because L.T. doesn’t like short, choppy seas in oceans or anywhere else. I found a small window in the late afternoon, not ideal, but it was time to get to New York. What I neglected to check was the tide. River going out - the Manasquan - and tide coming in is not a good combination in a smallish inlet.

I knew things were getting dicey when I saw a bigger trawler start to bob up and down significantly about a quarter mile ahead of me. It was already too late to turn around. Turning around would have put L.T. sideways in steep chop, a gut check in any boat and a prelude to rolling. I’ve almost rolled a raft and have absolutely, positively no desire to roll L.T.

It’s pretty natural, indeed necessary to power up when your boat is at a 30 to 40 degree angle going up a wave. How much is the key. My first go at it was, shall we say, a bit too much. The top of the wave felt like the top of a roller coaster, briefly suspended but held tight by the safety bar. Except I didn’t have a safety bar and neither did anything in L.T. But my head hitting the roof of the cabin was nothing compared to what was coming.

I suspect that L.T. came totally out of the water, but I hope there’s no video to confirm that one way or the other. I do know the landing was, shall we say, hard, and that we went pretty much went through, rather than over the next wave. The compression, and then decompression of L.T. when we hit bottom was enough to fling both screens out of their window tracks. One landed on something that poked a hole in the screen – a hole I’ve left to remind me to try a bit less throttle next time. The whole inside of L.T. was rearranged in an impressively short amount of time. The fact that both screens popped at least says that I went up and over squarely, some consolation.

The rest of the outside was anticlimactic. Once the heart rate settled down, I began to enjoy the big, widely spaced swells which I had anticipated. Mr. Suzuki would lower its voice to push us up 3 to 4, not 30, degree waves and then we’d pick up 6-7 mph surfing down the backside. I kept within a mile of the New Jersey shore and was both happy and grateful to round Sandy Hook and glimpse the Verrazano Narrows Bridge marking the entrance to the New York Harbor.

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Verrazaro Narrows Bridge, entrance to the New York Harbor.
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