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Sandy Hook
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Atlantic Highlands, NJ – a charming destination where people care

The harborfront in Atlantic Highlands

We happen to keep our boat on Long Island Sound and have cruised extensively on those waters for about 10 years now.  Memorial Day was coming up and we thought, why not head off in the other direction from where we normally go.  As the tides were going to be just perfect for us, we decided to head down the East River past Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, check out the naval fleet in New York Harbor which was in for Fleet Week, then head out past the Verrazano Bridge and tuck into Sandy Hook Bay for some new cruising adventures. 

Passing under the Verrazano Bridge in New York Harbor.

We passed under the Throggs Neck Bridge at about 9 am and, making 11+ knots through Hell Gate where the currents can run at more than 5 knots, reached the Bowery by noon.  It’s fun to watch the planes take off and land overhead when passing La Guardia airport.  We were curious to see that the prison barges off Riker’s Island were gone, and some very imposing buildings have gone up in the complex since our last passage three years ago. It’s also fun to speculate about the origins and demise of the elaborate ruins on the small islands in the river.  Yet, my favorite part is always sailing past the UN and seeing the Chrysler Building gleaming in the background.  This time there were no restrictions on the river as the UN was not in session and we passed between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island without USCG escort.  (For more details about sailing the East and Hudson Rivers, click here.)

Just as we hoisted the sails in the shadow of Lady Liberty, the wind died and, as the tide was against us in the Hudson, we sailed straight on out.  The amount of activity in New York Harbor is always amazing, with ferries crossing every which way, freighters and pilot boats meeting up, sailboats of every description and every era tacking back and forth, power vessels of every description crisscrossing in every direction, and tour boats making the rounds of the sights.  It’s a very exciting harbor to sail in especially on a beautiful day.  And although you have to keep a careful watch, for the most part, it feels relatively orderly.

Getting to Atlantic Highlands

The entrance to Sandy Hook Bay is off Raritan Bay.  Although these waters are extremely well marked, there are so many markers for so many crossing routes that it can be somewhat bewildering to keep track of the markers for the specific channel you want to follow. 

Lighthouse at West Bank

After passing through the Verrazano Narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn, follow Ambrose channel out towards the sea past the many vessels anchored.  There is plenty of water to stay clear of the shipping channel where giant freighters from exotic ports of call restricted by draft enter and exit in single file with pilots onboard signaling for vessels to stay clear.  (If you hear 5 short blasts right behind you, get out of the way and fast.)

At West Bank is where the two channels diverge.  Ambrose Channel goes off to the left and Chapel Hill Channel goes right and leads to Sandy Hook Bay.  Steer clear of West Bank and its lighthouse then follow the channel markers down to Raritan Bay East Reach.  Turn left there and where it meets up with Sandy Hook Channel is the mouth of Sandy Hook Bay.  These channels are the highways on the sea. If sailing here in poor visibility, keep in mind that there is a local magnetic disturbance of up to 5 degrees here, so be especially watchful.  The depths in this area are in the teens and twenties so you should have plenty of room to sail outside the channel as well.

Sandy Hook Bay is protected by Sandy Hook to the East and a manmade structure that juts out into the lower bay.  This causeway ends in a navy terminal where munitions and ordnance are delivered to supply the East Coast installations.  Years ago, ordnance being delivered exploded killing several terminal workers.  There is a safety zone marked by white buoys that you must stay clear of.  We accidentally cut a corner and found ourselves being chased by a naval patrol with guns trained on us and a bull horn instructing us to “turn to uhhhhhh starboard uhhhhh right immediately.”  We took action and they returned to their station promptly after we left the zone. 

The Coast Guard Station is just inside the “hook” and a rather substantial installation.  The area has about 20 feet of water and good holding if you just want a quiet anchorage for the night before continuing on to more distant shores.  Keep in mind that though the beaches may look very inviting, the land around the point is USCG property and off limits to recreational use. 

Farther into the Bay is a second anchorage called Horseshoe Cove which provides additional shelter in a northerly breeze.  We tried to anchor there, and although the charts show 10 feet of water, we stopped trying when we got to 8.5 – the amount we draw. There was a catamaran and two power boats as well as a smaller sailboat snugly tucked in there.  The bunkers on the beach are remnants of cold war era installations. The great thing about anchoring here is that you can walk to the Atlantic Ocean beaches from here.Directly across from Horseshoe Cove on the southwesterly shore is Atlantic Highlands. 

Rounding the breakwater at Atlantic Highlands
Protected by a substantial breakwater, Atlantic Highlands makes a particularly nice anchorage in all but a southeasterly blow.  The Highlands are the highest coastal shores along the entire Atlantic seaboard and provide a lovely rolling green backdrop for the beautiful sandy coastal beaches. The depths in the small harbor run around 10 feet with a little more depth nearer to the breakwater than to the shore.  The harbor is full of moorings and slips yet there is plenty of room to drop anchor at the end of the mooring field but within the shelter of the breakwater.  We had two very comfortable nights at anchor here. Key to our comfort was that the local fishermen in this busy fishing mecca go out through an unmarked passage at the inner end of the breakwater so they didn’t disturb us in the wee hours of the morning. Locals suggest sticking to the main entrance for visiting yachtsmen as it is marked by a lit buoy.

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