Seventh Heaven on the Jersey Shore
Few places in Barnegat Bay are off the beaten track, but sometimes you can find a nook that is less well traveled. For instance, check out Silver Bay, in New Jersey’s Toms River Township. It’s a beautiful oasis amid the ubiquitous development that crowds much of the Jersey Shore. In the prevailing southwest winds of summer, I’ve scooted through the gap between protruding marshes and shoals under sail alone, dropping the hook in 5 feet of water in good sticky mud.
The anchorage in Silver Bay draws its charm from the natural setting of Cattus Island County Park, its 500 undeveloped acres spreading out on most every side. The wetlands are home to all manner of birds—piping plovers, snowy egrets, black skimmers, osprey, marsh hawks and many others. Stands of oak and pine to the west lend a hint of wilderness to the place.
Located just south of mile 10 on New Jersey’s Intracoastal Waterway, Silver Bay was an easy first night’s stop on frequent weekend cruises to Toms River when my wife and I kept our Bristol 24 in Bay Head, an appropriately named town situated at the head of Barnegat Bay. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Barnegat Bay estuary extends 42 miles from the Point Pleasant Canal to Little Egg Harbor Inlet. Most local sailors will tell you the only usable part of the bay is the 25 miles between Toms River and Barnegat Inlet. With water depths averaging about 6 feet, deep-draft boats are as rare as hen’s teeth, and if you do see one, it won’t stray from the channel. The bay is a fabulous trailer-sailing destination.
Heading five miles south from Silver Bay would take us under the twin bridges linking Toms River to Island Beach, the barrier island separating the bay from the Atlantic. You can turn west from there (which will often put the wind abeam) and enjoy a wonderful jaunt up Toms River past stately Victorian homes and tree-lined shores. We often anchored off Money Island, where we liked to relax and watch the sailboats reaching back and forth on the river.
Venturing into historic downtown Toms River is always fun. Apart from the restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques, the town is home to the Toms River Seaport Society’s maritime museum. It’s housed in a historic carriage house built in 1868 and features a display of local small craft indigenous to the Jersey shore, such as duck boats and sneakboxes. The Seaport Society hosts the popular Wooden Boat Festival every July, which celebrates classic woodies and promises fun for the whole family.
Although Tices Shoal isn’t in Toms River, it is by far the most popular weekend cruise destination in Barnegat Bay and is located at ICW mile 23, just north of Barnegat Inlet at the south end of Island Beach State Park. Aerial shots of Tices Shoal on summer weekends are reminiscent of the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. It’s party central for rafting up and letting the good times roll. Going ashore to the boardwalk landing for a quarter-mile stroll across the barrier island for a day at the beach on the ocean side is pretty much obligatory.
Scenic anchorages, upscale marinas, dock-and-dine restaurants, lively nightlife, and even a dash of history lured us back to Toms River time after time. Sure, it could be crowded on weekends, but when the warm sea breeze filled our sails and the sun shone bright, we were in Seventh Heaven in the Garden State.