As we closed with the bridges, I went below and hailed the bridge tender on the VHF radio. “Toms River bridge, Toms River bridge, this is the sailing vessel Elizabeth. Southbound. Requesting an opening.”
Static. Then a friendly voice: “Right, Cap. We’ll be goin’ up in a few minutes.”
I eased the genoa sheet, spilling air to slow the boat. We hadn’t used the diesel since early the previous afternoon, when we’d passed through the Mantoloking Bridge, and I didn’t want to turn it on now.
The bridge opened, we loped by, then a siren sounded and the span lowered behind us. To the west was Toms River, popular among sailors because of its east-west orientation, which makes it ideal for reaching in the prevailing southerlies. Marinas and yacht clubs line the shores, and there are good anchorages everywhere, except in howling easterlies. Water depths average about 6 feet and holding is good in mud.
Downtown Toms River has shops, galleries, restaurants, and a maritime museum featuring exhibits of the small wooden boats indigenous to the area. There is a bulkhead to tie up to, but your best bet is to rent a slip at one of the nearby marinas.
The wind backed to the south, just in time for us to reach west up Toms River to Money Island, where we dropped the hook and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. After dinner, we watched the setting sun, wearing sweaters against the autumn chill. A cold front was on its way, promising a blast of northwesterly winds that would make our next anchorage, Tices Shoal, a lee shore, but with luck the change would hold off.
And it did.
The next morning we rode the southerlies out of Toms River into the widest part of Barnegat Bay, sailing close-hauled and tacking when necessary. To the east was Island Beach State Park, a 10-mile-long jewel of pristine sand dunes extending to Barnegat Inlet. Sailors can dinghy ashore from the Tices Shoal anchorage. A short boardwalk leads across the dunes to the Atlantic side of the park.
To the south are the Sedge Islands State Wildlife Management Area, Barnegat Inlet, and Barnegat Lighthouse State Park at the north end of Long Beach Island. Old Barney rises 171 feet above sea level, making it the second tallest lighthouse in the United States. The lighthouse is no longer operational; it’s open to the public and is accessible from the marinas at Barnegat Inlet.
At Marker 40, just beyond ICW Mile 20, we romped the 2.5 miles to Tices Shoal. We weren’t towing our inflatable, so we didn’t go ashore. In the summer, when the bay is warm, people swim to the beach. That night the park was as black as a cave, a stark contrast to the glittering lights to the west.
Ready for a snug berth and a great meal, we sailed for Forked River the following day. Gray clouds obscured the sun. It was cold and blustery. I put a single reef in the main and only rolled out part of the genoa. Elizabeth heeled in the freshening southwesterlies.
Forked River is appropriately named for its north and south branches. On the chart, it looks like a divining rod pointing west. We took in the sails at the river entrance, and I fired up the Yanmar. Soon we were up the north branch at the marinas. There are plenty of restaurants. One of our favorites is the Captain’s Inn Restaurant & Dockside Bar, a dock-and-dine joint with a Tiki bar that bustles during the summer.
The front blew through later that night, but we didn’t care. Forked River is known as a hurricane hole, and we spent a comfortable night knowing we were secure. We waited for the northerly winds to ease before heading back to Point Pleasant. After all, cruising is not about being in a hurry. It’s about going where the wind takes you, preferably from abaft the beam.
Weather and navigation
Occasionally strong southerly winds funnel up the bay in summer, and thunderstorms sometimes roll in from the west. Daytime temperatures can exceed 90F. Fog is possible throughout the sailing season, which runs from June through October. Navigation is mostly line-of-sight. But always watch the depthsounder and your chart.
Sailing schools and charters
Barnegat Bay Sailing School, Bayville
Nelson Sailing Center, Island Heights (Toms River)
New Jersey Sailing School, Pt. Pleasant
A Cruising Guide to New Jersey Waters, by Donald Launer, Rutgers University Press, 2004, $19.95
Long Island Sound to Cape May, NJ, 11th edition
The Embassy Guides from Maptech, $44.95
Waterway Guide, Northern, 2009, $39.95
NOAA Chart 12324
Maptech ChartKit Region 3, 14th edition, $129.95