SailNet Community

SailNet Community (
-   Chesapeake / Central US east coast (
-   -   Tell me about the Delaware Bay (

Ajax_MD 11-15-2011 11:42 AM

Tell me about the Delaware Bay
It looks like a huge, shallow area with a very narrow channel. Can sailors safely navigate outside the channel to avoid being run down by large, commercial vessels, or is this not really a problem?

I read PDQ's, "Circumnavigating the DelMarva", but didn't really get the answers I was seeking.

chef2sail 11-15-2011 12:04 PM

J have "run" the Bay 75-100 times. I never stay in the main shipping channel except for a small stetch near "Cross Ledge". I actually stay very far away from the channel ( the big ships are honking full speed and catch up to you quickly) and play the angles down the river as usually I am motoring/ motorsailing this strech from or to the C&D Canal. We close in on the shore next to the nuke plant making sure not to go into the exclusion zone. We usually cut across the flats about the Mih Mahl light to go to Cape May.

The reason for the motor sailing is the tide changes. Cape May canal to the C&D is about 47-52 miles. Going aay from the canal you will only ride the tide for 4.85 hours or so, 7 hours in the direction going toward the canal fromj Cape May. The current runs 2-3 knots easily and if you ride against it, you will only make 4 knots or less SOG. I have had the nuke plant in front of my face for 10 hous on one trip when we couldnt "play the tides". We usually hole up behind Reedy island when heading down to came May and strart out 1.5 hours before slack. Coming the other way we have made it from Cape May to the Sassafras in less then 10 hours.

The other thing about the Delaware Bay is the infamous "square waves" Its the Chessie times 10. Afternoon prevailing winds in the summer is an onshore breeze which honks up to 15-20. Since your observation is correct it is shallow, the waves come up quickly with quick intervals between them. This will also affect your traveling speed greatly, especially when wind opposes the tide. The Delaware bay is some of the roughest water I have ever sailied in.

Lastly, bring some Avon Skin So Soft and mutiple fly swatters. The NJ State bird aka Green Headed Fly will swarm your boat and you and will not let go from their blkood sucking sport until they are killed dead. Many times we have arrived in Cape may or the Sassafrass with over 100 "kills: and fly guts covering the cockpit and canvas. My wife and I malke a game of it.

If you want to know more, places to anchor, emergency places, feel free to PM me.


Ulladh 11-15-2011 12:06 PM

Depending on your draft the Delaware Bay can be a great place to sail, there is plenty of good sailing outside the shipping channel; 20+ on the NJ side C&D entrance to Egg Island flats, 9+ closer to the wetlands, a bit less on the DE side. The charts are accurate.

Not as many great destinations as the Chesapeake, but during the mid summer when the air is dead on the Chesapeake there will be a breeze on the Delaware, and the lower bay will always have wind.

This is from July, I reefed before leaving Bidwell Creek for the Maurice River because the wind was 15 to 20, then dropped to 10 to 15 but I kept the reef because I was lazy and making 5.5 knots. Water depth on this section of the lower bay not less than 9ft at low tide even over the oyster reefs;

<iframe width="480" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Edit after Chef2sail
Yes square waves are a reality, sometimes like being in the wakes of a hundred powerboats at the same time, but after an hour or two they do die down. Wind and current direction dependent, with steeper waves over the various flats.

For the greenheads I have been using sunscreen with citronella from Badger, it does not stop them swarming but they will not linger on your skin long. Worse closer to the shore or in inlets, less of a problem in a good breeze.

jameswilson29 11-15-2011 12:25 PM

Tidal charts
You definitely need a good chart, a tidal chart, and a table of the tidal changes, as the currents can have a tremendous effect on your progress.

Compared to the Chesapeake Bay, there seem to be both a greater number of navigational hazards outside the main channel and a greater number of ships transiting the channel in the Delaware Bay, so it is a more difficult passage, which requires a constant lookout.

In addition, the Delaware Bay is not protected from ocean swells running from the Southeast as the Chesapeake Bay is. In the warmer months, the typical shore breeze builds so by the afternoon so you may find yourself beating into wind and waves/chop toward the mouth of the Delaware Bay. If the tide is also running against you, it will be difficult to make good speed over the ground.

It is challenging to make it from the C&D canal to Cape May in a relatively small sailboat during daylight hours.

Ajax_MD 11-15-2011 12:30 PM

Wow, thanks Dave.

I hadn't even thought about the chop being more severe than the Chesapeake, and certainly didn't think about the flies. I'm not looking at the D-Bay as a destination, but more as a passing-through point on the way to points North.

I'm trying to decide between staying close to shore and duck-in points vs. going south, popping out of the Chesapeake into the Atlantic, and running north along the coast. As you know, there are precious few places to duck in along the DelMarva Atlantic coast.

chef2sail 11-15-2011 12:58 PM

Popping out of the Chesapeake is the way you want to go for a couple of reasons. First being the prevailing winds on the ocean are SE and S onshore in the summer months so you are looking at a reach most of the way up the coast. Secondly you would be able to transit from Cape May or Lewes up to the Canal in one day as you have 7+ hours with the tide, and if you play t correctly you should be able to make the Canal at a min imum. You would also have the wind aft of the beam on the trip up the river/ bay.

As Udallah mentioned it is a good place to sail if you keep your boat down there, but I would prefer the ocean in Cape May area as opposed to the Bay because of the long fetch of wind over the shallow water building the chop.

As Jameswilson and Udallah have said there is plenty of water close to the Jersey side, with the occasional ovster or fish trap. Since you proabably will be motorsailing to insure the greatest distance before the tide changes you can pretty much travel in a straight line bewtenn points as you make your way up/ down the river cutting off the elbows and bends as there is enough water. Sjips will not be a problem for you at all until you get up near the nuke plant and have to cross over into the canal.

Thats a fun trip you are planning. I beleive PDQAltair did this a few years back with his new catamaran and daughter and had a great story on here.

If I can be of any help let me know.


Our trip transitting the Delaware is usually our least memorable day as it is monotonous and the green heads. It is however a means to the end.

pdqaltair 11-15-2011 01:16 PM

I've made the passage up and down the Delware many times outside the channel
Truely, the traffic in the channel is generally light and it's easy enought to slide off to one side when big ships are coming. Close encounters aren't needed. If the visability is an thing short of fine, I parralel the channel on the Jersey side. Yes, the chop is worse over shallows, but this is only a factor on bad days.

The ugly truth is that most boats motor the Delaware, as they cannot always get the alighnment of tide and wind they want; they wait for light winds and motor with the tide.

There are a few marked shoals. A good chart is always needed. I've never seen anything different than what the charts indicate, unless near a river entrance. No different than the Chesapeake regarding watching for shallows, really, so long as your boat draws less than 6 feet.

I've never had luck with Avon. I've found DEET applied every 20 minutes (not every 3-4 hours) works. I'm also sure that different people require different solutions, just as the bugs always like some folks more than others.

jameswilson29 11-15-2011 01:29 PM

Where is your starting point?
It also depends on your home port. For me, near the mouth of the Potomac River, the inside route is slightly shorter.

Going outside, it is 59 miles from Smith Point to Chesapeake Bay entrance, then 141 miles from the Chesapeake Bay entrance to Cape May, NJ, so 200 miles total.

Inside, it is 122 miles from the mouth of the Potomac to the east side of the C&D canal, and thence 64 miles to Cape May, NJ, or a total of 186 miles.

If you keep your boat north of the Potomac, it may be more advantageous to go through the canal and down the Delaware Bay. Plus, it is an interesting experience to transit the C&D Canal and sail in the Delaware Bay, instead of the Chesapeake.

I stopped in Ocean City, MD, in fair weather, and mine was the only sailboat in the marina. The inlet was easily navigated in good weather.

chef2sail 11-15-2011 01:40 PM


If you want to wait until the second week in August a number of us are going to NE and the LI Sound, down the Delaware to Cape May. Cape May to Barnegat to Liberty Marina across from Manhattan. Feel free to come with your new boat.

After rereading your post I would suggest going up the Bay and through the canal to Reedy Island and anchor until the 1 hour before the tide turns. 42 miles to Cape may from there.


Ajax_MD 11-15-2011 01:48 PM

Lots of good info, thanks guys. Dave, thanks for the invite. I will give it serious consideration. I'm not sure what my schedule holds, that far out but I'd like to do that, or a Delmarva circle.

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 05:39 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
vBulletin Security provided by vBSecurity v2.2.2 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2017 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
User Alert System provided by Advanced User Tagging v3.1.0 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2017 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
(c) LLC 2000-2012

For the best viewing experience please update your browser to Google Chrome