Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association members Bruce Jenkins, Eric Fleming, Mark Whitt and I provided kayak support for the Garden State Masters 3 man relay swim team during an International Swim Competition. Each member of the swim team rotated swimming every 30 minutes in this 22.5-mile race, which started at Gardner's Basin in Atlantic City and circumnavigated Absecon Island (which includes all the coastal towns from Atlantic City to Margate). Our role was to paddle along side of the swimmer, give him his time and signals to keep him in tangent with the shortest possible course and also to alert oncoming boats and jet skis that there is a swimmer in the water. Coast Guard and local marine police were also out in full force for the entire duration of the race.
We launched at Gardner's Basin in Atlantic City about 8:30 am and the race started promptly at 9 with our first swimmer taking off before we could even see him. In a few short minutes however, we caught up to him and were given more specific directions by our team support boat, which also sidelined the course thru the entire duration. The water looked relatively calm in the Intercoastal Waterway and the overcast sky conditions kept the heat at a comfortable level. After a short while, our swim team took the lead.
After paddling out of the basin, we headed west into the Absecon Channel and under the Brigantine Bridge, passing Trump Marina Hotel/Casino, Harrah's Marina and a few nesting osprey. We then quickly headed south into the canal and under the Rt 30 bridge where the houses along the waterway had banners welcoming the swimmers and early morning spectators cheering them on. After more people were starting to wake up and after passing under the rail line, AC Expressway and Rt 40, the level of energy along the shore seemed to increase. People were partying on their decks in Chelsea and Ventnor Heights and at one point... a rather large and loud party of people were cheering and banging pots and pans while blasting the theme from Rocky from their stereo as our team passed! It was exciting.
As we paddled under the Dorset Ave Bridge, a nice crowd from the top cheered for the swimmers. After exiting the canal at Ventnor Heights, we headed south down the intracoastal waterway under the Margate Bridge and past the Pork Island Wildlife Management Area. After passing under the Longport Bridge, Eric and I anticipated the arrival at the Great Egg Harbor Inlet, wondering if conditions would be safe enough for our paddling skills to enter the Great Atlantic without capsizing. The paddle through the intracoastal was generally calm and I wondered if this was only the calm before the storm. As we approached the Longport inlet, the water got a bit more choppy but it seemed navigable. This was the point where us kayakers had to simply punch thru the rips taking the best possible course for us to stay upright and leaving the swimmer for a short time as he swam thru the mildly turbulent inlet without his kayakers beside him. Although I have navigated through the treacherous Manasquan Inlet before, it's always been in my sit on top.
Since this was my first inlet passage with my Perception Eclipse, the thought of a capsize and wet exit in my closed cockpit made the sight of the swells a little more intimidating (even though Bruce who is very familiar with the area reported the inlet conditions to be mild). I plowed through the first few 3 foot swells head on with no problems anticipating I had to soon make a sharp left after entering the Atlantic to get back on our Northward course up the coast. The swells continued and the last thing I wanted to do was turn my boat as to take any of these swells from the side. I continued to punch thru more swells. At one point...a 5-6 foot swell surged my brain with adrenaline as my boat punched thru it at a greater than 45 degree angle! My bow faced the sky with no water under it ...quickly crashing as the swell left me. A few more pretty large swells came and I found myself going farther out to sea to hit them head on..all the while wondering when I was going to have an opportunity to make my turn to get back on course! I finally reached an area past these waves to get back on track and catch my breath.
After paddling a few hundred yards back to our support boat and the swimmer. One by one, we all safely made it back to where we needed to be. The area of this trip I was most concerned about was now history in the Tao of Paddling. It felt good to be back on track and the ocean conditions were very favorable as far as current and chop. We had a nice paddle up the coast, paddling about 1/8 to 1/4 mile offshore. On our 8-mile trip up the coast, we passed the towns of Longport, Margate, Ventnor and then the large Casino Hotels, Ocean One Shopping Pier and the Steel Pier of Atlantic City. As we passed the Showboat Casino Hotel, the last one of the coastal AC skyline, I again wondered what paddling conditions would be like getting into the Absecon Channel Inlet with the swells behind us. It turned out to be no problem at all. With the favorable conditions, we all safely got back into the channel for the last leg of our paddle and the race. At this point...we only had to steer as the current guided us right in past more onlookers cheering from the jetties.
In addition to a great swim support paddle, our relay team swam to a first place victory! We paddled back in to Gardner's Basin to a cheering crowd on the docks at 5:15 pm. It was a great day in Atlantic City for The Garden State Masters relay swim team and us paddling members of Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association. The swimmers gave us bottles of champagne to celebrate and were very appreciative of the support the members of our kayak club provided. It really was a great day for everyone.