Paul Oppenheimer, who took our Bermuda to Norfolk ocean training cruise in June 2019 sent the following commentary
Arrrrrr me ‘earties, it’s tough to be back on dry land—still feeling the deck (and even the bed) pitching and rolling beneath me!
It was a MARVELOUS passage, blessed by a pretty good variety of wind and sea states. Although it was dead calm for the first two days, the rest of the trip more than made up for it. We had three days of 20-25kt winds with seas that gradually built to 10-12 feet, and a couple of rain squalls with brief winds gusting to 35kt.
The boat was an Island Packet 40 which I’ve nicknamed “the Tank” for it’s remarkable ability to feel safe and stable even in these rough conditions. The truly amazing part of the passage was keeping watches for 4 hours on-8 hours off for 7 days, which lent a very dreamlike quality to the voyage. I shared the the “graveyard shift” 12-4pm and 12-4am with another student, which was pretty disruptive to my sleep, but most definitely had exquisite star-gazing. After sleeping 2 ½-3 hours twice every 24 hour for 7 days, my sleep bank balance is most definitely in the red, but I’ll make up for it in the next few days.
Almost every night, after the waxing crescent moon had set, I had horizon to horizon views of the Milky Way in all of its splendor. Jupiter was especially bright, and Saturn was visible all week, and we had a dinner-plate sized full moon on our last night out. Sailing through the inky blackness after the moon had set was an especially otherworldly experience. I felt more as though I was piloting a spaceship through the stars than I was a 40 foot sailboat on the ocean.
After spending four days on a single tack (winds from the South to Southwest heeled over to the right 30-40 degrees), tacking when we reached Cape Hatteras to head North led to all sorts of confusion as we had become so accustomed to the downward slant to the right. We crossed the Gulf Stream without much incident in remarkably placid seas, despite the weather forecast of a North by Northeast wind, which can lead to an “interesting” sea state of short-period, steep waves.
Although I slept through some dolphin sightings, flying fish were everywhere. The color and size of a blue jay, they popped out of waves and skittered as far as 15-20 yards over the wave tops and were quite amusing. Our Captains said that they had often encountered schools of them that landed in the boat, filling the air with the scent of day-old, unrefrigerated sardines. Thankfully, that did not happen. There were hundreds of Portuguese Man’o’War fish as we departed Bermuda, and also mats of Sargasso weed that extended until we reached the Gulf Stream. Once through the Gulf Stream, we encountered a pair of sea turtles, one of whom turned on its back and waved a flipper at us as we passed (I kid you not). All along the way we saw shearwaters small graceful gull-like birds that live hundreds of miles from land and sail mere inches from the wave tops in search of food.
Most of you know I took a course in Celestial Navigation in Feb-Mar via WebEx, and sat for the exam two weeks before meeting up in Bermuda. Having the theory fresh in mind really helped cement the practice of taking sun shots with a sextant twice a day to establish our position. We kept a relatively detailed hourly log of course, distance traveled, wind and sea states, barometric pressure, and the state of the bilge (important to identify a leak well before water reaches the cabin floor!) and general condition of the boat. From the log we plotted our Dead Reckoning position at the end of each 4 hour watch and updated the Dead Reckoning plot once a day with a celestial running fix. As you can imagine, taking sun shots on a rollicking boat with what is essentially a split-screen telescope (one for the celestial body and one for the horizon) was quite a challenge, but with practice, all 4 of us managed to make observations accurate enough to satisfy the exacting Captain Tursi.
Learning how to really mange your sail plan to suit the condition (shorten your sails early and often!), preparing the boat and crew for a variety of sea and wind states, and using Dead Reckoning and Celestial navigation to supplement your GPS readings were the most important lessons, but it was just a jolly good time to be out to sea for a week with witty and wise like-minded folks.
Happy to be home to fresh and flavorful food (we ate mostly out of cans for the week), to a toilet that doesn’t violently lurch when it’s at a 40 degree angle, and to the loving embrace of all of you!
~ Paul H. Oppenheimer MD, Ocean Graduate June 2019