2003 USVI-Norfolk Report
Schedule of Courses
Ocean Training Cruises
USVI to Norfolk
After spending Monday and Tuesday conducting pre-passage seminars and planning sessions, assigning crew duties and responsibilities, retrieving Halimeda's passage equipment and stowing it onboard, inventorying the boat's equipment, bending on and stowing the storm trisail, checking sails and sail handling systems, rigging the sea anchor, testing communications, provisioning and completing pre-passage checklists, we departed from Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas at 1000 Wednesday, May 7. My crew consisted of Billy Psimas (mate), Steve Kidd, Carroll Christiansen and Louis Trepanier. It was an unusually experienced crew since Billy and Louis have made a southbound passage in Halimeda, Carroll has done the northbound passage with me the past two years, and Steve Kidd owns and sails and Island Packet 38 so he is very conversant with IP systems. We motor clear of the west end of St. Thomas, do a series of man overboard drills to give the crew a feel for handling the boat under power, then set sails and head northwest on the 16-18 knot trade wind. We review abandon ship procedures and get settled into our watch rotation. With 5 onboard, the Captain and Mate stand 4-on, 4-off while the three students stand 4-on, 8-off. We dine on pork chops with vegetables and rice and a tossed salad as the sun sets, and by midnight we have logged about 75 miles toward our destination.
May 8 (Thursday). Scattered showers during the pre-dawn hours bring wind gusts up to 25 but we are able to continue to broad reach up our planned track all day. Training includes review of distress signals and celestial navigation, both for sun sights and stars. An unresolved difficulty with the generator-based battery charging system requires us to run the main engine daily to recharge the batteries. Dinner is stir-fried beef and vegetables, and after dinner the students are successful in taking and reducing star sights. Booming along, we meet a southbound tanker who actually calls us on VHF radio and arranges a port-to-port passing. By midnight the log shows we have made 165 miles today.
May 9 (Friday). Another beautiful sunny day with the typical trade winds scattering of small cumulus clouds. We continue to make good progress on easterly winds that slowly ease in strength during the course of the day. We encounter a baffling refusal of the main engine to start with the key switch. Troubleshooting discloses no defects and the engine subsequently starts normally, but this would prove to be a chronic problem during the rest of the trip. Dinner includes chicken breasts, mashed potatoes and carrot/raisin salad, topped off with freshly baked brownies to celebrate Carroll Christiansen's birthday -- and at 49 he's STILL the youngest member of the crew! We log another 140 miles for the day.
May 10 (Saturday). After sailing through a brilliant star-filled night with gradually diminishing wind and calming seas, we finally find it necessary to augment our progress with the engine. We cross 24 degrees North latitude and we are beginning to enter a relatively windless high pressure ridge that lays across our track between 25 and 28 degrees North. With perfect conditions, we do a lot of celestial navigation, both sun and stars. The dinner menu includes pork chops in onion-soup based gravy, mashed potatoes and Waldorf salad. The log shows a day's run of 132 miles.
May 11 (Sunday). We motor through flat calm seas and virtually no wind in the pre-dawn hours but by mid-morning a light breeze fills in and we are able to set the cruising spinnaker and make almost 6 knots for several hours. At mid-day we douse all the sails and lie ahull for a swim call -- our second annual Mother's Day Mid-Ocean Swim. The Mate's satellite telephone also lets us send our best wishes to family at home. In the afternoon we resume sailing under the spinnaker and main for several hours until a shift of the light wind forces us to douse the spinnaker and set the working jib. The dinner menu features spaghetti and salad. Before midnight the wind fills in from the west, a sign that we are reaching the northern side of the ridge, and we can close reach along our track. The day's run totals 109 miles and we are now about half way to Norfolk.
May 12 (Monday). The wind continues to gain in strength and by mid-morning it gets strong enough to take a reef in the main for the first time on the passage. We are close reaching and making good speed, regularly logging more than 7 1/2 miles in the hour between log readings. The winds are building choppy seas on the port quarter as we move swiftly to the northwest. We try to hard boil a dozen eggs so they'll be available for breakfast, but the first four or five we crack prove to be somewhat overage and inedible. (Subsequent experience suggests that at least half of the four dozen eggs we purchased in St. Thomas were bad.) At dinner, Carroll surprises us with "monogram" chili -- each bowl has the recipient's initial on top in melted cheese! Around 2200 an "operator's error" causes the aft head toilet to get plugged but we defer corrective action until morning and daylight. By midnight we are approaching 30 degrees North, having clicked off another 165+ miles.
May 13 (Tuesday). During the night we have a very mild cold front passage that brings only clouds, humidity and shifty winds. No rain. After the front passes we continue to close reach into a light westerly breeze. We spend most of the forenoon working on the plugged toilet discharge line and eventually restore the system to working condition. The midday National Weather Service forecast copied from the Coast Guard radio broadcast indicates there are likely to be gale conditions Friday through Monday in the area northward of Cape Hatteras. We are about 415 miles from our destination, and I calculate that if we maintain a speed of 6 knots, we can get in before the weather arrives. Since the forecast also calls for strong southerly and southwesterly winds from late Wednesday through Thursday, we should be able to make the required speed under sail once the wind builds. Dinner is chicken fajitas, complete with tortillas and salsa. In the evening the wind veers toward the north and gets lighter, so we motorsail to maintain our progress. The log shows we made 159 miles today.
May 14 (Wednesday). The day begins with motorsailing into lumpy seas and a wind that is shifting around in the northerly quadrant and bouncing up and down in strength. Eventually we are able to get back to our northwesterly heading, but then the wind dies and we proceed under motor, waiting for the southerly winds to arrive. Signs of a warm front passage (from the south) are all around: clouds getting thicker and lower, haziness increasing. We train on radar plotting and then as we approach the coastal shipping lanes we take advantage of every radar contact to apply the learned skills. With no wind and a left-over swell from the west, it's a very rolly day. Dinner includes ham and green beans with pita bread.
May 15 (Thursday). We spend the first half of the day motoring in windless conditions and trying to escape an unusual southwestward-flowing current when our position indicates we should be entering the Gulf Stream and experiencing a current toward the northeast. Around mid-day we are overtaken by a line of showers that bring our first significant rain of the passage. It also brings a shift to a southwesterly wind and we are able to make our track under sail. Lots of radar tracking practice. We're running a bit ahead of our six-knot average so it looks like we'll be able to beat the weather into port. But we are still wondering where the stiff southwesterly in the forecast is. We complete our crossing of the Gulf Stream in very mild conditions. Dinner is spaghetti with tomato sauce and garlic toast. The log records another 154 miles today.
May 16 (Friday). We continue to motor and motorsail northward along the Carolina-Virginia coastline, waiting for the wind. Overcast skies thwart our hopes of watching the lunar eclipse, but two brief gaps in the clouds allow us a few minutes of seeing the partly-shadowed moon. We approach Cape Henry at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay just after daybreak, riding on a brief burst of southwesterly wind, but then the world suddenly disappears as we sail smack into a bank of dense fog. Radar and GPS prove invaluable as we feel our way into the Bay and along the Thimble Shoals Channel. Passing through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at 0730, we moor at our destination, Taylor's Landing Marina in Little Creek, a few minutes after 0800. The log shows a total passage distance of 1315 miles, not much over the rhumbline distance of 1265. The B&G instruments record an average speed of 6.45 knots, a very creditable average for a 45-foot cruising boat. By 1300 the boat is refueled, cleaned, restowed and secure in her berth. The crew departs for home: tired, freshly scrubbed, and with a feeling of accomplishment.
If anyone had taken this voyage to gather material for a magazine article, they'd have been badly disappointed. This was not the kind of passage the magazines are looking for: nothing broke, there was no bad weather, no one was injured, there were no crises, we all got along well, we had plenty of good food thanks to a couple of talented cooks and everyone learned some valuable skills. In short, it was a very good passage.
Captain Hal Sutphen