2007 USVI-Norfolk Report

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Course:      Ocean Training Cruise, St Thomas, USVI to Norfolk, VA
Date:          May 5-17, 2007
:       IP38 TAINUI
Students:    Mike Garner, Meryl Mac Hall, Alicia Nemec, Jeff Scott  
First Mate: Jerry Nigro
Captain:      Jochen Hoffmann

May2, Wednesday: I arrived on board Island Packet IP-380 TAINUI, at Crown Bay Marina two days ahead of my student crew to get her ready for sea. Already on board was our trusted mechanic concluding systems checks and polishing the fuel; our riggers came to check fittings and rig tension; and Captain Lee Tucker, owner of TAINUI, was there to help checkout systems and replace the propane tank solenoid. Mike Garner, student crew, who arrived a day early, lent a hand unbending the genoa to have some seams professionally re-stitched and applying waterproofing to bimini and dodger. By the time I had emergency equipment purchased, the Single Side Band radio (SSB) mike replaced, and the vessel cleaned, I was ready for the rest of my crew to arrive. All were on board Friday, 4 May in time for a joint dinner and introductions. Two days of intensive training followed where students learned to use TAINUI’s emergency and offshore equipment, including storm trysail, sea anchor, and other items. 

After provisioning on Saturday, it was time to break out charts, discuss the planned route, and check weather reports. The short-range forecast was favorable. For the long-range forecast, Jerry, our highly experienced First Mate, downloaded weather charts on his satellite-linked laptop. And for landfall considerations, we looked at the latest Gulf Stream images from the internet. The Stream, meandering much slower than weather systems, would still be widest S of Cape Lookout at the time of our anticipated landfall and narrowing off Cape Hatteras and beyond. So for now, I chose a rhumb line to Cape Lookout in case favorable wind/weather would let us ride the GS current northeast. 

May 7, Monday: The watches are set: 4 hours on, 8 off. Student crew assignments are: Alicia – emergency coordination; Jeff engineering; Mike - boatswain; Mac - backup engineer and boatswain. All will be navigators of their watch. Forecast is for wind SE 10-15 knots, seas 3-4 feet, partly sunny with scattered showers; in short: tropical weather. At 0930 hours, after saying goodbye to our helpful Marina staff and topping off fuel and water, we were underway in the W Gregerie Channel on a course to Savana Passage. One half hour into the voyage while under engine power, a surprise man-overboard exercise was conducted. This crew is definitely coming together; they recover our “victim” (a PFD) in less than three minutes. Well done, shipmates! We are ready for sea. 

We are using traditional navigation to get us to and then through Savana Passage where we set a full main sail and genoa, secure the engine, and set a course of 327 True for Cape Lookout, Virginia. Ah, the peace! Discussion topics for the afternoon are course plotting on a NIMA-plotting sheet, log keeping, and captain’s “standing orders” for the voyage (e.g., minimum boat speed, action in case of approaching traffic, etc.). We will plot in degrees True but record the course actually steered per ship’s compass (psc). To avoid being potentially overpowered in a squall while most of us are asleep, we are carrying a single-reefed mainsail after sun set. The watch will then furl the genoa, if necessary. 

May 8, Tuesday: At 0800 we are nearly 24 hours out and will this time for our daily, 24-hour summary log entries: position 18º57'N, 065º45'W; wind SE 10-18 knots; seas 3-5 feet; scattered showers, isolated thunderstorms; visibility good; trip log 108 NM during the last 22.5 hours; average speed 4.8 NM. 

We had an uneventful night except for an approaching container ship altering course to pass under our stern. We set up four NIMA-plotting sheets, numbers 923, 924, 925 and 926 to cover our range of latitudes and entered our rhumb line, 327º True to Cape Lookout. Also plotted the DR since beginning of the cruise and will add potential hazards, the Gulf Stream’s east wall, and lines of magnetic variation; later we'll add celestial lines of position (LOPs). This also led to an animated discussion on the nature of magnetic variations on the globe and how best to bring them up to date on a chart. 

In the afternoon a squall line is nearing on our starboard quarter. We fall off to avoid the system and run the engine for two hours to maintain our target boat speed of 4 plus knots. Praise for yet another delicious dinner from Jerry and Jeff generates Jeff’s oft repeated response: “It doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be hot.” 

May 9, Wednesday: 0800 position 21º43'N, 067º03'w; wind ESE 8-22 knots; seas 3-7 feet; overcast with occasional rain and distant thunderstorms; log 147 NM. Captain and Mate have been focusing on satellite weather charts showing a deepening low 140 NM SE off Savannah, Georgia - still far away. Today’s discussions include weather analysis and the progression of highs and lows and that lows generally move SW to NE. Then we moved on to plotting techniques, Single Side Band (SSB) radio communications and stations that broadcast offshore and high seas weather reports. 

In the afternoon, a noise from the engine prompts Jeff and others to examine closely all engine systems until Jeff  - who as a bridge inspector and farmer knows a thing or two about machinery - is satisfied that there is no obvious defect, and sound did not recur for the rest of the trip. Late in the afternoon, the wind increases to 25 plus knots off our starboard beam, and we change the sail plan to continue under double-reefed main, reefed genoa, and staysail. Now we're cooking! 

May 10, Thursday: 0800 position 23º36'N, 067º48'W; course 005ºpsc.; wind S 10-22 knots, seas 2-7 feet; overcast; log 130 NM; sail plan: all full sails. Great pancake breakfast prepared by Alicia and the captain. The low off Georgia has moved WSW!! - the wrong direction but to our satisfaction. It has stalled just off N Florida and been declared the first named storm of the season - Andrea. The captain decides on a more easterly rhumb line – 334 True to Cape Hatteras – to stay further out at sea should the low start to move NE again and potentially cross our track. 

We are running the engine just above idle to charge the batteries, increasing throttle later to 1600 RPM to maintain boat speed. With the sun hidden for a fourth day, the captain illustrates graphically how celestial navigation can yield LOPs on a chart. Several students reach for available tables to review procedures for sight reduction of celestial bodies and how to plot them on our chart. 

May 11, Friday: Position 24º48'N, 068º54'W; course 350ºpsc; wind S 12-15 knots, later backing SSE 13-22 knots; seas 4-7  feet; overcast; distant lightning; Log 120 NM. Tropical storm Andrea is moving NE and beginning to dissipate. At mid-morning, in advance of a dark line squall from the west, we reef down to a double-reefed main and staysail and change course ENE to run before the squall. Despite gusts into the 40s, we actually hear the tropical downpour hit the water as it fills the air around us and flattens the seas. After it passes, some enjoy a rain shower topside, securely tethered to jack lines as they frolic on deck while TAINUI resumes her original course under all full sails. 

After lunch, the constant running of the fresh water pump and our hourly bilge check tell us we have a fresh water leak. The culprit is a broken nipple on the pump inlet hose. With three professional engineers among our crew (what talent!), an improvised fitting lets us re-pressurize the system. Water loss: 28 strokes on the manual bilge pump – not bad, but reason for greater water conservation. 

About 2000 we sight a strobe light to our port and become concerned. Could it be a distress beacon? As we change course in the direction of the strobe and hail “any vessel” over the VHF, a voice responds – sailboat FAITH en route to Peru using a strobe to make her more visible to traffic. When we tell her we were about to launch a rescue operation, her strobe is extinguished. We never saw her running lights. 

May 12, Saturday: Position: 26º38', 069º07'W; course 015ºpsc; wind S10-15 knots; seas 2-3 feet; partly cloudy; Log 130 Nm. Our water pump is acting up again. This time it’s a part in the check valve for which we have no spare. Mac Hall, who’s engineering job for the military includes troubleshooting, bypasses the output directly to the manifold system and the hand pump at the galley sink. Voila! We can draw filtered water. But the captain declares the shower closed until we can verify that our water gauge is indeed giving us an accurate reading. 

Today, clouds have been breaking frequently enough for us to take our first celestial fix – and for students to learn using the sextant on a rolling, pitching boat at sea. 

Diminishing winds are now just right for us to try our first spinnaker set. What a glorious sight - while it lasts. The wind is soon getting fluky and then dies down complete. Down comes the spinnaker and we continue under power. No doubt, we have made it to the region of the doldrums. Since TAINUI is now fairly stable in flat seas, Mike Garner, a civil engineer, comes up with the clever idea to run hot water down the side of our metal water tank. The condensation line is telling: We have ample fresh water. No pressure? No problem! Pass the water jugs, please; showers are open.

May 13, Sunday: Position: 27º26'N, 070º31'W; course 345ºpsc; wind is calm under hazy skies, but forecast is for wind to increase to SW 10 -15 knots; swells 6-8 feet; log 160 NM. During the night we hailed a fast approaching freighter over the VHF. He said his radar indicated he would cross our bow at two NM ahead of us. Seems close on a big, wide ocean. 

After breakfast, with winds picking up and under full sails again, an MOB exercise shows that practice helps to accomplish an efficient rescue in high seas. Spinnaker practice comes next. Now we are really cooking. With a loud “Jeehaa”! from the direction of the helm, Jeff leaves no doubt about how much he enjoys a fast ride. As the wind builds in the afternoon - eventually blowing SW 18 - 24 knots – it’s time to strike the spinnaker. We are out of the doldrums and making good mileage. 

May 14, Monday: Position 29º45'N, 071º32'W; course 350ºpsc; wind NE 15-26 knots; seas 5-8 feet; log 154 NM – a good day’s run. Another night and day of glorious, fast sailing for us - in company of dolphins and under starry skies. Low-rising Sirius and Capella remind us that the constellation Orion will remain below the horizon until fall, chased by Scorpio now high in the southern sky. Days of overcast skies seem to be over, and our sextants are getting much use. Obtaining weather reports from synthesized voices over the SSB radio proves challenging to untrained ears. 

May 15, Tuesday: Position 31º40'N, 072º32'W; course 350ºpsc; wind NE 15-26 knots; seas 7-14 feet; log 145 NM. We are now watching the progression of two lows marching toward our track from the U.S. heartlands. Our new goal is to steer clear of the Virginia Capes and head for the narrow part of the Gulf Stream and then N to Chesapeake Light.

Students are eagerly working in teams to obtain celestial fixes and calibrate the ship’s compass using the sun. One Venus shot is added to the mix. 

May 16, Wednesday: Position 33º38'N, 073º39'W; course 345ºpsc; wind SW 15-22 knots; seas 4-8 feet; log 155 NM. The wind has remained strong for three days now and has been building all day. In the morning, the galley crew straps themselves to the stove in vain. No hot breakfast possible. By lunch time, Mike and Mac manage to heat some soup and grill sandwiches. By afternoon it’s blowing SW 25, by evening 35 knots with higher gusts. We are under the first front. Fortunately, its direction is perfect - aft of our port beam. Time to cross the Stream as quickly as we can: Gale warnings associated with the second front are posted for tomorrow near the Chesapeake Bay entrance. Tainui answers, galloping along at 8 to 9 knots under her favorable sail set in these conditions: double-reefed main and full staysail. 

By 2200 hours, steep waves up to 14 feet and water temperature peaking tell us we are in the center of the Stream. At the helm, Alicia, former Navy JAG and judge, is showered by occasional spray. This thoughtful watch mate is so exhilarated by her new-found mastery to steer in heavy weather that she doesn’t want to give up the helm. “I love this,” she exclaims. A pod of dolphins at the bow seems to cheer her on. 

 May 17, Thursday: Position 35º16', 074º24'; course 330ºpsc; wind 26-30 knots; seas 8-12 feet; log 175 NM - our best 24-hour run. Average speed 7.3 knots. During the early morning, seas have decreased and air and water temperature have dropped. We are through the Stream and heading for home. Telltale cirrus clouds are signaling the coming of the next front. Forecasts still contain gale warnings with temperature to drop into the 50s. The 50s??!! As the wind drops to 7-12 knots, we start the engine once again to maintain boat speed an the attempt to outrun the front. 

By late afternoon, we are nearing the Virginia coast and are able to obtain customs clearance via Jerry’s satellite phone. At 2200 hours, with storm clouds scudding across the sky ahead of the front and temperature dropping rapidly, we coast to our dock at Tailors Landing Marina, Little Creek, tying up securely one last time as one great group of shipmates. 

Final Comments: My student crew arrived as experienced sailors, brought their own particular talents to shipboard life, and made special efforts to be the best possible shipmates. They helped make the voyage a success and great adventure. From the mate and captain: Thank you! 

Some statistics for the cruise: Elapsed time 10 days and 13 hours; distance 1494 nautical miles; average speed 143 NM/day; fuel used less than a third of a tank (about 55 gallons); injuries – none. All-in-all, a happy voyage. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
Little Creek Harbor, Norfolk
May 17, 2007

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