2008 Bermuda Reports

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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Bermuda to Norfolk
Date June 6-13, 2008
Students:  Steve Hasner, Mike Levy, Mike McGovern, Pat Prouse
First Mate: Mike Walker
Captain Jochen Hoffmann

Friday-Saturday: Our first two days of intensive dock-side training on the use of emergency equipment, sea anchor, storm trysail, etc. went exceedingly smooth. Why? We were fortunate to have three experienced crew/coaches on board who had sailed HALIMEDA before, including Mike McGovern. Now, how to avoid confusion when three shipmates are named Mike?  By agreement we decide on mate Mike, Mike McG., and Michael. 

By late afternoon on Saturday June 7, we clear customs, top off fuel and water, and switch from Bermuda time to ship’s time, EDT. Following departure clearance from Bermuda Harbor Radio, we pass through The Cut at St. Georges Harbor and set main and jib. Students, led expertly by mate Mike, have set up two NIMA plotting sheets for DR plotting en route. Our voyage will take us across five degrees of latitude (32° N to 37° N), twelve degrees of longitude (064° W to 076° W), and four isogonic lines of variation (14 W to 10 W). Students have drawn in a rhumb line of 295° True to Cape Henry, 640 NM distant. Students will plot DR track and position every four hours at the end of their watch using traditional navigation methods. 

The latest forecast is for light winds NNE 5 to 10 kts becoming variable. But outside Bermuda’s line of reefs where we sail, we feel the Island’s heat-generated strong sea breeze which is speeding us along at seven knots at nightfall. This benefit lasts until 2245 when boat speed drops to 4 knots; it’s time to start motor sailing into the starry night. 

Sunday: Our 0800 position is Latitude 32°35' North and Longitude 065°40' West. We set a course of 285° True to Cape Hatteras to get a possible boost from the NE-setting Gulf Stream current later in the week. Bermuda Radio, VHF Channel 2, is forecasting high pressure to remain through mid-week bringing light to variable winds from the north. My pancake breakfast with syrup and banana slices goes over well. After boat cleaning, training includes man-over board drills, DR navigation, log book keeping and introduction to the sextant. Michael manages a good sun shot, while Pat gets a sun sight he is able to reduce to a sun line of position. Nat bad for a first try. By 1530 we are becalmed and start motor sailing; in comes the jib and out come the sextants for afternoon sun sights. Voila, students have achieved a good first sun fix. A quick peek at the GPS shows it’s just 3 NM away from our GPS position. Not bad at all!! Our navigators refine the ship’s plot using the sun fix and restart DR navigation from the sun fix. Our weather fax has been acting up for days; defying adjustments to obtain a readable image. Time for Mike McG. to dedicate his attention to trouble shooting. And after much trial and error, we are getting usable print outs.

Monday: At 0800 our position is 33°22' N and 067°31' W. The wind died down during the previous evening’s watch and has remained on our nose as forecast: NW at 5 to 8 knots. We motor sail toward our rhumb line on a course of 310° per ship’s compass to get at least some lift from the main sail. After sunrise the wind builds to 15 knots, remaining strong until late in the evening watch. Great sailing! Training topics include fire prevention and fighting on board plus weather analysis. First mate Mike, the captain, and students have been able to get good shots of Jupiter, the moon, and the sun allowing us to update our DR plot a couple of times. We had been planning to take turns cooking our jointly planned dinners, but mate Mike and Pat are beating us to it most of the time. Delicious fare for hungry stomachs. The excitement for the day: a hump back whale surfaced only a few boat lengths away on our starboard beam and swam alongside for several minutes. Is he checking us out? 

Tuesday: At 0430 with the wind still light on our nose, speed 4.5 kts, we tack back toward our rhumb line on a course of 243° psc. At 0800 we log our position as 34°20' N and 069°06' W. By 0820 the SSB signal is clear enough for us to call the office and report on our progress. The barometer has fallen and the sea temperature has jumped 3° F to 78.8° F, close to the dew point. At 0910 visibility is down to under 2 NM. We turn on running lights. Regular radar checks alert us to a target passing at 3.5 NM at its closest point of approach.  It’s balmy shorts and T-shirt weather. As the fog lifts at 1530, we increase RPMs to 2200 to generate a bit more apparent wind so that we can point a bit closer to our line to Cape Hatteras. 

Wednesday: 0800 position 34°43' N and 071°16' W. Michael has obtained a weather forecast on SSB radio: Expected SW winds at 10 knots. But at our position, wind and seas remain at WNW, still pretty much on our nose. We continue motor sailing, steering 320° psc to maintain some lift from jib and main. A big day on board: Steve Hasner has a birthday. We help Steve celebrate with good wishes and an egg breakfast made to order.  During the morning watch boat check, mate Mike and Mike McG. notice increased water in the bilge and fluid in the engine bed. What’s going on here?! After much troubleshooting Mike McG. notices coolant weeping from the water pump seal. Also, the shaft drip rate has increased to 2 drips per second after hours of motoring. He tops off coolant and tightens the packing gland to achieve 2 drips per minute.  Now it’s time to relax a bit, take sextant sights for a fix, and restart a refined DR plot. Our track shows we are closing with the East wall of the Gulf Stream which we have marked on our plotting sheets. We have also marked there a warm eddy just N of our rhumb line which, with its clockwise current, could give us a lift should weather prompt us to steer away from Cape Hatteras. Mate Mike has also calculated and drawn in a current diagram to give us a visual reference of our course options right on the plotting sheet.

Thursday: Position at 0800: 35°47' N and 073°43' W. The SSB forecast calls for NW winds 15-20, then 10-15 late, clear skies. During the morning watch, the quickly rising thermometer tells us we are in the Stream. This time, the forecast is correct, the wind has backed to NW and is building rapidly to 18 to 20 knots. The passing weak frontal boundary has pushed the humid air mass and haze of the last few days to the E. For three hours we carry one reef in the main as HALIMEDA rides confused, lumpy waves at the center of the Stream. At 1300 we have exited the Stream, and the waves are becoming more organized. Out comes the reef and HALIMEDA is sprinting along at 7-8 knots. We are leaving Cape Hatteras 65 NM broad on the port bow, steering high at 315° psc and letting the Stream carry us further to the NE in order to be able to take advantage of the wind shift once out of the Stream. Part of the afternoon is spent discussing and implementing landfall preparations as listed in the School’s Offshore Passage Preparation Guide. A moon/sun fix at 1542 puts us 8.5 miles N of our DR track. Not bad DR plotting at all given a 3-4 knot current.

Friday: During the night, we are closing with the Virginia coast. Under a bright moon, we now motor on a windless ocean. The last evening watch had spotted and hailed a fishing trawler maneuvering 3 to 1.5 miles off and closing despite our course change. No answer. It takes three significant course and speed changes until we achieve safe passage. At 0600 well in sight of the Virginia coast, I call U.S. Customs in hope of obtaining clearance over the phone. Not so this time. Off Cape Henry, a call to Virginia Pilots informs us that only one cargo ship is outbound. We clear her, follow parallel to the Thimble Shoals Channels across the Bay Bridge Tunnel, and at 0830 tie up safely in our slip at Taylors Landing Marina. Customs clearance is expeditious, as is boat clean up. By 1300 we bid each other a hearty farewell. Thank you mate Mike and fellow mariners for making this an enjoyable, successful voyage.

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
Taylors Landing Marina, Norfolk, VA 

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