2008 USVI-Norfolk Report
Schedule of Courses
Ocean Training Cruises
Log of the St Thomas to Norfolk cruise of May 5 through
May 20, being an account of the travails and vicissitudes visited upon the
dauntless crew of Halimeda, in the year 2008.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times . . .
but wait - I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s go back to where it started, at Crown Bay Marina, on the lovely
tropical island of St Thomas, one of the former Danish islands of the northern
windward islands, now a territory of the United States.
I was the captain, and it is my account of this tale
you’ll be seeing here, though others may echo through the lower parts of
some towns favored by seafarers. I
arrived on the afternoon of May 4, where I met most of the crew already
aboard. Faithful and trusted Jim
Bortnem, my mate of many previous voyages, had gladdened my heart when he
agreed to venture yet another. His
fame and glory as the fixer of just about anything preceded him, and me, as I
arrived to find he had already rousted the rest of the crew to hang the new
mainsail, and all but rebuilt the Yanmar, with new fluids, belts, impellor,
and the other sorts of things that can make an engine feel proud, and anxious
to please. Joining him before my arrival were Mike Robinson, a veteran of last
summers Bermuda - Mystic run, back for more; and newcomers Bob Mains and Eric
Mendolsohn. Even more grizzled
veteran Jim Turner, who first sailed with me somewhere in the last century,
and again with Tursi et al, was back for more, arriving Monday.
A word to those of you contemplating following in the swashbuckling
footsteps of this motley crew should note - no two ocean cruises are the same
- those in the know keep coming back to collect the complete set. Sunday evening we searched out a restaurant to let us begin
to forge the bonds that make a bunch of guys a crew, though from the tab, it
appeared clear that we had unwittingly wandered into a pirates den.
Monday morning, the 5th, still feeling pretty well fed,
we trained, and reviewed the skills and procedures that would make our voyage
safe, and effective. Raised,
reefed and struck all plain and storm sail, did some troubleshooting on the
reefing line attachments to the new main, and reviewed the overall cruise
Tuesday, the 6th, saw us going over checklists, doing our
own raiding on the shelves at Pueblo to provision the ship, and going back for
more, because it always makes sense to carry food for more days than you
expect the trip to take, knowing that sailboats and weather are movable
feasts, and not as firmly tied to schedules as many people would like them to
be. More on that later.
Weather was predicted to be mild the first several days out, but there
was indication of a strong front maybe four or five days out.
Wednesday, the 7th, we took leave of the marina by nine, navigating by pilotage, and took departure - the point at which we leave the chart and start navigating on plotting sheets, because the land and bottom features become irrelevant - about 1100. Weather was brochure lovely, and spirits high as we reached along in light easterly winds that began to clock around behind us.
Thursday, the 8th, we started by shaking out the reefs that
we had left with, anticipating brisk trade winds, that never materialized.
Sunny day - good celestial practice weather for the navigators, and the
wind had moved around to an uncharacteristic SSW, and stayed light.
Not much traffic, but enough to begin training with the radar, and CPAs.
Friday, the 9th, we had put one reef back in as the winds
briefly got up to about 16 kts, but it was short lived, and soon was back under
12, mostly SSE. Sailed wing
and wing for a while, but what they say is true - it’s generally not as fast
as downwind tacking, but gave us some variety.
Jim and I were pleased to note that the battery bank was taking and
holding charge very well - a particular blessing since the generator was belly
up. The new batteries put in last
year have made a big difference in how often we had to run the engine to charge.
Saturday, the 10th. Winds
still light, putting us behind where we had expected to be given the trade winds
we had expected to be reaching with. About noon, light winds and a broad reach -
seemed right for the cruising chute, and it was a real treat for the afternoon,
adding one to two knots. Forecasts are still indicating a strong front ahead of us.
Sunday, the 11th, the winds have moved around to the west,
in keeping with what we expect before a front, but are still light - in the 10 -
12 knot range. By noon, when we
were more confident that the wind wasn’t building imminently, we set the chute
again, for another afternoon of nice pulling.
Monday, the 12th. By
dawn, winds are freshening, with gusts to 20 knots, and we reef the main, and a
couple of hours later, as the winds pipe, we add a second reef.
By noon the genoa has been reduced by half, and by mid afternoon been
furled, and replaced by the stays’l.
Winds now in the 20- 25 knot range pretty steadily.
With the reduced sail plan, the boat is riding well, and spirits are
high. People are getting the kind
of experience they came for. Be
careful what you ask for.
spending more time than usual scouring the weatherfax and SSB for the previews
of weather to come, and what they’re telling us is to expect gales from the NW
as the front passes.
Tuesday, the 13th. Heavy
winds all day, mostly N and NW, but occasionally, inexplicably, backing to the
WSW. Heaviest in the afternoon,
30-35, gusting 40, and seas that are beautiful, and awesome, at 15' - 20'.
By afternoon it’s clear we’re making no headway towards Norfolk, less
clear where we should be pointing the boat for best advantage, crystal clear
that not all crew are functioning at full effectiveness, and we follow the
better part of valor, and heave to for the night.
Wonderful trick, that heaving to - exposure can be limited to sticking
your head outside every 10 to 15 minutes to check for traffic, and how the boat
and gear are doing, and the watches can be doctored to make the best use of the
crew available. About 2015, a
solid wave breaks on portside, breaking the 2" x 4" that we secure
emergency water to. By the time I
get to it, one of our emergency water jugs is gone, gone, gone.
Wednesday, the 14th, the NW winds behind the front have
abated some, but are still coming from the NW, where we want to go.
We’ve pored over the weather info we have, and the day before we
consulted Herb, the altruistic weather router who guides his flock by SSB every
afternoon, and decided to head west, as best we can, to get beneath a high that
will be forming to ride the west side of its winds north.
Off to the west, beating, with winds now NW in the mid teens.
Oh, by the way, another front is predicted for Friday.
Thursday, the 15th the winds have clocked to the N-NE
and are back in single digits most of the day - lighter winds in high
pressure centers - motorsailing in left over seas that still are running 8' -
10'. What’s next?
Friday, the 16th, finds the winds again building from the
SW, heralding the arrival of the next front, and by early afternoon, we’re
again in 20+ kts WSW. Seas are more
mundane, at 5' - 7' , mostly. Earlier
advice had been to stay below 31 degrees N to avoid the worst of the coming
blow, but it’s now clear that it’s going to be about the same above and
below, so we use the SW wind to make hay while the sun shines, to mix our
metaphors. Oh, by the way, the GPS
makes clear that we’re now in an adverse current, holding us back to about a
knot less over ground than we’re making through the water.
Consistent for many hours. Who
knew these things before the advent of the little black boxes?
Saturday, the 17th dawns with brisk (20 - 25) winds out of
the SW that abate quickly as this front passes and the winds fill in light from
the N, again discouraging travel in the direction we need to go.
Time again for the iron stays’l, and we’re grateful that the Yanmar
is as reliable as it is.
Sunday, the 18th, the wind again pipes to 30-35 knots out
of the WSW as the harbinger of yet another front.
We hoist the storm trysail for the second time in my ten plus years of
sailing Halimeda. Both times on
this trip. Boy, are these guys
getting their money’s worth of heavy weather experience.
Under the storm sail plan, we’re still racking up 7 and 8+ nautical
mile hours, boosted along by the Gulf Stream, which we’re crossing in 10'
seas. We’re having some fun now.
Monday, the 19th sees what we hope will be the last front
of the trip pass, emerge from the Gulf Stream, and experience slowly abating
winds from the NW. The northwest,
you’ll recall, is where we want to go, so we’re again motorsailing, beating,
and trying not to slip back east into the Gulf Stream, to be carried to England.
As the wind lightens, we strike the storm trisail, and with the double
reef main are able to almost hold a course for the Chesapeake.
By nightfall the wind is again in single digits, and we motor for home,
Tuesday, the 20th, at 0224. Some clever docking in the middle of the night,
and off to bed with us all. The
trip has taken three to four days longer than expected; flights had to be
cancelled and rescheduled, and it was worth it.
Only a little of the emergency food we had provisioned had hit the can
opener. Careful rationing had let
us shower maybe four times, and still arrive with adequate water. Not bad.
Note: A Swan of my acquaintance dismasted in one of the weather systems we went through, and limped into Bermuda, where they made sufficient repairs to continue the trip to the northeast US.
Captain Jack Morton