2009 New England Reports

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Course Advanced Coastal Training Cruise
Date July 20-27, 2009
Students: Andy Barton, Paul Clark, Tom Towner, Mary & Steve VanSciver
Captain: Jochen Hoffmann

North East Harbor, ME, July 17 to 19, 2009
I have just completed a fantastic advanced coastal training cruise that started in Mystic, CT and ended here near Bar Harbor, ME. Now, I am preparing for a milestone in the MD School’s ocean program: Our 200th advanced training cruise. After two days of boat cleaning, small repairs, and some rest at our mooring this boat and captain are ready for our next group of students. Four who arrive just after 1500 on July 19: Tom Towner, Mary and Steve VanSciver, and Paul  Clark, helped me to shift from the mooring to our assigned slip. At 1700, Andy Barton, joins us as well. Those of us who are not being seen off by family, get to know one another over dinner ashore. 

July 20, 2009, Monday:
A superb, sunny Maine day greets us during our introductory training of systems below deck, of all lines and sails, and CELESTIAL’s extensive safety and rescue equipment. Meal planning, provisioning, and navigation planning take up the rest of this long, first day. A well earned lobster dinner ashore gives us time to get to know one another better. 

July 21; Departure Day:
All are awake by 6 am and once breakfasted, we manage to cast off by 8 a.m. to catch the West-setting ebb tide. How different everything looks: Yesterday, in low humidity and under sunny skies, you felt you could almost touch the opposite shore. Today in haze, shore and islands look far away and altogether different. As I coach Andy, he starts the rotation of “skipper of the day” generating a long list of items to be checked or performed by his crew to ensure safe departure, transit, and land fall. To develop familiarity with critical roles, we start the voyage with one-hour rotations among navigator, helm, lookout, deck hand, and one crew resting. 

Our navigation plan and careful piloting take us through Casco Passage, then Deer Island Thorofare, the narrow Fox Island Thorofare, and finally Leadbetter Narrows at Hurricane Sound. Threading a minefield of lobster trap floats in the afternoon in driving rain makes piloting very challenging. We use an open area to practice MOB under power, using the offshore MOB system.  At the stunningly beautiful, snug anchorage of Long Cove we pick up a mooring for the night as a harbor seal watches the commotion in his territory. Or was it an otter? That question is debated over a sumptuous dinner prepared by Mary and Steve. 

July 22:
Today, with Paul as skipper, we intend to make a long-distance offshore leg to Casco Bay via Monhegan Island, a well known artist colony. But, after an early departure, rain and widespread fog – visibility at time less than a mile – dictate a more direct route closer to shore. We turn on running lights, post our lookout at the bow, give required sound signals, and reduce engine rpms to a safe speed between 2.5 and 5 knots. Our attentive lookout is rewarded with a good look at a seal. Deciding on an average course of 250°T down west Penobscot Bay, then 272°T past Seguin Island toward Casco Bay, we add course calculations for known current which we check against depth contour LOPs and then  refine our course further as unknown currents are calculated and considered as well to keep us close to our DR track. 

As the rain abates and skies clear in the afternoon, the wind freshens to a fine NE breeze, and we are speeding along at up to eight knots. In good visibility, we take bearing fixes and drop anchor at 1820 in the northern horseshoe of  Cliff Island to enjoy a relaxed dinner prepared by Andy and a fine sunset in a protected anchorage. Still, we take anchor watch bearings and check them before turning in. 

July 23
Our anchor watch reports to Mary, today’s skipper that CELESTIAL did not move during the night. The crew begins the day with a pancake and bacon breakfast prepared by the captain. Ahead of our twenty-four hour overnight offshore leg, engine, strainers, deck gear, and other important items are carefully checked. Our wind instrument defies trouble shooting and out comes the hand-held wind gauge. The deck wash down pump and hose start up, then fail, and it’s bucket and brush to clean the anchor chain as it comes up. 

At 1020 we are underway, and the watches are set – with two shipmates each on for three hours and off for six.  The predicted easterlies at 10-12 knots on our beam carry us along at 4.5 knots over flat waters and give us one last look at haunting, scraggly islands and coves of Maine’s stunningly beautiful shoreline. The weather forecast calls for E 10-15, then 15-20 after midnight. Sounds perfect for our intended offshore overnight sail past New Hampshire to Plymouth, MA. Haze precludes fixes, so we resort to depth contours for LOPs. 

At 1700 the captain checks the NWS Surface Analysis via Skymate Satellite receiver and sees a projected low crossing Cape Cod to join two more lows just to the north of us. The only change in the VHF forecast is for gusts to 25 knots after midnight. But our Satellite text forecast predicts winds up to 30 knots. Mary and the captain have the evening watch from 2000 to 2300 and include the next watch – Steve and Tom – in the upcoming weather discussion and to put a third reef into the mainsail. 

July 24
After midnight, in driving rain, while the forecast is still saying 30 knots max, E winds continue building on our beam, so Steve, Tom, and captain put a third reef into the jib and a fourth in the main to keep the boat sailing flat. Seas of 8 to 10 feet are taxing tender tummies. As we close with the shipping lanes to Boston, Paul and Andy call me into the cockpit to report power vessels to port. Fortunately, they give us sea room and we, in turn, alter course well to port to give a tug and barge on starboard a wide berth. 

By 0400, clear of the Boston traffic separation scheme, we are in a full gale, reduce the main to less than a quarter, and the captain decides it’s time to heave-to, to safely ride out high gusts, and give the crew some rest. Our sea-kindly Island Packet is fore-reaching at an easy 1.5 kts in heavy rain toward Boston twenty miles off until 0800 when we put the boat on a SW course back toward our DR track to avoid a lee shore. 

Finally, on to Plymouth. Since the wind is moderating only slightly, defying again the forecast, careful analysis of Coast Pilot and Cruising Guide suggest that we should be able to safely negotiate the 5-mile long approach channel to Plymouth Harbor. We ready both anchors, just in case. At noon we pick up a mooring of the local yacht club, secure all and sink into our bunks. I skip the dinner outing via launch to get more rest and do some maintenance. To my pleasant surprise, this happy crew comes back with a delicious baked haddock and blueberry cobbler. Yummy!

July 25
With Steve as skipper, we leave Plymouth in time to reach the Cape Cod Canal at 1230, just at the beginning of the West-setting ebb tide. On our way, we affix the Pelorus card amidships, attempt relative bearing fixes, while also enjoying close reaching in the sunshine as the wind shifts S. With the shift comes warm, humid air. And no sooner have we spotted vast numbers of anchored boats at our destination when all is again shrouded in fog. 

Cuttyhunk is our intended target to raise anchor once there and teach a night-time anchoring maneuver. With fog thick, dusk approaching, and visibility a couple of boat lengths at best, this becomes a most eerie night anchoring exercise. We set an electronic bearing fix, and enjoy a relaxed dinner prepared by Andy, knowing that our anchor will hold in the light S wind forecast for the night. 

July 26
We leave Cuttyhunk Harbor the way we had arrived - in thick fog. Tom is skipper for the day and has set a straight course to the N end of Block Island. We motor sail the entire route to Block Island, using depth contours to check our progress. Radar navigation shows numerous targets, some appearing faintly in the mist a quarter mile off or less. The Point Judith Ferry, which had made a SECURITE call, comes barreling in broad on the starboard bow, and we alter course to starboard to let her pass. 

Great Salt Pond, a favorite for sailors from nearby shores, is crowded with boats. But the Harbor Master has a mooring for us where we tie up at 1630, enjoy a glass of wine and nibblies, before catching the water taxi to have a delicious seafood dinner at The Oar restaurant.

July 27
No fog, for once. In fact, the sun is shining brightly, and everyone is in great spirits. Dropping our mooring at 0740, we actually see this beautiful Island. Up goes a full main, jib, and staysail - in a fine SW breeze of 15 knots on the port beam.  Paul is skipper for the final leg of 20 NM to Mystic, on a course of 262°T to buoy G “1” off Watch Hill. Together with Tom and Steve, he’s refining our nav plan to include an unknown current: drift 1kt, set 020 T, plus 2° leeway. Mary at the helm is topping 8.5 knots thus chasing Tom’s speed record of 8.8 kts (which NO ONE is willing to concede). At 1050 buoy G “1” appears dead on the nose. This crew knows how to navigate. At 1210, after refueling, clean up, and test taking, we secure all at Mystic Shipyard, with CELESTIAL’s newly minted offshore mariners glowing with pride. 

This 200th advanced training cruise of the Maryland School was packed with conditions handed out only in small doses in most other advanced coastal training cruises. We had it all: Periods of calm, sunshine with a fine breeze, days of fog, driving rain, and gale-force winds. In the words of another recent offshore MD School student, this was “the best worst weather a student could have had.” To the Maryland School’s Tom Tursi, a cheerful congratulatory call from the 200th crew of new offshore sailors. To my shipmates, well done! Thank you. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
27 July, 2009
Mystic River, CT

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