2010 USVI-Norfolk Report

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Course: Ocean Training Cruise, St Thomas, USVI to Norfolk, VA
Date: May 5-19, 2010
Vessel: S/V CELESTIAL, IP440 
Students: Brooks Hull, David Lovett, Alan Peppelman, Roque Reis,
First Mate: Mike McGovern
Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann

Crown Bay Marina, St. Thomas, April 30 to May 4, 2010
I arrived early to join the Maryland School’s maintenance manager, Tom Fulton who has been on board since Wednesday to do spring maintenance and minor repairs. First mate Mike joins us Sunday. Our goal: to have CELESTIAL ready for our 1,400 mile oceans cruise well before students arrive. Major activities include: testing the new main sail, retrieving from storage and/or installing spare sails and offshore safety equipment, having a diver check the hull, cleaning all stainless steel, changing oil and all filters on the main engine and generator, checking the rigging, etc. By the time my student crew arrives on Wednesday, everything is shipshape. After introductions, we have time to inspect systems below decks before our first dinner together at “Tickles”, the Marina’s waterfront restaurant. 

Wednesday, May 5
We start early with the inspection topside of all lines, sails, ground tackle, and safety gear. We feel the tropical sun. But before we can enjoy air conditioned comfort below, we practice rigging the storm trysail, the sea anchor, emergency steering, and positioning our life raft. Inspection of electrical systems, electronics, the engine, and discussion of critical roles follow: Allan will be navigator, Brooks - bosun, David - emergency coordinator, and Roque (who hails all the way from Brazil) - engineer. After dinner, mate Mike shows the student crew how to set up latitude-specific plotting sheets which we will use for dead reckoning and celestial navigation entries. 

Thursday, May 6, Day 1 at Sea 
During the morning, we discuss emergency procedures and develop a meal plan. David and I go shopping while shipmates turn to their assigned duties: inspection of gear, spare parts, thru-hulls, etc. Since CELESTIAL is in top shape, all this goes very quickly. 

At 1430 final calls home by all. I check out of the Marina and we move CELESTIAL to the fuel dock to top off fuel. At 1600 we cast off with Allan navigating us down W Gregerie Channel to the W end of Savannah Island, our departure way point. From here, at 1730, we set a rhumb-line course of 328° True for Cape Fear off the Carolinas to avoid an expected “bulge” of the Gulf Steam. Boat handling and a well executed Man Overboard (MOB) Maneuver are part of departure training. After a light sandwich dinner, we settle into our watch routine. A SE breeze at 12 to 15 kts on our beam speeds us along at 6 knots. 

Day 2
It’s our first full day at sea. We are waking up to brilliant sunshine. A High Pressure system is extending westward creating a steady Trade Wind flow from SE at 12 to 18 knots. Winds were less from 0200 to 0900 prompting us to motor sail. We charge our batteries at the same time. Two eager celestial navigators manage early morning sun and moon shots and produce a very good first position running fix. Morning training includes setting the cruising spinnaker – a specialty of mate Mike who is leading this evolution. Boat speed jumps from 5.2 knots to 6.8 knots. After three hours and building winds, we take the chute down, set a full jib for a safer sail set and still maintain good boat speed. A spare sail has fallen against the forward shower faucet spraying fresh water for some 30 minutes. Fortunately, the tank gauge shows that our fresh water level remains high. 

Day 3  
We report our position to the office twice a day via our Skymate satellite system (see chart entries below). The office then provides a link via Google map to all readers who follow us via the MDSchool Blog.  Fine Trade Wind weather has us moving along at 5.5 kts under all plain sail, and later at 6.5 kts under spinnaker. Morning activities keep us busy. First, our engineer Roque replaces the impeller on the generator which stopped last night after a 2-hour run. Then comes morning training: a MOB maneuver under sail. Clearly, our crew is getting the hang of this crucial skill. Celestial navigation is ongoing. In the afternoon we sight our second ship at sea. Our 48 hour run from our departure waypoint off Savannah Island, USVI is 290 NM. It’s a very good result. The crew is catching up on rest, and a peaceful evening and dinner in the cockpit round out the day 

Day 4
Today, Sunday, is Mother’s Day and talk dwells on our ladies. Trade wind weather continued all night, though winds were light at times. Our one victim of Mal-de-Mere is feeling better and eating bland food. During the last 72 hours, we’ve averaged 135 NM/day. But now it’s slow motor sailing. We run the engine at low rpm (1600) to increase boat speed to 5 kts and still conserve fuel. The morning began with a surprise MOB drill just after all had had their first coffee. It was a perfect victim recovery maneuver. Next we hoist the spinnaker to start sailing again. All was done well and swiftly and in time to enjoy the captain’s pancake breakfast. Additional morning discussions include hypothermia followed by a thorough discussion of marine weather, led by mate Mike. Between catnaps and meals, our celestial navigators perfect their skill in shooting the sun and reducing their sights. In the evening they get good sights and fixes on Venus, Sirius, and Capella. 

Day 5
Our 0800 position is 24°45’ N; 070°16’ W. Winds calm, glassy sea, with a cold front expected after midnight as the weather report obtained by Mike and from the Office tells us. Since the adverse Gulf Stream bulge of a week ago has disappeared, we set a course more easterly of our rhumb line to Cape Lookout, NC. I have assigned student crew the role of Skipper-of-the-Day. Each will see boat duties from the captain’s perspective which will also allow those pursuing celestial certification to meet an ASA standard. After a delicious breakfast of cheese omelets, our lookout spots a white object abeam and we turn to investigate. It’s a large Styrofoam fish float trailing a long floating line and Sargasso grass. We cut and secure the line, a threat to boat propellers. The float (to be secured later) becomes a marker we sail away from until it is out of sight for some 15 minutes. We use the “Williamson Turn” as a search and retrieval pattern in order to practice this skill. We sail a reciprocal course for some 15 minutes, and – as hoped – the float is just right of our course line. We pick it up once more and stow it in the dinghy for proper disposal in Norfolk. As a bonus: The shower is now open for the first time. After lunch, we discuss fire fighting, take numerous sun shots, and enjoy a peaceful evening in the cockpit after a sumptuous potroast dinner. Wildlife to date: Dolphin, Bermuda Longtail, small black sea birds, a huge sail fish broaching in the distance, jelly fish, crabs in grass. Per forecast, we expect a cold front tonight. 

Day 6, Allan is Skipper-of-the-day
Our 0800 position: 25°14’ N, 071° 34’ W. The Cold Front arrived at 2200 last night with winds NNE 20-27 knots, seas 6-8 feet. Close reaching on course of 350° psc. Practice heavy weather sailing. One crew had a slow fall against a bulk head but is fine. High Pressure of 1020 mb brings strong winds filling in behind the front. Crew excited that CELESTIAL is moving so well. Preparing meals is a challenge. 

Day 7, Skipper is David  
The roller coaster ride of the last 36 hours has given way to a splendid, allday spinnaker run in ESE winds 12-15 kts. CELESTIAL is being pulled at a splendid 6.5 to 7.5 kts all day – tiring for all helmsmen, but exhilarating at the same time. We take time to clean the boat and our engineer manages to fix the freezer which had stopped cooling for 2 hours. The culprit: corroded wire connections at the compressor. Brooks, our bosun, teaches a key seamanship skill – whipping  the bitter end of lines. 

Day 8, Brooks is Skipper
At 0800: 30°30’ N 073°31’ W. Weather: high pressure just N of us, winds variable 2-5 knots, still swells 2-4 feet. We enjoyed watching a pod of dolphins and found a flying fish in the cockpit in the morning. Since the evening watch, we have been motoring on a course of 352°T with the main sail set to catch the zephyr and to slow our roll. We switch from hand steering to autopilot for training discussions on charting, landfall, collision avoidance, emergency repairs, and to conduct an abandon ship exercise led by David. The crew is turning-to enthusiastically and has energy left to achieve sun-run-sun fixes during the day, do compass calibration just before sun set and take sights on Venus, Sirius, and Capella. Traffic is increasing, an indication we are nearing the coast. A delicious chicken pasta dinner before sun set is most satisfying to this hungry crew. 

Day 9, Skipper is Roque
At 1500 the water temperature jumps to 87° F - we have entered the Gulf Stream! As we continue to steer NNE, its current is taking us toward Cape Hatteras and beyond. What we have been lacking in Wind since our last glorious spinnaker run two days ago, students have made up in enthusiasm. Student Skipper-of-the-day has led an abandon ship simulation, discussion on sail tactics, and the captain called for a night time MOB exercise during the last midnight watch shift. Again, that drill went flawlessly. Allan is establishing a landfall navigation plan. 

Day 10
Land Ho, Terra Vista!! A pod of whales plus dolphins on the bow are a good omen for our landfall. We passed Cape Hatteras Diamond Shoal Lt at 0700. 0800 poitions: 35°15’N 075°15’ W. Our dials show fluids left: Fuel-9/16, Water 3/10. Winds at SW 20-25 since last night on our quarter plus Gulf Stream current 2-5 knots are pushing us at 7 to 8 knots and ahead of ETA. We reach soundings at about 1445. At 0200 a cross current at the Vinings Landing Marina dock provides a last challenge before we can tie up, tired but very happy. 

Nautical miles travelled (including leg to waypoint): 1,375
Underway time: Nine days, nine hours
Course: Almost straight up the rhumb line (see below)
Inclement weather: Not even once!!!
Winds: Calm - two days; over 20 kts - 36 hrs; light - five days at WSW 8-12 kts; in short, perfect spinnaker weather to keep the boat moving well over 6 kts.
Gallons of diesel fuel used: 95
Celestial sights/fixes from: Sun, Moon, Venus, Sirius, Capella, and Arcturus 

This terrific crew has kept the boat moving safely and has taken care of each other. They can look back proudly at their achievements, now as ocean mariners. Your captain and first mate thank you.

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
Vinings Landing Marina
Norfolk, VA
May 19, 201008

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