2011 Norfolk-St Thomas

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Course: Offshore Passagemaking; Norfolk to St Thomas
Date November 1-24, 2011
Vessel: IP-440 CELESTIAL
Students: Roland Heinrich, Jacques Levesque, Lisa Powell, Dick Sloan.  
First Mate: Jim Bortnem
Captain Jack Morton

Tuesday, Nov 1
Travelers converge on Vinings Landing and the S/V CELESTIAL to begin training for the long offshore.  Jim Bortnem, mate engineer extraordinaire, and veteran of 15 or more Maryland School voyages has graciously and trustingly agreed to do it yet again.  Soon joined by boat owners and experienced sailors Roland Heinrich, Jacques Levesque, Lisa Powell, and Dick Sloan.   Dick is a physician (always welcome offshore) and a mostly fresh water sailor.   Lisa is chalking up her second ocean voyage, and prepping for the cruising life she and her husband aspire to.  Jacques is also testing the water as he looks to the prospect of longer ocean cruising.  Roland, a German import, is also considering whether more extensive cruising offshore is for him.  All appear to be well qualified for the voyage at hand.

Wednesday and Thursday, Nov 2-3
We begin the two day shore component of this ASA108 course, in which we review how all the sails go up and down, or in CELESTIALs case, in and out, as well as reefing them, setting the storm trysail, the sea anchor, and other considerations for heavy weather.   We review onboard living routines, provisioning, stowage, stove safety, deck safety, and a whole host of other safeties. Beyond that, we go over departure preparations and checks, and most importantly, the weather.

Friday, Nov 4
OK, make it three days of shore prep and training.   Weather not auspicious for departure a strong low going by with winds at 35 40 knots.   Manageable if we get caught in it mid voyage, but not something you deliberately take off in.

Saturday, Nov 5
Ok make it four days of shore prep.   Weather still not encouraging instead of following the usual pattern of lows moving northeast, paralleling the coast at a pretty good clip, this one is hanging around, not far off Hatteras, right where were planning to go.  Maybe Sunday.

Sunday, Nov 6
Today is the day took off about 0920, in light NE wind. Departure sort of a hot and cold thing weather cold, and engine hot. Yes, by the time we were abeam Cape Henry, the engine had overheated.   ???   After some preliminary moves to address it ourselves, I judge that as close as we are to home, it makes the most sense to have this well addressed before taking off, and for the first time in my life, I call for a tow, and we arrive at Vinings Landing around 1900, tail between our legs.

Monday Nov 7
Even before the mechanic arrives at ~0830, we have solved the major problem by pulling the sea water strainer top, and backflushing whatever blocked the sea water intake back out using the fresh water hose from the dock.   Engine cooling again, but somewhere along the way, we burned out one of the two solenoids on the starter not the one thats difficult to get at, but the one thats impossible to get at.  While the exact replacement is not available (we order one to be delivered to St. Thomas) Roland finds one locally that will work, and it is temporarily mounted, letting us start the engine without jumping the contacts with a screwdriver each time. By 1300, we have departed. Again.

Tuesday Nov 8
Motorsailing through the night, in light winds, paralleling the coast, giving ourselves the option to change our collective mind and duck for cover if the low still hanging around does the unexpected, and develops more. Through the night, the wind slowly builds, and we shut the engine down, as we can sail handily. By midday, were in heavy seas and wind, entering the Gulf Stream. The unexpected has come to pass, and the low that wont go away is developing into tropical storm Sean.  By mid afternoon, in the nasty edges of the Gulf Stream, Ive decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and we gybe around and head west for Beaufort, a port of refuge.  Jacque is saved hes been suffering some heavy duty mal de mer.  Its far enough away that we dont get there until

Wednesday Nov 9
When we have rounded Cape Lookout, and are approaching the sea buoy, and  - surprise! the engine overheats again. Same thing no salt water cooling, but the odds of this being a blocked intake twice in two days are miniscule. Something else is happening.  In Beaufort (a great port of refuge, if you need one, and between repairs and awaiting the next weather window, we have a delightful time.)  A couple of replacements maybe the hose from the salt water intake to the strainer has an intermittent aneurysm, and we have it replaced. 

Thursday, Nov 10
Jacque has decided that offshore cruising is not for him, and sells his sextant before leaving the ship. Its a valuable lesson, and way cheaper than outfitting a cruising sailboat before learning it. We are lucky, and Fred Lipp a  veteran of last years run south, and also a licensed Captain and a basic level instructor for the Maryland School joins us for the duration. Still waiting for weather improvement.

Friday Nov 11
Skymate email has gone belly up, and after downloading new software, and a couple of hours of diddling with it, we get Skymate back online. An important fix, as we will be using it a lot in the weeks to come. At noon, we leave Beaufort, one week behind schedule, pushed along by the diminishing N winds following passage of a cold front.  

Saturday Nov 12
More motorsailing as the winds die back to less than 10 knots.   Weather now beautiful, as TS Sean is finally moving NE.   At 1140, while crossing the Gulf Stream, we have the good fortune to hook a Mahi Mahi that Roland plays, and Jack gaffs.  Interrupts the change of watch, but its worth it 25 pounds plus or minus, and the heart of two great meals for the ship, with leftovers to boot. But dear reader, lest you think all is well, be advised, as we were, that battery bank one is not taking a charge well even with engine or genset running, voltage hanging at 12.0.   ???   And by dark, the engine has again begun to overheat. Were better at catching it before the alarms now, and shut it down to cool for a few hours before trying it again.  Hmmmmm.  

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Sunday Nov 13
When we do restart the main engine after backflushing it doesnt overheat immediately, but is still not charging properly, for either bank one or two.  Seems not to be putting in the bulk charge that does the lions share of charging in the first few hours. With a light south wind, were making our easting, but not enough south. Toward evening the wind is piping out of the SSE, which is of course where we want to go, and we reef to go in a direction thats not exactly where we want to be.

Monday Nov 14
Wind persisting out of the SSE.  Making reasonable easting, and not enough south.   Finally the wind clocks a bit to SSW around midnight, and were able to make some progress to the SE.   Will this whole trip be hard on the wind?

Tuesday Nov 15
By dawn, the voltage on battery bank one is reading zero, despite running both genset and main engine.  L   On the other hand, weve been careful with the water, and the captain declares a shower day. O frabjous day!  In pretty good shape on the fuel, too. Weve been checking in with Herb of Southbound Two every day for his weather briefing, which supplements the weather emails Tom Tursi is sending.  Herb warns of a trough along 20N 55W that is expected to develop into what else a tropical storm that will likely give gale force winds along 65 W, which is the usual route to reach south in the trade winds.   So the prudent course is to stay a bit west of 65, and hope to make up the easting after whatever is developing there finally starts to gallop north.    We have to consider if ducking into Bermuda as a port of refuge makes sense.  

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Wednesday, Nov 16
Putting together the best information from the NOAA high seas forecast, Herbs routing advice, and Toms weather updates, I decide that by staying over about 68 W, we can avoid enough of the mess associated with the newly developing tropical storm to the east, well be OK, and we skip Bermuda, and head SSW. Oh, and by the way, engine overheating again. Were getting better, and easing it back to idle lets it cool down on its own, and we plug on. At 0730, it overheats again, for real, and we again shut it down. More water torture for the strainer.  We examine the saltwater pump impeller, which looks fine.   ???  With the # 1 battery the engine starting battery reading zero volts, we now have to use a crossover circuit to start the engine from the house bank - #2.  Thank goodness we have it, and dont have to go stringing jumper cables through the boat every time we want to start.

Thursday Nov 17
Lest you think life is miserable at this point, I should point out some of the positives. The crew has come together wonderfully, and whether its routine sail changing and steering, or more ad hoc engine attentions, they are right there, cheerful, resourceful, and making it possible to be enjoying this otherwise somewhat challenging voyage. Were eating like royalty, the sails and rig are doing their job, and overall, life is good. But the Skymate our link to MDSchool world headquarters has again gone belly up. This time it will take several reloads of the software, and two days of tweaking before it again comes on line.  But were still being careful with our water, and again get the shower tickets.  If only to highlight how badly its doing most of the time, the engine charging system works properly for a brief interlude. Then not. And shortly after dark, the engine overheated again. And were hit with some windy showers, calling for more reefing.     And life is still good.

Friday Nov 18
At midnight turnover, while reminding Roland and Lisa of the need to monitor engine temp carefully, I notice that the engine is well on its way to overheating again. Shut down. Checked water flow, and carefully restarted.  Able to cool engine at neutral idle this time.  This is getting old.  Wind backs slightly from S to SE.  Where we want to go. Now going SW, which is OK for avoiding the developing storm to the east, but making us more and more dependent on a predicted NE wind by the time we get to the trades. By sunrise, wind has gone NW, and we can broad reach for a while. What a treat. By noon, however, were again close hauled, in ESE wind.   An exercise in heaving to for dinner. Not really necessary, but something everyone should know how to do, and we enjoy the respite.

Saturday Nov 19
NE wind, long promised, is arriving, and we can shift course to begin to go where we want -  to the Virgin islands. Novelty.  Wind increasing 20 25 in showers

Sunday Nov 20
Day dawns in squally wet windy weather gusting 30. Another vessel, part of the Caribbean 1500 fleet, unable to reach their organizers, calls any ship. They have steering problems, are tired, and want to know what to do. We suggest heaving to and catching up on the sleep theyve clearly been missing (crew of three), and then walk them through the process to heave to. Can they really be this far offshore and not know how to do that? Meanwhile, on our own ship, more overheating.  Shut down for a long cooling, which fortunately coincides with the long awaited NE wind.  Can do without engine nicely.  Heading for St Thomas.

Monday Nov 21
Things are getting better.   Wind lays down enough to ease some more main out, and were making pretty good time towards St. Thomas. Still only about half a jib out.  With engine cold, we pull the cover off the salt water pump and examine the impeller again no answers there it looks fine.  About 310 miles from STT at noon.  By late afternoon, were back to a full jib, but reef it again by sunset.

Tuesday Nov 22
Back to full jib by dawn, and making good time under sail.  In the right direction.  Although we dont really need it, were running the engine at low speeds to see how it does with them.  Gathering data.  Its fragile, but we may be able to use it at low speeds if we need it later. For now, beautiful sailing into the cool, clear starry night. This may the best memory of night sailing the crew gets to put in the bank.

Wednesday Nov 23
We check the records its been over a thousand hours since the saltwater pump has been replaced maybe the metal parts are starting to wear and its not pumping at full efficiency? By late evening, the lights of St. Thomas are in sight. More traffic to avoid. Oh, and by the way, the voltage on bank one is  back to zero, and with the genset and engine both on, bank two is barely holding twelve. I wonder if the electronics will stay engaged until we tie up?

Thursday Nov 24
Thanksgiving.  And the truth is, we have a lot to be thankful for.  Although were arriving a week late and we all missed our flights a week ago, on the 17th, the end is in sight. We have all our fingers and toes, the last few days of sailing has been great, and let me repeat the end is in sight. We round Savana Island to head for Crown Bay a little after midnight, and I figure one long tack hard on the wind toward St. Croix, and another back will put us near the airport.  But Im wrong. IPs are not great to weather, and the tide is running a strong current against us, so we roll up the genoa and motor straight into the wind at over 2000 rpm.  If the engine is going to overheat now, (were checking literally every minute) well have to go to plan D. But it doesnt, and we tie up at the fuel dock at 0335. A mere five minutes of arguing with security and we convince him that it will be alright to lie alongside there until the marina opens at eight.  Lisa is off to the airport three hours later;  Roland and Dick a few hours after that, and Jack by 3 PM.    The boat is clean, and Jim and Fred will be gone by Friday noon.  What a trip!  

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Captain Jack Morton
November 24, 2011
St Thomas, USVI

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