2011 USVI-Norfolk Report

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Course: Ocean Training Cruise, St Thomas, USVI to Norfolk, VA
Date: May 5-19, 2011
Vessel: S/V CELESTIAL, IP440 
Students: Sean Henderson, Joe Pazoureck, Mark Price, Rob Todd 
First Mate: Jim Bortnem
Captain Jack Morton

A while back I summed a trip up with a quote from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities  -  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”   That probably isn’t a bad summary of any cruise of more than a few days duration.    We had it all – some delightful sailing, some scary, violent squalls, winds from favorable quarters, headwinds, and a few periods of flat calm.   While most things on the ship worked very well indeed, we did have the obligatory mechanical/electrical problem, but fortunately, only one, and that one ably addressed by the engineering team led by mate/engineer extraordinaire, Jim Bortnem.    Come along, as we review the more detailed chronology.

Wed 5/4/11

The crew gathers in the evening to begin training and the sharing of hopes and aspirations over dinner, after flying in from across the nation.   Mark Price, an intelligence (and intelligent) guy with a Navy career behind him, and a 37’ boat he single hands up and down the Chesapeake; Sean Henderson, a private banker with offshore experience he’s been gathering in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans since Childhood; Rob Todd, a recovering lawyer and CPA Joe Pazoureck, each with lots of sailing time, but no offshore, and high hopes of getting the experience to encourage going offshore on their own.   All come with enthusiasm, energy, and good will – good predictors of success.   Jim Bortnem, sailing as mate engineer, has more offshore legs than I can count with the Maryland School, many of them with me.   (And amazingly, he still comes back for more!)

Thur 5/5

We start early in the morning because the next two days will be very full.   Fortunately, the weather is calm enough that we can start by raising, reefing, and striking sails, to be sure that everyone is acquainted with the systems on Celestial, even though all have had experience with those on other boats.  In and out of the sun, as we go over systems for storm management, the protocols in the blue book, deployment of the sea anchor, more blue book, and living systems, drogues, and any number of other things to know before we go.   We’re pretty well exhausted by the time we call it a day and go to dinner.

Fri 5/6

Another early start, with role assignments – engineer, bosun, safety officer and steward.   (We’ll all be navigator.)   Steward, by the by, doesn’t do all the cooking – we’ll all take turns at that, but is overall responsible for inventorying, provisioning, stowing and making the shopping list, in collaboration with the rest of us.   Mark did easily the best job at that since I’ve been designating the role, keeping tabs on things throughout the trip, as well.   Beyond food planning, individuals work on their specific checklists for departure, and we intersperse that with more blue book, emergency procedures (MOB, fire, collision, and abandon ship) and securing emergency water, the dinghy, and the last of our personal gear.

Sat 5/7

Top off water, finish last minute checks, and we take leave of Crown Bay, rounding the west end of St. Thomas to start down the rhumb line for the Chesapeake.   Sailing is good for the afternoon, with mostly east wind broad on the beam, and spirits are high.   By sunset, the wind has dropped off enough that we motorsail into the night.  First of several recalibrations of the boat speed/log, with dubious success.

Sun 5/8

In what will become almost monotonous we (motor)sail 340 PSC, in winds that register in single digits on the wind instrument.   Some folks a little unsure of feeling well in the rolling brought on by the light winds.   People settling into the offshore routine.

Mon 5/9

Wind still east, but less of it all the time – still in single digits, without using any of the big ones.   Motorsailing.   Good conditions for the 108 students to be practicing their sun sights.  Wind finally quits altogether, and we take a quick swim call in water two miles deep, where folks get to wash their hair for the last time in what will become the next week.   With slow progress into a long trip, we’re being very careful with our fresh water.

Tue 5/10

Now well settled into the offshore routine, and eating well.    More wind than yesterday, but not enough to dispense with the engine until late afternoon.   We even get a chance to do a little squall avoidance maneuvering.   Time enough for those a little farther along the track.   Wind has shifted to the west, as we approach the northern limits of the NE trades.  High points from the log are running fixes, and a school of porpoises.

Wed 5/11

When it’s not squally, which is most of the time, winds are light enough that motorsailing is still the order of the day.   Sometimes it’s showers that don’t even give us any wind.   We’re reminded of Robin Knox Johnson, who for parts of his world circling aimed SUHAIL for the squalls just to get the wind.

Thur 5/12

More motorsailing between shower/squall events.    Wind still mostly light but has pretty much clocked up to be coming at us just about directly out of the Chesapeake.   As fine as Island Packets are, they are not very handy to weather, and we zig zag back and forth trying to make some gains to weather, with discouraging results.    We have a seminar/chalk talk of sorts on how to sail the boat full & by, making our best advantage to weather.    When the wind dies down, we occasionally try motoring straight up the rhumb line, but what seas remain make that slow going, too.

Fri 5/13

In the early hours of the morning, we get some nice wind (even if it is from the wrong direction) but it’s accompanied by more squally weather.   That’s part of what people want to be able to cope with at sea, so it ain’t all bad, as they get some practice with it.

Sat 5/14

One week out, and still not quite half way there.   Not good.   Conservation protocols for water, fuel and food all good practice, and we’re increasingly glad we’ve been following them.   At night, in particular, we reef for squalls, and wind up under-canvassed for the rest of the time, and motorsailing.   Frustrating, but beats hauling sleeping crews up for sail handling any more than necessary.   Spilled tea has put the two front burners on the stove out of commission temporarily.   We devise a way with aluminum foil to reflect heat down to dry them out, that works.   Back in business.

Sun 5/15

Main engine has quit charging the batteries, in a reprise of a problem that has plagued the boat off and on for the last six months, at least.   Gentleman Jim Bortnem attacks with a schematic in one hand and a VOM in the other, and identifies the problem.   An occasional open circuit in the fuse harness of the sensing line!   We replace that harness with a spare we have on board (I love sailing boats with adequate spares inventories.) and will have no further charging problems for the rest of the trip.  I double his pay on the spot.

Mon 5/16

Wind has backed to SSW, but mostly very light, so what do we do for a change?   What else?  Motorsail, of course.   Through the day and evening it continues to back, and is more SE than anything else by late evening when all hell breaks loose with a squall that tops out above 45 kts, and goosewings the genoa before we can get it all in.    Goosewinging involves having the upper part of the sail fill on one side of the headstay, and the lower part on the other.  In the highest winds, we can’t pull it out far enough to fix that, and have to furl it with a  bubble of sail flogging at the top for a minute or two before a lull lets us pull it all out long enough to roll it all in.    During that interval, the flogging beats a few feet of the Sunbrella – the blue cloth along the leech of the sail designed to  protect it from the Sun’s UV rays when furled – to tatters.   The sail itself suffers only a tiny seam separation of about 3”, and we are able to keep using it for the rest of the cruise.    After the squall passes, we have a good usable 25 kts or so from the south to sail with for a time.

Tue 5/17

As we have closed a good bit of the distance to the Chesapeake by now, and our water supply is good, I declare shower day, using the sea shower technique of getting yourself wet, turning the water off while you wash, and rinsing it all off after.   Most welcome.

Wed 5/18

More light winds from the south call for more motorsailing.   Thank goodness the Yanmar is so reliable – in part a reflection of good maintenance.    By late evening, we are seeing the water temperature rise that signals the proximity of the Gulf Stream, which we are approaching south of Cape Hatteras.    By midnight, the wind has come around SW at 10 – 15 kts, which lets us actually sail – delightfully quietly – through the night, for a very smooth GS crossing.  

Thur 5/19

Would have been too much to expect to hold that wind through the day, and we are again motorsailing as the wind drops to pretty much complete calm by afternoon, as we parallel the VA coast, about 12 miles off.    Toward late evening the wind fills in a bit from the SW, turning our motoring back into motorsailing.     While we have of course maintained a lookout for the whole trip, it becomes more critical as we enter more heavily trafficked waters.

Fri 5/20

We are now racing to get two of our company to shore by 5 AM to catch their 7 AM planes.   That light SW wind becomes a lifesaver, as we round Cape Henry and it lets us keep up 6 knots against the ebbing tide, which would have held us down to about 4 without it.    With that boost, we are able to tie up at Vinings Landing pretty much at the stroke of 5 AM, and all crew are flying to their home waters and shore bound lives by early afternoon .    Another job well done.

Captain Jack Morton
Norfolk, VA
May 20, 2011

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