2012 Bermuda Reports

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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Norfolk to Bermuda
Date May 26, 2012
Students: Jeff Donnelly, Rich Malerba, Dan Marques, Alexei Turmilov
First Mate: David Gifford
Captain Tom Tursi

22-23 May 2012, Tuesday-Wednesday
S/V CELESTIAL IP440 had recently returned to Norfolk from St Thomas by direct ocean route, and was now at Vinings Landing Marina in Little Creek where the US Navy has an amphib base. Jack Morton, the previous skipper for the cruise from St Thomas, had departed for home but left his logbooks with notes describing operation of the yacht and a few issues that I'd need to deal with before our cruise to Bermuda. So, I set about refamiliarizing myself with the yacht and its equipment and inventory since it's been over a year since I last sailed her. She looked to be in pretty good shape despite the just completed long ocean passage and a full winter in the Virgin Islands doing training cruises out of St Thomas. I stowed some excess inventory that would not be needed for our ocean cruise to Bermuda, and began the unending task of making lists. Lists of where things were stowed, repairs and adjustments needed, charts and navigation equipment inventory, items to be purchased, crew assignments, and on and on... 

24 May; Thursday
David Gifford, First Mate for the cruise to Bermuda and return, arrived today to get in the groove with the yacht and our cruise plans. David has sailed with us on many offshore cruises as mate and I valued his sea experience and maturity on this cruise. We tackled some of the heavier, two man jobs that needed to be completed before our student crew arrived tomorrow. Also, we began collecting weather forecast data by VHF and SSB radios, Navtex receiver, Skymate satellite receiver, and internet downloads since we had a laptop computer and the marina had a WiFi hot spot. 

25 May; Friday
Today is arrival day for our student crew, and they began to arrive as scheduled in mid-afternoon. As they did, we began the process of familiarization: crew to crew; crew to yacht; and crew to cruise plan. They sorted and stowed their personal gear, found the stowage lockers not nearly large enough for all the gear brought from home, and started to get the feel of their new home for the next week. It's a necessary process that takes place every time new crew and new yacht come together, and will be of exceptional value when we're at sea on a dark night with howling winds and roaring waves. Our student crew included: Alexei Turmilov, an ex-Russian Air Force pilot who flew the Russian Air Force One with heads of state; Dan Marques, a PhD computer programmer; Rich Malerba, a New York and Atlanta jewelry dealer and appraisal expert; and Jeff Donnelly, an emergency room medical technician. All in all, they were a very bright, healthy, trim and youthful crew with lots of energy and enthusiasm who proved in subsequent days to be outstanding shipmates. 

26 May; Saturday
This was our heavy-lift predeparture training day. Deployed all of our sails, one by one except the cruising chute, to understand the specific workings of this boat and these lines and winches and related gear. Broke out the sea anchor gear and rigged it to know how this would be done if needed at sea and where all the gear was stowed. Reviewed emergency procedures including abandon ship and man overboard. Made assignments to Bos'n, Engineer, Emergency Coordinator, and Navigator for checklist reviews according to the MDSchool's Offshore Training Cruises Preparation Guide (Blue Book.) Inventoried tools, spare parts, fuel, lube oil, nav charts and references, food and drink provisions and medical kits. Received weather forecasts via VHF and SSB radios, Navtex receiver, Skymate satellite receiver, and internet download. 

And this is where the wrinkle came in: Tropical Storm Beryl was churning about east of Florida and was forecast to turn and race to the NE up the Gulf Stream just as we were planning to head SE across its path... Not good. Tropical storm force winds can reach 63 knots, just below hurricane strength, and they tend to intensify when tracking up the Gulf Stream with its warm waters feeding the storm. So the dinner conversation this Saturday evening was about the storm, the probability of our crossing paths with it, and whether we should delay until it passed, which would be five days hence. 

The other option was to depart one day ahead of schedule, and make maximum speed and distance south to get below the forecast track. This could put us 200 miles away from the closest point of approach (CPA) as the storm barreled NE and we sloughed SE at the mercy of its every whim. At this distance, the forecast predicted that we could get 30 to 40 knots from the SE, which is entirely manageable. Early departure meant we'd need to accelerate our preparation schedule, and the most important remaining aspect of that was to purchase our food and drink provisions, which we could do in the morning, and we tentatively planned for a noon departure tomorrow. 

27 May, Sunday
The day dawned bright and clear with no indication of the challenges that lie ahead. We obtained the latest weather forecasts- no change with TS Beryl- and I spoke with some of my weather consultants. NOAA showed all of the primary weather models forecasting similar storm tracks and wind strength; the main differences being in speed of advance. So, by 0900 I made the decision to go with a departure time of noon. David and Rich went shopping for the food and drink provisions, and the rest of us tended to final yacht preparations. 

Our navigation plan was to head S as fast a possible for a waypoint ten miles E of Diamond Shoal Light out to sea from Cape Hatteras, and there enter the Gulf Stream and make tracks to cross the stream as quickly as possible recognizing that the stream current would push us to the NE toward our theoretical rhumbline. On exiting the stream, we'd continue making a course more south than east with an eye toward increasing our distance from the forecast storm track, all of this fine planning of course being highly dependent on prevailing wind direction. 

Watch schedule was set with David and Jeff on from 12 to 4; Tom and Dan from 4 to 8; and Rich and Alexei from 8 to 12 all twice per day. Along with this, Rich and Aklexei will prepare breakfast; Tom and Dan prep lunch; David and Jeff prep dinner. 

At noon we departed Little Creek under sunny skies and a 12 knot breeze from the SE. Once rounding Cape Henry on the S shore of Chesapeake Bay where it joins the Atlantic Ocean, we turned SE on a course of 155 True (about 170 per ship's compass) which faced pretty squarely into the breeze blowing from the SE. We had the sails up and were able to slant off part of the time and gain some boat speed, but this was of little benefit to our speed toward the Diamond Shoal waypoint. 

Departure buoy to seaward of Cape Henry

From this departure point at Cape Henry, we began our ocean navigation procedure by making hourly entries of course and distance through the water in the Deck Logbook, and using these to make a dead reckoning plot on the large ocean plotting sheets. This plot will be later used in conjunction with celestial lines of position (LOP) to obtain position fixes by classical methods. 

28 May, Monday
By 2000 hours, the wind veered (clocked) to the SW allowing better boat speed and speed to waypoint. We passed a peaceful night at sea, and by 0400 the winds veered further to WSW and we were able to come right to a course of 170T pointing closer to our desired waypoint. Skies were mostly clear with puffy cumulus fair weather clouds, and we sailed on enjoying these delightful conditions. By 1000 hours, seawater temperature began to rise, and by 1400 it had risen a full ten degrees to 82F clearly indicating that we had entered the Gulf Stream with its swiftly moving flow to the NE. A 20 set in our course over ground to the left of the course we were steering by compass confirmed this conclusion. 

The wind direction from WSW blowing over the Gulf Stream kept the stream waves low and nicely shaped, and we enjoyed a pleasant sail in the stream with it's cobalt blue water and a visit by a pod of playful dolphins at one point. By 2200 hours, the seawater temperature began to decline indicating that we were exiting the somewhat diffuse SE side of the Gulf Stream after an approximately ten hour crossing. At this point we changed course to ESE heading more directly toward our Bermuda target waypoint, but staying a little S of that track to continue to increase distance from the expected path of Tropical Storm Beryl. 

NOAA continued to forecast TS Beryl tracking along the East Coast from Florida to Hatteras and then NE offshore from there, and passing N of us by overnight Wednesday-Thursday with a wind strength of 50 knots near the center. With our diverging paths, we expected to be about 200 miles from the center of Beryl at our closest point. What we could not be sure of was: (1) Changes in Beryl's track could bring her closer to us. (2) Possibility of increased wind speed since it would track pretty much over the Gulf Stream with its warm waters. (3) The timing of its arrival at CPA. 

29 May, Tuesday
Conditions remained clear with SW winds of 10-15 knots. Under these ideal conditions, after breakfast, David gave a description of celestial navigation basics including celestial geometry, sextant description and adjustments, shooting techniques and use of celestial lines of position in conjunction with the dead reckoning track that we have been keeping. Crewmembers then practiced celestial shooting techniques on the Sun and found it a little more difficult on a rocking rolling boat at sea than in other more stable conditions. But they mastered the techniques quickly and were soon taking good shots and working on the arcane calculations needed to reduce shot data to a plottable line of position (LOP) on the navigation chart.

Rich using a Sun shadow for compass calibration

Winds continued moderate with 10-15 knots from the SW and skies remained mostly clear. NOAA continued to forecast TS Beryls track as before, and this would put its closest point of approach on Wednesday-Thursday night. So we discussed plans for storm preparations, and my guidelines for this discussion were that we would assume the worst in terms of track and wind strength and prepare the boat and ourselves accordingly. With this in mind, we set tomorrow afternoon, before dinner, as the time at which we would actually complete these preps that the MDSchool Blue Book outlines and that we light-heartedly discussed in port before leaving Norfolk. So tomorrow, theory becomes reality. 

Conditions overnight remained moderate with winds SW at 10-15 knots, and we continued to make progress toward our Bermuda target waypoint on a course of 135T in order to gain a little more distance from Beryls track. 

Dan, taking us to Bermuda

30 May, Wednesday
Again, the day dawned clear with puffy cumulus clouds and moderate SW winds, and we sailed on toward Bermuda. In these pleasant conditions, it would be easy to forget the potential encounter with tropical storm Beryl and put off the storm preps that we decided on for this afternoon. But, prudence won out, and at 1600 we stopped sailing, hove to and commenced with our storm preps. The MDSchool Blue Book includes checklists for each crewmember and we proceeded with completing these tasks plus the following: 

  • Pre-rigged the sea anchor rode and bridle and double-checked all components.
  • Secured the roller furling genoa and staysail with extra wraps of the sheets and added a lashing to the furling drums. Double secured the furling lines.
  • Raised the storm trisail on its dedicated track.
  • Furled in the mainsail and added a lashing through the clew and around the mast.
  • Erected the boom crutch to support and stabilize the boom.
  • Added extra lashings to the ground anchors on the bow pulpit.
  • Removed the bimini canvas, and folded and lashed its frame to the backstays.
  • Double-checked all deck gear including the dinghy lashings on the stern arch.
  • Made PBJ sandwiches and stowed in individual ziplock baggies
  • Crewmembers took sea sickness medication
  • Crewmembers located and stowed personal gear in ready locations.
  • Contacted the USCG via SSB radio to advise them of our position on the potential track of TS Beryl.

It took a surprising four full hours to complete these preps... Not something you'd want to do at the last minute as a storm bears down on you. But, we were using an abundance of caution for safety and for instructional purposes. After this, we relaxed, had dinner and proceeded under motorsail with only the storm trisail deployed... We were ready!!

Our course is shown in red

31 May, Thursday
Overnight the winds increased to SW 25-30, but not more than that, as TS Beryl passed us pretty much on the predicted track about 200 miles to our north. With daylight we could see the clear circular bands of clouds spiraling in toward the center of the storm which we could roughly track using Buys Ballot's Law pertaining to the wind direction relative to the center of a low pressure system. Seas had calmed and winds moderated to SW 15-20, and, by 0800 we began de-rigging our storm preparations, which we completed in less than two hours. By 0900, we were under full sail and headed to Bermuda.

Jeff at the helm

Again, we were blessed with clear skies and steady SW winds, now 10 to 15 knots, and the crew broke out sextants to resume practice of this time-honored art. They took additional celestial shots of the Sun and the challenge now was to get two good shots, one around 0900 and another around Noon, to allow plotting of a running fix, a technique of vital importance to offshore navigation using dead reckoning and celestial methods. To do this, its important to select shot times that will give good crossing angles of the LOPs, the ideal being a 90 crossing angle, but angles as low as 60 are generally considered acceptable. An 0900 shot will give a generally north-south LOP depending on your latitude compared with the Suns declination (latitude.) 

Alexei shooting the Sun

Consider this: If you are on the same latitude as the Sun, it will be straight east of you in the morning, and the LOP will be a north-south line. If the Sun is south of your latitude, which is the case for our position today, the LOP will be tilted from NE to SW. At midday, when the Sun is on your longitude, the LOP will be an east-west line. So, the task here is to determine when the Sun will pass your longitude. 

The Nautical Almanac facilitates this by including the time that the sun will pass the meridian of each time zone. But since you are probably not precisely at the zone meridian, you will need to make a time correction for this longitude difference. If you are east of the meridian, the Sun will pass your position earlier than the meridian time from the almanac. If you are west of the meridian, it will pass you later than the meridian time. 

So at midday on this date, we were at longitude 6757'W. Dividing this longitude by 15 per hour (Earths rotational speed) equals 4.53 hours and rounding this up to a whole number of 5 means that we were in the 5th time zone west of Greenwich, with a zone meridian at 75W. And we are east of this meridian by 75 - 6757' = 703' and this converts to 0.47 hours or 28 minutes, which is how much earlier the Sun will cross our longitude than the zone meridian. For this date, the almanac says that the Sun will cross the meridians of all zones at approximately 1158 zone time, which we generally know as Standard Time. Since we are keeping ship's time on Eastern Daylight Time, we add one hour to this and get meridian passage at 1258 ship's time. Subtract from this the 28 minutes, and find that the Sun will cross our longitude at approximately 1230 ship's time. 

So, go up on deck at about 1225 with your sextant and corrected wrist watch, shoot the Sun and note the precise time. Record your data along with the ship's distance log reading and your height of eye above the sea surface, and you will have an approximately east-west LOP which you can cross with the roughly north-south LOP that you got by shooting the Sun at 0900. You'll cross these LOPs using Running Fix procedures, which is a vitally important procedure to master for using celestial navigation techniques at sea. By the way, what is described here is not Local Apparent Noon, which actually takes multiple Sun shots on deck, possibly as many as six or eight shots to get one LOP. But that's another discussion... 

All of our celestial navigators this day followed these procedures and were pleased to see that a nice running fix resulted that correlated fairly well with our dead reckoning plot... An enjoyable and useful exercise. 

By the way, we're still heading to Bermuda with clear skies and moderate winds from the SW at 12-15 knots. 

June 1, Friday
As of 0800 we're about 60 miles out from our target waypoint at Bermuda. This target is located at the NE corner of the NGA chart 26341, Approaches to Bermuda Islands, and we aimed at this point from Norfolk to put us on a path well north of the extensive reef system that guards the entire north side of these islands. It's a graveyard to many ships of the past that foundered in their attempts to make landfall here, and we take extra precautions to stay well clear of it. 

Later, at about 20 miles out, we make VHF radio contact with Bermuda Radio (There is an island there!!) to advise of our approach and request permission to enter. They asked for identity of the vessel, crew onboard, safety equipment, last port of call, and details of our communications equipment, and give us entry instructions through Town Cut Channel into St Georges Harbour.   

A Bermuda Longtail greeted our arrival

As a pre-cruise task, Rich had researched the published navigational approach guidance and prepared courses, waypoints and distances needed for entry. Using this info, he prepared an approach plan and identified the Nav Aids and critical landmarks needed for our after-dark entry. Port entry is a potentially risky event at the end of a long ocean cruise when crewmembers need to switch from an open-ocean perspective to a coastal perspective with its close-in distances and rocky bottoms. We established duty assignments for this including helmsman, navigator, visual bearing taker, and lookouts to specifically identify key Nav Aids.   

All went well on our approach with no particular problems and we entered Town Cut at about 2200 and proceeded to the Customs Dock on Ordinance Island in St Georges Harbour. Courteous Bermuda Customs officials greeted us at the dock and completed all of the necessary paperwork and suggested that we take a berth alongside the quay to await morning light at which time we'd need to move before arrival of the ferry. We did so, and then trekked around the empty town in search of a pub to celebrate our voyage. Finally, we found a pub hosting a private party, and, feeling sorry for us, the owner offered us a spot next to the bar where we could quaff the local specialties as intrepid seamen do when in port. 

June 2, Saturday
In the morning, we were awakened by a dockhand that we needed to move soon for arrival of the ferry. We hastily took in our lines and proceeded to Dowlings Fuel Dock and topped fuel and water before moving to our pre-arranged berth alongside Hunter's Warf. After breakfast at Angie's Coffee Shop (If you're rude, we'll double the price!) this energetic crew cleaned the boat from stem to stern followed by a day of sight seeing. That evening we congregated for dinner at Wahoo's Bistro complements of our crew. Thank you all, and thanks for being such great shipmates! 

St Georges Town Crier calling the citizens to order

And thank you Jeff and Dan for the albums of pictures and videos from the cruise several of which are included above.

Captain Tom Tursi
June 3, 2012

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