2012 Bermuda Reports

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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Bermuda to Norfolk
Date June 6-13, 2012
Students: James Barber, Peter Fisher, George Norwood, Aaron Panken
First Mate: David Gifford
Captain Jack Morton

June 5
Having arrived the day before to touch base and renew face to face contact with Tom Tursi, the departing skipper, I was briefed on the condition of the boat, and a recap of their trip out, where they outran Tropical Storm Beryl. With a little luck, we wouldn’t have to do that kind of dodging.

Students arrived on the afternoon of the 5th, and as all were there by 5 PM, and weather for the next day looked dicey, we seized the opportunity to set, reef, and strike all plain sail before going to the introductory dinner. (All but the staysail, that was off being repaired.) Dinner was where we’d all learn a bit of each other’s background, hopes and fears, in the beginning steps of becoming a crew rather than just a bunch of sailors. The first of several dinners at the Tavern by the Sea, just a few steps away. We have “Nordie”, ex air force, Aaron, a professor, Jim, a business executive, and Peter, a financial analyst. A well rounded crew with varying degrees of sailing experience, all anxious to get more, at open sea.

June 6
D-Day, and my wedding anniversary. (Thank goodness for a loving wife who understands and accepts my running away to sea for some of our most important times to be together.) Muster at the boat at 0800, and we begin the shoreside seminar ensuring that we’ve all got the same understanding of the things they’ve already read about in the “blue book” and how we’ll be doing them on the boat. We review storm procedures, drogues, sea anchors, and the thinking that leads to choosing which to use in stormy circumstances. By late afternoon my mate, David, the veteran of close to a dozen of these trips, returns from town with the replacement diaphragm bilge pump that takes most of the rest of the afternoon to install in place of one with a bad diaphragm.

June 7
David tweaks the bilge pump installation (which, it turns out, came from the factory plumbed backwards) while the rest of us talk food. We create a menu, develop a shopping list, and consider what we can buy with the budget allotted. In the afternoon, half the crew goes off to do the provisioning, while the others begin their final checklists before going to sea for the engineer, bosun, safety officer and steward. No, the steward doesn’t do all the cooking – everyone gets a hand in that – but will oversee the buying and stowing of provisions. We consider leaving at the end of day, and decide against it, based on weather, which has mostly been blowing a rage for the last two days, and is scheduled to abate some in the morning. We also appreciate the advantage of getting a solid night’s sleep before heading out.

June 8
The day dawns somewhat calmer than yesterday, and we slide over to Dowlings fuel dock next door to top diesel and water. Forecast looks like we’ll do a fair bit of motoring in calm seas, and even though we take only five gallons of fuel, we’re glad to have it. The crew resets the newly delivered staysail, and I head over to Bermuda Customs to check out. Departing the Spit buoy outside St. Georges, we sail quite well for a few miles, but after rounding St. David’s Head, and taking a course aimed more at America, the light wind behind us proves inadequate, and we begin the first of many motorsailing legs. As night comes on, we are rolling heavily in the following seas and light wind. I write the first night’s night orders, detailing the course to steer, and the conditions for which I want to be awakened, after I finish my watch.

June 9
Morning finds us with more wind, and we roll out the genoa, which had been furled earlier, when all it was doing was flopping about. By 0800 change of watch, we’re sailing at 7+ knots, as the wind has backed a bit to put us on a much faster and more comfortable broad reach. By afternoon, the wind has died back, and we again go to motorsailing. The wind gradually backs to west, and we head a bit north of our intended course, to keep the mainsail full and quiet – the genoa has again been furled to keep the peace. Routine has pretty much been established with the watch schedule, and the calm weather lets people develop their sea legs without much fuss, and meals are being prepared well, and staying where they belong.

June 10
By noon, wind has veered a bit, to the NW, and we’re having to go nearly north to keep any advantage from the wind, and the sails quiet, so we tack, and wind up going WSW. It’s also a direction we don’t particularly want to go, but may work out OK when some SW winds that are predicted arrive. We see a pod of dolphins; ordinarily regarded as a good sign, but they don’t bring us favorable wind. Another advantage of the calm weather is that the crew – all of whom have brought sextants, and are hot to learn more about how to use them – are getting plenty of opportunity to practice, not only with the sun, but with stars, planets and the moon. Toward evening, the light wind dead astern has us again rolling, with sails making an almighty clatter. So we go to furl the main, but Surprise! After it’s furled, it comes flying back out again! The furling gear has gone belly up. We do a little experimenting, and finally drop the sail to the deck, where we secure it to deal with in the morning. Motoring conditions anyway.

June 11
Come morning, we work out a way to raise the main, and sweat the furling line with altogether too much tension, to get it in to a deeply reefed configuration, which I hope will hold without any further tinkering until we’re safely inside the Chesapeake, 300 miles distant, and can drop it. It seems the best compromise we can make given our need for sail, but the danger of having too much out that we can’t roll back in with the gear the way it is. A weak cold front has come through, which gives us a wind shift that veers to NE fairly quickly. Along with the wind, we’ve successfully aimed for the north side of a cold eddy just east of the Gulf Stream off Hatteras, that adds a couple of knots to our speed over ground, and we enjoy 7 knots over ground while doing only about 4.5 through the water. Not bad. Motorsailing, naturally.

June 12
Forecast for coastal waters calls for wind SE today, but going NE 25 – 35 by sometime Wednesday, which would make the Gulf Stream a pretty nasty place to be, and we push to be across it before then. At this point, we’re not sure whether the shift will be early or late. Looking ahead, after crossing the stream, we can look forward to gale force winds out of the NE before we get to Cape Henry, and the entrance to the Chesapeake, so even after we get across the stream, in what turn out to be not very heavy seas, we’re still racing not to have gale winds on the bow for the last 75 miles before the turn.

June 13
We lose that race, and long before we make Cape Henry we’re fighting 25 knots out of the N. As good as the Island Packets are, going to wind is not their strong suit. During the day, the wind waxes and wanes (unexpectedly) and sometimes we can do OK just motoring into it, but mostly, we have to motorsail/beat into the headwinds, making discouraging progress. At one point, when the wind was lighter, we thought we might make Cape Henry Wednesday evening, before the heaviest winds, but with the ineffective beating, that is not to be.

June 14
We don’t make Cape Henry until about midnight. Good news is that the predicted 35 knots don’t materialize, but the 25 knots that we do get continues out of the north, so we don’t get any respite from the headwinds until we make the corner. After that, it’s a nice close reach to and over the bay bridge tunnel, that we make in good time, despite the outgoing tide. When we go to furl our recalcitrant mainsail just outside Little Creek, it again lets go, and comes flying out, and we have to drop it to the deck again, sloppily secured, for the trip in the creek to tie up at Vinings landing about 0200. Thank goodness no one is awake to see what a mess we look like.

I had called US Customs about the time we got to the tunnel, and was able to give them enough information to be cleared in over the phone – a great relief, as virtually our whole student crew would be gone before dawn, being on tight schedules for their homebound flights. So you can imagine David’s and my dismay when at breakfast the next morning, Customs calls to say they’ll be over soon, and that no one is to leave the boat. Fortunately, I had logged the name of the supervisor who had cleared us in the night before, so when the officers arrive at the boat, meeting only David and myself, we were not in trouble. They did, however, want us to be sure to understand that the understanding of the night before was a misunderstanding, and that we can always expect to have everyone stay on the boat until we are personally visited. Got it. 

Captain Jack Morton
June 15, 2012

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