2013 Bermuda Reports

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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Norfolk to Bermuda
Date May 26, 2013
Students: Mike Christakos, Richard Conti, John Hontz, George Steinmetz
First Mate: David Gifford
Captain Jack Morton


May 25-  All crew met at Captain Groovy’s – the place to eat ashore near Vinings Landing - to discuss goals and aspirations, concerns, the general outline of the course, and to have questions answered before we go.   I particularly recommend the seafood stew, but haven’t had a bad meal there.   Oh, and yes, we have an anxious crew ready to learn, and go to sea.   A good start.

May 26- First of two days of shore seminar, where we review the blue book to be sure that what we’ve read, we all understand the same way.   And while all students – George, Mike, John and Richard - are competent sailors, they all need to know exactly how the sails are set, reefed, and struck on Celestial so no one is trying to figure that out in the middle of the night in a squall.   So we set and strike all plain sail at the dock.    Assisting with all this and more is my mate, David Gifford, who despite having sailed with me a number of times before, continues to come back for more.   We’re lucky to have his experienced guidance, counsel and willing hands to work with us.  Later half of the afternoon is taken up with our discussing food, setting a menu and shopping list, and dispatching the crew to Food Lion to provision the ship for the anticipated five or six days, and the three days emergency rations we need for safety margin. 

May 27-  Finished our review of the Blue Book, including review of emergency plans to deal with disasters – MOB, fire, collision, flooding, and abandon ship.  Students assigned roles as Engineer, Bosun, Navigator/ Steward and Safety Officer begin their predeparture checklists, I check the rig aloft, and Watch roles and times are assigned.   A critical part of predeparture is checking weather, and tide, to determine when the best time to set off is.   Tide getting out of the Chesapeake is a big deal, and we determine 0600 next day works best.

May 28- At 0610 lines are cast and we ride the outgoing tide past Cape Henry, making good time with the current, sailing a starboard tack in 15 – 18 knots SW breeze.   An auspicious beginning.   Later the wind backs a bit, and gets lighter, calling for an engine assist, but progress toward Bermuda is good.   We try for Herb,  the friendly volunteer routing service, but propagation is awful, and our SSB connection is mostly static and peculiar noises. 

May 29-   We enter the Gulf Stream around 0600.   Shortly I set the fishing gear out, and promptly get a fairly substantial fish on, who stays on for maybe as much as two minutes before breaking the line and regaining freedom.  Way I figure, that brand new lure costs about $240 per hour to fish with. Crossing the stream is otherwise uneventful – calm seas, fair weather (although cloudy in the center of the stream, which is typical) and no fish.

May 30-     At day start, just after midnight, we are sailing with a reefed main & full genoa making about 6 knots on a beam reach in fair weather.   Later the wind shifts more westerly, and diminishes, so we let out a bit of the reef, and sail on.   Full sail and banana pancakes with sausage by early morning.   Life is good.   To quote an old scoutmaster, “We’re not out here to rough it – it’s rough enough back there.”   In the afternoon we get through to Herb, who confirms what Tom has advised by email, that winds for the 2nd half of the trip will be lighter, and moving around to pretty much on the nose.   Press on.

May 31-      An early morning boat check (we’re doing them every hour, per good marine practice) reveals that the shower in the forward head is leaking – not a lot, but enough to dampen the things stored beneath it.   We take a few hours locating the parts to pull it apart and plug the dripping.   By afternoon we are motorsailing toward Bermuda (emphasis on the motor) in a virtual calm – less than 4 knots of breeze, which, as predicted, has gone against us.   Oh, and did I mention that the autopilot has gone on vacation?   So the most boring steering of the trip is all being done by hand.   (Preview – David will get the autopilot squared away during the layover in Bermuda, but that doesn’t help us now.)

June 1-     Night orders are to set the genoa, motorsailing on whichever tack carries us closer to Bermuda.   Trying to second guess which way to play an adverse headwind can make you crazy.   On the plus side, the bioluminescent organisms being stirred up by our propwash are spectacular.   Ultimately, by morning, I’ve set the course to wind up on the south side of Bermuda, to allow us to sail close to the south coast the last 15 miles or so on our way to St Georges, at the east end.   It’s a beautiful island, and a pleasure to see up close, at least compared to the 10 mile buffer that has to be allowed in approaching from the north side, to avoid the reefs.

June 2-       I set night orders to ensure that we give the reefs at the west end of the island a wide berth – we really don’t want people diving on the Celestial in years to come.   In the morning, as we round up for the trip heading northeast up the south shore, what has been a headwind is now finally sailable, and we enjoy a close reach up the coast.    Lest you think we got totally skunked in the fishing department, we catch two miserable, ugly little lizardfish crossing a deep bank around the west end.    About 15” long, they feel like pancake batter in a bag when you unhook them, and are virtually never eaten.   Better we had been skunked.   By 1400 we are secure at the Customs dock in St Georges.   We stop at Dowling’s fuel dock to top fuel and water before shifting to the bulkhead a short distance away and making plans for dinner ashore.    Life is good.

Captain Jack Morton
June 3, 2013 

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