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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Bermuda to Norfolk
Date June 6, 2013
Students: Don Bentley, Richard Eaton, Mike Gaffney, Regina Krieger
First Mate: David Gifford
Captain Jack Morton

June 5- A boat driver friend once said of the beginning of any trip, “first you fix a boat.”  This was no different, and over the break between the outbound and return trips, we attacked and successfully addressed problems we had encountered with smelly water, and an autopilot on vacation.   David successfully beat the autopilot into submission, but the gains in the water were temporary.   Got it smelling OK for the next week, but it will need a filter not available in Bermuda to achieve a more lasting solution. 

Students arrived on the afternoon of the 5th, and as all were there by 5 PM, and weather was fair, and time short, we seized the opportunity to set, reef, and strike all plain sail before going to the introductory dinner,  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 professional educators Richard and Don, entrepreneur  Michael, and systems manager /sailing instructor Regina.    Don and Regina each have their CG licenses – I’ll have to be on my toes.   Fortunately, I’m backed up by David Gifford, a mate with many of these round trips under his belt,  including more than a few with me.   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 watch procedures, weather, and the thinking that leads to choosing a particular cruise plan based on weather.    By late afternoon, after lively discussion of how and what we should eat,  David leads the expedition across town to provision the boat.

June 7-   Next day we get to revisit the water issue, as we’ve somehow lost all our fresh water overnight.   Never happened before, and it gives me cause to nurture my anxieties for the rest of the cruise.   We top off, again, and review the criticality of water conservations strategies and disciplines.   We review more of the Blue book, storm sails and sea anchors, and the newly assigned engineer, navigator/steward, bosun and safety officer begin their final checklists before going to sea.   No, the steward doesn’t do all the cooking – everyone gets a hand in that – but with David, will oversee the buying and stowing of provisions.   We consider leaving at the end of day, and decide to go for it, based on forecast weather, which lets us take the scenic tour of the south side of the island, giving a much better view and perspective of Bermuda than we get if we take the more customary northern route, that skirts the reefs ten miles to the north. 

June 8-  The day dawns fair, with the south wind that will prevail for the first half of our trip.    The wind lays down a bit, and we take a bit of engine assist.   As night comes on, we are rolling heavily in the light wind.   I write the night orders, detailing the course to steer, and the conditions for which I want to be awakened after I finish my watch.  

June 9-   With the South wind predicted for the next couple of days, followed by SW moving to WSW in the later half of the trip, we are laying a course pretty much due west, well below what the ordinary course for the Chesapeake would be.   Pleasant sailing, with the prospect of less pleasant as we get closer to the Gulf Stream, and America.   The sky is as clear and cloud free as I have ever seen it, with 0 % cloud cover being recorded for most of the day. 

June 10-  One of the discoveries we’ve made on this leg is that unlike the trip out, we seem to be having to charge batteries much more than before.    Hmmmmm.   Will be watching that carefully.   An advantage of the calm weather is that the crew – most 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 planets & the moon.   Arts of the ancient mariner.   One of the ways we often add to the weather information Tom sends us is by listening to Herb, a public spirited citizen (of Canada) who offers cruising sailors advice on routing based on his extensive weather resources.   Not happening today – SSB radio bringing in way too much interference.

June 11-   As we approach the Gulf Stream, we are motorsailing, not because there is no wind, but because we are in an almighty hurry to get across it in the predicted 20 knot winds – which will be rough enough, thank you very much – rather than the 30 plus predicted for not that long after.    Ah well.   Best laid plans, and all that.   We have raced to the Gulf Stream to get not the 20 knots predicted, but the 30 – 35 not expected for a couple of days yet.   It makes for a very exciting crossing of the GS, with seas to 10’ – 12’, and wind gusts to 40 knots. in the occasional squall.   Sails well reefed down.  It’s not as exciting as it would have been had the wind been out of the north, in opposition to the current, but seems to meet everyone’s need for adrenaline quite well enough.   As it is, the wind shifts SW to WSW, meaning that for a time, between the current and wind, although we’re able to point the boat at about 330 true, the actual track of the boat is about due north, and it looks like we’ll never escape the stream.   

June 12-  Hardening up the sails more, and a little motorsailing in the wind that is finally diminishing, and we are finally able to keep a track of about 345 true, which is not quite where we want to be headed, but will eventually get us out of the stream, closing the gap between heading and track, and letting us take a tack for Cape Henry and the Chesapeake.   Seas lying down nicely, and the sailing becomes very pleasant again.    So what if we had delayed in our rush to the GS?    Well, instead of being bashed about the way we were, we’d have been stuck trying to beat our way across it, and suffering another kind of frustration altogether, with the lighter but more westerly wind.   On the whole, we’re pleased with the cruise strategy we chose, and are able to hold course for Cape Henry in the calmer coastal waters.   After we round Cape Henry, wind is light, and right on the nose, so we  roll up the sails to motor the last few miles to Little Creek and Vinings Landing, arriving around 1900, and clearing Customs 45 minutes after that.   Don had cooked the ribs planned for dinner as an appetizer, and we trooped off to Captain Groovy’s for our second dinner.   

June 13-  Epilogue & anticlimax.    By dawn the 2nd weather system we raced to avoid strikes, hard, but bites us in a different way.  Several of our travel plans home are affected as flights all along the eastern seaboard are cancelled or delayed.     As all square dancers know, what you gain in the roundabouts you lose in the swings.

Captain Jack Morton
June 13, 2013 

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