2014 Bermuda Reports

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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Norfolk to Bermuda
Date May 26, 2014
Students: Larry Elliott, Les Holden, Jake Jacobsen and Jack McDonald
First Mate: Captain George Nordie Norwood
Captain Captain Tom Tursi


I arrived aboard CELESTIAL, our IP440 ocean sailing yacht in Norfolk, on May 18, 2014 to prepare for our forthcoming training cruise to Bermuda. George Nordie Norwood, my First Mate for the round trip cruise, arrived on May 24th and our student crew are scheduled to arrive onboard on May 25th followed by two days of pre-departure training and departure for sea on May 28th. 

CELESTIAL had just completed the 1500 mile ocean cruise directly from St Thomas after a winter season in the Virgin Islands, and so was in battle hardened condition and ready for more ocean challenges. Jochen Hoffmann, the previous Captain, reported no significant defects in her condition necessitating only a brief turnover memo to me. And as I went through the myriad of systems, equipment, lockers and lists I found this indeed to be the case: she was in fine shape requiring only routine maintenance items, inventory of supplies, some cleaning and polishing, and a review of procedures specific to this yacht. 

As a departure from our usual practice in past ocean training cruises, I decided to complete all of the food and drink provisioning myself in advance of crew arrival in order to simplify the process and to save valuable face to face time with the students, and to better allocate this time to seamanship and training exercises. To this end, I held an online conference with the crew a couple of weeks before the cruise, and, among many other topics, discussed my proposed menu and food provisioning plan for their comment. There being no negative comment at that time, I proceeded to plan the menu and shopping lists in detail. On arrival in Norfolk, I was ready to make a couple of shopping visits to the nearby Food Lion Supermarket and bring home the bacon. In summary, our underway menu was as follows: 











        Lunchmeat (ham, beef, turkey)







        Beef Stew

        Pasta & Meatballs

        Chicken Stew

        Beans & Franks

        Pasta & Beans

        Chili & Rice





        Dried Fruit

        Granola Bars


        Peanut Butter






        Filtered Water

        Fruit Juices

        Gatoraide Mix

        Milk, Fresh

        Milk, Preserved

        Soda (Coke, Dr Pepper, Gingerale)











 In addition to this advanced menu planning, Nordie and I also laid out an underway training plan focused on assigning student underway roles for Captain, Mate, Navigator and Weather Communicator. These roles would rotate daily at noon preceded by an 1100 am all-crew conference in the cockpit to review the past 24 hours and to project expected conditions for the following 24 hours. In addition to these roles, assignments were also made for completion of pre-departure check lists, storm preparation check lists, abandon ship emergency assignments, and Watchkeeping assignments which were made as follows: 

  • 0000-0400 & 1200-1600... Jacobson & Elliott
  • 0400-0800 & 1600-2000... Tursi & McDonald
  • 0800-1200 & 2000-2400.... Norwood & Holden

Sunday, May 25th
Our student crew consisting of Larry Elliott, Les Holden, Jake Jacobsen and Jack McDonald  arrived at various times during the afternoon of May 25th and stowed their sea gear in assigned lockers. Stowage space is limited on a fully crewed ocean yacht as this and our crew did very well in their packing decisions as often times crew members bring too much gear and then suffer with crowded conditions during the cruise. The result was the our crew had adequate stowage space for the gear they brought making for a better onboard experience. 

That evening we all went to the Surf Rider restaurant at the marina for a crew dinner and get to know each other chat, and we were delighted that Jack's charming wife Barbara, who drove him to Norfolk, could join us. During dinner, we discussed each crewmembers goals for the cruise, plans for the cruise, and plans for the two days of pre-departure training. Afterwards, we retired for the evening, some members having chosen to sleep ashore in a hotel and some onboard. 

Monday, May 26th
This day was dedicated to hands on training of various underway operating procedures including: winch handling techniques; mainsail, staysail and genoa furling and unfurling practice; sail reefing practice; rigging of storm trisail and boom crutch; rigging of genoa whisker pole; sea anchor rigging and deployment; abandon ship procedures and walk through; and man overboard equipment and rescue discussion. This was a full day's work and a necessity to ensure trouble free and smooth operations when underway where things can go very badly very quickly at sea if careless actions occur. We again all went to dinner at the Surf Rider where we reviewed the day's activities and plans for tomorrow. Afterwards, back at the boat, crewmembers began work on their pre-departure check lists including:

  • Navigation preparations of logbooks, plotting sheets and Norfolk departure plans
  • Collection of weather forecast data via VHF radio, SSB radio, NAVTEX receiver, email from Bob Cook our weather adviser ashore, and internet sources since we were near-shore and able to connect
  • Engineering inspection of all machinery below decks
  • Bosun inspection of all deck equipment and rigging

Tuesday, May 27th
Work continued in earnest on all of the pre-departure check lists with Nordie and I assisting and guiding the student crew. Of course, the expected weather for departure emerged as our primary item of interest. As we examined our various weather forecasting data, it appeared favorable for a mid-morning departure tomorrow. The forecast was for east to northeast winds of 10 to 20 knots for Wednesday and Thursday and backing to north winds of 10 to 20 knots Friday and Saturday with no Low Pressure Systems or Cold Fronts during this period. So, with our preparations essentially complete, we all went for a final dinner ashore and turned in early with plans to start work tomorrow at 0700 am. 

Wednesday, May 28th
After an early breakfast and final stowage of personal gear by those who slept ashore, we continued final preparations the assigned crewmembers taking their respective roles for the departure. After completing our final check lists, calling home and checking out with the marina, we departed the slip at 0920 and the 0800-1200 watch section took over underway operations out of Little Creek and into the Chesapeake Bay. There we conducted multiple man overboard recovery maneuvers under sail and power, and at 1130 turned east toward Cape Henry and the Atlantic Ocean. We set a course parallel to Thimble Shoal Channel in the eastbound auxiliary channel as boats under 25 feet of draft are not permitted in the main channel except when crossing it at right angles. After rounding Cape Henry we'll take our departure reference on red and white buoy "CH" at the center of the controlled Pilot Area and head SE on a course parallel to the Virginia coastline past Virginia Beach where we must also avoid the Naval firing range pointing out to sea from the shoreline. In addition, the SE lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme is reserved for ship departures and we need to steer clear of it and on the westward side toward shore. 

Finally, at about 1430, we passed the yellow buoy marking the end of the Traffic Scheme and were at liberty to set our course unimpeded by these regulated areas. We set a course for an arbitrary point 10 miles east of Diamond Shoal Light located a few miles east of Cape Hatteras where we expect to enter the Gulf Stream which flows northeast at 2 to 3 knots in this area. Also, there are four large military towers standing out to sea in this area down the Virginia coast which we'll need to be alert to; they are lighted and their positions appear on the charts and in the Light List. The Gulf Stream is about 60 miles wide at this point and we're expecting to be pushed northeast about 20 miles by this flow so we'll need to compensate for this effect when we plot our courses. 

Winds today were 5 to 10 knots from southeast and backed a little to east while increasing to 15 to 20 knots after midnight, and we made 60 miles since departing Little Creek. All crew were performing well in their assigned roles, and I don't recall any serious bouts of seasickness at this time. Dinner was beef stew a la Dinty Moore of which all partook with gusto. 

Thursday, May 29th
Overnight thunderstorms that were in the distance at 2200 were overhead by 2300 and stayed with us off and on for the next six hours. Winds were out of the east at 18 to 25 knots for most of the night with 4 to 6 foot seas. We sailed under a reefed main and jib during the night. Morning brought fair skies and lighter northeast winds of 10 to 12 knots. Overnight we held a course of 170 True to make our waypoint 10 miles east of Diamond Shoal, and at 0930 am we entered the Gulf Stream. Sea water temperatures rose from 69F to over 80F as a sure sign of the Gulf Stream, and from here we changed course to 135 True and headed more directly toward our Bermuda target waypoint at the northeast corner of the NGA 26341 approach chart. 

Weather forecast this evening indicates that a Low Pressure System will develop off the Carilinas and move east to a point a few hundred miles northwest of Bermuda, and there it will stall and influence our weather and bring in lots of moisture. Dinner this evening was pasta and meatballs filling up a hungry crew. We made 132 miles today. 

Friday, May 30th
Overnight we continued on a southeast course with winds from the northwest at 15 to 20 knots. During the day, winds moderated to 10 knots from the northwest to northeast, and increased to 15 to 20 knots from the north after 1700. Under these conditions, we had sailed overnight with reefed mainsail and genoa. During the day in the lighter air we motor-sailed with and the engine idling at low speed to maintain steering control. After 1700 when the wind came, we secured the engine and sailed with full mainsail and genoa. 

Larry took his first celestial shot of the Sun today and came within 16 miles of our true position... Not bad for the first time holding a sextant. 

The dodger canvas was torn by a crewmember slipping and punching his elbow through the canvas and shredding the roof section. All hands rallied to perform a temporary repair and built a duct tape roof which served well for the remainder of the cruise to Bermuda and back to Norfolk since repairs were not feasible in Bermuda. 

Our shore based weather adviser suggested making course for a waypoint to our southeast at 3245N and 6820W in order to pickup favorable currents. This, plus the expected strong northwest winds over the next several days, suggested a southern approach to Bermuda where we would be in the lee of the islands and protected from the heavy seas developing on the north side. 

Dinner tonight was chicken stew from a can which the crew voraciously consumed. Today we made 146 miles per the distance log. 

Saturday, May 31st
Again we continued on a southeast course overnight and all day with winds from the northwest at 15 to 20 knots and gusts to 25 knots all of which CELESTIAL and our now experienced crew took in stride and handled very well with poise. 

Our crew was now becoming accustomed to living and working on a rolling, pitching boat at sea, and the sun was shining between puffy cumulus clouds, so the sextants come up on deck and sun celestial shots were practiced. First, we reviewed the adjustments needed to accurately align the sextant mirrors, then practiced methods for sighting the sun and bringing its image down to the horizon. Then, shot accuracy techniques and practice. And finally, getting a good shot, reducing the data, and plotting the line of position (LOP) on the ship's navigational plot to be used for a running fix of our position and correction of the Dead Reckoning (DR) plot. All together a rewarding of classical navigation techniques at sea. 

By 1100 with the wind on our port quarter, we deployed the whisker pole and sailed wing-on-wing on port tack with the mainsail boom on starboard and the poled out genoa on portside. Delightful sailing, which I have previously done for thousands of ocean miles on other long distance cruises. 

At 2000, we set a waypoint at the southwest corner of the Bermuda approach chart NGA 26341 necessitating a course change to the east in preparation for our south approach into Bermuda. This required that we take down the whisker pole before nightfall since we expected to be on a portside beam reach or possibly a close reach to make that waypoint. 

This evening we received a weather forecast from Bermuda NAVTEX that confirmed previous forecasts of northwest winds of 20 to 25 knots until Monday, then northwest 16 to 19 knots into Tuesday confirming our decision for a southern approach into Bermuda. 

Today we completed 140 sea miles, and our happy crew feasted on a hot dinner of beans and franks with coleslaw as a side dish. 

Sunday, June 1st
We continued on this easterly course overnight and all day in northwest winds of 15 to 20 knots resulting in a great port beam reach with full genoa and single reefed mainsail as we approached Bermuda. This day afforded another opportunity for celestial shots by our now ocean seasoned crewmembers who had learned to compensate for the boat motion and wave tops while bringing down the sun. We were also accompanied by a school of porpoises during this thrilling ride as we made 149 miles for the day. 

Tonight's dinner was vegetarian elbow pasta and garbanzo beans in tomato sauce. 

Monday, June 2nd
Winds continued overnight from the northwest at 15 to 20 knots with some gusts to 25, and by morning we were reaching east toward the south coast of Bermuda and our waypoint on the southwest corner of the NGA 26341 approach chart. At 0800 Bermuda hove into view and we proceeded along a northeast course parallel to the coastline about five miles offshore. But now, in the lee of the islands, we were protected from the large swell from the north but still had the 20 knot winds which were not reduced much by the low hills of Bermuda. 

At 0920 we contacted Bermuda Radio on VHF to report our position and request entry permission through Town Cut Channel. They took our information and asked us to call again when we reach the sea buoy "SB" east of Town Cut. At 1230 we turned N to toward the sea buoy; requested permission to enter and raised our yellow "Q" flag on the starboard spreader flag halyard and our Stars and Stripes flag pole astern. At 1350 we passed through Town Cut Channel and at 1410 docked at Customs pier. Clearing Customs was, as usual, handled very efficiently, and we switched the yellow "Q" for the Bermuda Courtesy Flag. By 1500 we were berthed alongside Hunters Warf shoehorned in between two other offshore yachts, and our crew did a masterful job of line handling to get us in there with no bumps or grinds. 

Our crew now began the task of getting back their land legs which they left in Norfolk, cleaning up our home of the past week, and making transportation arrangements for resumption of life ashore. Thank you crewmembers for a job well done! I look forward to sailing with you again. 

Log Distance: 721 NM
Elapsed Time: 123 hours = 5 days and 3 hours
Engine Hours: 64 hours
Fuel Used: 71 gallons
Water Used: 113 gallons

Captain Tom Tursi
June 3, 2014 

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