2014 DELMARVA Reports
The following report by Richard Cordovano:
As you all know, Monica and I have a
plan. After another five to ten years of training and saving, we want to embark
on a voyage in a sailboat. We do not necessarily want to sail around the world,
although we are not ruling that out. We do want to sail around IN the world - to
see more of it in a small boat moving at a pace that will most of the time be
comparable to that of a runner jogging along some trail. I pine for the
Mediterranean; Monica is entranced by the tropical promises of the Caribbean.
One of the installments of the training
plan for this year was a circumnavigation of the Delmarva Peninsula with the
Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship. “Delmarva” is an amalgamation of
parts of the names of the states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It is
bounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the North Atlantic to the east,
with the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal cutting through its narrow, northern
attachment to the mainland. The course took place from October 3 to October 11.
As we boarded a Baltimore-bound plane
in Boston, I was hoping that we would learn a lot and make a better chart of
what we do and do not know about cruising in a sailboat.
I was also hoping for adventure.
I was not disappointed.
We arrived in Baltimore Friday
afternoon and caught a ride to Rock Hall, Maryland with a native of Maryland’s
Eastern Shore. Jenny manages a marina in Rock Hall and runs a shuttle service
with her SUV on the side. Jenny deposited us at the almost impossibly spacious
and luxurious Osprey Point Marina. The wide, floating piers seemed almost
endless, with their forest of identical white-capped pilings.
We piled our sea bags into a cart and found our way to Celestial, a 44
foot Island Packet sailboat with a cutter rig. We were the first to arrive.
Captain Hoffman – Jochen – greeted us.
One by one, our shipmates came aboard:
Patrick, a physician; Bill, a surgeon; and Dan, a mechanical engineer. A boat
full of professionals! With me a software engineer, Monica a therapeutic social
worker, and Jochen a One Hundred Ton Master with an Oceans endorsement, we
appeared to have all of the bases covered. Everyone stowed their gear and we
started to get to know Celestial. Celestial! What a lovely name, evoking the
heavens and navigation by sextant.
We soon learned that this voyage was to
be Celestial’s last for the Maryland School. After something on the order of
70,000 miles of sailing, she was going on the market upon our return. This fact
lent an air of romance to the whole enterprise. Thinking of Celestial as
“she”, as is the custom, this heavenly lady was having her last fling with
us before an uncertain future. We spent the rest of Friday and all of Saturday
with her in that alternately awkward and exciting beginning phase of a
relationship, when it’s all about discoveries and disclosures.
Sunday morning we set out.
Jochen used his “local knowledge” to guide us over the bar at the
entrance of Swan Creek and out into the Chesapeake. We headed north with
favorable winds. We didn’t know it then, but those winds would be the only
favorable winds we would enjoy on our voyage! By the time we headed out into the
Delaware River, the wind would perversely shift with every change of our course
to be “dead on our nose.” Seemingly endless hours of “beating” and
pounding into waves awaited us. But we didn’t know that yet. We enjoyed flying
up the bay, savoring the primal joy of moving with the wind. The more pragmatic
aspects of passage making - rhumb lines, weather, tides, shipping lanes, and a
welter of other logistical details – were temporarily reduced to background
By nightfall we had sailed up the Bay
and most of the way through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. We arrived at the
mouth of the creek on which Summit North Marina squats at the low point of an
exceptionally low tide, and it was touch and go to maneuver into the creek. But
at least the bars were mud. Sailing in this part of the world seems a bit more
forgiving than usual to this New Englander. Yes, I guess I can call myself a New
Englander now, once again a transplant. In any case, I am more accustomed to
most obstacles to navigation being rocks, harsh and unforgiving and ready to
tear away at keels and hulls like snaggle-toothed monsters lurking just below
the water’s surface.
Monday morning we were up early and out
in the Canal again at first light. Tendrils of fog lay on the still water like
witchy smoke, and it was indeed a bewitching start to a day that would see us
running down the Delaware River with a swift current, bound for the ocean. The
morning light was lovely, the reedy and rocky shoreline of the canal enchanting,
and we passed the time naming the bridges as we headed east.
By Monday evening, the idyll was over.
Night fell on us in the Delaware Bay with us battling to strike out into the
Atlantic between the twin points of Cape May, New Jersey, and Cape Henlopen,
Delaware. The wind was occasionally blowing a bit less than 20 knots, but mostly
it was 25-30 knots, sometimes a bit more, and on the nose (of course).
For the next few days the significant
wave height (“mean wave height of the highest one third of the waves”) would
generally be something like 3-5 feet, but Monica stood a watch with the Captain
with 6-8 foot waves and winds above 30 knots the entire four hours. In these
boisterous conditions, a shipmate was laid low by the full force of seasickness,
experiencing the same sort of misery Monica had suffered through on the previous
year’s training passage from Boston to Nantucket outside of Cape Cod. Monica
fortunately had built herself a sturdy barricade of Dramamine for this trip, and
only a little bit of mal de mer seeped through her defenses.
I enthusiastically filled in for my
afflicted shipmate, but by the time I went below after this second watch, I was
feeling poorly myself. At first I thought that I was experiencing my first ever
taste of seasickness, but I thankfully I had a different set of symptoms. I have
been told that seasickness can make you feel like you are dying, and I believe
it. Hopefully, I’ll never have the chance to confirm it.
It turned out I was just dehydrated and
sleep-deprived. I had got little rest between the two watches, as I found it
difficult to sleep with Celestial bucking like a crazed horse, and in all the
excitement I had neglected to drink much at all. With some help from a dose of
Jochen’s magical Emergen-C powder and a copious intake of fluids, my first
complaint was eliminated. Then, with a meal in my belly, and the twin sleep aids
of exhaustion and adaptation, I was able to sleep despite the motion.
I awoke for my next watch much
refreshed. I’ve read that the hard part about shorter passages of continuous
sailing is that you don’t get time to adapt to the rhythm of watches the way
you do on longer passages, but I can say that it was getting easier as we went.
We traveled on and on. A second day and
night slipped by; we were moving much slower than planned, motor-sailing in
definitely Force 5, probably Force 6, and perhaps a touch of Force 7 conditions.
Now, I won’t presume to call myself an expert at pinpointing wind and sea
state using the Beaufort scale, and I know that it’s easy to exaggerate what
you encounter at sea, so you will have to temper my report with that caveat.
However, I can say that before this trip, I would have considered the winds and
waves we experienced to be a bit intimidating. Using the definition of “heavy
weather” given by John Rousmaniere in his celebrated “Annapolis Book of
Seamanship”, I probably would say we were in “heavy weather.” John says
“heavy weather” is when you, personally, feel like you could lose control of
your boat. Nonetheless, by the time we made landfall at Cape Charles Harbor,
Virginia, at the gateway from the ocean back into the Chesapeake, conditions
that started off adventurous were feeling rather ordinary!
Our repose at Cape Charles was to be
brief. We ate dinner ashore and went to bed with the setting sun, only to arise
at 11 PM for what we anticipated as a long passage to Solomons Island, bypassing
the usual stop in Annapolis due to the boat show. The wind had of course worked
its way around the compass to blow from the north instead of the south, so our
hopes for a spinnaker run up the Bay dissolved into more motor sailing. That
night and the next day were chock full of encounters with fishing boats and
commercial ships, but we rode some tidal currents and made the marina at
Solomons Island before nightfall of the next day. What a luxury to sleep a full
night with Celestial lying rock solid and still!
Our next day was a shorter hop further
up the Bay to Gibson Island. Of course, we sailed into the wind, as usual. We
slipped into the anchorage near sunset and learned how to set two anchors
instead of only one.
Although the legs of the journey up the
Bay were less rambunctious than the ocean leg, I should mention that they were
not devoid of adventure. Shortly after we left Cape Charles, we were “pulled
over” by a USCG guard vessel. It turns out that there had been a distress call
via cell phone with incomplete information. We listened in as the “coasties”
contacted numerous boats and ships and a search for a possible man overboard was
conducted and eventually broken off - sobering stuff.
Later that night there was radio traffic about a car in the water and a
car hanging off a distant bridge! And as we neared the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we
picked up a distress call on the VHF radio. This time the situation was
developing quite near to us. In accord with the code of the sea, we made our way
to the source of the call, ready to render aid. A sailboat with a crew of two,
perhaps headed for the boat show, had tried to sail under the bridge outside of
the designated channels, and had got its mast caught in the lowest girders of
the bridge in a rising tide. We could not approach too closely with our even
taller mast, but the Maryland Natural Resources Police showed up to help, while
we served as eyes and ears for the USCG until the situation was well in hand.
The last day of the trip brought mist
and rain, as we made our final passage across the bay back to Osprey Point
marina. And yes, the wind shifted to blow right on Celestial’s nose! How could
it be any other way? Yet by 1 PM Celestial was not only snug in her slip, she
was also cleaned up by her student crew, and ready for more extensive sprucing
up for prospective buyers. Her last Maryland School of Sailing adventure was
over, and she seemed to whisper to me of her anxieties about new owners and her
hopes for more seafaring in the years ahead. I wished her the best. One by one,
our shipmates slipped away and we left Jochen with Celestial, heading straight
for his bunk, I suspect, as we rolled away our cart of sea bags to wait for
Jenny in the drizzle.
What did we learn?
Well, we spent more days on the ocean
than we ever have before, with the clockwork revolution of the watches and the
sort of winds and waves that inspire small craft advisories on our home waters
of Buzzards Bay.
I left Celestial with a list of
improvements for our sailboat. For example, it’s past time for us to get a
hand-held VHF radio and we need cockpit jack lines in addition to deck jack
lines, to mention just a few things.
Being at sea instead of merely dreaming
about it pumped new motivation into Monica and me to get into the kind of shape
we were in during our mountaineering days. The week since the trip has seen
Monica and I taking long walks again (six miles yesterday), lifting weights
again, and resuming the struggle to master our food addictions and my dietary
deficiencies. Got to keep that going!
We learned a process and the tools for
making more detailed passage plans, and on Celestial we gained some experience
with use of a chart plotter and radar; we have these instruments on our boat,
but the radar was a mystery and the chart plotter was only an aid to piloting by
We traveled with the big ships at
night, an experience qualitatively different to both the busyness of Boston
Harbor and our occasional shipping encounters in Buzzards Bay during daylight
hours. Automatic Identification System (AIS) equipment is now a must-have in my
And of course there were myriad other
things we learned about keeping a sailboat moving safely for more than 400 miles
of sailing – from the “best” way to tie a trucker’s hitch, to how to
safely enter a channel from an anchorage or marina, to the importance of
strapping in to work in the galley, to how to look after your shipmates.
Mistakes were made, and the good
Captain supplied the necessary corrections to his latest crop of apprentice
And so our 2014 sailing season winds
down. It was a great season! We bought our 1979 Shannon 38 Victory in May, and
although we spent as much time replacing her steering system as we did sailing
her, the sailing was very, very good. It was exciting to work out how to sail a
“cutter-rigged” ketch such as Victory instead of a sloop, and next year we
will break out the mizzen staysail when sailing off the wind.
But for now it’s time for another
learning experience – tucking Victory into bed for the winter, and all that
entails. However, we may in fact, have one last passage to make next weekend –
we are contemplating a fifty mile or so run up to Tiverton, Rhode Island in
Narragansett Bay to have her toe rails pulled and re-bedded this winter by a
yard staffed by former Shannon employees.
Of course, sailing Victory was not the
only highlight of 2014. I got a taste of frostbite racing on J/24s in the early
months of the year, and I experienced the joy of being first over the line in a
Soling race, with a respectable overall finish of 8th of 19 boats for the
season. That seems pretty good for
a first-time skipper, a novice sailor in the middle, and a novice racer (me) as
But most of all, by circumnavigating
the Delmarva, we got another tantalizing taste of the kind of adventures we are
dreaming of as our careers wind down and we look to starting a new chapter on
the oceans of the world, sometime in the years ahead.