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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date July 22-29, 2017
Students: Ray Camp, John Leighton, Janet Steinberg, Jeff Stork
First Mate Tom Tursi
Captain H Jochen Hoffmann

Saturday, July 21, 2017: Pre-departure Preparations
I arrive early on Friday, July 21 to meet Captain Tom Tursi of the Maryland School to check out electronics installed on S/V NAVIGATOR and prepare the ship for our voyage. We go over the meal plan, and Tom agrees to do all the shopping to save valuable training time. My highly experienced student crew arrives during the afternoon of July 21. We start directly with a boat check below followed by introductions and cruise preview over dinner at Bay Wolf restaurant. In my welcome letter to the crew outlining pre-departure assignments and links to navigational resources, I had specified a three-tier focus for our cruise: Departure and its many evolutions, Ocean Transit, and Landfall Executions. To this end, students had looked up charted hazards, tides at key points, bridge elevations and their idiosyncratic navigation lights, harbors-of-refuge, plus USCG Light List (LL) entries for crucial departure and landfall waypoints, etc. In this report, I’ll focus on lessons learned during each of the three phases of our training cruise. 

Days 1, 2, 3 – DEPARTURE EVOLUTIONS:  Lankford Creek to Swan Creek Thence to Summit North Marina and Delaware River
The concept of “departure” goes—at the ASA-106 level-- far beyond simply casting off. While still dockside, we practice winch and windlass handling, proper mainsail reefing, whisker pole deployment, course plotting in True and Magnetic, etc. In short, we are using this training time to acquire skill sets prudent mariners need to master to be ready to face open water.

Once underway and on our first leg (from Lankford Bay down the Chester River and into Swan Creek), we practice boat handling, compass steering and traditional navigation. The captain and crew, using Chart 12272, concentrate on nav plan development and procedures while captain Tom shows the crew how to use our complex but user-friendly electronics. In Swan Creek, we find the anchorage already crowded and need to search before finally dropping the hook and can enjoy a simple dinner in the cockpit. 

On our way to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal the next day, and with charts 12278 and 12274 as our guide, we first practice crew overboard (COB) procedures under sail. Next, we establish rotating watch routines needed on a long voyage (navigator, lookout, helm, deck hand/engineer). Knowing these specific duties will make it easier for crew when they take on the role of “Skipper-of-the-Day” from noon to noon later. Commercial traffic nearby prompts us to review the “Navigation Rules” and assess tides and currents. Ray who is taking a DELMARVA 106 as a refresher provides helpful perspectives. Entering the Canal and then Summit North Marina provides another challenging experience. The heavens had opened up all around us and kept the fuel dock closed for safety reasons. Dinner and shower ashore restored us. 

Our departure down the Delaware River (Charts 12312, 12311) was delayed because we waited for the fuel dock to open. Yet, this leg is providing the fullest training experiences so far. The captain establishes the navigational watches as follows: 

     1200-1600/Midnight-0400: Jeff and John (Captain, then First Mate on call at night)

     1600-2000/0400-0800: Tom and Ray

     2000-Midnight/0800-1200: Janet and Jochen

While the Captain introduces the watches to Tabular Log, Boat Check, and other watch routines, First Mate introduces the fully integrated nav plan which utilizes charts, Light List (here, Vol. II), and the Multifunctional Display (MFD) plus waypoint (wp) list. 

As one more significant point, current set and drift, our careful, ATON-assisted exit from the Canal in a strong current was contrasted by magnified steering efforts required in cross currents as the Captain demonstrated a “Harbor-of-Refuge” landfall through the Reedy Is dike. Similar attempts at night would require even greater efforts or be avoided 

Lessons learned include: 1) To steer a straight course in a variety of conditions, “steer small” i.e., straight arms high on the wheel to minimize exaggerated wheel (and boat!) motion. 2) Leave time margins: a) when arriving late in a crowded anchorage, or b) when entering a marina and expect service. 3) Currents can spell disaster for the unwary mariner. 4) Use “all available means” to safely navigate. 

Days 4, 5 – Ocean Transit: Delaware Bay Thence Offshore to Cape Charles Harbor, Chesapeake Bay Entrance
Late on day 3, a full jib and reefed main sail set, we had left the Delaware River and its lighted ranges. The Cape May to Cape Henlopen Ferry traffic and open ocean ahead calls for a review of night-time sailing conditions and procedures. One of many advantages of following an established, fully integrated navigation plan down the River has been greater crew confidence. By looking at the cross-track error of a given waypoint ahead, the crew knew whether they were either too close to the shipping channel to port or shoals and fish traps to starboard. How would it be on the ocean? 

Our navigators had picked as departure point from the Delaware Bay the NW perimeter buoy G “5” Fl G 2.5 s Gong of the charted Pilot Area which lies just E of Hen and Chickens Shoal. While gazing at a hazy sunset and cumulonimbus clouds building all around, we have a simple meal in the cockpit and discuss tonight’s weather report: SSW 10-15 (i.e., almost on the nose), seas 2-3 feet, a cold front and Low center just to our north. Since the front is to pass through, we keep one reef in the main sail (preventer in place), furl the genoa, and set the much smaller staysail. With the wind freshening to 15 knots and now sailing the wind angle, the best we can do is plotting a course of 148ºT that will eventually take us 30 miles offshore. No helpful cross-track error usage here. 

At 0230 the midnight watch (Jeff, John) receive a VHF call from a nearby naval vessel alerting us that they had just clocked a sudden gust at 40 knots. The front would reach us next. Within minutes, Jeff, wrestling the wheel, correctly called for backup. By the time the Captain arrived to assist, the wind had backed, forced an accidental jibe against the preventer, and we were heading almost north. Jeff, with engine throttle assist from the Captain, gets the boat back on course. The wind would back us two more times, sending driving rain before valiant Jeff can breathe easy. A look later at our weather display showed that the Low center with its counter clockwise movement had passed overhead and accounting for the erratic wind directions. 

By 1030, the wind having clocked west, we are and 30 nm E of Assawoman Inlet (Chart 12200) we can finally tack and set course for R “2N” Fl R 4s, our North Channel landfall buoy at 37º19.150’N; 075º54.22W. As the skies clear, John who had already taken the ASA107 Celestial Navigation class, breaks out his sextant and starts taking sun shots. He’s having fun. 

At nightfall, sails down, our target buoy marking the entrance to the North Channel through Fishermans Island Bridge (shown on Chart 12221 as CHESAPEAKE BAY BRIDGE TUNNEL TRESLE D) is in sight. Tom and John had broken out the Light List and had plotted a precise course up the marked channel. But buoy R N “8” along our way is nowhere to be seen. But the critical turning buoy R N “12” does come in sight. We discuss our vessel’s “air draft” (52’) and conclude that Navigator’s mast plus antenna could safely transit under Fishermans Island Bridge with its charted vertical clearance of 75ft. All agree, that we can pass safely. With lookouts on either side, spot lights at the ready (it’s now full dark), we line up the green center-channel lights overhead and with a 2 knot current on our tail, we are safely through. 

Two more hours bring us to the Cherrystone Channels A and B of the Cape Charles Harbor approach and the Captain – Tom expertly docking the boat – guides us to the unlit, ghostlike marina. It is past midnight. All are tired, but mighty proud about having managed a good landfall. 

Lessons Learned Include: 1) Departing for sea and making landfall should, ideally, be accomplished in daylight. 2) Severe, blinding squalls can disorient the cockpit crew, especially at night. Prepare for the squall by dousing the headsail, reefing the mainsail, and securing all hatches. Follow wind as it clocks around keeping the wind at 50 to 60 degrees apparent to prevent wind from going astern and causing a gybe. Use foredeck lights to make sails visible. 3) Use “all available means” to ensure safe transit and landfall. 

Days 6, 7, 8 – Landfall Evolutions continued: Northward on the Bay to Home Port
A favorite stop during a restful morning includes breakfast at the venerable Cape Charles Coffee House. Its décor of the early 1900s is still evoking the haberdashery it once housed. This is delightful. By 1430, the boat “ship shape and Bristol,” we top off fuel, pump out, and head N for a long overnight leg to Annapolis. While the watch schedule and rotating roles of “student skipper” resume, this crew is demonstrating how comfortable they have become with all required boat duties. A delightful quartering breeze at a steady 10-13 knots propelled us northward. The transit plan for the trip up the bay is shown below: 

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With tug-and-barge traffic all over the Bay at night, two encounters stand out. While motor-sailing on a course of 011ºpsc and at an angle toward Rappahannock Shoal Channel (Chart 12226), Janet notices lights possibly moving against the backdrop of shipping anchored in the Quarantine Anchorage W of Cape Charles Harbor (Chart 12224). There appears to be no AIS vessel in the Channel when “Car Carrier PARSIFAL’S” hails us on VHF Ch 16/13 to enquire about our intentions. We alter course immediately to the E and clear the channel well ahead of her. “PARSIFAL’S” response to our intention and maneuver: “you are fine.” 

The second encounter happened while the Captain was at the nav station and First Mate having the con, when both NAVIGATOR and a tanker approach the Bay Bridge on a converging course. First Mate makes contact with the tanker by VHF to agree on safe passage only to get the curt response “We will cross under the Bridge.” and makes the prudent decision to slow down and cross behind the tanker saving nerves of all around. 

Docking in Annapolis City Dock at 1230 left ample time for students to take their ASA-106 test (all pass with flying colors), and for First Mate - noticing reduced engine cooling water flow - to inspect and replace our engine sea water impeller. Showers ashore and a delicious Italian dinner rounds out this eventful but rewarding sail up the Bay. By contrast, the final leg back to our marina in calm winds left time for conversation and reflections. Of course, mundane close-out chores – pumping out, fueling, docking, cleaning – had to be accomplished, too. That done, we bid each other a fond farewell. 

Lessons Learned Include: 1 a) Consult AIS list on MFD, as needed, and zoom in on Chart Plotter to reveal details of narrow channel and possible AIS vessels therein; 1 b) Hail distant shipping in channel to verify safe passage, cross channel at right angle and in ample time. 2) Cross behind nearby shipping to reduce risk. 

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Well done, my friends. Your captain and captain Tom salute you – with thanks and appreciation.  Fair Winds to you, always.

 Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
July 29, 2017
Rock Hall, Maryland

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