2018 Chesapeake Bay Cruise

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ASA104 Intermediate Coastal Cruising Course


 June 20-25, 2018




John Gossert, CJ Moutinho, Tomas Potz, Charles Zapf


Steve Runals

 Jun 19, Tuesday: Arrival: 
Captain Tom Tursi and his ocean crews left S/V Navigator in good overall condition from its 1500 nm round trip to Bermuda.  My crew starts to arrive Tuesday afternoon with all aboard by 1600.  Charlie is a veteran of this cruise having made the trip up the Bay with me last year. After all have stowed their gear, we finalize our cruising plan and develop a supporting meal plan before heading off for dinner at Longboards.  Dinner provides a good opportunity to get to know each other and identify individual goals for the class. After dinner, Charlie, Tom and the Captain head to the store for provisions while CJ and John return to the boat to locate the federally required safety equipment onboard.  Once provisions are stowed, we review safety procedures followed by a below deck orientation before heading to bed. Today has been extremely hot. The forecast is calling for T-Storms tonight with a frontal pass, cooler weather tomorrow but very light wind.  Our plan is to prepare for an early afternoon departure but if the wind does not develop, we may delay our departure and do more in depth preparations. 

Day 1 – Jun 20: Review of Ships Systems, Rules of Road, Boat Handling, Cape Charles: 
After breakfast we get an update on the weather – light winds are forecast but not as light as earlier forecast.  We review federal boating safety requirements, “rules of the road”, buoy systems and coastal navigation procedures and techniques.  Then it’s on deck for an orientation of deck hardware.  While on deck we are treated to a rare sight – a Navy special ops vessel stops by doing a little docking practice right in front of our boat. Once our orientation is complete, we break into our crew assignments.  The goal is to be ready to depart for Cape Charles by 1300 hours. CJ, navigator for the day, lays out our course out to the harbor, across the Thimble Shoals shipping channel and to the entrance of Cape Charles Harbor.  Tom and John give the boat a thorough inspection, checking engine systems, rigging, topping off water and rigging a preventer and assisting CJ by working out the tidal current we should expect for the day.  Charlie, Student Skipper for the day, monitors all progress and we are ready to depart following lunch.   

Before departing we get a weather update – light winds but enough to “make a go of it” - and discuss our undocking plan. Charlie gets us past the security at the entrance to the Little Creek Amphibious Base and into the Chesapeake Bay.  The trip across the Bay provides an opportunity to become familiar with the boat and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) allowing us to identify nearby boats by name, course and distance.   Once across Thimble Shoals Channel, the wind begins to build from the north and we have a fine sail that allows all to get a feel for the helm and deploy all sails.  At one point we are making over 8 knots in the smooth water helped along with a flood current.  Along the way CJ takes several two-bearing fixes and adjusts our course to account for the wind and favorable current. Making this great sail even better is the sighting several large pods of dolphins. Late afternoon finds us sailing through what is now the Hampton Roads Anchorage for ocean going ships and a sky filled with the threat of T-Storms.  

Short of the Old Plantation Flats Light at the entrance to Cape Charles Harbor, we reluctantly drop our sails and follow the narrow channel using its two ranges or transits to guide us to our slip.  Using ranges is a new experience for the crew; they see their value as we navigate the narrow channel. Secured by 1700 hours, the crew enjoys a well-earned dinner ashore.  Following dinner Tomas, our navigator for tomorrow, lays out our course to Mill Creek off the Great Wicomico River.  After this long day we turn in for a well-earned rest.  Cape Charles was once the hub of a busy ferry service to and from Norfolk with both passenger and rail traffic from 1933 thru the early 1950’s.  Now it’s more “laid back” but a growing center for recreational and commercial boating. Distance today: 23 nm; Average Speed 5.33 knots   

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Day 2 – Thursday: Up and Away …. Across the Bay: 
Depart Cape Charles at 0850 hours after daily pre-operational checks and refueling.   CJ, Student Skipper for the day, takes us smoothly out the channel and into the Bay where we work our way around anchored ships.  The wind is light and after giving our sails a chance, we motor sail north untill just short of the entrance to the Great Wicomico River.   Along the way the crew has a chance to practice rigging the whisker pole.  As we near the entrance to the Great Wicomico River with its fish traps and crab pots, the wind picks up and we have the opportunity to not only sail but to put a reef in the mainsail.  

We practice tacking and refine our procedures for sail trim.  It’s 45 minutes of excellent sailing but it’s getting late so Tom guides us through the narrow entrance to Mill Creek bordered by crab pots, fish traps and shallows into a beautiful, secure anchorage.  We have the anchorage to ourselves untill just before dark when a catamaran joins us.  Dinner onboard provides an opportunity to learn more about the skills necessary for living aboard.  CJ, Charlie and Tom take the opportunity for a short swim as we see no sea nettles or jelly fish.  Over we dinner review the day’s events.  John, our navigator to for tomorrow, lays out our course which will require us to round Smith Pint Light and cross the Potomac River.  Tidal currents will have an impact on the trip so we spend time reviewing the use of the NOAA tidal current tables. The forecast calls for strong winds and rain but we have a quiet night under a cloudy sky and some light rain.    Distance today: 42 nm, Average Speed: 5.15 knots.  

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Day 3 – Friday: North …. always North: 
Today’s destination is Spring Cove Marina at Solomon’s Island off the Patuxent River.  This will require crossing the Potomac River, which in counter winds and current can be quite exciting.  Yesterday we enjoyed a long motor sail but had a great sail at the end of the day.  Today the forecast calls for strong, gusty winds of 15-20 knots with gusts to 30 knots and rain.  Once clear of the protection of Mill Creek we find the forecast to be accurate – strong, gusty winds from the East.  It takes us some motor sailing into these winds to clear the entrance to the Great Wicomico River and numerous crab pot floats and fish traps before we are able to turn north and sail toward the Smith Point Light.  

We put in a single reef, shortly followed by a second reef and play the traveler.  All see the advantage of matching sail combinations to match the wind and seas.  The staysail shows its value as it helps balance the helm as we sail north in the building seas.  We have rigged the preventer, stabilizing the main sail, allowing us to safely sail on a broad reach in winds gusting to over 30 knots and seas 4-5 feet.  It’s great sailing, the boat handles the wind and seas well but now the rain and fog add to the challenge.  This calls for careful watch keeping that includes monitoring the AIS and radar.  We coordinate passage info with a southbound boat and carefully track the passage of several northbound container ships.  

The mal-de-mar affects some on the crew, making the passage an even greater challenge.  It’s a fast passage in these winds and seas.  By early afternoon we have crossed the Potomac River, rounded Ceder Poit and into Patuxent River.  The rain has finally stopped but the winds remain high as John gets us safely into Back Creek at Solomon’s Island.  By 1630 we are secured at the Spring Cove Marina, pumped out and ready to stretch our legs.  The afternoon and evening are spent taking showers, studying, planning our tip north and dinner ashore. It’s a nice break from the boat, providing an excellent opportunity to review the events of the day, discuss future cruising plans and drying out the boat and ourselves. Distance today: 38 nm; max speed: 12.8 knots; Average Speed: 6.50 knots.      

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Day 4 Saturday: North, …always North:  
Today our destination is an anchorage in Rhode River off the West River just south of Annapolis.  The forecast calls for light southerly winds 5-10 knots but clear skies. Charles has laid out a course that takes us clear of the crab pots and fish traps at the mouth of the Patuxent River and the gas offload station by Cove Point.  Once into the Bay, we find very light wind and clear skies, a significant change from yesterday.  It’s a long slow trip up the Bay but we practice knots, take running fixes and review ASA104 topics while monitoring the passage of ocean going ships coming up the Bay. 

We get a call from one of the other school boats headed up the East River toward St Michaels. As we approach the entrance to the West River we take time to execute MOB drills under power.  After securing our tipsy dummy, we carefully make our way past crab pot floats and trot lines and enter the Rhode River. The anchorage is a little crowed but provides a good exercise in choosing a spot to drop the hook.  Despite the forecast for T-Storms, it’s a very quiet spot for the night.  Before dinner, CJ, Charlie and John all go for swim.  Dinner is followed by study for the ASA104 test.  Based on the weather forecast for more light wind, we discuss the option of John and CJ taking the 104 test here before heading up to Annapolis.  Charlie and Tomas have already taken the test.  WE spend a quiet night in this secure spot.  Distance today: 43 nm; Average Speed: 5.5 knots.  

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Day 5:  A Mooring and a little exploring: 
The plan for today is to take the ASA test, sail up to Annapolis, pick up a mooring and have lunch before heading in for showers and a walk about town.  Tomas, CJ and John have never been to the harbor area in Annapolis so the opportunity to do a little explore and stretch our legs is welcomed. The clearing skies bring out a large number of boats, power and sail.  The light winds and powerboat wakes don’t provide much opportunity to sail but we try for a short time.  Annapolis is living up to its reputation as a boating capital.  We work our way through this ever-moving sea of boats, crab pots and fish floats, finally motoring into the mooring field.  The bow crew does a good job of getting us secured after a second try in a relatively empty mooring field. 

After cleaning up the boat and lunch, we head into town for showers, a little exploring and an early dinner at Pussers.  Charlie has to leave us here so we bid farewell to a good shipmate.  CJ takes the opportunity to fulfill a long time desire and visits the Naval Academy. Dinner on an outside table provides an excellent view of the steady stream of boats moving in and out of Ego Alley and in the harbor.  We head back to the boat for an early night.  After consulting the NOAA tidal current tables, Tomas determines we should have the current with us for only a short portion of the trip so we plan to depart by 0530 hrs. Distance today: 12 nm; Average Speed: 4.5 knots.   

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Day 6: Another Great Sail, Clean Up and Prepare for Departure and New Adventures:
We are up, pre-operational checks complete and moving as the sun clears the horizon. It’s a welcome change to see a sunrise and to have cool enough temperatures that almost everyone is wearing a long sleeve shirt or light jacket. As we motor-sail north toward the bridge, the wind begins to build from the North.  We contact a tug on VHF13 to clarify passage info; he is headed up toward the C&D Canal so will be following us closely for the first mile once we both pass north of the Bay Bridge.  Once across the channel, we have a great sail toward Love Point.  It’s nice to have the cooler temperatures and a good breeze as we head home.  

Along the way we practice reefing and unreefing as the wind picks up and drops.  This “take –and – shake” sailing (take it in, shake it out) is important to keep the boat “in-step” with the wind.  Around Love Point we deploy the preventer and have a fast broad reach up the Chester River, gybing several times to reinforce the timing and procedures to safely execute what can be a dangerous maneuver.   Once passed the entrance to Kent Narrows and around the horseshoe bend in the River, we tack our way toward Lankford Bay and home.  S/V Navigator is returning to her home port for the first time since early May with 1500 blue water miles under her keel and our 204 miles covered during this trip up the Bay.  We complete our final tasks of pumping out the holding tank and refueling before returning Navigator to her slip.   

We clean the boat, pack our gear and do a final course review. All agree it has been a great trip with lots of new skills learned and all expectations met or exceeded.  Most importantly, it wetted the crew’s appetites for more.  Well done to a great crew! Distance today: 28 nm; Average Speed 5 knots.  

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Capt Steve Runals
Aboard S/V Navigator
27 June, 2018

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