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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date October 13-20, 2018
Students: Jose Fernandez, Sarah Grainger, Glen Hout, Peter Lawrence
Captain Frank Mummert
Mate Doug Riley

We started our 106 course in the traditional way, with all of the students - Glen, Jose, Peter and Sarah, the mate, Doug, and the Captain, Frank - eating a hearty meal at a Rock Hall restaurant and getting to know each other.  Frank had prepared a list of standing rules for the trip, including the watch rotations and team assignments, and we reviewed these as well.  After dinner, the crew returned to Navigator and settled in for the evening.  

Saturday began at dawn with breakfast and cabin stowing, followed by a discussion of how the navigation process would work.  The captain and mate explained how we would use our paper-based resources to prepare the navigational plan and then use the electronics aboard to stay on track from way point to way point.  After this, the crew went through the boat, using the 106 Procedures manual to identify the location of every cubby and hold and the contents of each.  Next, the crew came topside and we ran through the procedures for raising the main sail, putting in and shaking out a reef and flaking down the sail.  With the wind behind us at the dock, sail handling was tricky, but the crew was well up to the challenge.  The use of procedures for each step was reinforced and the crew rapidly saw the value of step-by-step operation.  After a quick lunch aboard, we returned topside and the captain led all hands through the technically complex but straight-forward process of rigging and de-rigging the whisker pole.  Since none of the students had ever seen a whisker pole in operation before, they were very impressed with its dynamics and appreciative of its risks.  Dinner that evening was a last opportunity for the crew to spend time apart for the next week and they took advantage of the time to call home, review procedures and generally get prepared, mentally and physically.

Sunday dawned warm, cloudy and windless.  The brisk southerly wind of the previous day had disappeared completely and the crew was left with only the option of "sailing the iron genoa."  After some time near the marina to get everyone a chance to get a feel for how the boat operated under power and a stop at the pump-out dock at Lankford Bay Marina, we motored out into the gray mist, running down the navigation plan we had laid out the day before.  In the lower part of the Chester River, we ran down a prescribed two mile run, then back up, to calibrate the knotmeter and distance log.  Our calculations found that the instrument was not out of calibration and we noted the same in the ship's log.  Because the captain wanted everyone to have an opportunity to act as navigator, helmsman and student skipper, we did not set our underway watches yet.  We ended the day at a mooring ball in Swan Creek Marina, coming in as the sun finally disappeared and we tied up as the light left the day.  Dinner that night was followed by asession of navigation prep by all hands, getting set up to travel the next day from Swan Creek to Summit North Marina, on the C & D Canal.

The wind had returned the next morning, bringing with it more clouds and wet weather.  The crew was happy for their foul weather gear as the boat pounded out of Swan Creek into a 20 to 25 knot wind.  Once across the Swan Creek Shoal, we turned north, rigged the whisker pole and with a full main and poled-out genoa, sailed up toward the head of the Chesapeake Bay, passing the tall ship Lynx on her way down.  The crew made much of the fact that we were sailing, while Lynx had to run on her motor, but the differences in upwind and downwind sailing, particularly on a square-rigged vessel, were an interesting discussion.  Once we turned up toward the C&D canal, we doused our sails and ran along, passing several tugs and barges as they made their way to Baltimore and points south.  Nightfall found us at Summit North Marina, where we were able to take on fuel, pump out the holding tank and take a slip for the night.  One of the things one learns on a long trip with a large crew is to always pump out when possible!  After dinner ashore, the crew completed the navigation plan for the run to Cape Charles and turned in for the night.

Morning found us underway for the Delaware River, once again having departed before the sun arose.  The wind had shifted from the South to the North during the evening and was blowing between five knots and twelve.  While this was enough to sail the boat downwind, a major frontal passage was predicted at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay for the following evening, just after sun down, so it was necessary to make at least five knots over ground in order to ensure that we were at Cape Charles before the weather degraded to the point that coming into the channel there would become difficult, especially for a tired crew after dark.  Because of this need to maintain a certain speed, we were often forced to assist our sails with a judicious application of engine power.  All through the day and into the night, after we had passed off shore and turned down towards the south, we found ourselves having to set and douse the "iron genny."  Hours of sailing would be followed by hours of motor-sailing, then, when the wind picked up, we could secure the engine and sail in blissful silence.  

The crew kept a close eye on our Velocity Made Good and we made the turn into the mouth of the Bay a little after 1500.  We passed under the Chesapeake Bay Northern Bridge span at about 1630, after giving way to a large commercial fishing vessel who seemed a little unclear on the rules of the road.  As we all know, the rules always allow for deviation if the "other guy" isn't acting appropriately, so we accepted our position and reacted accordingly.  After passing through the bridge, we sailed up toward Cape Charles and arrived at the mouth of the channel just as the sun dipped below the horizon, a sight we could actually see as the clouds and rain that had dogged us each day had finally begun to lift with the approaching front.  We entered the Harbor of Refuge with the captain calling the turns and the mate monitoring the chart plotter with a student at each location under instruction.  We entered the marina itself with the last glow of daylight fading, identified a T-head slip that we could use and locked the boat in using techniques from the 118 Docking class which three of the four student crewmembers had taken with the captain.  The practical ability to see how those techniques could be used for a safe and controlled arrival went far to reinforcing the lessons from the previous class.  The crew snugged up the boat and trooped ashore for a well-earned dinner before returning and falling asleep, almost where they stood.  

The next morning, the crew slept in, not rising until almost 0630!  Gear was stowed and the charts came out again as the crew planned their trip back up the Bay to Annapolis.  The captain and the mate took turns going into town, returning with pastries for the crew and fresh provisions for the refrigerator, respectively.  By 1100, the crew was showered, the navigation plan was formed and approved and the weather was reviewed.  Initially, the wind was predicted to be from the north, at 20 knots, before dropping through the day and backing into the southwest.  Because of the possibility of strong winds on the nose, we decided to put in the second reef in the mainsail before we left port, reasoning that we could shake out the reef if it proved to be unnecessary more easily than having to put it in at sea.  After setting the main, putting in the reef and dropping the main, we traveled over to the fuel dock to take on more fuel and pump out once again.  The mate took the control position for this trip and the captain manned the wheel.  With the wind blowing off the dock at fifteen knots, gusting occasionally to twenty, the captain once again used the techniques taught in the Docking class to reinforce the ability to handle a large boat in tight quarters under challenging wind conditions.  The crew who had taken the course previously remarked that it was like getting the "masters class" in docking, while even the Cape Charles dockhand was impressed to see what was, to him, a new technique.  After adding to one tank and draining the other, the mate took control of the boat and ran us out into the Chesapeake Bay, while the captain took the opportunity to loll around at the chart plotter, offering suggestions.  The wind rolled the boat heavily as we motored out into the channel, but after clearing the entrance buoy and setting the sails, she settled in and handled well.

Unfortunately, the wind was now right on the bow and it became necessary to tack our way across the rhumbline.  First off to one side by a nautical mile, then tacking and back the other way, we were having a great sail, but having trouble with our VMG.  Once clear of the channel and free to maneuver, the captain ran the crew through Crew Over Board drills, emphasizing and reinforcing the Maryland School's primary concept of stopping the boat as quickly as possible, keeping the COB in sight and getting the boat up wind in order to work down to effect a recovery.  The crew quickly understood how this practice made recovery safer and more effective in a big boat on a big ocean.

By the time the drills were finished, the wind had dropped to the point where we could shake out the reef, set the genoa and sail up wind, but the angle still required tacking around the rhumbline.  The crew got practice in tacking a big headsail around the inner stay, a significantly different technique to simply allowing the genoa to blow across an open fore-triangle in a sloop-rigged boat.  As the wind continued to drop, it eventually became necessary to assist the apparent wind with some judicious use of the engine, allowing for a tight sail close-hauled on the rhumbline.  As the evening progressed and the sun dipped below the horizon, the captain again called for COB drills, this time in the dark.  Reinforcing the idea of stopping the boat, we now had to maneuver toward the flashing strobe of the pumpkinhead COB, a much trickier task.  The crew quickly developed skills at getting next to the COB and getting the rescue line on.

Maintaining our track to Annapolis was easy now, as the wind came from the port bow, so that just a little bit of additional boat speed from the engine kept us on a close-hauled course.  The predicted shift to the south did not come, so the wind from the north stayed cold.  Temperatures on the boat approached freezing and the crew stayed bundled up while on watch, with much tea and coffee consumed.  Near midnight, the captain ran an unannounced COB drill, simulating that the helmsman had fallen overboard while the rover was below and the off-watch was asleep.  Even these trying conditions did not faze the by-now well-equipped crew and the COB dummy was back on board and receiving his simulated "medicinal brandy" within ten minutes, an excellent time given that the water temperatures were still well into the highs 60s.

The voyage continued through the night with the on-watch team, monitored by the duty instructor, performing night collision avoidance tasks with huge freighters, tugs both pushing and pulling barges and all sorts of fishing and sailing recreational craft.  Night time navigation skills were also in practice, allowing for two and three bearing fixes off of lights.  Dawn found us sailing along, still assisted by a small amount of engine power, but the wind finally worked around off our port quarter, bringing warmer temperatures and the blessed relief of sailing without the engine.  We were able to sail up past the Thomas Point Shoal Light, where the student skipper of the day sadly doused the sails and turned us up to our anchorage in the mooring fields off the Naval Academy.  The afternoon included review for the 106 exams, showers and shopping ashore for some and trips into shore for all aboard the Annapolis water taxis for a dinner at the Mangia restaurant along the waterfront after an obligatory stop at Pusser's for a taste of grog, well earned by the crew for almost completing their circumnavigation.

Saturday morning found the crew dropping the mooring ball well before sunup and clearing the channel into the Naval Anchorage at the mouth of the Severn.  The main sail and genoa came out, the engine went off and the crew performed a paper chart dead reckoning under the bridge and across the Bay, turning around Love point and crossing their track to actually complete the circle of their circumnavigation, the captain having secured the chart plotter and requiring the crew to navigate with nothing but the depth finder, knot meter and compass.  Over the night, the wind had come up but the clouds had come back again and, although it was warm, the sky was blanketed again.  Just as the crew came up the Chester River, the sky cleared for half an hour, allowing the captain and crew to quickly perform a sun-based compass deviation exercise.  The crew noted that, while watching Captain Tursi's video on the subject was informative, actually performing the procedure was invaluable in understanding the process.

The crew finally returned to Lankford Bay Marina at about 1400, having left 150 hours prior and having transited more than 400 miles in that period.  The boat had spent less than 36 hours in port during that time and had traveled in all sorts of weather - warm, cold, cloudy, sunny, windy and becalmed.  The trip was an exercise in working with an unaccustomed group of people, in challenging conditions, while living together in a small space.  It is not an exercise that most people would accept, much less relish, but for Sarah, Peter, Jose and Glen, it is an adventure they will long remember and for Captains Doug and Frank, an experience that they find rewarding and satisfying.

Captain Frank Mummert
October 25, 2018
Rock Hall, Maryland

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