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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date July 21-28, 2018
Students: Henrietta Burke, Ryan Graham, William McGuinn, Adrian Michael 
Captain Captain Steve Runals
Mate Captain Tom Bedwell

Pre-departure Preparation: 
I arrive Thursday, July 19 to inspect the boat and make initial preparations on the Maryland School’s offshore yacht S/V Navigator before students arrive.  I discuss the forecast weather with Tom Tursi – a strong blocking high off the East coast that is forecast to produce strong SE winds early next week. All initial tasks are completed before First Mate Captain Tom Bedwell arrives at noon on Friday and students begin arriving later in the afternoon. We finalize our provisioning plan and discuss options for our course based on the forecast.  

The strong SE winds forecast for the Delaware Bay make a trip down that Bay with its funnel shaped entrance and strong currents very challenging, so we discuss the option of heading down the Chesapeake Bay first.  We can expect to still have strong SE to S winds but the current is less and the fetch far more limited. Once the crew is aboard and gear stowed, we head off for a crew dinner.  Despite Rock Hall being crowded with weekenders, we find a relatively quiet place at the Harbor Shack restaurant and continue getting to know each other over a very satisfying dinner.  Back aboard we review the ASA106 standards, assign preparation responsibilities and inspect personal safety gear.  An early bedtime is a welcomed end to the day.  The decision to go south will be based on the updated weather forecast at noon tomorrow and discussion with Tom Tursi.  

Saturday: Day 1Boat and crew preparation and detailed navigation planning: 
Today’s forecast calls for rain to begin in the late morning and continue through the night, so we plan to complete our ondeck activates early.  After an early breakfast at Pasta Plus, we go over in detail all the boat systems both inside and outside, which include an above deck orientation, checking standing and running rigging, sails, winch operation, deployment and recovery of the whisker pole, and MOB safety equipment, followed by a review of essential coastal navigation skills, the buoy system, navigation lights, charts, including NOAA Chart No. 1, and the use of navigation tools.  

The noontime long range weather forecast confirms that we will face very strong gusty SE to S winds in Delaware River and Bay on Tuesday/Wednesday, so after conferring with Tom Tursi, who will be monitoring our travels, the decision is made to head first south down Chesapeake Bay on a counter-clockwise route around the DMVA peninsula. After reviewing individual pre-departure tasks, we take the next several hours to complete assigned tasks. Bill works with the Captain in developing a navigation plan from Lankford Bay down the Chester River to Annapolis. First Mate Tom works with Etta engineer, Ryan bosun, and Adrian emergency coordinator as they complete their assign pre-departure tasks.  Once their tasks are complete, they support Bill by reviewing the Light List, restrictions and nav rules supplements found in the Coast Pilot and cruising guide, Local Notice to Mariners (LNM), determining the state of the current and get the short term weather forecast. The extra time for planning provides an opportunity to work each area in detail. We finish all this in time for First Mate Tom to review and assign responsibilities for onboard emergencies before heading ashore for dinner.   

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Day 2 - Lankford Bay to Annapolis:
After the heavy rain of yesterday, the clear skies of today are a welcomed change.  We complete final preparations after an early breakfast and are underway by 0930 in light, southerly winds.  After all crew have a chance to maneuver the boat under power, we practice MOB under power before heading south of the marina to practice sail handling.  The Chester River is filled with the white sails of a regional Wind Mill sailboat regatta that is enjoying the improved weather.  We practice reefing and tacking in the light winds, which all too soon drop away, before turning south and beginning our watches and taking two bearing fixes to confirm position.  As we reach the bend in the river by Queenstown, the wind picks up and we are able to do a little sailing.  

Around Love Pt a pod a dolphins welcomes us as we make our way toward the Bay Bridge and a sky filling with clouds.  South of the bridge the wind builds and heavy rain begins.  We take the opportunity to do some sailing in this heaver wind before heading into Annapolis to pick up a mooring.   Once secure, the rain lets up and we head into town for dinner at Chick Ruth’s and a little walk about.  Back aboard, Etta takes the lead in planning our trip south to an anchorage on Mill Creek in Solomons Island with Adrian, Ryan and Bill reviewing the supporting navigation publication: LNM, Light list, Cruising Guide and Tide/Current tables.  The forecast is for SE winds 15-20 with gusts to 30 knots and rain with T-storms. We drift off to sleep as the rain again begins to fall.  It’s been a good day to begin working on crew team development and understanding of boat systems. Also important is where to store wet foul weather gear.
Moving time: 6.20 hours; distance: 28 nm; average speed: 4.4 knots.

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Day 3 – Annapolis to Mill Creek, Solomons Island:
Our destination today, and the desire to take advantage of at least part of the ebb current, calls for an early departure.  We slip our mooring under steel gray skies with a forecast of SE winds 15-20 with gusts to 25 knots, rain and T-Storms all day.  The first reef from yesterday is quickly replaced by a second as we motor sail toward the 1AH buoy off Tolly Point.  We hope for a course that, once we are around Thomas Pt Light, will allows us to sail close to our rhumb line but the increasing winds, shifting only 10 degrees to the right or left of our course result in a slow motor sail under reefed main and staysail while tacking our way south in winds that, at times, reach 34 knots.  

While we are able to take advantage of an ebb current, the SE winds blowing against the current increases the already 3 to 4 ft waves making them short and choppy.  By the time we reach the Patuxant River the waves will be easily 5 to 6 ft in height. Heavy rain with strong gusty winds mark our passage with few other boats making an appearance.  As we approach the Cove Pt gas platform we see another sailboat working its way south under reefed main and headsail but soon lose him in the reduced visibility of the next rain shower.  Later we will share an anchorage with what looks the same boat, but now with a shredded headsail.  By late afternoon we are able to turn into the relative protection of the Patuxent River and work our way into the Back River at Solomons Island and an anchorage in Mill Creek under ever present rain showers.  It takes a few attempts to get the anchor properly set but provides a good chance for practice.  

The protection from the still strong winds is most welcomed, made even more pleasant with a break in the rain.  A pasta dinner allows us time to relax and review the days lessons before Ryan and Adrian take on the planning for our overnight down the Bay to Cape Charles.  We plan a mid-morning departure so they are able to defer some of the planning untill the morning.  The crew has done well standing their watches and becoming proficient in using the AIS (Automatic Identification System) to track north and south bound traffic.
Moving time: 11 hours; Distance: 58.5 nm; average speed: 5.1 knots.

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Day 4/5 – Mill Creek, Solomons Island to Cape Charles:
The forecast for today is a repeat of yesterday – SE winds 15-20 with gusts to 30 knots, rain and T-Storms. By mid-morning, Tom, Etta and Bill finish our pre-op checks and Ryan and Adrian complete their navigation planning for the overnight passage.  We secure the anchor and head over to Spring Cove Marina for a pumpout and refueling before heading back out on the Bay.  The rain gives a little break but settles in again once back out on the Patuxent River.  We settle into our watches, motor sailing with staysail and double reefed main.  The sails help stabilize the boat in the 4-6 ft waves we encounter once clear of Cedar Point.  We tack south in the rain and gusty winds.  The AIS, radar and VHF radio assist in coordinating passage of several ships and tugs.  

As we pass Point Lookout on the north side of the Potomac River, the rain lessens but winds remain strong as we cross what can be a very challenging stretch of water.  Night falls as we close on the Smith Pt Light.  Once past the Light and the traffic separation zone located there, the wind backs to the ENE and drops into the high teens allowing us to sail a more direct course toward Cape Charles. We deploy the genoa and give the motor a well desired rest.  This welcome break is short lived; the wind clocks back to the SE and gusts to 30+ knots.  Getting the genoa furled provides a good workout.  As the night progresses the winds back a little to the east and the sky clears between rain showers revealing an almost full moon.  A beautiful site considering that we are seeing more of the moon than the sun during the last few days.  

By 0600 hours and the change of the watch, we approach the entrance to Cape Charles and take the opportunity to do a little sailing through an anchorage which holds some 17 ocean going ships.  The wind has dropped to 8-14 knots and we have a great sail among these huge ships.  We practice heaving to and forereaching before heading to the Old Plantation Flats Light and following the narrow but well-marked channel into Cape Charles harbor.  The crew gets to see and use the two ranges or transits that help to guide us into this small but growing Bay-side town.  Once the boat is secured, we take showers and head into town for a much-desired breakfast.  The crew all did well on this challenging overnight passage and we take some time to stretch our legs and catch up on some sleep before starting our planning for tomorrow’s adventure.  Dinner ashore at the Hook-U-Up provides an excellent way to end the day. 
Moving time: 27.5 hours; Distance: 113 nm; average speed: 5.5 knots

Day 6/7 – Cape Charles, Offshore to Delaware Bay and River to Summit North in the C&D Canal: 
We complete our pre-departure checks and clear the marina by 0930.  Etta and Bill have divided the navigation planning for the overnight offshore passage.  We time our departure to take advantage of the ebb to get us out under the North Channel Bridge and into the ocean.  The sky is clear, the forecast calling for SW 10-15 knot winds and no rain in the forecast for the next 48 hours – a nice change.   We exit the Chesapeake Bay under sail in the company of a Menhaden fishing boat headed north up the coast and a large catamaran, S/V VMG, headed up to New England.  We stay in company with the catamaran for most the day, each deploying and furling sails in winds that build to 12 knots and then drop to below 6 knots, in calm seas. 

By late afternoon the wind fills in from the south so we rig the whisker pole and have a fine downwind run.  For most of the crew this is the first time they have sailed wing-an-wing with a poled out genoa.  All see its advantage in these conditions.  Before dark the wind drops, so we put in a precautionary reef in the main and motor sail north under clear skies and a full moon.  As we rotate watches we practice “dipping the light” and determining “distance off” by doubling the angle off the bow and tracking our position by keeping a DR plot.    All gain confidence in the accuracy of keeping a DR position when the DR plot is very close to a GPS fix.  Little traffic, cool temps and a bright moonlit sky make for a great sail.  Our goal is to reach the entrance to the Delaware Bay in time to take advantage of at least some of the flood tide.  

Just after sunrise we encounter a thick fog that drops the visibility to less than a quarter-mile.  Ryan monitors the AIS and radar while Etta and the Captain steer and keep watch. Without warning a fast moving sport fishing boat crosses close ahead of us, appearing and disappearing without a sound or any indication of its presence on AIS or radar.  The fog clears shortly after and we make our entrance into the Bay at the tail end of the flood which carries us north for several hours. We work our way up the Bay in light winds for most of the day clearing passage information with ships, tugs and recreational vessels by VHF and working on running fixes.  It’s a little strange having the sun out. By late afternoon we are getting close to our turn west into the entrance to the C&D Canal just past the Salem Nuclear Power Plant.  Showers are seen in the distance and warnings of strong T-Storms come over the VHF.   We drop all sails and motor into what quickly becomes increasingly heavy rain and wind.  

We notify an approaching northbound tug of our location.  He informs us he is towing a large empty barge that because of the strong winds is being blown across the channel.  We move well outside the channel to give him room and track a large ship headed south.  In the strong winds and rain the visibility is less than 1/8th mile.  The Captain tracks the storm and approach of the two ships on the radar and AIS and the Sirius weather program, and gives steering directions to Tom who is now on the helm.  At one point, the strong winds, gusting to 34+ knots, and now strong ebbing current push us toward shallow water and a line of crab pot floats.  Adrian spots what looks like a breakwater in the distance. Quick action by Tom and Adrian gets us out of the shallow water but still clear of the channel and the very close passing of the tug and ship.  Both vessels are soon clear and the rain lets up, and the high adventure of the past 15 minutes is over.  

We proceed to the entrance of the C&D Canal, carefully adjusting course and speed to account for the current and are soon on our way down this unique waterway.  As we approach the entrance to Summit North Marina, the radio again warns of strong T-Storms, and the clouds darken and lightening flashes strike close by.  As we approach our slip, we are “helped” by strong winds and driving rain that makes docking another challenge on this long day.  Once secured, we catch our breath, take showers and have dinner in a very crowded Grain H2O restaurant that is having a full moon party.  Sleep comes quickly after this very full day. 
Moving time: 31.5 hours; distance: 190 nm, average speed: 6 knots.

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Day 8 – Summit North in the C&D Canal to Haven Harbor, Rock Hall
We completed the majority of our pre- op checks the night before so we are able to execute an early departure. We have been experiencing some charging issues so instead of returning to Lankford Bay Marina we will finish the class at Heaven Harbor Marina in Rock Hall where electrical work is scheduled on the boat.  Some are a little disappointed that we will not actually “cross our track” but soon get over it once they realize we will be able to avoid another rain storm.  

The heavy rains of the last several days throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed has resulted in the Corps of Engineers opening the gates on the Susquehanna River dams.  This has resulted in a tremendous amount of debris coming down the Bay.  Shortly after reentering the C&D Canal we begin to see areas of tree limbs, brush, grass and other floating items.  The further south we go the more we find, requiring us to post a lookout on the foredeck and carefully working our way through what becomes quite large debris fields.  Initially we have to stem a flood current but once past Turkey Point and into the main Chesapeake Bay, we get an assist from an ebb current assisted by the released water from the dams to the north.  

We motor sail south in light winds keeping a careful eye on the logs, tires, trash and other debris that now cover large areas of the Bay.  By early afternoon we are off the approach to Swan Creek and Rock Hall.  Tom takes us carefully across the Swan Creek Bar and into Gratitude Marina where we refuel and pumpout before proceeding to our slip at Heaven Harbor.  We find it a little strange to have gone the day without any rain, but no one seems to mind this pleasant change. 
Moving time: 7 hours; Distance: 41 nm; average speed: 5.74 knots

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Before departing, we clean the boat and conduct a course review.  It’s been a good trip with some unique challenges.  The crew has done well.  All have learned much, not only improving individual sailing skills but about themselves.  All look forward to the opportunity to apply newly developed skills in their own sailing and look forward to sailing together again.

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Well done, fellow mariners. Tom and I salute you – with thanks and appreciation.  Fair Winds to each. 

Captain Steve Runals
July 29, 2018
Rock Hall, Maryland

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