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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date July 7-14, 2018
Students: Marc De Souter, Mark Hill, Chris Poirier, Dean Wilkening
Captain Tom Tursi
Mate David Gifford

Friday, July 6th
Students Mark Hill, Christopher Poirier, Marc De Souter and Dean Wilkening arrived onboard in mid-afternoon to check in and stow their gear. First Mate David Gifford and Captain Tom Tursi were already onboard, and about 1730 we all went to Bay Wolf Restaurant for a crew dinner and to get to know each other a little better in addition to our previous online get-acquainted meeting on June 26th. Dinner-time discussions went well and we broke early to get early to bed as tomorrow, the first full day of training, would be a busy day that was forecast to be sunny and hot. All crew slept onboard Navigator at dock at Langford Bay Marina except Marc De Souter who was at a local air B&B, and David Gifford who returned home for the night, a distance of a half-mile from the marina. 

On Saturday we started work at 0800 and did the training outlined in the DMVA Training Plan for the first Saturday including on-deck and below-deck inspections; winch handling, cleat hitch, line toss and harness-tether practice; and deployment of all sails one at a time at dock. A cold front had come through last evening, and today is bright and clear with brisk winds of 15 to 20 knot from the NE, which made mainsail raising a little difficult as we were docked heading NW, but we did ok with all sails except we skipped mainsail reefing. We also deployed the whisker pole a number of times to perfect the procedure and teamwork. 

After this we went to dinner at Harbor Shack Restaurant followed by an evening session for navigation preparations for the next day's cruise to Swan Creek; a discussion of the deck logbook and watch-keeping procedures; and a review of MOB, Fire Fighting, Flooding and Abandon Ship procedures. After this we turned in exhausted to rest up for tomorrow's underway training and cruise to Swan Creek. 

Student Skipper assignments were made as follows: Marc D starting at 1800 today followed by changes daily at 1800 in the following order: Mark H, Chris and Dean. The Student Skipper role is to direct other students in the operation of the vessel as described in the Training Plan. 

Sunday dawned bright and clear with winds about 10 knots from NE and cool temperatures, and we started work at 0800. Mark D is Student Skipper today. Pre-departure inspection assignments per Procedure #4 of the training plan were made as follows:

  • Navigator Mark Hill
  • Bosun Christopher
  • Engineer Dean
  • Emergency Coordinator Marc De Souter

 And underway watch assignments were made as follows:

  • Chris and Mark H are assigned to the 12 to 6 watch; that is midnight to 0600 hours and noon to 1800 hours.
  • Dean and Mark D are assigned to the 6 to 12 watch; that is from 0600 to noon and 1800 to midnight.
  • First Mate David will be on the 9 to 3 watch; that is from 0900 to 1500 and from 2100 to 0300 hours allowing him to serve with both of the student watches.
  • Captain Tom will take the 3 to 9 watch; that s from 0300 to 0900 and from 1500 to 2100 hours similarly serving with both student watch sections.

We got underway at 0940 to depart Lankford Bay Marina and begin the DMVA cruise. The first underway event planned was to calibrate the water speed instrument, but this had to be deferred as the instrument was not registering, this no doubt due to fouling from sea growth. We then calibrated the ship's steering compass near Cacaway Island using the Sun Dial method; Marc D was at the helm and Chris marked the Maneuvering Board Chart; we obtained data on eight headings at 45║ intervals with plans to calculate results at a later time. 

We then continued down Langford Creek, passing the GR Junction buoy at 1030, then to begin underway sail training starting with raising the mainsail with Marc D directing per Procedure #5 of the Training Plan. David is the Reader and Tom is on the helm. We then followed with underway sail training exercises including: rigging preventer, controlled and accidental gybe, reefing mainsail, unfurling/furling the staysail and genoa, and rigging/derigging the whisker pole. A primary emphasis of these exercises is to develop teamwork among the crew as teamwork is essential in advanced coastal and ocean sailing situations where mistakes can magnify and become very damaging to equipment and people due to greater levels of wind and wave. The written procedures and checklists of the Training Plan can facilitate this teamwork development, and that is what today's practice was intended to accomplish. 

We also conducted an MOB recovery drill of the Weenie dummy from a close-hauled heading using the quick-stop motorsailing procedure. We came to the rescue spot windward of the dummy, furled the genoa, and used engine power to position ourselves for recovery using the MOB hook, and making recovery on first pass.   

We completed these exercises by 1300, had lunch of turkey, cheese and tomato sandwiches, and proceeded motorsailing down Chester River following our navigation plan toward Swan Creek. Wind was behind us from the north, so we deployed the whisker pole again (this time very smoothly) and sailed wing on wing until we made the turn west at the south end of Chester River where we derigged the pole and continued on with the motor. We arrived at Swan Creek at 1730, set the starboard fortress anchor in 6 feet of water with 50 feet of chain using the electric windlass, had dinner of chicken stew, and by 1900 began preparing tomorrow's navigation plan up the Bay to Summit North Marina on the C & D Canal.  

Mark Hill Dean Wilkening

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Photo Credit: Marc De Souter

Checking the weather on VHF radio and Sirius XM satellite weather, we got an update on Hurricane Beryl and Tropical Depression #3 in the Atlantic, either of which could affect our cruise plans. Also received a text message from Captain Jochen Hoffmann ashore who is tracking weather systems and providing weather updates. At 1800 hours Mark H took over as Student Skipper. 

Monday dawned bright, clear and cool in the morning with very little wind. After pre-departure boat checks, we raised anchor at 0700 and departed Swan Creek bound for Summit North Marina on the C & D Canal. Tom cooked cheese omelets for the crew while underway, which was completed by the time we turned southwest at Green Can #7 to cross the Swan Point Bar. 

During the passage north up Chesapeake Bay, the crew practiced essential navigation and watchkeeping skills in these calm conditions with good visibility, so that they would be ready for the more challenging conditions to come possibly in the Delaware Bay, but most assuredly along the Atlantic Coast at nighttime. It takes time and practice to master the many aspects of operating the boat safely and efficiently along its intended route while keeping a good lookout with your eyes and integrating what you see with what the charts and the electronic displays show. The crew also practiced manual navigation skills like compass bearings to identifiable objects, running fixes and distance off calculations. Also, they correlated visual objects in the three-dimensional world with what the two-dimensional charts show, and verified that the Buoys and Beacons shown on the charts and in the Light List are in fact where they are supposed to be... Are any missing? Is our information up to date? 

We motored the whole way north up the bay due to no wind and a glassy sea and arrived at Summit North Marine at 1630. We bumped the bottom coming into the marina in the middle of the channel; tide was near dead low and the sounder showed 3.5 feet as we bumped. Pumped out the holding tank, topped up the fuel tank with 19 gallons of diesel, and proceeded to our berth alongside the T-head of Dock "H" a long distance from the restaurant and showers. 

After showers, we had dinner at the Grain Restaurant here at Summit North, then returned to the boat to prepare the navigation plan for the next two day's passage down Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Coast to Cape Charles. This was a lengthy process with the four student crewmembers working well as a team to prepare the basic plan using the paper NOAA Charts, USCG Light List Volume 2, USCG Local Notices to Mariners #27/18 issued July 3, 2018, and the Coast Pilot #3. After laying out the route and studying the various hazards and opportunities, the team then programmed the waypoints for the cruise on the Garmin 8212 chart plotter. At the end of this process, the entire crew was very familiar with the navigation plan and details and were all keyed in to what to expect navigationally.   

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Photo credit: Marc De Souter

We also reviewed the weather forecasts available on VHF radio, online at the NOAA weather sites, and the Sirius weather satellite downloads on the Garmin 8212 display. Also consulted with Captain Jochen Hoffmann ashore at home about his observations and concluded that the weather looked good for proceeding on the cruise, and that hurricane Beryl and tropical depression Chris should not be  threats to us. 

At 1800 hours Chris took over as Student Skipper. 

Tuesday also dawned cool, bright and sunny with no wind. After a quick breakfast and pre-departure checks, we departed Summit North at 0745 and proceeded east and under the Conrail railroad bridge, which had been in the down position earlier for passage of a train, but was now raised to the middle position providing us safe passage blow. Our crew is now proficient in verifying the height of all bridges that we intend to pass beneath.   

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Continuing through the remainder of the C & D Canal under motor power (sailing without an engine is not permitted in the canal) we reached the Canal exit into the Delaware River at Reedy Point at 0900. After taking manual compass bearings to ensure that we were fully past Reedy Point and the rock jetties that border it, we turned south onto our course and into a two knot opposing current. We could clearly see the Salem Nuclear Power Plant ahead and to our port side on the New Jersey banks of the river. The cooling towers of this plant are very large and their view will be with us for a long way down the river. 

Winds remained very light and from ahead for most of our way down the river and bay. We tried some motor sailing during the day, but all we accomplished was to flog the sails with little or no benefit, so we furled sails and motored most of the way. 

When we passed Brandywine Shoal Light at 1600 we began plotting our dead reckoning position (DR) on a DMA 926 position plotting sheet with the intention of continuing this down the coast to Cape Charles. 

At 1730 we had dinner of beans and franks and were just passing Brown Shoal Light at the south end of the Delaware Bay ship channel. From here the deep water widens out and we are away from the persistent shoaling that borders the ship channel for the entire length of the river and bay down to this point. The weather is still bright and clear, and it's becoming a little cooler as the afternoon progresses; winds have increased to 8 knots from the south and remain pretty much on our nose as we continue to motor. At 1800 hours Dean took over as Student Skipper. 

After rounding Cape Henlopen, we changed course a little further south to parallel the ship exit lane from Delaware Bay. Wind remained light and on our nose and we continued to motor.   

Tom, David & Chris David, Chris & Marc D
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Photo credit: Marc De Souter

At 0200 on Wednesday with Chris and Mark Hill on watch backed up by First Mate David, the wind came up to 10 knots, and the watch awoke Student Skipper Dean to request permission to put up the reefed mainsail and genoa, which they did with Dean directing the evolution. At 0600 with the coming of daylight and a wind increase to 12 knots, the watch shook out the mainsail reef and we had some nice sailing for several hours. The wind direction from SSW forced us to head off to the east of our rhumbline to keep the sails drawing, and we diverged from our rhumbline by about 8 miles after a few hours. 

At 0730 with three sail up full and 12 knots of wind from SW, we're sailing at 4.5 knots on a beautiful sunny day and roughly parallel to our rhumbline.

At this time Marc D took a sun shot with his sextant and, using the GPS position as a reference, came within 1.6 miles compared with our actual position. This was the first sun shot he had ever taken underway at sea and it was quite good even for an experienced navigator. Marc plotted this line of position (LOP) on the DMA 926 plotting sheet for later use in a running fix. Then at 1230 Marc took another sun shot, plotted this LOP, and crossed it with his earlier LOP using running fix procedures for a position fix. This procedure well illustrated to these advanced coastal students how the DR plot and celestial lines of position can be used to improve or correct the accuracy of your navigational plot.   

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By 1300 the wind clocked (veered) to the NW and then to the N and NE and dropped to 6 knots so we furled the genoa and motorsailed with the mainsail remaining up. At 1800 hours Mark D took over as Student Skipper. 

Chris plotted the closest point of approach (CPA) of another vessel on the radar maneuvering chart using AIS range and bearing data, and determined that the other vessel would pass 2 miles ahead of us. This is an important benefit of the manual plot as compared with he AIS forecast of CPA, which does not tell whether the other vessel will pass ahead or astern of you. Range and bearing data for this technique can also be determined by tracking the other vessel on radar. 

The new DMVA Training Plan book has worked out well from the standpoint of helping to keep students coordinated and in step with one another when doing a sail handling procedure, and fostering improved team building. When planning to do a sail change, the designated leader of that procedure would take 10 minutes to study the procedure in the book, and then David would be the reader ticking off the sub-titles, and I would be the explainer as needed, but trying by this time to have the student crew doing it without additional instruction from me if possible. This worked well except when a crewmember jumped ahead of the team and prematurely did a step out of order such as releasing the mainsail halyard before the boat was turned head to wind thus potentially allowing the halyard to wrap a spreader. Also forgetting to properly flake lines was a problem that gradually improved as the cruise progressed. And one procedure that was universally forgotten was to immediately crank tight on the mainsheet to stabilize the boom for the deck crew when the mainsail halyard was released when dropping the sail; this requires advance preparation to ensure that the mainsheet is wrapped on its winch and the handle is inserted before releasing the main halyard. 

Cross track error is one area that the student crew consistently had trouble with on this cruise and other cruises. As the name implies, cross track error is the distance that the boat has strayed, either right or left, of it's intended track. This track is laid down by the electric chart plotter when we select a waypoint destination to steer to. The compass bearing to that waypoint is indicated either by the electronics or by pencil plotting on the chart, and the helmsman is instructed to steer to that bearing on the ship's steering compass. But, position errors continuously accrue when following a compass bearing due to many factors including water current, wind leeway, steering errors and compass errors, and after a while the boat may have strayed considerably off to one side or the other from the original track. 

The GPS indicates how far the boat is off track, and this can inform the helmsman of the need to slightly bias his steering to minimize this off track error. For example, if the destination waypoint bears 150║ per ship's compass (psc) the helmsman will steer to maintain that heading on the compass. But while doing so, the cross track error on the GPS indicates that the boat is gradually drifting away from the original track, let's say to the left of track. So the helmsman slightly modifies his steering to reduce this error, and begins to steer a little to the right, let's say 152║psc, and notices that the cross track error stops increasing. 

The helmsman need not make large steering changes to quickly eliminate the cross track error, but simply remain cognizant of the error and gradually bias steering right or left to minimize the error. So the compass bearing to waypoint is the big-picture guide as to what the helmsman should steer, and the cross track error is the fine-tuning to be continuously monitored and minimized. This applies when motoring without sails to a waypoint or when sailing free on a reach, but does not apply to sailing close-hauled when the wind and sails are in control of what needs to be steered. 

It's interesting to note that with the cooler weather of previous days we had virtually no flies. But here on Wednesday with warmer weather, we have flies. It's also interesting to speculate on how they get here since we have been 20 miles or so from land yesterday and today... How do they get here!! 

At 1800 hours Mark D took over as Student Skipper. 

On Wednesday as evening approached we were about ten miles east of Cape Charles and the Chesapeake Bay entrance and motoring toward our entrance marker Flashing Red Lighted Buoy "2N" where we would turn north and head for the bridge; actually there are two bridges in line that we need to pass under. Sirius Weather on our multi-function display showed heavy rain squalls approaching Cape Charles from the west, and it looked like we were in for an unavoidable drenching. All hands were now on watch with assignments made as follows:

  • Helm Marc D
  • Navigator Dean
  • Bow Lookout Chris
  • Deckhand and Lookout Mark H
  • Mate David on deck
  • Captain Tom stationed in the companionway to coordinate activities between the Navigator and deck crew.

Sure enough, the rains hit in a torrential downpour as we approached Red "2N" but our well-rehearsed crew performed flawlessly in the driving rain and limited visibility. As we passed buoy "2N" and turned north toward the bridges about a mile distant, the rains abated and visibility improved markedly. We could clearly see the vital green range lights hanging below the bridge spans, and it was essential for us to align our position so that these lights were in alignment and pointing the way directly under the bridges. 

To achieve this alignment, we had planned our route to bring us between the unlighted buoys G"11" and R"10" several hundred yards south of the first bridge, then bear to the right toward the eastern abutment of the first bridge until the four green range lights (two on each bridge) all fell into alignment thus indicating the direct route under both bridges. As we turned toward the bridge, the lookouts played their spotlights on the bridge abutments to assist the helmsman with maintaining appropriate distance from these abutments.   

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As we passed under the bridges, we saw a 150 foot fishing vessel on the north side of the bridges headed toward us bow-on to us but a little off to our portside. He shined his bright spotlight directly at us to ensure that we saw him. The fishing boat was at all stop allowing us to complete our passage under the bridge and pass port to port. As we passed, we recognized this fisherman as one of the menhaden fishing fleet that ply the waters of the southern Chesapeake Bay and near coastal areas. 

The passage to Cape Charles town approximately eight miles north of the bridges was uneventful as the rain had stopped and visibility was good in the darkness. However, our navigator and deck lookouts kept a sharp eye looking for other vessels by AIS, radar and visually, and especially for small fishing boats which would not have AIS and probably not show on radar. And it would not be a surprise to encounter local fishermen out doing their thing even late at night in rainy conditions. So we watched intently. 

Cape Charles town has a narrow, winding but well marked entrance channel with range lights and some unlighted buoys needing special attention in the dark of night. We passed Old Plantation Flats Light to starboard and just beyond this was Green Lighted Buoy "1CC" at which we turned to starboard and left it to port as we entered the channel. Guided by our navigation plan, charts, chart plotter, range lights, buoys and our deck lookouts, we proceeded up the channel and to the town basin and marina. We then had to grope along the shoreline shining spotlights to identify where best to tie up. We selected a promising looking T-head dock, approached it portside to, Mark H stepped ashore with mooring lines and secured. We hooked up the shore power, turned on the air conditioning, and soon thereafter all went to bed for a welcomed good nights sleep at 0200 on Thursday. 

Thursday morning all were up by 0900 to face another bright and sunny day, took showers at the marina and went to breakfast in town at a pleasant little restaurant. We then returned to the boat and worked up the navigation plan for the coming overnight sail up the bay to Annapolis, settled accounts with the marina, and departed Cape Charles by 1600 that afternoon. At 1800 hours Mark H took over as Student Skipper. 

Weather was warm and getting humid with winds ENE at 8 to 12 knots making for a pleasant reach under single reefed mainsail and full genoa. Earlier there were reports of a waterspout nearby but we saw none of it. 

Just after dark we did a nighttime man overboard drill using the strobe-lighted Weenie, quickly stopping the boat with a tack-and-back maneuver from a close-hauled heading. We furled the genoa, eased the mainsheet and started the engine to maneuver upwind and beam to the victim, and used the MOB plastic grapnel hook to retrieve it on first attempt. As we stopped the boat quickly, we ended up close to the victim in the water with good visibility of the strobe light and saw no need to deploy the horseshoe-pole-strobe rig as this would only complicate recovery and serve no real purpose in this situation. Had we not been close to the victim, or not had good visibility of the victim, we would have deployed the horseshoe-pole-strobe rig. 

Shortly after this exercise, at about 2130 hours, we received a VHF radio call from an MSTS ship that was coming up the Chesapeake Channel behind us. We were out of the channel at the time, but he was concerned that we would be too close for comfort when he exited the north end of the channel. He was now about five miles behind us and traveling at 18 knots, so the encounter would take place soon. He also said there was another MSTS ship a few miles behind him who we'd also need to deal with. The first ship asked us to steer a little more westerly of our current course and leave the Red and White "RP" buoy to our starboard side, and he would leave it to his portside. We of course agreed to this and altered course accordingly. We then contacted the second ship who said they had monitored our communication with the first ship, and they would follow the same plan leaving the "RP" buoy to their portside. Both ships passed us at a half-mile distance to our starboard, and all was well. 

Eeventhough winds continued from the east at 8 to 15 knots giving us a nice beam reach, we left the motor running and continued motor-sailing to allow us to conserve electrical power so that we could keep the radar on full time for safety in the nighttime hours. So now we are making good progress under single reefed mainsail and full genoa toward a waypoint to the east of the Smith Point traffic lanes. 

We continued this way overnight and had a pleasant and uneventful nighttime passage up the bay. On Friday morning, the sun came up bright and clear, and the air is cool continuing the pleasant weather that we have had all week. We were passed by no more than a half-dozen ships overnight, and at 0920 hours we are 15 miles from Annapolis and our plan is to go into the main harbor there and pickup a mooring or berth alongside the quay in Ego Alley if one is available. 

We arrived at Annapolis Harbor at 1300 on Friday and went directly to the Annapolis Yacht Basin, topped up our diesel tank, pumped out the holding tank and flushed it with a full load of fresh water then pumped it out again. Initially, we picked up a mooring for practice and called the Harbor Master by cell phone and asked for a slip of which there were none available. But he said he might be able to get us in alongside the quay, which we accepted if there was electrical power, which there was. So the Harbor Master moved some boats a little this way and a little that way along the quay making a 41 foot space for our 40 foot boat. We shoe-horned into that space, secured our docklines, connected electrical, turned on the A/C to cool down, took showers and went to dinner ashore at the Boatyard Bar and Grill as recommended by Dean.

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Photo credit: Marc De Souter

At 1800 hours Chris took over as Student Skipper. After dinner we returned to the now cooled down boat, and the student crew wrote their ASA106 examinations. After this we spent about an hour and a half reviewing the Part B skills list on the back of the ASA exam booklet, and made some preliminary plans for the next day's return cruise to rock Hall. Then we went to town for ice cream and had a grand time looking at the Friday night scene on the streets of Annapolis as passers-by of all stripes and shapes entertained us. We then returned to our cool and snug boat, closed the hatches and turned out the lights for a good night's rest after our overnight passage the previous night. 

On Saturday morning we arose at 0630, made some coffee and dove into the navigation preps for the return to Rock Hall. Tom made cheese omelets for the crew while they sweated with the navigation preps of which they were by now an efficient and well organized team. After this, we prepared plans for the underway navigation exercises to be conducted on our return cruise to Rock Hall as follows:

  • Calibrate the electronic speed/distance log using two fixed beacons in Annapolis Harbor. This resulted in a speed correction factor of 0.91; that is multiply the indicated speed by 0.91 to determine the corrected speed through the water.
  • Determine what was the actual current based on plotted DR position and actual GPS position, and compare this to the predicted current for that location, date and time.
  • Determine course to steer to arrive at a fixed geographic point based on the forecast current for a specific location, date and time.

Wind was very light from the south, so we motored back across the bay, rounded Love Point and into the Chester River. After passing the horseshoe turn at the southern end of the Chester River, we put up the mainsail, deployed the whisker pole and sailed wing-on-wing up the river to Green Can "3" where we struck the genoa and pole, motored to Cacaway island and dropped the mainsail. Then we motored to our slip at Lankford Bay Marina and backed in for a perfect landing at 1630 after our most enjoyable 400 mile cruise around the DELMARVA peninsula. 

The crew cleaned up the boat, emptied trash, collected their personal gear and headed home, but not until we had a diploma award ceremony: 

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Marc De Souter Mark Hill Chris Poirier Dean Wilkening

Captain Tom Tursi
July 15, 2018
Rock Hall, Maryland

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