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~ A Cut Above ~

Course ASA106 Advanced Training Cruise: DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date September 15-22, 2018
Students: Mike Kennedy, Taylor O’Dell
Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
Mate Robin Bauer
Supernumerary     Tom Tursi

Pre-departure Preparation
I arrive on board mid-morning Thursday, September 13 to meet Tom Tursi of the Maryland School to check out the electronics installed on S/V NAVIGATOR, get a briefing on recent upgrades to the boat and prepare the ship for our voyage. Our most important topic is the National Weather Service forecast of Hurricane Florence, the track of which we have monitored for several days. The prediction is that it should diminish to a Tropical Storm, possibly to a Tropical Depression, by the time it passes well north of us. We conclude that all of the crew should continue with their cruise preparations, but that we may delay departure should it be prudent to do so. 

Our student crew Mike and Taylor plus our first mate, Captain Robin Bauer, arrive during the afternoon of September 14, and we start immediately with initial introduction to systems below. Over dinner at Bay Wolf restaurant, we get to know one another and preview our upcoming cruise. In fact, our preview had begun weeks earlier with an on-line meeting and preplanning assignments focusing on key components of an offshore passage. To this end, students had looked up charted hazards, tides at key points, bridge elevations and navigation lights protruding down from bridge girders, harbors of refuge, USCG Light List (LL) entries for crucial departure and landfall waypoints, etc. Weather analysis would come later. 

Saturday, September 15, Day 1In Port at Lankford Bay Marina
In the context of preparing for departure – i.e., not simply casting off, but being away from familiar waters and boat supply/repair facilities or, in our case, upon the open sea – it makes sense to spend the first day practicing specific procedures while docked and to develop a detailed navigation plan. We are guided in our activities by the MDSchool’s new DELMARVA Training Plan by Tom Tursi which focuses on team building. How? Each rotating Student Skipper of the Day is learning - with the Plan in hand - to direct the crew in carrying out the procedures as outlined in the Training Plan. As future mariners, students need to be able to perform the procedures correctly during day and nighttime hours - both inland and offshore - and in all types of conditions. 

We start the day inspecting personal gear, lines, sails, and winches above deck, and systems and equipment below, including NAVIGATOR’s safety equipment. That includes deploying and furling all sails properly, rigging and derigging the whisker pole, and getting to know windlass plus engine operations. Next, we break out charts, the USCG Light List, U.S. Coast Pilot Vol. 3, the essential NOAA-Chart No 1, plus navigation tools. We use all of these to develop our first navigation plan from Lankford Bay down the Chester River and into Swan Creek near Rock Hall. All waypoints, courses per TVMDC calculations, Light List and Coast Pilot findings are entered consecutively in our Deck Log. That done, and looking ahead, the first student skipper, in this case Taylor, to be followed tomorrow by Mike, begins his assignment at 1800 hours today.     

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Day 2 –Lankford Bay Marina to Swan Creek
Taylor prepares the first of many tasty breakfasts while Mike checks engine oil and belt. Once we leave the slip, we perform steering and engine maneuvering drills and pick up a mooring using a doubled over line from the mooring pennant to the bow cleats per the Training Plan. Still at the mooring because of wind conditions, the Training Plan is getting a real workout as we begin, as the first of many enumerated procedures, the practice of proper reefing techniques followed by the proper rigging of a preventer line to the boom and deploying once again the whisker pole. Overcast skies prevent us from performing compass calibration using the sun. So, we motor to the vicinity of the “LC” junction buoy. Away from traffic, the crew takes turns calling for and guiding procedures per the Plan ranging from MOB drills under power to anchoring as coached by the first mate. 

With the wind NW 12-15 knots, the crew sets sail and follows the nav plan, but also practices tacking maneuvers and MOB drills under sail as we round the horseshoe bend of the Chester River. Now, sailing close-hauled and steering 030ºpsc (per ship’s compass), we start practicing bearing fixes using charted objects. Mike - who has chartered out of Swan Creek before - pilots us to our anchorage where we practice setting two anchors. First mate Robin shows how to perform an anchor watch by taking bearing fixes and performing periodic watch routines. After a quick, simple dinner, all of us collaborate in generating a proper nav plan for the next day. We identify key waypoints along the shipping channel of the Upper Bay, list them in the deck log, measure course lines and distance, calculate TVMDC values to plot them on the chart and give appropriate helm orders and, finally, look up the latest Local Notice to Mariners to ensure that our chosen buoys and beacons have not been damaged or dislocated.  As a final step, we enter our chosen waypoints in the chart plotter consecutively so that we can call them up tomorrow as we navigate north. 

Day 3 – Swan Creek to Summit North Marina, Chesapeake and Delaware Canal 
Students are now building on acquired skills in earnest. We depart at 0730, navigate to the Tolchester Channel, and, under a freshening breeze of NW 10 to 15 knots, we set a full main with preventer plus genoa for a spirited run northward. The legs up the Chesapeake and (later) down Delaware Bays serve for all to become thoroughly familiar with the boat and watch routines needed on a long voyage. The captain reminds us that we need to remain alert, that as sailors we are often distracted by multiple tasks and are often sailing short-handed. 

The first mate calls ahead to both Summit North Marina and Cape Charles Harbor to arrange for slips. We dock in Summit North in ample time to have dinner ashore, shower, and develop the next day’s navigation plan. The captain has one more weather review with Tom Tursi ashore and both conclude that the perimeter winds from Florence, the restricted visibility and potential for fog call for a one-day delay plus an extra pair of eyes and hands for the two overnight legs, so Tom offers to join us tomorrow evening in Summit North as supernumerary for the remainder of the cruise, which is a most welcome solution. 

Day 4 – In Port, Summit N Marina
Hurricane Florence, now a Tropical Depression, with a forecast track crossing northern Pennsylvania, is forecast to send thunderstorms and heavy rain our way today, so the one day delay in our schedule is welcomed. 

We clean the boat, spend the day developing a detailed nav plan from our current position via the Delaware Bay and coastal Atlantic ocean to the Chesapeake Bay, and the student crew takes the  ASA106 test. At 1700 Tom joins our crew for a dinner together and an early night. 

Day 5 – Summit North Marina to Offshore via Delaware River and Bay
We cast off at 0600 in full dark with lookouts posted both sides and proceed slowly out of the Marina’s narrow fairway. Fortunately, the nearby Conrail Lift Bridge is in the fully raised position as we make our way eastward on the C&D Canal. 

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The student crew is taking turns steering and becoming familiar with overtaking and oncoming tug and barge traffic. Once in the Delaware River and following our nav plan, we stand down from “all hands” and begin our six-hour watch routine as follows:

Tom and Mike: 0300 to 0900 and 1500 to 2100
Captain, first mate and Taylor: 0900 to 1500 and 2100 to 0300 

We need to motor all the way down the narrow Delaware River and most of the Bay with wind from the north at 10 and on our stern. As the wind clocks more to east, we raise the main and genoa and continue on motor sailing. Starting at Brandywine Shoal, and using DMA Plotting Sheet 925, we introduce DR (Dead Reckoning) conventions to familiarize the student crew with procedures used offshore by distance sailors. Robin had earlier marked the lat/long for our departure buoy from the Delaware Bay, namely the NW perimeter buoy G “5” Fl G 2.5s Gong of the charted Pilot Area which lies just E of Hens and Chickens shoal. From there, she had also entered a danger bearing of 163º True or 171º psc (per ship’s compass). In short, the helm order was: steer nothing less than 171º psc. As it turned out, the wind remained fair and both watches were able to sail close-hauled at about 165º psc.

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Day 6 – Offshore to Cape Charles Harbor, Chesapeake Bay Entrance
At 0145 the mid-watch sees one of the menhaden fishing trawlers that we often encounter casting their nets in these waters. She is the stand-on vessel, but no matter our maneuvers to give way, she seems to decide on circling us for nearly an hour. 

Until noon, we have some delightful sailing conditions. We are nearly 30 nm offshore, and it’s time to set course for the Chesapeake Bay entrance at the North Channel through the Fishermans Island Bridge (shown on Chart 12221 as CHESAPEAKE BAY BRIDGE TUNNEL TRESLE D). Our approach mark is buoy R “2N” Fl R 4s, south of Nautilus Shoal at 37º 19.150’N; 075º 54.22'W. We discuss our vessel’s mast height of 54 feet above the water plus 3 feet for the VHF antenna, and conclude that we can safely pass under the Fishermans Island Bridge with its charted vertical clearance of 75ft. As we get closer, we motorsail along the approach buoy’s latitude line of 37º 19.150’N and watch the numbers on our handheld GPS. All agree with the strategy, and with lookouts shining flashlights on both sides (it’s now full dark) we pick out the channel buoys as the bridge ahead and its center nav lights below the steel girders loom larger and larger. After passing through the two bridges, we follow our nav plan into Cape Charles Harbor Marina where Tom docks the boat before we all get a good night’s rest. 

Day 7 – Cape Charles Harbor to a night-run up the Bay
Showers, then breakfast in this delightful historic town, followed by boat cleaning. Again, the first mate and captain join the crew in developing a detailed nav plan while Tom is changing the engine’s Racor and fuel filter. A very brief reduction in engine speed last night made this a prudent precaution prior to our coming night cruise up the Bay. 

We cast off at 1530, top off fuel and pump out at the fuel dock, and by 1630 we navigate down the Cherrystone Channel and out into Chesapeake Bay. Once outside the entrance, with winds of 10-15 knots from SW, we set the mainsail (one reef still in place) and rig a preventer. It’s a perfect wind angle to rig the whisker pole for the remaining daylight hours before we unfurl the genoa. A three-quarter waxing moon under partly cloudy skies makes this a delightful run. By the time we are about to cross the Rappahannock Shoal Channel, we receive a VHF call from a large freighter that is not showing on AIS. She is alerting us that she’ll be entering this channel shortly and requests that we move west of the channel and away from where she needs to pass. We of course comply with this request and confirm this with the freighter. After we clear the channel, we can make out her lights in the distance, and she eventually overtakes and passes to our starboard side.  

Day 8, East of Tangier Island to Lankford Bay Marina, 
At 0300, both watches on deck, we conduct a night-time MOB drill. Taylor makes a Security call on VHF Ch. 16 announcing our location and upcoming drill. In the freshening breeze, staysail set, one reef in the main, we aim for the floating MOB manikin - a pumpkin Jack-o-Lantern with a flashing strobe attached to it. After several misses with our special throw rope (it has a plastic grappling hook at the end), we take the next prudent step: douse all sails, approach upwind under engine, and bingo. We place a final “Security” call that our drill has concluded. No sooner has the outgoing watch hit their bunks when we hear two brief “Mayday” calls. Position: “South of Tangier Island.” We then see an unusual, bright red light in the direction of the Island and tell the Coast Guard of our sighting. Still later, we see two helicopters with spotlights circling in the distance. That activity is followed later by the Coast Guard hailing NAVIGATOR on Channel 16 to tell us that the victim has been safely recovered and thanking us for our assistance. 

We are now motor sailing on a broad reach, preventer rigged. With the moon hidden behind clouds, the tired crew is challenged to minimize cross-track error and not jibe the boat. 

Off Annapolis by late afternoon and with decreasing winds on the nose, we drop all sails and motor along our pre-planned waypoints. As we approach Love Point and then enter the Chester River in evening twilight, we adjust our waypoints on the plotter for an extra margin of safety. For good measure, we use spotlights to find and identify buoys to ensure that we are where we are supposed to be. 

Once back in our marina, the captain maneuvers NAVIGATOR to the pump out dock to empty our holding tank, and Tom takes her back in to her slip - with big smiles all around. Although it’s getting close to midnight, Mike wants to “hit the road” for a few hours to shorten his long drive the next day. After breakfast on Sunday, we tidy up a bit and offload our gear. That done, we bid each other a fond farewell and best wishes. 

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

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
September 22, 2018
Rock Hall, Maryland

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