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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date September 27-October 5, 2019
Students: Stefanie Brady, Phil Chappell, Karl Kuehner, Brian Wells
Mate Andy Barton
Captain Frank Mummert

The third DMVA Circumnavigation cruise for 2019 started late on a Friday afternoon, as crewmembers Brian Wells, Karl Kuehner, Phil Chappell and Stefanie Brady showed up aboard Navigator to meet with Captain Frank Mummert and Mate Andy Barton, stow their personal gear and investigate the boat, NAVIGATOR, a 40 foot Island Packet sailboat.  After everyone had arrived, the Captain led everyone out for dinner and a crew briefing, going over crew assignments and basic standing orders for the trip.  The crew enjoyed the first meal together of many over the next week, bonding over a shared love of sailing and exploring the differences in experience and background.

Saturday, the first full day of instruction dawned early.  Captain Frank wanted everyone ready to go by 8:00, so people started waking up and getting prepared at 5:30.  After breakfast and copious amounts of coffee, the crew started going over the boat, storage area by storage area, identifying the various pieces of gear and boat systems that would be used.  The boat was explored inside and out and the crew discovered where everything from the emergency tiller to the spare batteries were stored.  After a quick break, the crew moved the boat from its slip to a mooring ball, where Andy worked the crew through the various procedures that would be used during the trip, setting the mainsail, putting in one and two reefs, installing and removing a preventer, dousing the mainsail, setting genoa and staysail and dousing them.  Finally, the largest evolution was performed, requiring all hands to get involved - rigging and de-rigging the whisker pole.  After successfully walking through each step, line by line, the crew moved the boat back to her slip and commenced the navigation preparations necessary for getting from Langford Bay Marina to Swan Creek, then from Swan Creek to Summit North Marina on the C&D Canal. By 10:00 PM, the crew was done for the day, fed with a dinner of lasagna and salad and ready for bed.
Just after dawn the next day Sunday, Navigator left her home slip for the circumnavigation cruise.  On her way down Lankford Creek, the crew performed a calibration of the knotmeter, discovering that it had been fouled by underwater growth and requiring a cleaning.  They also calibrated the compass deviation card, using the sun to provide a reference direction.  With the wind on the port quarter, the sails were set, including the whisker pole to help hold the genoa.  After reaching the southern tip of the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge, the crew de-rigged the whisker pole and performed Crew Overboard training.  After the Captain and Mate were convinced of the crew's abilities in this vital area, the sails were set for Swan Creek Marina's mooring field, where the boat was secured for the night, just before sunset.  After dinner and more navigation preparations for the off-shore run, the crew fell into their bunks, exhausted.
As the sun came up on Monday, Navigator's anchor light switched off and she headed out into the gray morning to commence the run to Summit North Marina, in the C&D canal.  Unfortunately, the wind was light and variable, so the day was spent motoring against an ebbing current, a complete reversal from the glorious sailing of the day before.  As the boat moved northward into narrower and narrower waters, the multitude of boats headed south for warmer climates became more frequent, as did huge powerboats headed for the annual Annapolis Power Boat show, opening soon.  Finally, after stemming a tide that ran to almost two knots in places, NAVIGATOR reached the marina, where she took on fuel, pumped out the accumulated waste and settled into a slip for the evening.  Dinner that night was at the Grain Restaurant, where the crew enjoyed bingo and meeting one of Phil's old friends, who happened to keep his boat in the marina.
In the pre-dawn glow on Tuesday, NAVIGATOR once again headed off, this time bound for the overnight run south to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  For once, the tide was going the same direction and the boat slid easily through the muddy water of the Delaware River and into the Delaware Bay.  The mainsail was set after the Salem Nuclear Power Plant was passed and the crew began motor-sailing, as the wind was not strong enough initially to keep the boat on track.  When the wind did come up, it did so with a will, going rapidly from 5 knots to 20.  However, in rising, it came around to the south east, putting it dead onto Navigator's bow.  Andy led the crew in putting a reef in the main, then setting the staysail, and Brian, the skipper of the day, made a decision to tack down the Bay, with current and wind foul.  It was a test of the crew's seamanship ability, which they performed admirably.  Unfortunately, the pattern set there was to persist over the next two days.  
From the mouth of the Delaware Bay, the crew motor-sailed with reefed mainsail and staysail to a position about ten miles offshore, then tacked back and forth down the Delaware and Maryland coastlines.  The high wind that had persisted over the previous week or so had set up large seas out of the southwest, while the remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo had set up a westerly swell that fought and reinforced the wind-driven waves.  Because of the persistence of the wind, the offshore current, which normally flows from north to south, had reversed and grown to about two full knots.  The combination of the strong wind, heavy seas and foul current conspired to keep Navigator's speed low, at one point reducing the Course Made Good to under 2 nautical miles per hour.  A 30 mile run took over seventeen hours, lasting through the day and well into the night.

The crew rose against the challenge with a will, standing watches six hours on and six hours off.  Meals became whatever one could put together as the boat rolled and heeled and sleep was only possible by the use of lee cloths to keep the sleeper in bed.  All through the trip, the crew kept the boat on track, the log book up-to-date and the ded reckoning on the chart.  No one called foul or complained as the sea and the sky threw wind and spray at them in buckets and bushels.  It was long into the second night before the boat turned out of the Atlantic Ocean and passed under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel northernmost bridge span.  It was with relief that the boat was tied up in Cape Charles City Marina, just a half hour before the sun started brightening for the start of the third day since leaving Summit North.  
After spending less than twelve hours in port, and taking on fuel and water, the crew once again ventured out into the Chesapeake Bay.  The wind was still out of the southeast and all sail was set for a broad reach up the bay.  Since the wind was forecast to come back on to the nose and increase, the engine stayed on so that the boat could get as far north as possible before the wind changed.  It was hoped by the Captain and Mate that the crew could get the boat north of the point where the Potomac River joined the Bay, since that area was traditionally one of strong and capricious currents and being in heavy winds while crossing can be difficult at the best times.  With the crew already short of sleep, it was important to give them all the advantages possible.
Luck and good planning were on NAVIGATOR's side and she was north of the Potomac when the wind suddenly pivoted to the northeast, rose to a screaming 25 knots, with gusts to 30 and the temperature dropped twenty degrees in an hour.  At two in the morning, the crew came together to reef the mainsail and douse the headsail, then, after another half-hour, the staysail.  The boat continued on with reefed main and the engine providing all the forward motion possible against the outgoing tide.  The crew sailed the boat on long, sweeping tacks, literally from one side of the bay to the other, while the wind continued to howl out of the northeast.  The carefully conceived navigation plan was amended again and again as waypoints plotted were left behind as being out of the path the boat could sail.  Skipper of the day Stefanie had her hands full, trying to decipher the best route as the wind made hash of her plans repeatedly.  The crew ably went through every change with grace and strength, earning their stripes as boat handlers and navigators, lookouts and RADAR operators.  The spray on deck was so heavy that seeing through the window on the spray dodger was practically impossible and it was only by using compass and sail trim that the boat could be directed.  Every hand topside kept a sharp eye out for the "snowbirds," cruising sailboats using the strong wind to push them rapidly down the Bay and off to sunnier shores.  It was instructional to see which boats used the electronic aid, AIS, and which did not.  Sometimes small sailboats were more easily identified than huge fishing boats.
The sun was going down again as NAVIGATOR finally passed underneath the Annapolis Bay Bridge, which had first been seen eight hours before.  That distance, easily covered by car in less than an hour, required much longer as each tack went from the eastern shore to the western, proceeding a mile north for every four or five sailed.  The boat was alive with motion, but by this point, the crew well had their sea legs and lunch was French toast with caramelized apples, prepared for Phil in honor of his birthday by Stefanie, while she continued to serve as skipper.  Frank and Andy joked that she had earned two free points on her final exam for her tasty efforts.  That evening, as the boat rolled and swooped through the still considerable seas north of the Bridge, the crew dined on pasta and sauce, with salad and bread.  It was good to have the hot food, since the temperatures had dropped precipitously, to the point that, where sunburn had been a risk coming out of Cape Charles, hypothermia was now an issue.  In fact, it grew so cold that even Captain Frank was forced to put on socks - considered by the crew to be a truer measure of the temperature than the thermometer, since Frank had not even worn shoes for most of the trip!
The main sail came down for the last time as the boat rounded the green buoy number seven in the Chester River, brought down by the crew in the light of a silver crescent of the moon and while the wind continued to torment the boat with twenty-five knots of fury.  Even back in the relatively protected waters of the Chester, the boat danced lively as the crew kept her on tighter and tighter courses up the Chester and into Langford Creek, running along the unlit buoys that marked the shoal areas.  It was not until Captain Frank and the crew were able to put Navigator alongside the T-head in Lankford Bay Marina that the wind was reduced in strength enough to make boat handling relatively simple.
This trip was, in Captain Frank's opinion, the most challenging one he had ever attempted in a DMVA Circumnavigation and there are few crews that he has worked with that would have performed as ably and as confidently as this one.  He was very grateful to have Captain Andy Barton as his mate, another of Maryland School of Sailing's senior captains and a perfect yin to his yang.  Andy's cool demeanor kept the crew from worrying when things were sporty and his insistence on doing things the right - and safe - way made sure that nothing bad happened.  Stefanie's continuing optimism, Phil's iron-willed determination, Brian's quiet good nature and Karl's depth of knowledge, and warped sense of humor, kept the crew together and focused on their shared goals.  It is this ability to weld a team out of disparate individuals that is the keystone of the Maryland School philosophy.

Captain Frank Mummert
October 5, 2019
Rock Hall, Maryland


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