2022 Bermuda Reports

Course Descriptions
School Yachts
Schedule of Courses
Ocean Training Cruises
ASA Certification
Registration Info
Our Location
Our People
Contact Us
Course: Offshore Passage Making; Bermuda to Norfolk
Date June 6-15, 2024
Students: Bruce Hamilton, Geoff Stothard, Jim Suhr, Pat Waldo
First Mate: Captain David Gifford
Captain Captain Frank Mummert

David Gifford and I were the mate and master for the trip back from Bermuda.  He and I prepped the boat while we were laying over in Bermuda, restowing and inspecting the gear that we had used on the way out.  We had four students, Bruce Hamilton, Geoff Stothard, Jim Suhr and Pat Waldo.  Geoff was the only student who had sailed with Maryland School before, having done a 104 with Frank and a 106 with David.  We did two days of training and prep work at Saint George’s Marina in Bermuda and departed on Sunday, June 9, after taking on diesel and topping off the water tank.

According to Captain Tom Tursi, our shoreside weather guide,

The weather forecast looks good for the next few days with a classic Bermuda High established east of Bermuda and producing brisk SW winds for the initial part of the return route to Norfolk. An approaching high pressure system coming off the US east coast is expected to change that for the second half of the return route.

We were  not yet out of sight of Bermuda, but it wouldn’t be long before it sank back into the ocean. An air patrol of a pair of Bermudian long tails overflew us, to bid us goodbye and ensure we didn’t take any stowaways with us.

Once we cleared the island and headed west-southwest, we had great winds for the first 24 hours.  The sailing was great and the crew quickly got their sea legs.  Over the next 6 hours, the winds rose and eventually, we found ourselves down to a reefed main and staysail, making good speed in confused seas but needing some engine assist to keep enough flow over the rudder to keep us on track.  The spray was coming over the sides in bucketfuls.  

This has made our passage relatively quick so far (we are about 60 miles ahead of where we were on the outbound leg), but as you can imagine, things are a little bouncy! Everyone has at least one mystery bruise that they don’t remember getting.

There has not been a lot of wildlife out here, the waves have been keeping them down. We have seen several vessels, including a passenger cruise ship, lit up like a chandelier on the ocean, as David says.

About midday, the starboard side genoa car exploded as almost 30 years of use had caused the welds holding the shackle in place to fail.

We hove to and quickly shifted the port side genoa car to the starboard side and continued sailing.  To give us the ability to tack, we rigged a spare block on the port side midships cleat to act as a turning point for the port side (lazy) headsail sheet.

The afternoon was so rough and there was so much spray coming into the cockpit (buckets full) that the Captain made the decision to forgo a cooked meal and it was peanut butter sandwiches all around.

Just before sundown, we ran through a squall line that did cause us, eventually, to tack for about an hour, thus testing our jury-rigged turning block.  It worked fine.  However, the squall line presaged a day of rainy sailing.  These weren’t squalls, just a remnant of a cold front that passed over us, headed east.  For almost 20 hours, we sailed through rain that would intensify then moderate, but never truly quit.  On a positive note, it did give the boat and the crew a nice fresh water rinse.

During this period, the second genoa car also failed, although not as spectacularly.  We were able to retain all the parts.  There was much discussion among the crew on the coincidence of having two identical parts fail within 48 hours of each other.  We rigged a second block on the starboard side midship cleat and kept going.

The seas had settled down a great deal by dinner time and the hot dinner plan from Monday was finally used. All of the crew has acclimated to the boat’s movement and dinner was enjoyed by all. Dessert was a package of British shortbread “biscuits”. All we needed was a spot of tea!

Unfortunately, up until this point, we had had almost a constant cloud cover, which made sextant training impossible.  As night fell, we finally began to get some clear skies and we had a lot of hope for the next day.

Wednesday dawned bright and clear and we were soon deep into sextant training, doing “lightning round” sun shots to allow the individual user to improve their “shot picture”.  The idea here is to repeatedly do a sextant shot and immediately get feedback on how accurate the shots were.  Soon all crewmembers were getting shots within a couple of miles of our true location.

We had done our best to shape our course to be more west than south, because the huge eddy we had encountered on our way out to Bermuda was still in place.  While on the way east, the eddy had been a help, going back this would have been a huge problem, so keeping south of it was vital.  By the evening of the 12th, we were south of the eddy and started to head more northerly.  We still wanted to stay on a more westerly track, since we knew that the Gulf Stream would lift us in the appropriate direction.

Unfortunately, right about the time that we started heading northwest, the wind started to shift on us.  This was part of the “change” that Captain Tursi had predicted in his initial weather report.  A huge low pressure system had developed over the Carolinas and it was starting to make its presence felt.  Eventually, the wind, which had been so consistent this trip, came east and died.  We found ourselves, for the first time since we left Bermuda, motoring.  We barely had enough wind to keep the mainsail holding on one side of the boat and we were forced to furl the headsail completely to keep it from flopping around.  Our true wind, according to the instruments, was 2, gusting to 20, every time the boat roll and the true wind direction was the opposite of wherever the mast was going at the moment.

We were seeing more flying fish and sea birds as we got closer to the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream. We thought we had crossed into it about 2 in the morning, but it turned out to be just a large swirl of warm water. We were sure, though, that by lunch, we would be well within the warm current.

As we entered the Gulf Stream, the wind rose into the 10 knots range, with occasional gusts to 15, and we were able to shape a nice motor-sailing course in the direction we wanted to go. However, everything up to this point had had the wind on our port side, so we had become used to everything leaning to the right. Now, the wind was on the other side and everything leaned left. It is amazing how much muscle memory had come into play. Now our muscles were really confused!

We had reached the point in the cruise where we were all acclimated to the boat’s movement. Now we could sleep when we want to, eat if we are hungry and move around the boat without looking like a bunch of drunken monkeys. We still had to hold on to the handholds whenever we moved, but now we looked like sober monkeys!

This held for about 12 hours, but again, as we left the Gulf Stream and adjust our course for Norfolk, the wind perished.  At one point, an offshore data buoy that we queried reported that the wind was 3.4 knots, gusting to 3.4, from the southeast.  Since this was exactly the opposite of the direction we were traveling, there was no air movement on the boat and, as the humidity crept up, we found the lack of breeze uncomfortable.

At a little before six Thursday morning, our radio came alive with a discussion between two “warships,” discussing their maneuvers to guard “the fleet.” Although these radio calls were on the edge of our ability to receive them, there were some mysterious radar echoes behind and off our beam. We assume they knew we were out here, since our AIS system was busily broadcasting our name, location and speed to anyone who would listen. Oddly, their AIS systems were off. Apparently, the US Navy doesn’t want people to know where they are when they are sneaking around out here…

The captain, that morning, continued an old Maryland School tradition and made mid-ocean cheese omelets for the crew. It was the mate’s opinion that the captain’s omelets are improving, but not quite up to that of the master. The captain agrees.

By nightfall on the 13th, the sea had turned glassy enough to see individual clouds on the surface.  A pod of dolphins came to play in our bow wave and we could clearly see them underwater, swimming along our side.  The drone of the engine was annoying but the boat motion was stable and the celestial navigation work that we were trying to cram in at the end of the cruise was getting accomplished with little difficulty.

We were in sight of the loom of light over the Virginia Beach oceanfront by the morning twilight, although it was still several hours before we could make out the tops of the hotels. The seas were still flat calm and we passed a weather data buoy hat said the wind was 5, gusting to 5. Using the Customs and Border Patrol ROAM application, we were able to clear customs before we even entered the Bay and it was clear travels into Cobb’s Marina in Norfolk, where we tied up on Friday afternoon, home again.

Captain Frank Mummert
Little Creek, VA

Return to Home

© Copyright The Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship, Inc., All rights reserved.
Web site design by F. Hayden Designs, Inc.