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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Norfolk to Bermuda
Date May 26-June 3, 2024
Students:  Kurt Kinsmeyer, Ivan Modlin, Ali Solyu, Mike Yakir
First Mate: Captain David Gifford
Captain Captain Frank Mummert

David Gifford and I were the mate and master for the trip out to Bermuda.  He and I prepped the boat on Saturday while we waited for the students to show up.  We had four students, Ali Solyu, Kurt Kinsmeyer, Mike Yakir and Ivan Modlin.  Ali and Kurt had sailed with us before, Mike and Ivan had not.  We did two days of training and prep work at Cobb’s Marina in Norfolk, VA and departed on Tuesday, May 28.

We had a bit of problem at the very beginning of the cruise.  In leaving the Little Creek area, we have to pass over the southern tunnel of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.  However, just as we got into position, we had to wait as first a US Navy aircraft carrier, then a destroyer and finally a submarine preceded us.  We were left going in big circles on the western side of the choke point, waiting for the big boats with the guns to go first.  Once we finally got past the tunnel, we stopped and set our main sail.

Unfortunately, for the first 36 hours, we had very limited winds.  We had to motor-sail down toward the Cape Hatteras area, then turned out to go across the Gulf Stream.  We had indications of a huge counter-clockwise eddy just to the east of the stream, which gave us a lift in the direction we wanted to go.  

On the morning of Day 2, we found ourselves in a fleet of fast moving pleasure boats, all headed east.  By noon, we caught up with these boats, all sitting and fishing the edge of the Gulf Stream.  These were the commercial charter boats out of the Oregon Inlet, who take small groups of fishermen out after the “big game” of the sea - tuna, sailfish and the like.  At one point, there were more than 40 boats from horizon to horizon.

We put a reef in the main sail as the sun dropped, because we could see lightning behind us. The squalls chased us for about 8 hours, finally catching us at just after 4:00. We got blown around the ocean as the wind rose to 35 knots and turned all the way around us, finally leaving us wet and worn out about 30 minutes later.

After the squall line passed us on Thursday morning, the wind filled in and we had a great sail, wind on the port quarter for almost three full days.  The three teams, 

Mike and I on the 04-08,
David and Ivan on the 08-12, and
Ali and Kurt on the 12-04

were able to settle into a smooth rotation.  Meals came and went, sun shots were taken and plotted and vessels were avoided as we traveled south and east.

By Day 4, we had been sailing for over 24 hours and had not yet had to run the engine to maintain the battery charge.  Between good battery management and excellent solar panel output, we had avoided listening to the drone of the engine.

The new boat movement caused some queasiness and dinner, which was supposed to be chili and rice, turned out to be just rice for half the crew. However, by the next morning, everyone seemed to be in better sorts and breakfast was well attended.

In fact, we even had a stowaway that morning! A flying fish came aboard sometime during the night and was found on the side deck.

Captain Tom Tursi, our shoreside weather prognosticator, reported to us that 

“Today, center of High is over S Carolina and there is a Low several hundred miles NE of BDA producing a pinch zone and 25 kt NW winds W and NW of BDA. W of the pinch, about where you are, winds are lighter from N-NW. Sunday, center of High to move offshore mid-way to BDA and your winds should continue NW probably below 15 knots. Monday, High to move over BDA and winds shift SW-S-SE 10 kt or less at your position.”  Most of the time, Captain Tursi’s reports were dead on, but the ocean is a large place and not always consistent.

That evening, we had an interesting weather event. Just after dinner, while we were still in the cleanup phase, the wind suddenly rose from its normal 15 to 20 to 30 kn of wind, gusting to 35. The crew leapt into action and quickly furled the head sail. We already had a reef in the main. We quickly buttoned up the boat, putting in the second drop board and pinning it, and making sure that all gear below was safe and secure. We noted our location just in case.

On Saturday evening, the wind began to die and we found ourselves having to first motor-sail, then motor.  We were able to sail again for four hours in the middle of Sunday, but after that, we were back to motoring.  

Because we take logs every hour, we have a record of what had been happening over time.  One of the things we discovered was that we seemed to be taking on more water than we had taken earlier in the cruise.  Frank and David started looking for sources of water and soon discovered that a significant stream of water was coming in through the rudder packing gland.  Pulling out gear from the starboard side locker gave a clear access to it and we took pictures and video to assess the situation.  

In discussing the problem with Captain Tursi, we decided that the water ingress was not enough to endanger the boat, the bilge pump was having no problem keeping up and that we should continue.  We also looked for other sources of water coming in and decided that spray over the bow from the heavy winds was probably as much a source as the rudder packing, but we would investigate further in Bermuda.  

Almost immediately after deciding all of this, the seas calmed, the rudder stopped leaking, the spray stopped coming over the bow and we were soon back to a normal level of water in the bilge.  It was almost as if the weather gods - or Navigator herself - wanted to test us to decide if we were worthy of the trip.  I think we passed.

We were able to get north of Bermuda on Sunday evening, but decided that we would have to stand off and wait for daylight.  We hove-to at about midnight and gave everyone a chance to rest, although almost no one actually slept.  Watching the stars cross the night sky, the astronomers among us were able to point out the constellations to even the most jaded and land-locked of the crew.  We waited for daylight on Monday morning and started motoring in as the twilight started to coat the sky.

We arrived at Customs about 10:00 and cleared into Bermuda before noon.  Because there were no spots on the inner seawall, we were “forced” to move to the super-yacht docks, where we were the tiniest yacht on the dock.  After the crew left and we were able to do some deep investigations, we determined that there was no undue leakage from the rudder shaft and that we were safe to return to the US, when our new crew showed up.

Captain Frank Mummert
St Georges, Bermuda

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