Schedule of Courses
Ocean Training Cruises
Bermuda to Norfolk
After arriving in Saint Georges Harbour, Bermuda, we tied up parallel to the concrete quay near the Wharf Tavern which, sadly, was closed for renovations. This tavern was a favorite watering hole for sailors and is being extensively refitted; it will no doubt reappear as a pricier tourist attraction. Thus, we were forced to walk an entire city block to the other sailor's haven, the White Horse Tavern on Town Square, in order to secure refreshment.
The concrete quay presents a bit of challenge for safe docking due to the tidal swing and occasional wave action, but we were well equipped with two of the large red spherical fenders, a stout fender board, several large cylindrical fenders, plenty of good three-strand dock line and chafing gear. From past years, we knew the importance of being well equipped for mooring along side. Also, it is common practice for other yachts to tie up along side, with two or three yachts abreast, and we were not spared the courteous requests to provide this convenience.
Jerry Nigro sailed as First Mate during the outbound cruise and will continue for the return cruise. I've known Jerry for several years and we've sailed together on offshore cruises in the past. He's a USCG Licensed Captain, a very competent ocean sailor who has sailed his own boat from New England to Bermuda and is a real asset to any offshore cruise.
Our student crew arrived on June 5th and we had a chance to relax and get to know each other for half a day before getting down to serious preparatory work the following day. Lynn & Debra Brookhouser own a Sabre 34 foot sailboat which they've sailed extensively on the Chesapeake Bay including a circumnavigation of the Delmarva Peninsula. Bruce Blomgren has owned several boats including a 25-foot sailboat and a 36-foot motor cruiser, has chartered extensively in several areas of the US east coast and Caribbean, and was a US Navy qualified deck officer. Randall Washington has owned powerboats for over 20 years and in recent years began developing his sailing skills including chartering in the Chesapeake and the Caribbean and sailing courses with us and other schools. So, we have a reasonably well-qualified and motivated crew who are anxious to learn and to test their skills and knowledge in the serious environment of ocean sailing.
I assigned Randall as Engineer, Debra as Emergency Coordinator and Bruce and Lynn as Boatswains (Bosn's) and we all set to work with inspection and checkout of HALIMEDA and her equipment and procedures. We thoroughly inspected the entire yacht from stem to stern and to the masthead including below decks; we went over every piece of equipment, all tools and spare parts; all procedures, both routine and emergency. We rigged the storm trisail, boom crutch, sea anchor, whisker pole, cruising chute, mainsail, genoa and staysail. We did a complete walkthrough of abandon ship and man overboard procedures. And, by the end of the second day, found that we thoroughly knew the boat, equipment, procedures and, importantly, each other.
During this time, we also kept a close check on weather forecasts over SSB & VHF radios and NAVTEX receiver; obtained copies of the weather fax reports distributed by the Bermuda Customs office; and called the US National Hurricane Center to check on the development of tropical storms. All of this added up to a good forecast for our passage to Norfolk: no severe storms; a low pressure region near Bermuda was expected to pass to the northeast followed by extensive regions of high pressure and northeast winds of 10 to 15 knots for several days . If true, we should have a couple of good sailing days as we reached WNW along our rhumbline.
On Thursday morning, June 8th, while Jerry and Debra went to market for final food provisioning, I gathered up the passports and ship's papers and hoofed it over to the Customs Office to clear out. While there, I retrieved our flare gun (no trigger mechanisms permitted on Bermuda), the latest weather report printouts and Jerry's duty free rum. We then cleared our berth, needing to ask the two boats outboard of us to haul away so we could leave the quay, which they cheerfully did in spite of the early hour and their post-rum headaches. We then went to Dowling's to top up our water tanks and requested permission from Bermuda Harbour radio over VHF 16 to leave port.
The low-pressure region that was supposed to move out of the area had not yet done so, and we were faced with 25 to 30 knot northeast winds and heavy overcast skies as we put out to sea. As we were exiting the east end of the island, I had the choice of turning right and going south-about the island or turning left and going north-about. With northeast winds, south-about would put us in the lee of the island for several hours before we passed into open water and the full strength of the wind. North-about would put us immediately into the full strength of the winds and would also leave the island as a lee shore. We brought her to close-hauled on starboard tack to test our course over ground, and, finding it good, I elected to go north-about. My reason was to allow my new crewmembers the luxury of facing these strong, open ocean winds in daylight in order to get the feel of things before nightfall. Of course, within an hour we had three green crewmembers returning to the sea the fish dinners of the previous evening. But we made a good heading and speed and thus sailed comfortably to windward of the island.
By midnight, we had sailed away from the low that surrounded Bermuda. Skies cleared and winds abated but continued from the northeast giving us a nice reach on starboard tack. Then on Saturday, June 10th, winds backed to west then southwest giving us a comfortable close reach on port tack and allowing us to sail free to our destination.
We were aware from the Gulf Stream charts http://www.nlmoc.navy.mil/newpage/oceans/gulfstream.html that a large cold eddy with counter-clockwise current flow lay astride our rhumbline, and that we would need to pass on its northeast edge in order to gain a positive lift from the strong currents. We began to feel the effects of this eddy on June 10th. This is the same eddy that we contended with ten days ago on the outbound trip, so it hadn't moved much in that period of time. We again measured eddy currents of over three knots, and, by the time we exited from its grasp on June 11th, it had set us 50 miles to the north and west of our DR position. Wow!! What a ride!
Within six hours of leaving the eddy, we saw a seven-degree jump in seawater temperature to over 81 degrees F, indicating that we were about to enter the Gulf Stream with its strong north setting currents. Normally, I prefer to enter the Gulf Stream about 30 miles south of the rhumbline to compensate for current set. But, the cold eddy had forced us to enter further north and we thus had to harden sails and proceed close-hauled on port tack to minimize the north push of the stream. By morning of June 12th, we saw a 20-degree drop in water temperatures over a two-hour period and we knew that we had exited the Gulf Stream. As we came up onto the continental shelf, winds backed enough to allow us to crack sheets and come to a close reach toward our destination, Cape Henry, at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay.
By 2100 on June 12th, we arrived at the Chesapeake Bay Traffic Control Lanes and proceeded up the northbound lane toward "CBJ" the Chesapeake Bay Junction buoy, then past Cape Henry Light and into Thimble Shoal Channel through the Bridge Tunnel. And, at 0130 on June 13th, we arrived at Little Creek Harbor, home of the US Navy's Amphibious Fleet as well as Taylor's Landing Marina, our final destination.
It was a great cruise with lots of good sailing and navigational challenges, and our crew performed very well and measured up to all demands. They will leave with many new experiences and insights into the challenges of ocean sailing. Many thanks to all of my shipmates. And welcome home!
Captain Tom Tursi