2002 USVI-Norfolk Report

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USVI to Norfolk
Course:      Ocean Training Cruise, St Thomas, USVI to Norfolk, VA
Date:          May 5-19, 2002
:        IP45 HALIMEDA
Students:     Carroll Christiansen, Cliff Feehan, Gordon & Joyce Bloom
First Mate: Andy Prescott
Captain:      Hal Sutphen

The student crew for Halimeda’s passage from St. Thomas to Little Creek (Norfolk) Virginia embarked at Crown Bay Marina on May 4. Carroll Christiansen, who made the same passage a year earlier, was designated Navigator. Cliff Feehan was Boatswain, assisted by Joyce Bloom, while Gordon Bloom was assigned as Engineer. It was an unusually experienced crew, with each member having made at least one prior offshore passage. We spent a full day and well into the evening on May 5 getting organized, verifying equipment inventories and stowage, setting working and storm sails, and developing a meal plan and provision shopping list. In mid-afternoon, Captain Andy Prescott, sailing as Mate, arrived and joined in the preparatory process.

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More checking of gear, rigging the sea anchor, discussing emergency plans, completing the watch bill and defining watch responsibilities and duties took place on May 6, as well as provisioning for the passage.

May 7 started early, with final "shore showers" and topping off water tanks, then moving the boat to the fuel dock to fill the diesel tanks. By 0830 we were underway for our trip to Virginia. Motoring along the south coast of St. Thomas, we did a series of Crew Overboard drills to let everyone get the feel of handling the boat. Then sails were set and as we rounded the west end of St. Thomas at 1000, we took departure for Little Creek. With a steady East/Northeast breeze at 14-16 knots, Halimeda responded nicely, beam reaching at better than 7 knots for hours on end. The sunny day was replaced by a soft tropical night, with 3 crew members manning sextants for evening stars at twilight. Shortly thereafter we saw the famed "Southern Cross" constellation low in the southern sky.

May 8 proved to be another "perfect" day: more beam reaching on winds that began at 10-14 knots and built to 15-18 by afternoon. Halimeda sped along at 6+ to 7+ knots over a slightly lumpy sea. At 1000, the log indicated we had traversed almost 164 miles in our first 24 hours of sailing. The celestial navigators were busy all day with sun sights, and at evening twilight the navigator racked up a 6-star point fix. And we were eating well, with ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch and chicken breasts with rice and beans for supper.

By May 9 we were settling into the offshore routine, in three watch sections, each standing a 3-hour watch at night (2200-0700) and a 5-hour watch by day. In mid-morning we entered a band of showers that left great patches of calm air between rains, and we used the engine to push us through the disturbed area. At 1000, the end of our second 24-hour day, we had logged another good day: 145 miles. By 1030 the wind was back, out of the northeast to east at 15-18, and we slipped along at speeds that often hit the 8-knot level. With tossed salad and spaghetti for dinner, topped off by freshly baked brownies by Chef Carroll -- to celebrate his birthday – we wrapped up another fine day of sailing. By 2000 we had logged 400 miles – almost 1/3 of the way in less than 2 ˝ days. Through the night we slipped between a number of showers but the wind held steady and even veered a bit toward the southeast, making the ride more comfortable and keeping our boat speed in the 7+ knots range.

May 10 began with broken clouds and winds that built to 28 knots, so we were flying along with a deeply reefed main and partially furled jib. An hour later the wind was down to less than 10 knots so we shook out the reef and kept the boat moving. Winds cycled up and down through most of the morning, giving us plenty of reefing/unreefing exercise. At 1000 the log read 500.9, giving us a 168-mile day. A beautiful sunny afternoon brought settling seas as we continued to beam reach our way on a north-northwesterly course. We reached the 600-mile mark before midnight, racking up an average speed since departure of 6.95 knots.

May 11 brought smoother seas and although the wind eased a bit we were able to keep the boat moving nicely. It was calm enough to enjoy pancakes with bacon and fruit for breakfast. At 1000 our log read 674 (past the half-way point of the rhumb-line distance) and gave us our best day yet at 173 miles. We were still beam reaching on starboard tack and cranking out the miles in impressive fashion. The log clicked over 700 miles at 1415, and it reached 750 at 2020. 50 miles in 6 hours and 5 minutes is an average of better than 8.2 knots: Halimeda can really go when the wind is right!

May 12 was Sunday, and it was Mother’s Day, so we declared holiday routine and took things easy. It was another clear, sunny day, with a light breeze that rippled the surface of a long, slow swell from the south. At 1000 we recorded another 170 mile day, and by noon the wind was so light we decided to set the asymmetrical cruising chute for a while. When the wind faded completely by 1500, we doused all sail and held a swim call at 30-24.9N, 72-06.8 W. Then we began to motor northward, waiting for the wind to veer to the southwest and build as a cold front approached us from the US coast.

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May 13 found us motoring until daybreak, when we were able to set sail again, this time on port tack for the first time in almost 900 miles! We took advantage of the relatively calm conditions to enjoy a breakfast of omelet's with sausage, cheese and veggies to fortify us for the anticipated weather. Throughout the day, the wind built from the southwest and the barometer fell steadily. Before dusk we deeply reefed the main and set the staysail with a mostly-furled jib. The wind was steadily in the mid-20's with gusts to the upper 30's and the seas were getting fairly lumpy. With no moon, it was difficult to see the swells and waves and the helmsmen were having difficulty anticipating the boat’s movements as we yawed on the quartering seas. At 2230 we hove to on port tack and stayed that way until daybreak.

Sunrise on May 14 revealed a dark, heavy bank of low clouds on the horizon to the north of us. It marked the approaching cold front, and we got under way to meet it. The front was a strong one, with squalls, heavy rains and confused seas that called for hand steering under deeply reefed sails. Behind the front, the wind veered all the way to the north, creating lots of "potholes" in the ocean as we worked to gain distance to the north and west. When it backed to the northwest in the afternoon we took a northerly course and found the riding more comfortable and the boat speed somewhat higher.

May 14

As May 15 began, we were near the Gulf Stream, bashing into lumpy seas raised by NNW winds at a steady 25 to 30 knots. Both the jib and the staysail leeches began to flog, so we decided to furl the jib. In the process, the sail fouled on a spare halyard tied off to the bow pulpit, so we spent nearly an hour running off before the wind and sea while skipper and mate went forward to get the sail cleared. (We subsequently found that the flogging had been caused by barber-haul tackles on both sheets that had managed to unreave themselves.) Thereafter we made slow and uncomfortable progress until 0645, when we hove to again to await moderation of wind and sea. By mid-morning we were able to resume sailing under reefed main and staysail, making distance toward Diamond Shoals and Chesapeake Bay. The forecast called for the wind to shift to the southwest and build as another front approached, but at 2030 we were experiencing very light, variable winds. We resorted to motoring.

May 16 found us motorsailing with the main set and drawing in a light westerly wind and choppy seas. We cleared the Gulf Stream but encountered an unexpected adverse current inshore of the stream, slowing our progress. The wind gradually backed to the southwest and began to build, but we continued motorsailing through the day so we could make port before the front could bring us more adverse winds. We entered the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in the fading light of dusk and moored at Taylor’s Landing Marina at 2226 with the log showing a trip total of 1429.8 miles.

Captain Hal Sutphen
Little Creek Harbor, Norfolk
May 19, 2002

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