2008 Bahamas-Norfolk Report

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Course:      Ocean Training Cruise, Bahamas to Norfolk, VA
Date:          May 2-9, 2008
:       IP440 CELESTIAL
:    David Gifford, Bob Hickey, Roque Reis, Bob Roe,   
First Mate: Captain Billy Psimas
Captain:      Captain Andy Prescott

The following report was filed by Student Crewmember Bob Roe.


And the adventure begins!!

A personal log of an adventure on the yacht CELESTIAL by one Maryland School of Seamanship student, Bob Roe. 

Marsh Harbor, Bahamas to Little Creek, Norfolk, VA. 


“So you think you are ready for some blue water!!!”

Day 1:  Thursday, May 1, 2008:  Departure day!  Flew BWI to Ft L then a hopper to Marsh Harbor, Bahamas.  I met a fellow student at the departure terminal for the hopper flight.  I knew he was one of us since few people carry a sextant on business trips!  Bob (we will call him New Jersey Bob from now on because he is from NJ (da!) – Nice guy working on his captain’s license.  The flight over was short but the scenery terrific!  Once we got out to the islands, the water turned aqua clear!  BEAUTIFUL!  We landed at Marsh Harbor, de planed on the tarmac in front of a small, somewhat dilapidated building which was our terminal.  The “Welcome to the Bahamas” sign was prominent (about the same size as the terminal!).  We stood in line outside for customs, then picked up our bags (out the back door) then stood in line again for bag check (no fruits, vege’s, etc).  NJ Bob and I jumped in a van cab with all our gear and headed to Conch Inn Marina.  NICE SPOT!!!  Tons of boats, beautiful water, and several water front restaurants – everything from a pizza place right up to white tablecloth, eat on the veranda, great fish places!  ALL GOOD!   This was the home base for both Moorings and Sunsail so sail boats ABOUND!!!  This must be sailboat HEAVEN! 

NJ Bob was staying at a hotel for our two land locked nights so I became the bag totter to the boat.  The cab dropped Bob off at his hotel then took me to the marina.  I unloaded and went in search of our vessel – CELESTIAL.  I finally gave up the highly efficient “walk about” method (men never ask directions!) and started just to look for Island Packet cutter rigs!  Easy find!  There she was – a gorgeous, like new IP 440!  Two heads, AC, microwave, wall mount LCD TV, leather cushions, AC, vacu flush heads, massage shower!  Did I mention AC!!  ALL GOOD!!!  Captain Andy and 1st Mate Billy welcomed me aboard.  NJ Bob and I turned out to be cell mates so all our gear went into the aft cabin.  Nice big queen size berth!!  Closet, cabinet and most important, our own door to the head!!  Since NJ  Bob was hotelling it for the first two nights, I got the cabin to myself!  OH YEA!!!!  Did I mention AC!!!!!  

We are HOT bunking at sea:  two guys are on watch at all times, that puts four guys down below in the four bunks.  Someone rolls out for watch, the two on watch roll into a “hot bunk”!  Hence the term “hot bunking”!  I explain this since I had never heard the term before.  After reading the term in the school info pack, I wondered just what kind of program this was going to be!! 

Our Cast of characters:

  • Captain:  Andy Prescott – Ex engineering firm owner – after 30 years sold the company for many shekels, got his captains license now instructs guys like us and fits in a delivery now and then!  Not bad!  Great guy!  Perfect temperament for handling four “deer in the headlight” students!  Part Captain, part manager, part coach / team builder, ships doctor but most important, part psychiatrist! 
  • 1st mate:  Billy Psimas – computer guru – does this on the side.  Billy was our navigator (and bakes a mean morning muffin!)

Both Andy and Billy were extremely competent!  We were constantly learning something!  They both fit the part of Captain and Mate to a tee – right down the pony tails and Billy’s cool tattoo!  


  • Bob Hickey – freelance TV / movie lighting designer (does a lot of NFL stuff!!) – just finished celestial class and is working on his captains ticket.
  • Roque Dos Reis (American nick name “Hockey” – That’s what we called him!) is from Santos, Brazil.  Business mgt. consultant and also owns a fleet of crewed sailing yachts that he leases in South America.  Next time you are in S.A, check it out: Latitude Charter, Cruzeiro de Valeiro – NICE!
  • Dave Gifford – the lawyer that loves to sail (ALWAYS good to have a lawyer on board!  - especially when playing chicken with war ships!  More on this later!!).  This is his 6th (or more) trip like this!  Very knowledgeable sailor!  Great with celestial nav!  He is my watch mate!  Good draw!
  • And in the rear:  Me – Bob Roe – A Corp VP of Sales kind of guy.  Owner of an IP 320 with visions of sailing the world, blue water grandeur!

Most have more celestial nav experience than me so I should have LOTS of coaching!  All Good!  Excellent group!  This will be fun! 

Captain started “class” at 1600 on Thursday since we all got in nice and early – intro’s all around then into the teaching mode.  We broke out the ASA book and started on all the basics – we walked every inch of the deck checking every line, cleat, furler, etc.  We covered all the deck lay out and basic rules of the road to ensure all were on the same page!  About 6:30 we broke for dinner – up to the white table cloth, eat on the veranda kind of place!!!  I had Mai Mai!  Oh yea!!  Nice wine, good fish, lots of laughing!  Oh yea, these guys have stories!!  

Then Capt Andy broke out the stuff to create our meal lists!  We all pitched in and created meals for seven days, who was going to cook what, who liked what, etc.  then we created our shopping list for Friday.  

We also drew straws to see who was going to do what the next day.  We each have assigned tasks to complete:  engineering checks, safety checks, food shopping, etc.  Plus class time on navigation, trip planning etc.  NJ Bob and I drew “emergency gear” (which unfortunately includes the food shopping trip!!  Who thought that up!!)  We have to inspect and know how to operate all emergency equipment.  Then later in the day we will brief our crew mates on everything we have learned.  

After dinner, we headed back to CELESTIAL and CRASHED!!!  Did I mention AC and what a wonderful thing it is!!  I slept like a LOG!  

Day 2 - Friday May 6:  up at 0445 – still dark outside.  I finally got on line to do some last minute e mailing.  All good!  Beautiful sunrise!  Coffee shop opens at 0700 for breakfast!  Then let the inspections begin!!!!  MORE LATER!!  This is going to be good!!  (Hey, a little rain!  Must be one cloud over the boat!) 

Day 2 continued:  2115  – Man has this been a LONG day!!  Gorgeous but LONG!  We started “training” at 0800.  We were each give assignments that had to do with inspecting every square inch of the boat.  My partner NJ Bob and I had all safety equipment.  You want to know all the ORC (Ocean Racing Council) and Coast Guard regs, plus ASA suggestions for an ocean voyage, I’m your man!  We inspected life raft equipment, flares up the kazoo, Type 1 life preservers, man overboard equipment, all kinds of strobes, etc, etc, etc.  Our other mates were doing mechanical checks, nav equip checks, etc.  We opened every hatch, checked every device on this boat!  TOOK US MORE THAN A DAY!!!!  I sorted thru and read manuals on the life raft, collision blanket, flare guns, flares (anyone knows the difference between a coast guard approved flare and a SOLAS approved flare?  I do!!).  We had to find and answer questions on every piece of equipment then teach our crew mate all we knew.  We now know the boat, where everything is and how it works!  All good!!  We also had lessons in deploying a trisail (for wind over 50 mph – Oh boy!!).  That was fun!  Another fun task was to tie 3 polypropylene jugs to the rail at the port bow.  Sounds easy but it took over an hour!!  Then the captain came by, kicked one of the jugs askew as to say “try again!”  Those $%&#ing jugs will never move again!!  By the way, the jugs are filled with drinking water each with an arm tether.  If we go into the life raft, we cut the jug lines, throw the jug into the sea then jump into the life raft pulling in the jug after us.  We each have an emergency station – two people will be on jug duty. 

NJ Bob and I also had to do all meal planning and SHOPPING!  What an adventure!  We took the menus we created the night before then summarized a seven day chart for breakfast, lunch and dinners.  Last we created a shopping list.  Now off the market on foot!  We filled three shopping carts with food!!  Shopping in the Bahamas is not like shopping at ACME!  But the store was pretty good!  We found all!!  (well almost all – no rotisserie chicken!  A Chesapeake cruise staple!  How can you possibly cruise without a rotisserie chicken!!)  We went thru grocery check out and a very nice boy about 14 helped us pack all goods into boxes (with taped shut lids!!  Just like UPS!).  He solicited two other younger boys to help.  

The captain gave me his credit card to use to buy food.  That went out the window when I was asked for ID!!!!  “OHHH, You want ID” says I!!  “Then give me that card back and I’ll give you another!!”  You don’t think I got a funny look!  

Our head bag boy called us a cab (from a VHF radio on the wall!!) then helped pack the cab!  These kids don’t get paid but do this for tips.  Good kids!  They did well by us!  

This week’s flock of Sun Sail and Moorings cruisers were just rolling in so the store was filling up!  All the bag boys have this system down pat!!  Cab got us to the boat then NJ Bob and I had to organize all the supplies, store all food, etc etc etc!  NJ Bob and I are now the only two on the boat that know where all the good stuff is hidden!!!  ALL RIGHT!!  (we have enough M&M’s to supply the NAVY!!) 

I knew we had a food budget, NJ Bob and I just did not know what it was.  After getting back to the boat, and packing all down, we had a pool as to what we had spent.  Dave won the pool at $500.00.  Our budget was $450.00.  Too bad we spent $729.00!!!  And that is with NO alcohol!!!  (not a drop on the boat!!)  Things cost a few more shekels down here!! 

More class time until 6:30 then a shower (YEA) and off to dinner.  New spot down the coast “Snappers” – Great fish!!  Live music!!  A few beers and BED!!!!  Man was I tired! 

Saturday - Day 3:  Woke at 0430 ish.  Hard to tell – without glasses I can’t read my watch!  Opened up the boards and I am now sitting in the cockpit typing.  Sun is about to come up.  Very nice!  Today we have class most of the day.  More lessons then drills.  Then we prep the boat for departure and will leave on the tide around 1600.  We want to run the channel thru the reef on a slack tide.  Captain said getting out of here can be an adventure depending on tide, wind and ocean waves.  This should be good!  

I’m learning a TON!!  Filling my note book with great ideas!!  It is amazing the stuff you don’t know!  More to come later but this will be my last e mail before we head out.  No more AC, no more marina showers, no more restaurants, no more internet, NO MORE BEER!!!!  But the adventure awaits!  

More to come when we dock next Saturday!  

Sunday May 5:  0825 I just got up – poked my head out the companionway and it is a glorious morning!  Blue sky, sun, wind 12 to 15.  We are on a broad reach at 356 degrees doing about 5 knots.  Seas are a bit lumpy but on this tack, not bad!  It’s going to be an awesome day!  I came up with my computer to write so Captain (on duty) went down to make bacon and eggs for the crew.  So here I sit, alone in the cockpit surrounded by beauty!  This morning is worth the cost of the trip all by itself! 

OK, I get ahead of myself.  Where did I leave off???  AAAh yes!  Departure day!!!  Saturday was filled with lots of lessons and more lessons.  We rigged and deployed our sea anchor (down the dock – not in the water!) (that was cool)!  We successfully held the dock in place for a good hour!  We also sent NJ Bob up the mast for mast inspection and more safety checks. 

Just before lunch, Capt pulled us together and gave us our afternoon schedule:  lunch, prep the boat for departure, more safety checks and lessons then depart at 1500.  He then let me know I would be taking CELESTIAL out of the slip for the first leg.  “Put a plan together then check with me”!  AYE AYE!!  Ok, everyone goes to lunch but Bob.  I have a quick granola bar and D. Coke then sit and watch the wind while trying to figure how to back this thing out and survive 

We are parked in a slip surrounded by big boats (no fair touching!!)  We have a giant cat right next to us that I need to avoid.  Wind is just off my nose in the wrong direction (nothing is easy).  1st mate Billy comes up and asks me to tell him my plan.  I tell him.  He is skeptical!  Billy gives me his ideas.  Capt Andy comes back from lunch – pulls me aside – “What's your Plan!!?”  I tell him – he looks skeptical!!  I not only tell him my primary plan if all goes right but also my back up plan if plan A goes south!  I feel good – they don’t!!  But to his credit, Cap gives me the go ahead with Bob’s Plan A!! Allright!! 

Later, while prepping the boat, Capt (after much soul searching) pulls me aside and says “New plan – you are going to back her all the way out”.  “Yes Sir.  I’ll make that happen!”  Cap calls the crew together – they on the dock, I on the cabin top.  I brief the crew on the new and improved backing plan then gave deck assignments.  All is well in Marsh Harbor, slip 44A!  

I’ll cut thru the dramatic stuff but I will say the helmsmen never lost his cool (other than a slight increase in voice pitch and the need for new underwear!).  Two turns later, we were motoring out with nods of approval from a small but enthusiastic audience that had gathered on the dock to watch the show!  The crew gave the helmsman a round of applause and the Capt (in the cockpit with me) gave me a thumbs up.   Good enough for me!  Just so you know, CELESTIAL has a bow thruster and the Capt had his hand on the joy stick more than once but he never bumped it – that would be cheating!  I lived to tell the tale though my voice is now a few octaves higher! 

We are now OFIICIALLY off on this adventure!  Tied was low and still going out.  We wanted to catch the reef channel at slack tide.  Billy helped me with navigation to keep us off the bottom.  We rounded our first point of land into the bay.  On the horizon was the reef and even at this distance you could see the surf line.  This is going to be good! 

We motored across the bay setting ourselves up for the channel.  There is supposed to be a light on the one side (it’s out).  There should be channel markers – there are NONE!  You do this one on your own!  As we approached, you could see surf on both sides of the channel and it didn’t look all that wide!  Waves in the channel as we approached were building.  Waves outside looked to be around 6 feet.  Wind was 12 to 15 knots.  I stood sea bottom watch on the bow the entire traverse.  My job – point at bad things so the helmsman could avoid.  I love this plan!! 

We break out into the Atlantic and it is AWESOME!  The water color is deep blue!  We set sail and immediately the Capt has us doing drills.  Doing turn after turn in six foot seas is a rough start for a bunch of new ocean stomachs but drills are drills! 

We finished our drills then set a heading to intersect our rum line.  We are off!  Through all the excitement, drills, adventure at the dock, no one felt much like eating.  I had a D. Coke and granola bar.  That is all I could handle.  Watches were to start at 2100.  We decided to do two man watches, 3hrs at night, 5 hr during day light.  I pulled 0000 to 0300 (Midnight to 3:00) and the 1100 to 1600 (11 am to 4 pm) watches.  This would stand for the entire trip.  My watch mate is David the lawyer.  All of us were feeling quezzy.  At about 1800, I suited up for my watch (six hours early!!) then went up and lay in the cockpit trying to sleep in the wind.  Going below was not in the cards for Bob!  No sleep but some rest.  I also helped the 9-12 watch reef sails, etc. as wind built to over 20.  The seas continued to build with the wind now blowing in the low 20s.  

Sunday – May 5:  0000 came and Dave and I began our 1st watch.  It was ink pitch black, no moon with cloud cover so NO HORIZON.  At the helm, you stared at the compass trying to hold a heading with a reefed rig being pushed around by a confused sea.  There was no rhythm to sea at all.  No references for steering but the compass.  And everything was MOVING!!!  Dave and I could handle about 30 minutes at the wheel then we would swap.  On the hour someone had to fill in the log book down below.  Neither of us felt good but Dave did the duty because I knew I had no prayer below.  THANK YOU DAVE!!  I owe you my life!  

Special log entry:  0142: - definition - at 1:42 AM, NJ Bob looses his lunch over the lee side!  Oh yea!  It was a good one!  Very effective – drained my entire digestive system in four good barks!  I feel very seaman like!  So much for Dramamine and ear oil!!  For the rest of the watch we swapped every 30 minutes.  I never missed my shift though looking at the compass was brutal!!  The 0300 boys come up (Billy and Hockey).  I asked permission to stay in the cockpit and tried to rest in the wind.  No sleep that night. I just curled up next to the helm on the port side and died a slow, non seaman like death. 

There is always a new day!  At sunrise when the 0600 boys come up (NJ Bob and Capt Andy), I went below.  All the berths were taken except the dreaded bow!  So up to the bow I went.  I pulled off a few clothes but basically just lay down as is.  I curled up and prayed for sleep.  None came.  

Monday May 6th:  Around 0900, I got up hoping for the best.  I made it to the main cabin and realized I need the rail and fast!  I headed for the companion way but I realized I was not wearing my safety harness so I could not go on deck.  Fast move to port to the head where I spent the next 15 minutes getting to know the vacu flush porcelain bowl up close and personal!  (I know every crack and crevice!  Very well engineered!).  When I finally emerged looking somewhat SHREK-like (color and all), Capt Andy was there to insure I wasn’t DEAD!  He has to log any health problems and deaths on board (I fit in category II).  I gave him the thumbs up (he was happy for this for true deaths are a paperwork nightmare!) and put on my gear to get ready for my watch.  After noting the color of my face, Hockey commented “just remember – you paid big bucks to do this!!!” 

I again lay next to the helm before watch but we were now going down wind and the diesel fumes were coming over the stern.  This was going to be a LONG, LONG WATCH – all 5 hours!  The seas were big and lumpy but at least you could see the horizon.  I did all my duties accept poor Dave had to continue to go below for log entries and boat checks.  

After watch (1600), I went back down below and lay down in the salon.  I didn’t get up until my 0000 (12 PM) watch!!!  I ate a handful of meat and cheese for dinner and drank some Gatorade!!  Things are looking up!!  Dave and I hit the deck at 11:45 pm to get the conditions update.  We have a storm putting on a light show due east and traffic at 12 miles coming in from the southwest.  Dave and I settled in for the watch.  We pulled off some sun canvas to have a better look at the stars and it was a SHOW!!  No moon, no clouds and every star in the universe!!  UNREAL!!!!  Lots of shooting stars!  Also, the phosphorescence glowed all around the boat!  Our wake was lit up like the Vegas strip!  The wind came up around 0030 so we set a full main and head sail then started a long, satisfying broad reach!  We were smokin right down the rum line.  The night was breathtaking!  The wind was perfect, seas not bad and the stars were magnificent!  This one night made the entire trip worthwhile!  And I didn’t have to hit the rail once!!! 

Our traffic from the southwest turned out to be a freighter of some type – who was on a collision coarse with us from 12 then 8 then 6, then 4 miles.  So we got the Captain up (thems the rules!).  We called up the freighter and he fell off and took our stern.  We passed within ¾ mile which at night feels like you could reach out and touch someone!  Cool!!! 

Dave and I finished out our watch and turned the ship over to Capt Andy and NJ Bob at 0300.  Dave and I did our paperwork then hit the sack.  I didn’t get up until 0700 Monday morning!  YES!!  SLEEP!!!!  Andy made breakfast – eggs and bacon wraps!!  REAL FOOD and it stayed down!  It’s going to be a good day! 

We sail all morning.  About 10ish, Dave gets out his sextant and gives us all a basic sextant lesson then he and I make sun shots (three each!)  I was ecstatic!  I did it!  I actually made a sun shot and plot!  I ended up in Tulsa, OK  but close enough!!  (just kidding!).  We actually did well!  Another life adventure check mark!! 

Billy made lunch sandwiches then the Capt came up with news – we had a man overboard!  I was at the helm so I was the guinea pig.  Good news!!  We saved both the guys I had to save!  OK, one died on the pick up because I ran him down with the bow but one out of two – not bad!!  We all did man overboard drills for a couple of hours!    We also got to see few schools of flying fish skipping by.  Now that was a sight!  Also practiced deploying the Man Overboard Pole which was a big hassle!  Not to get out and over (took us 1 minute to deploy) but to re-stow!  That took about 30 minutes!! 

Now it is late in the day – 1640 ish and we are winding down.  Nap time is near!  A few hours of sleep before the Dave and Bob show at midnight.  Should be a clear night so lots of stars to identify! 

NJ Bob is cooking marinated chicken stir fry for dinner.  Way good!!  More later! 

Tuesday May 6:   

NJ Bob’s chicken stir fry was a huge success!  Bob woke me up for dinner – we all ate in the cockpit and had one of the best dinners of the cruise!  AAAAAH – good food does wonders for the soul!  I cleaned the galley then bid goodnight again to the troops.  Next thing I knew I was getting up for watch.  

Another black as ink night.  A few stars but masked by a thin layer of clouds.  The cool thing was the light show 360 degrees around us!  Lightening galore!  We had been motoring since afternoon – when we got on deck, Andy said the wind had just come up and was gusting to 20mph!!!  Very promising!  No traffic and we were expecting a cold front to pass this morning hence the lightning.  Dave and I set about getting our sails up and shutting down power.  Finally we were sailing again!!!  YES!!  We could not hold our rum line but who cares as long as VMG was around 5 knots.  The light show continued especially off our bow – cold front just ahead!  Just as fast as the wind had come up, it left about an hour later.  We doused the sails, fired up the Yanmar and motored the rest of the watch drinking tea and anticipating the rain.  Finally the line of storms showed up on radar – 12 miles out.  

Every hour the watch has to do the log and boat checks.  Log entries, check bilge, check fuel separator, check engine compartment, record barometer, etc, etc.  Tonight I did most of the paperwork and boat checks.  I owe Dave a few!! 

Our watch ended with not a drop of rain but we helped Billy and Hockey put up more sail and close down ports, etc.  Dave and I turned in and unfortunately, I got the bow bunk.  Rain started soon after and it rained for about an hour.  The seas grew and being in the bow, I got the ride of the night!  I found if I braced my feet on both walls, I could keep the airborne time to a minimum.  It was a long night! 

It is now 0911 Tuesday morning.  I have been in the cockpit with several of the crew talking since 0730.  We are about to attempt breakfast.  Oatmeal anyone?? 

Today is a big day!  I am going to change underwear and T shirt out for the first time since Saturday!  I only have two pair of shorts so I figure Wednesday may be shorts turn over day.  I have also found that baby wipes are an excellent item to have on board for washing down!  Also Dial hand sanitizer when put on a wet, hot washcloth does a heck of a job all over!!  We are all keeping the smells in check! 

More later!  I got a sun shot to make!!!  PS:  as I write this, I am down below in the main cabin.  The boat is pitching and rocking in confused seas and I’m OK!!!!  Even typing and reading!  There is a merciful God!!!!  Thank you!!! 

PSS:  one of my minor objectives of he week was to loose a little weight.  NO PROBLEM on that front!!  

Andy made me radio man today.  I got trained on the SSB and Navtex weather receiver (new electronic toy).   The SSB is a lot but modern technology has simplified it to a great extent.   I now know how to get weather (the hard way) and how to call home!  It’s a start!!!  

Once a salesman always a salesman!  A Loctite sales person would no more go to sea without a full kit of Loctite products than a Doctor would go to sea without his black bag!  After 31 years selling Loctite product and teaching countless mechanics how to fix anything mechanical, I was ready on CELESTIAL!  I brought a full product assortment to be ready for anything that may break!!  Just for fun, I pulled out the goods and put on a training program for Capt and crew!   All “Oood and Aaaad” in amazement!  TOO FUN!  The kit stayed on CELESTIAL as part of her permanent repair stores!  All future crew should brush up on the magic stuff in the box (look over the teaching tools left with the kit)!!  May save your hide some day! 

Wind clocked around to the NNE – right on the nose.  DAMN!  The seas were choppy and steep so the ride a bit uncomfortable.  We centered the main and staysail, socked them in flat, turned on the Yanmar and did the best we could.  We had to fall off to the west and could only make about 2.6 VMG.  VMG is EVERYTHING!!  VMG (velocity made good - - - to your waypoint).  Our speed thru the water was 7.5 knots, our SOG (speed over ground) was 5.5 (due to current and head wind) but our VMG was only 2.6 due to the fact we fell off to the west.  If this keeps up, we will get to the Chesapeake around August!  Huge diff between 5.2 ish and 2.6 VMG!  For us, that is measured in DAYS to get home!!!  YES!!  VMG is important!  We are hoping for a shift to the SW. 

Dave and I were on watch (11 am to 4 pm).  Just after noon, I was at the helm.  The waves were good size – one particular wave caught my attention.  Looked like a BIG torpedo shooting thru the water!  Too big for a dolphin!!  Maybe it’s a log off a ship!!!???

Logs don’t have dorsal fins!  I called out “WHALE”!!!!  Everyone scrambled on deck!  Even those sacked out.  We must have been a very interesting target because this whale decided to come have a look.  I spotted her about four boat lengths away. She swam in to about 25 feet to port, gave us a wink then went under our stern!!!!!   She was small for a whale but HUGE for anything else!  We need to look up whale pics so I can figure out what we saw.  WAY COOL!!!! 

Speaking of wild life, on Monday we had another visitor – a Bermuda Long Tail – beautiful white bird with gorgeous dark markings on her head with a few long tail feathers that are black.  Graceful and agile!  She circled the boat twice before coming in for a look-see.  She flew right up to our rail even with the helm!  Hovered for just a moment as to say “Who are you guys and how about some breakfast!”.  I could have reached out a finger for a perch if she would alight.  Then in a blink of an eye, she was gone.  Interesting thing is we were 200 miles out to sea!  Long morning flight for any bird! 

One last Animal Planet story:  what do you call a school of flying fish AFTER they take flight?  A Flock??  Well, today we had MANY flocks of flying fish cruise by!  COOL.  It is amazing how far they can go in formation!! 

The day wore on and Dave and I finally came off watch.  We both were tired from lack of sleep the night before so down we went to grab a bunk but the seas would not cooperate.  Even in the stern rack, I had to brace my feet on the walls to stay put.  Sleep was tough to come by. 

We had been hearing a “banging” sound coming from under the helm (not good) so Billy climbed down to check it out.  Last trip the Auto Helm had torqued off the connector coupling between the ram and rudder arm.  Broke it right in half!  Well, it is happening again!!  She is partially cracked and getting worse – Billy shut down the Auto Helm –  BOYS, it is all hand steering from here on out!   

I had just fallen into some type of sleep when Andy woke me up saying “I have an IMPORTANT Loctite question – can you fix this Auto Helm part???”.  Sorry Andy, no go.  Now I am wide awake again – bummer. 

Dave was making goulash that night.  Very brave of him with the seas we had.  Browning beef, cooking egg noodles, etc.  I got up when I smelled hamburger and helped him out.  Took us both just to hold all the stuff in place!  Took awhile but we had great goulash for dinner!  One bowl each!  YES!!  HOT FOOD!!!  I cleaned up the galley and retired once again.  Billy woke me at 2340 for my 0000 watch.  And we start again!! 

Dave and I now have a ritual for our midnight watch:  1st up puts on the tea water.  I climb out of the sack and immediately go topside to see how much foul weather gear I need.  Tonight dress is as follows:

  • Shorts
  • T shirt
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Light waterproof jacket
  • Light waterproof pants
  • Harness and tether with strobe and whistle
  • White flash light
  • Red flash light
  • Two knives
  • One Deck multi tool

We all look like Tim the Tool Man Taylor with all the stuff we have hanging off of us! 

Once we are ready, we take our tea and granola bar on deck, get the update then take the helm.  The watch begins again! 

Easy watch for a change of pace.  Wind had slacked and the seas were reasonable!  Stars were “all out” for the affair.  Dave and I talked little because one of us always had our head poked out above the dodger looking at the sky while the other had to hand steer – remember NO AUTOHELM!!  The entire watch was gorgeous!  

After watch, Dave hit the sack and I plotted our DR (dead reckon) position on the chart (I still owe Dave several plots!  He has done most – reading little print and charts down below – not good for Bob!!)  At least we are going the right direction!  More tomorrow! 

Wednesday May 7:  0730 – I poked my head out of the companion way this morning to see how the world was doing.  Capt Andy was at the helm.  He said we finally recieved a weather report!  (Yesterday we went without – someone in government was asleep at the switch!).  Good news / bad news:  We have been sailing into a headwind for over 24 hours – slowing us down and making it uncomfortable plus a north wind is counter to the Gulf Stream and that is VERY BAD.  Today:  Wind will swing from the N to the SW building to 15-20.  GREAT SAILING!!  Plus great for the stream!!!  Bad news. . . . . .we have a gale coming in special delivery on  Friday.  This should be good!  More to come on this later! 

A quick note on sleep:  you never have enough!  You grab an hour or two when you can.  Even though you are exhausted, you still can’t sleep due to noise, constant rig banging, engine noise, etc.  Plus every hour on the hour the watch has to do a boat check including opening the engine compartment!  Yes it is loud!  Even with ear plugs, you know when we are on the hour! 

A note on food:  Gatorade, ginger ale, water and granola bars are KING!  We eat little, though yesterday someone made hot dogs for lunch!  Hot lunch!  ALRIGHT!!  Dinner we do ONE PAN WONDER kind of meals (except Dave and I tackled goulash – two pan wonder).  Meals are made to be eaten in one bowl with one fork.  Clean up is easy!  

Today is GULF STEAM DAY!!!  We have been tracking weather for days to try to figure out the best approach to getting across the steam.  One forecast has winds from the NORTH at 20!!  NOT GOOD!  What a mess that would be!!  Today things are still iffy, but our bet is the wind will start from the north then swing to the SW building to 20.  If this happens, we should have a good ride.  Right now it is blowing from the NE.  Keep your fingers crossed!! 

Today is a CELESTIAL crew holiday!  Cap says we have been good at saving water so now we can all have a shower!!!  OH YEA!!  Don’t have to ask me twice!!  Shower!  New shirt, new underwear – it must be heaven!  

Breakfast was on your own – Gatorade and a Clif Bar and I’m ready for the day!  Wind is light and the seas calm.  Perfect for a sun sight!  Dave breaks out the hardware and takes three sights then hands the Astro to me so I can bang out another three.  We still have no idea where we are but we are feeling very nautical!  

Billy had a guy in the Bahamas make him up a “Bahamian” fishing rig.  Basically a hand wind up disk with a hook and heavy line attached to a short piece of rope with a loop of rubber cord.  You put out the hook and line and cleat the rope to the stern cleat.  When you catch a fish, the rubber cord stretches out!  Simple!!  Billy couldn’t stand it!  We had to fish!  Over the rig went.  Dave and I were on watch.  About 30 minutes later Dave was saying “I think we have something on Bill’s line!  Maybe grass.”  Bill comes up and says “You idiots!  That’s a Dorado!!”  (Dave and I must have been absent from the “fishing from a sailboat” training class).  Bill pulls in his catch!  Wait until you see the pics!  The colors in this Dorado were magnificent!  Billy flopped it in the cockpit then we all did the “live fish dance” trying to avoid a slashing tail and head!  Bill grabbed a bottle of Rum (really!!) and poured rum into the gills of the fish.  The Dorado was out like a light!  (one hit for the fish, two hits for Billy!  (Just kidding – we are a dry boat!).  Much better than the age old base ball bat and ensuing blood bath!  Try it next time you are sailing and catch a huge fish.  I wonder if it would work on a shark!??  Want to see a shark smile!??  RUM! 

FRESH FISH FOR DINNER!  Billy fillets the fish right on the floor – guts back to the sea!  Our esteemed Captain Andy hates fish and looses lunch at even the smell of fish (not very Ol’ Salt!!!) so the crew will dine on fresh Mai Mai and Capt Andy will have frozen lasagna.  Yum!!  NJ Bob did a fabulous job cooking up the fish for dinner with red potatoes.  AWESOME DINNER!  Can’t get much fresher than that! – except for the lasagna!  

Quick note to Billy:  when wanting to clean the cockpit, throwing a bucket over for water is a good idea.  Throwing a 5 GALLON bucket over when clipping along in excess of 6 knots is a THRILL!!  The aforementioned bucket completely filled and Billy went for a ride down the rail!  YEEEHAW!!!!  I reached over from the helm and tried to help – now we both got dragged!  Once we landed the big bucket, we downsized for the next try!!  Sailing is a thrill a minute!  It is amazing the bad things that can happen at such a slow speed!!!! 

As the day wore on the wind started to veer!  YEA!  We may get a SW wind yet!  Soon we were smoken along at over 7 knots SOG and VMG!!! Now you are talking!!!  One of the best sailing days of the trip!  We slowly eased into the stream and you could watch our speed jump!  We closed on 9 knots SOG at times!  What a day!  The steam was alive with fish!  Flying fish galore! 

Speaking of flying fish, during the morning inspection we found two flying fish stow aways on board!  I found the small one by the cockpit.  Dave went forward and found one that had a wingspan of 14 inches!  We all agreed – Dave’s was bigger than Bob’s!  (a little “been on the high seas too long” humor!).  You read of sailors eating flying fish for breakfast – I would have to be very hungry!  Little meat – LOTS of bones! 

The sun was getting low in the sky.  Billy spotted them first – “DOLPHIN”!!  Three adults and one pup came screaming into our bow wake!  These four had a blast jumping along with the bow, playing tag with the boat.  Two adults jumped clean out of the water Sea World style!  We went crazy!!!  What a show!  We asked Capt Andy how much he had to pay to get this to happen!  He must have great connections!  Our new friends hung out for a good 15 minutes the tired of our lack of hull speed.  They gave us wink, a final unison jump then they were gone.  What a thrill!! 

Remember that gale forecast!  Well, it’s real!  We have 35 kt winds and 14 foot seas forecasted for Friday.  Now the race is on!  Can we get into the shelter of the Chesapeake and Little Creek  before the gale hits?  We need a good night of SPEED!  Dave and I turned in after our Mai Mai dinner because the pressure was on for an active night.  We did our midnight pre watch tea dance then hit the deck.  WE MADE TRACKS!  What a thrill!  We rolled out the reef in both the head and main and went for a rocket ride!  TOO COOL!  Stars blazed and we made a heck of a wake!  

After rounding Cape Hatteras, the commercial traffic picked up.  Now we were smoken AND dodging traffic!  Some of these fishing “factories” are HUGE!  Green over white = trolling, Red over white = fishing.  To Bob they are all the same!!  Good thing Dave had good color vision!  Active night on radar!  

We were doing great with about five targets ahead on screen when all electronics went blink, blink - -- BLACK!!!!  Dave and I looked at each other and jointly said “Oh SHIT” (a very nautical term!!!)  Our Raymarine is a “she” because SHE is temperamental!  Strict instructions from Andy – DON’T mess with the Raymarine!!!  SO, the only option was to wake Andy up and reboot.  Within a few minutes the lights came back on!  Dave and I talked nice to her the rest of the night.  No more Radar jokes for us!! 

Our shift ended with a reef in each sail.  Full sails and we were over powered!  We were smokin!  One target on the screen was driving us crazy!  It kept getting closer and closer – now only three miles off our port bow at about 2 o’clock.  No lights!!!  That’s scary!  We checked the chart – it was a TOWER!!!!  In the middle of nothing!!!  WITH NO LIGHT!!!  It had a light but obviously someone in government was cutting down our carbon footprint so they had it turned off!  Nice job!!  

We roll the boat to the new watch (you guys figure out the 2 o’clock target!) and we fell into our bunks.  Another watch complete!  

Thursday May 8: 

0800:  Hazy sun this morning – wind out of the southeast at 16 knots!  VMG is around 7.5!!.  We are good to go!  The 0600 watch must have been cold – Capt Andy looks like Shakelton getting ready to climb the next burg!  Welcome to the west side of the stream! 

We are headed  NNW looking for the south approach to the Chesapeake.  We will hit the “CB” buoy, cut the corner to stay out of the lane and head for the tunnel.  So far so good.  We keep this up and we will get in tonight just ahead of the weather but we all know that Mother Nature is quite the jokester!  Hope she is in a good mood and doesn’t try to get us back for the Raymarine Radar Joke incident – you know how these women stick together!! 

More later!  I have to go poop a deck! 

Time - 1925:  It has stayed hazy all day.  Most of us gathered in the cockpit early just to chill.  The wind was up so we were single reefed both main and head sails.  The boat was cooking!  Great sail day!  Mission today:  beat any weather HOME – which to us was Little Creek Marina, Norfolk. 

Chesapeake commercial and military traffic was now the order of the day!  Who has right of way, who is going in what direction, who has the biggest gun on deck, etc.  So many rules!  Most were easy but war ships do get your attention.  Hockey was at the helm when a war ship appeared thru the haze.  We watched her on the radar and her plot moved all over the place.  She was steaming smoke from her stack and from the looks of it this would be a close encounter of the military kind!!  Captain Andy soon got involved – close look with the binocs, down to the main radar set, back up with the binocs then finally, the order “fall off and take her stern!”.  Hockey complied!  

Then a brief discussion of the rules of sailing and we all agreed that we were the “stand on” vessel  (the boat with right of way) so back to our original heading!  We all agreed we would go down together “in the right” if we were run down by the Navy!!  The war ship seemed to make another heading change!  Oh shit!  Maybe our “head fake” turn confused her??  We had better get on the radio!!  Capt Andy called the great war machine on 16, got switched to 13.  Cap professionally told the officer that we would hold our heading unless they would like us to do otherwise (we are a very obliging group!).  The officer was very nice.  He came back to let us know we could hold our current heading (in fact any other heading for that matter), no problem.  For you see, the Great War ship was ANCHORED and “for us to have a very nice sail!!”  Basically he insinuated:  “You morons, can’t you tell we are DEAD IN THE WATER!!”  We all burst out laughing – Capt responded to the officer thanking him for his help (we all hoped that the officer was not offended by all the laughter in the background!!).  We had been dodging an anchored vessel for 6 miles!!!  Oh the humility!  

Then came the discussion of the BLACK BALL!!  A vessel is required to fly a black ball from the rig to signify she is anchored.  We could not find the black ball on the Navy vessel.  We wanted the Capt to call them up and give them such a tong lashing – preaching from the highest pulpit holding the book of “REEDS” righteously up high!!!!  But then we did not want to be used for target practice!  So we held our heads high from the knowledge we were such great seamen then we slowly disappeared into the mist!!  Hope they learned their lesson!!  We sure showed them!!  

We continued our NNW trek.  The mist got heavier and turned to light rain.  We all were wearing our rain gear except Capt who was still dressed for an upcoming Antarctic trip!  We sailed just outside the southern approach corridor to the Chesapeake to keep out of harms way.  Lots of BIG boats were on the move!  We even watched a submarine head to sea down the lane.  Lots of radio traffic – great fun!  We then rounded Cape Henry and entered the bay!!  We were BACK!!!  We even got a short escort by a school of playful dolphin!!  Quite the home coming! 

A ton of activity waited us just inside the entrance – There was a Navy vessel conducting landing exercises.  LOTS of boats scurrying about (scurrying is not a very nautical term is it!  I guess the Navy really doesn’t scurry about!).  The main vessel (a small city on the water), even had it’s own TUG (who shadowed us for a while to insure we were the good guys!).  There were many commercial container ships, cargo vessels, etc. anchored about waiting their turn to make their run north to Baltimore.  Now the big discussion: where do we go!???  We weaved our way through the pack looking for BLACK BALLS!!  It would be very embarrassing to be “run down” by an anchored vessel!!  

Hockey was at the helm – it was his task to get us safely over the tunnel (yes over!  There is a long highway that crosses the end of the Chesapeake.  In the center the road dives underwater, thru a tunnel then emerges about 2 miles on the other side.  That opening is where we all need to fit!.  Big discussion on options.  Out comes “REEDS”!  We always refer back to the book of all human knowledge!  The Captain again preached aloud the section on traffic separation lanes.  More discussion on options!  Then we did the right thing - we followed the rules to the letter!  Yes it would take us longer but we would know we were in the right!  We are SO good!  

We shared the approach to the lane first with a container ship (he passed us like we were standing still and we were peddle to the metal!!  Captain even had us lean toward the bow for that little extra burst of sailing speed (just kidding!)!  Next came another war ship (I’m telling you, we were a marked boat!!!).  They blew by us too (no surprise there!!).  Even though it was raining, the Navy crew was standing on deck dressed out in their finest!  Very Navy Like!!  

Dave took the helm since he was going to take us the last mile!  His job:  get us across the traffic lanes without getting us killed, find Little Creek, run the channel and park this bad boy!  Under orders, we readied CELESTIAL – spring lines port and starb, bow lines, stern lines, bumpers, etc.  Assignments were given – now the crew waits – Can Dave get this BIG boat into that LITTLE slip without crushing the pulpit!  A little wind and a little tide made it interesting!  We had four crew scrambling, lines set, bumpers and anything soft surrounding the hull, two dock hands, AND a BOW THRUSTER!  With all that going for us, Dave threaded the needle!  The crowd goes wild!!  Dave is the MAN!!!!  High fives all around!  We did it!  We crossed an ocean (well kind of) and found our way home!  We are truly MANLY MEN of the highest sea-going tradition!! 

The only things left were hot showers and a great hot meal (OK, and a few brewskies!!).  What a trip!  We all toasted Captain Andy and 1st Mate Billy on a tremendous job!  All agreed it was the experience of a life time!  What a blast (now that it is behind us!!).  The barking over the rail, airborne night bunk rides, the midnight wake up calls, and the lack of sleep all dim in memory.  The stars at night, the sound of the water, the phosphorescence, the dolphins, the whale, the screaming along on a broad reach double reefed at night and crossing the steam will all dominate our memories!!!  We all agree, we will do this again! CELESTIAL is a great ship!  She allowed four greenhorn sailors to see the world through her eyes and brought us home in one piece!  We will never forget her, Capt Andy, 1st Mate Billy or our crew mates!  Another life adventure logged! 

We are home!  


Hey, wait just a darn minute!  In fact wait just a darn Herman Melville minute!!  What about the “Gale”!!!  What about the rain driven by 40 knots of boat splitting wind?  What about the 14 foot predicted seas??  What about the monster that chased us half way around the world!??  Well, NOAA was just playing with our heads!  It simply just disappeared from the forecast!  Those guys down there are such kidders!  Maybe the guys on the anchored war ship put them up to it!  Anyway, it was a good exercise in decision making on the open water!  Even though we never saw one, we can hold our heads high with the knowledge we at least had a forecast of 14 foot seas.  For now, that’s more than manly enough for me!

‘Til next time! 

Bob Roe (just call me SHREK):  able crew member of the yacht CELESTIAL. May 9, 2008 – 11:15:09 GMT

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