2009 Chesapeake Bay Cruise

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Course:  ASA 103/104 Basic and Intermediate Coastal Cruising
Date: June 6-13, 2009
Students: Bob Bamford and Jonathan Brewster (JB)
Captain: Steve Runals

This turned out to be a good example of a combined class designed to prepare sailors with limited current sailing experience for the challenges of coastal cruising and bare boat chartering. We spent the first 3 days fulfilling the requirements and learning the skills outlined in the ASA 103 Basic Coastal Cruising course before embarking on a 5 day cruise mastering skills of the 104 Bareboat Chartering Course.  This combination of training settings and length of course provided the students time to practice application of the skills required for successful coastal cruising in a variety of weather conditions and cruising locations. 

Jun 4, Friday - Arrivals and Challenge Test:
Bob arrived early afternoon and took the ASA 101 challenge test, passing with a perfect score. After fighting intermediate rain and major traffic delays, I arrived followed shortly by JB.  After stowing our gear and getting acquainted, we headed out for dinner and then turned in for our first night aboard ACADAME.  Both Bob and JB had already taken courses from The Maryland Scrool and were eager for more.  Bob had recently completed the ASA 105 Coastal Navigation course and was looking forward to applying his book learning. 

Jun 6, Saturday: Review of Ships Systems, Rules of Road and Boat Handling:
We started the day at 0830 with a review of the Federal Boating Requirements, Rules of the Road, Lights and boat systems board ACADAME.  The crew then spent a couple of hours giving her a thorough inspection, acquainting themselves with the ships systems, operations and proper procedures. After lunch, we reviewed the key points of maneuvering under power and spent the rest of the day practicing docking and boat handling under power. The crew executed a series of drills (tight turns under power, operating in reverse, standing turns, docking with and without warp lines and picking up a mooring) and performance techniques they will use when cruising. We shared the practice area with Captain Dave Appleton’s two day docking class. By 1600 we returned to our slip with a better understanding of how to maneuver under power and the confidence to operate within the tight conditions that are typical of many coastal cruising destinations. After a review of the day's activities, we broke for dinner and an evening of study. 

Jun 7, Sunday: Sailing Refresher and Anchoring:
Day dawned with a beautiful summer sky but forecast light winds.  After reviewing docking techniques, rules of the road, basic sailing maneuvers, Crew Overboard (COB) procedures, the crew completed preoperations checks and we got underway headed for the Chester River and some sailing.  While underway in winds that at times reached 10-12 knots, the crew practiced all points of sail, reefing, heaving-to, COB under sail and tacking and jibing.  Later with winds dying, we headed into the Corsica River for the first of what would be several anchoring drills over the next several days.   Returned to the dock at 1630 for a discussion of the day’s events, some knot tying and a welcomed shower.  After dinner ashore, the crew returned to boat for study in prep for taking the ASA 103 test.  

Jun 8, Monday: 103 Test, Navigation Exercise - to the Kent Narrows:
Started the day with the ASA 103 test; Bob and JB passing with flying colors.  Returned to the boat and laid out the course for a mini-cruise down to the Kent Island Narrows.  After completing our pre-operations systems checks, ACADAME departed the marina under sunny skies at 1030.  Light winds on the nose resulted in a motor sail down the Chester River to the Narrows.  Along the way the crew kept track of our position, practicing navigation plotting techniques.  Into the Narrows and at the bridge by 1245 – no other boats around.  After radioing the bridge tender, we awaited the 1300 opening while practicing station keeping against an ebb tide.  

Through the Narrows and into Eastern Bay where we practiced COB under power before returning thru the bridge at 1430.  Once back out of the Narrows and into the Chester River, the building winds allowed for some sailing until dying away, resulting in a motor sailed back to the marina.  Along the way, the crew kept track of our position and practiced determining and plotting estimated positions.  We also finalized our cruising plan for the next week to include provisioning requirements. Upon arrival back at the marina, we finalized our provision plan and secured and stowed the dingy on the fore deck.  Dinner ashore and a trip to grocery store completed the day’s activities.   

Jun 9, Tuesday: Cruise Begins - off to the Magothy River:
Some of the keys to successful coastal cruising are careful preparation, actively monitoring the weather and being flexible – this day would provide a chance to exercise all three of these and many others.  The day dawned overcast with a forecast of thunder storms in the morning, later clearing with light winds from south and then rain and thunder storms likely in the afternoon.  Final preparations for departure were conducted in light rain with thunder and lightning falling all round the marina.   By 0930 the storm had passed and we were underway in light winds after topping off our fuel and water, pumping out the holding tank, laying out our course to the Magothy River and setting up our log book.  

About 45 min into the trip a loud tapping sound could be heard from the motor.  We stopped, checked the engine for the source of the noise – most importantly did we have oil in the engine - and then attempted to resume our course.  The tapping returned – not good.  After consultation with Tom Tursi, we returned to the marina, cross loaded all our equipment to SCHOLARSHIP, checked out all boat systems and were back underway towing the dingy by 1330 under a clear sky and light southerly winds.  As we approach Love Pt at entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, the wind picked up and for 45 minutes we sailed a very nice beam reach across the Bay toward the entrance to the Magothy.  

As we approached the Baltimore Light off the Magathy, we watched a darkening sky and heard weather reports of forecast severe thunderstorms for our area. After rigging jacklines, dropping and securing all sail and donning foul weather gear, we watched the sky darken even more and could see rain falling ahead as we passed the Baltimore Light.  100 yards from the entrance to the Magathy River, a narrow entrance protected on both sides by shallow water and many crab traps, we were hit by high winds and heavy rain.  Bob, our helmsman, had taken a bearing on the shore across from the entrance before the rain cut our visibility to about 20 feet.  Under increasingly gusty wind and rain we reversed course to gain some maneuver room with deep water rather than chance being blown aground in the narrow entrance.  For the next 45 min we fought the wind and heavy rain – later we were told by someone who was in Rock Hall at the time, they measured wind gusts of approx 60 knots during this storm.   It was a wild ride!  Bob kept us moving and under control as we altered course to avoid crab pots, information buoys, channel markers and the Baltimore Light.  At some point, the towed dingy was flipped over – underscoring the point to never carry anything in it when towing.  Finally, the visibility improved to the point we could see our way through to the Magothy and wind dropped into the 20s allowing us to alter course and enter the shelter of the River.  

Still in heavy rain and wind we made our way toward Dobbins Island, our intended anchorage for the night, as an eerie darkness started to fall.  After a short stop to right the dingy in the lee of Gibson Island, we finally dropped the anchor behind Dobbins Island at 1915 in light winds and rain.  After securing the boat and a well deserved spaghetti dinner prepared by Bob with JB’s helps, we discussed the day’s events while keeping an anchor watch as winds began to build to around 20 knots, shifting in gusts through all points of the compass.  This continued till just after 2400 hrs when “someone” finally said enough and the winds died away.  One final note of interest in what had been a day filled with “fun and excitement”.  

Once we were securely anchored, the neighbored welcoming committee arrived – two ducks.  As the wind built that evening, they decided to take up shelter on the dingy.  All night long they stayed there – letting us know they were there and ok every time one of us would look in their direction.  In the morning they were gone, but being grateful guests they left several small packages on the dingy as remembrance of their visit. 

Jun 10, Wednesday: Headed South – St Michaels:
Crew up and moving by 0630 under clear skies but forecast light winds and more afternoon thunderstorms.  After our experience with the towed dingy the day before, we secured it on the fore deck and after breakfast, pre-operations checks and final course planning were off the anchor and headed south by 0830.  Uneventful trip down the Bay, mostly motor sailing past Annapolis, Bloody Pt, up Eastern Bay and down to St Michaels.  Along the way the crew took turns tracking our position using two bearing fixes, monitored ship traffic, plotting position from a given Lat/Long, practiced dead reckoning and kept the log book updated.   We also took the opportunity to review study material in preparation for the ASA 104 test.  

By 1530 we were docked at the St Michaels Maritime Museum and ready to take showers.  After securing the boat and cleaning up, all set off to explore the museum and quaint little town.  We later met for dinner at the Crab Claw to review the day’s activities, plan for the next day and relax.  Despite a sky that had threatened rain several times during the day, we had managed to avoid thunderstorms.  

Two interesting points while in St Michaels – Martha Dean (TV cooking personality) visited the Crab Claw while we were there.  She and her entourage entered with little fanfare for a meal of the local steamed crabs. And an American Cruise line ship paid a visit – a first for the cruise line.  They had departed Baltimore, sailed down to Yorktown, were in St Michaels for a short visit, planned to sail to Annapolis on Friday and then return to Baltimore.  Lots going on at this always interesting port-of-call.  To finish off the day, we had a chance to watch the local Wednesday night sailboat races at the harbor entrance.  To show that we were not the only ones having to deal with light winds, the racers just drifted around the course, but they did complete the race.   

Jun 11, Thursday: A Change of Plans and Rhode River:
Departed our slip for the St Michael’s fuel dock by 0830 under overcast skies and another forecast of light winds and afternoon thunderstorms – you have to love the Bay weather in the summer.  After refueling and a pump out, we were able to sail slowly up the Eastern Bay toward Tilghman Point where the winds again dropped to where we had to motor sail down to and across the Chesapeake Bay.  

Our original plan had been to sail south, go through the Knapps Narrows into the Choptank to an anchorage in Dunn Cove on Harris Creek.  The current weather and forecast for the next day indicated continued light winds so we set a course for an alternative anchorage on the Rhode River.  Having alternative destinations should be part of all cruise planning.  After a minor challenge getting into the Rhode River - crab pots everywhere - we anchored with several other boats in a very nice anchorage between Big and Flat islands.  

After securing the boat, we took a short dingy ride to explore the area and gain experience in maneuvering these light, low powered vessels.  Back at the boat, JB and I went for a short swim and cleaned the knot meter and rudder.  Following a snack of crackers and cheese, the crew settling down to take the ASA 104 test.  Both passed with flying colors but not without adventure.  

To add to the challenges of the test, a short but violent thunderstorm paid the anchorage a visit while they were working away.  During one very strong gust, the boat heeled more than at any time during the trip.  Our anchor held but two other boats dragged, resulting in one boat having to reposition during the storm to avoid hitting another.   Learning how to properly anchor and having confidence in your anchoring ability are important skills all cruisers must master.  While watching both boats reset their anchors, we watched them drop their anchors while still moving slowly forward and then never backing down with enough force to really set their hook.  We kept a watchful eye on them for the rest of the evening which thankfully turned out to be quiet and very peaceful.  

Bob again provided the cooking for a great meal.  We finished off the evening with a wild game of “Pig”.  After the Captain won both games, the crew raised some concern that the dice might be “fixed” – so untrue. 

Jun 12, Friday: To Annapolis and a Walkabout:
Forecast – rain and thunderstorms but … wind, 10 knots from the west.  Anticipation mixed with excitement – a change.  Departed the anchorage at 0830 headed to Annapolis with plans to do some sailing, heave-to and reefing once out in the Bay.  Able to sail out of the Rhode River with a light wind at our backs and practiced more two-bearing fixes to confirm our position.  After an hour the wind died away to a flat calm and we motored past the Thomas Point Light under a sky that threatened rain – 10 knots?  

Picked up a mooring by 1200 and after lunch, headed by dingy for showers ashore.  Neither Bob nor JB had spent much time in Annapolis so they enjoyed a well deserved break and explored the harbor area.  The wind built for about an hour during the afternoon but then died away, preventing us from feeling guilty about not being out sailing.  It's always interesting to watch the ever changing background of boats and people ashore and afloat in Annapolis.  

Dinner at a water side table at Pusser’s allowed us to watch this constant stream of people and boats heading up and down “Ego Ally”.  Friday night always provides a fascinating mix of small and large power and sail boats wanting to see and be seen.  After dinner, Bob and I did a walkabout and then back to the boat by dingy.  JB headed to the bar to watch the Stanly Cup Finals, returning by water taxi pleased that Pittsburgh was ahead at the end of the second period (they won 2-1).    Quiet night despite the boat traffic that finally played out around midnight. 

June 13, Saturday: Return to Lankford Bay Marina and Secure:
Up with the sun for an early departure for home.   Forecast promised wind, 10-15 knots from the north but thunderstorms again in the afternoon. After completing boat and systems check, we departed Annapolis at 0630 under power under a steel gray sky.  Once clear of the harbor entrance, we had breakfast underway and then with the wind building, set sail for home.  

Tacking up the Bay was a nice change from the past few days of light winds but as we approached Love Point and the Chester River the winds again dropped away and halfway to Kent Narrows we proceeded up the Chester under power.  Bob and JB alternated between helm and navigator, keeping us located on our chart, away from crab pots and shallow water.  As we approached the marina the wind returned, allowing us to finish the cruise with a short, but very nice, beam reach.  Bob brought us into the fuel dock at 1330 and JB got us back to our slip for a final tie up.  

After securing and cleaning up the boat, we had a final review of the day’s events and our entire trip.  All agreed that despite the light winds and two close personal experiences with thunderstorms, the cruise had exceeded all expectations, wetting everyones appetite for more.   

Captain Steve Runals
Lankford Bay Marina
Jun 14, 2009

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