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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date July 14-21, 2013
Students: Sima and Guiseppe Barile, Greg Sachs, Judi and Mark Swanson
Captain: H. Jochen Hoffmann

Sunday, July 14 - Pre-departure Preparation, Rock Hall, MD
The crew got to know one another over dinner and breakfast this morning. By about 1130 we conclude training on lines, sails, and emergency equipment. Systems below deck are explored in air conditioned comfort and that is followed by developing a meal plan. Meal plan in hand, Sima and the captain shop for provisions while the rest of the crew inventories equipment below and generates a detailed navigation plan for the next day. At the ASA106 level, we ensure that students begin to think and plan like distance cruisers. Based on NOAA and U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center resources, I distribute copies of a global “Chart Locator” template, chart update printouts, NOAA Tide and Current Tables, etc. Next, we break out the NOAA Chart Catalogue for North America, the Maryland School inventory list of onboard charts, plus all charts in numerical sequence for the sections of bays, rivers and ocean we expect to transit.   By dinner time, we are ready. 

Day 2 – Rock Hall to Summit N Marina, Chesapeake and Delaware Canal
The Tide and Current Tables for today, which inform our navigation plan, call for departure at 0800. All-hands training in protected waters begins right after departure. They include anchoring procedures, engine maneuvers, and MOB practice under engine. To hone piloting skills while motoring in low wind conditions, students take bearings on light ranges and shore features and use a running fix (the first of many) to establish our position.  Thus we ensure that crew skills are tuned to the challenging conditions entailed in this advanced coastal cruising course. At 1540 we enter the C & D Canal as anticipated, review navigation rules that pertain here and prepare for docking. We find the fairway entrance to Summit N Marina almost straddled by a dredge and thread our way safely to our dock. Here, we enjoy a delicious pasta dish prepared by Sima and Guiseppe before breaking out charts for tomorrow’s trip. Tides for Reedy Point where we enter the  Delaware River show that we have to leave by 0400 to catch the slack before ebb for a speedy run down river to the Delaware Bay. 

Day 3  - Summit N Marina to Points Offshore 
We get up at 0330, have a quick cup of coffee, and cast off in total darkness with Mark’s experienced hand at the wheel. Two lookouts at the bow call out obstructions and help us to get safely past the unlit (!!!) dredge taking up much of the fairway. All take turns steering in the dark to learn to adjust to the absence of accustomed visual cues. As the sun rises, we find it’s hot on the Delaware River with lots of traffic requiring our attention. To boot, a following land breeze brings lots of pesky flies bent on distracting us. Students break into two groups to work out a nav plan for the ocean leg of our circumnavigation. We decide on the plan of “Team Judi” that keeps us nearer to shore since winds will be light. Before heading out to sea, we detour per Greg’s nav plan which we would use in foul weather to seek shelter – in this case, behind the breakwater of the Cape Henlopen Harbor of Refuge just N of Lewes, DE. An anchoring exercise follows, giving some of us an opportunity for a quick dip to cool off. By 1730, ferry traffic gone and with the night watches set, we round Cape Henlopen, DE and head out to sea. 

Day 4  Ocean to Cape Charles Harbor
Last evening after night fall, team Judi’s exact nav plan brings cheers from Judi and Sima who have been piloting with bearing compass and binoculars: We have arrived at our first waypoint exactly as planned. I steer as requested to allow them the joy of a positive verification. Yes, it’s sea buoy R “4” Fl R 4s off Ocean City at Lat 38º16.5’N, Lon 075º  00.2’W. The mid and morning watches follow a DR (dead reckoning) course. They use bearings on distant light houses or lights to fix their position to arrive at plotted waypoints or sea buoys. For some time we have been beyond sight of land as we aim for the Chesapeake Bay Entrance. It’s time to review landfall procedures, check the “air draft” of the Fisher Island Bridge (less than 10 feet clearance above the mast) – a scary thought unless one has actually crossed underneath it. I can reassure my crew, and we pass safely underneath and into the Bay. In sight of the Cape Charles Harbor, we detour briefly outside its secondary approach channel to perform one more anchoring exercise. Here, Greg relishes jumping into the water with mask and snorkel to remove our rudder safety line we had rigged some four ocean voyages ago from St. Thomas, USVI. Our crew had radioed the harbor master to secure a slip. Judi docked CELESTIAL in a seamanlike manner, and we secured all before showering and enjoying a dinner ashore. 

Day 5 - Cape Charles Harbor and Night Sail up the Bay 
For the better part of the morning, we rested until Mark as skipper asked for a weather report, a nav plan for our night sail up the bay, and preparations for departure by 1700 when winds were to pick up. Just as Sima prepares to undock our vessel, two former ASA104 Virgin Island students of mine, who had seen CELESTIAL from their own boat, came rushing over to invite us for drinks. Alas, we had to decline this pleasant gesture. 

Once clear of the harbor entrance, we perform an MOB maneuver under sail, followed by downwind sailing practice in the building breeze, now at S 18-22 knots on our stern. Sailing wing on wing is no longer feasible as building seas prevent us from keeping the jib full. Judi and I reef the main for a spirited run on a broad reach until lots of traffic prompts us to maneuver. First, we hail a tug and barge coming directly at us. She is hoping that we can pass port-to-port and we are happy to adjust course. Next, the Bay seems to have a “traffic jam” near us. We hail a large cruise ship, the GRANDEUR OF THE SEA, coming up on our stern and tell her that we are adjusting course away from the channel and that we expect to have more than three nautical miles of separation upon passing. She responds to express her appreciation. It is clear why: Four southbound commercial ships are all in line and are actually passing the cruise ship in the long, narrow Rappahannock Shoal Channel. That’s excitement enough for one night. 

Day 6  Middle Bay to Annapolis
The wind steadied during the night, giving the mid and morning watches a good experience sailing in darkness. After breakfast, Judi as our skipper is executing a perfect MOB evolution under sail followed by a detailed review of victim recovery procedures. Now a highlight: Students are about to experience a Spinnaker-run up the bay. As we set the chute in the freshening breeze, a puff while adjusting the tack pennant shows the tremendous  power in this huge sail. After tacking the chute and carrying it for one long leg, we take it down as we get closer to the ship channel ones more. We finally motor sail leaving time to review procedures for plotting running fixes, plotting danger bearings, and checking compass deviation. A running fix on Point No Point Light produces good results. Threatening, dark clouds ahead dissipate in time for an anchoring exercise at dusk in the Annapolis South Anchorage before we head ashore for showers and dinner at Pussers Restaurant. 

Day 7 - Annapolis to Rock Hall
Today, Sima as skipper, we review the weather forecast: SSW 5-10 knots, heat advisory. Rather than relaxing in Annapolis after our run up the bay, we decide to pull up anchor, re-fuel and pump out, and make for Rock Hall where we will have much needed air conditioning to take the ASA106 test in comfort and sleep in cooler temperatures. Greg and Guiseppe take us to the fuel dock and off, and Sima monitors progress per nav plan on our last leg up the bay. Underway, students act like the serious sailors they have become taking danger bearings, plotting current vectors, and taking one last running fix using Sandy Point Light and or Baltimore Light. Our skipper is doing a great job keeping us all on task and – once safely docked – ensuring that the A/C gets turned on immediately. After a late lunch and completion of the ASA106 test, we enjoy a glass of wine on Judi and Mark’s boat at their nearby marina before we head to our last crew dinner out. 

Day 8 – In Port, Rock Hall
Guiseppe is taking charge in guiding us through the extensive securing operations pertaining to an ocean yacht returning from sea. I finish reviewing the ASA106 tests (all passed) and provide feedback on the positive outcome achieved by all. Hearty farewells among this group of newly minted offshore sailors bring this eventful cruise to close. Your captain thanks you and bids you Fair Winds, always. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
June 24, 2013
Osprey Point Marina, Rock Hall, MD

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