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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date Oct 5- 12, 2013
Students: Philip Ardanuy, Peter Gill, J. Eric Greensmith, Les Holden, George Williams 
Captain: Steve Runals

Arrival Day, Fri 4 Oct
All students arrive by late afternoon.  After introductions, stowing gear and initial boat orientation, we head out for dinner at the Waterman’s Crab House to discuss cruise expectations, get to know each other and begin the planning process.  All bring a wealth of sailing experience we will build on during the class. After dinner we return to the boat to review course requirements and safety rules.  We continue our initial planning, which results in a general cruise and associated menu plans, and concludes with assignment of initial crew responsibilities.  Before retiring for the night, we walk thru operation of all boat systems.  Tropical Strm Karen’s predicted northerly track up the east coast to merge with an approaching cold front and associated weather has been a key topic of discussion.   

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Day 1: Sat
After breakfast at Pasta Plus, we finalize our meal plan for the week.  Captain Steve, Eric and George go to store for provisions while the remainder of the crew return to boat to locate required safety equipment.  Back on board and provisions stowed, we begin our boat preparations and complete system orientation.  We check out all rigging, rig the storm trisail, rig and hoist the spinnaker, rig the whisker pole, and cover sheet/line handling and winch operation.  Down below, we review the navigation rules, buoy systems, and navigation lights before breaking for lunch.  

The afternoon is filled with a review of key chapters in the Offshore Training Prep Guide, and time spent with the crew exercising their assigned responsibilities.  Phil and Peter develop our initial navigation plan to include determining the state of tide and currents up the Chesapeake Bay and within the C & D Canal, Les as bos’n checks the rigging, George as engineer inspects all mechanical systems to include engine and generator, Eric as emergency coordinator examines in detail the medical kit and other safety equipment.  We also recover the dingy and rig it on its davits.  

Dinner at Bay Wolf Restaurant provides a welcome break and opportunity to continue to get to know each other.  Following dinner, it’s back to finalizing and reviewing our cruise planning and review MOB procedures.  Tropical Storm Karen appears to no longer be a threat, but an approaching cold front now becomes an important planning consideration.  Phil, a meteorologist, is able to provide great insight into our weather discussions.  It’s an early bedtime after a long but satisfying day. 

Day 2: Sun
Current calculations in the Bay and C&D Canal, important factor in our navigation planning, call for a departure at 0730.  After an early breakfast, we are nearly ready except for a quick review of undocking maneuvers. Peter takes us out of the slip and into the Bay.  Instead of the forecast favorable winds from the south, we face winds from the north. We execute MOB drills under power giving all hands an opportunity to get familiar with maneuvering this large vessel.  As we motor sail up the Bay, we rotate crew positions and practice taking two-bearing fixes to confirm location under the watchful eye of Phil our navigator for the day.  

Early in the trip we encounter a large tug and barge headed south providing a foretaste of the boating traffic we will encounter along the way.  Our navigation plan has been an interesting balance of minimizing the strong ebb current in the C & D canal and arriving at our destination before dark.   Slightly ahead of schedule, we have the opportunity do some sailing south of Turkey Point so all hands can see how the boat performs on all points of sail. We pass Old Town Point Wharf toward the end of the ebb at 1530, exactly on schedule, and are docked at Summit North Marina in the C&D Canal by 1730.  We secure the boat, take showers and start preparations for our trip south.  

An excellent dinner outside at the Aqua Sol Restaurant provides the backdrop to discuss the day’s events and opportunities ahead.  Tropical Storm Karen is no longer a treat but the rapidly approaching strong cold front becomes a major planning issue.  After discussion with the crew and consultation with Tom Tursi at the school office, we decide that waiting out the frontal passage is the prudent thing to do.  

Day 3: Mon
The day dawns with high gray clouds.  The weather (wx) report confirms the approach of the expected cold front with strong winds and rain with winds initially from NW, veering to N and finally NE tomorrow.  After a great omelet breakfast prepared by George, we spend time talking in detail about marine weather, reviewing additional material from the Offshore Training Prep Guide, discussing ASA106 topics and developing detailed navigation plans for our trip down the Delaware Bay and then offshore along the Maryland and VA coast to the entrance into Chesapeake Bay.  

The approaching cold front passes with some strong winds and rain early afternoon, providing an excellent opportunity to discuss and observe differing clouds associated with a cold front passage.  Once past, the sky begins to clear and we even see a rainbow.  Summit North is a very protected location, the ideal location to observe but not be impacted by the frontal passage.  After a pizza dinner delivered by Amore, we review the navigation plan for tomorrow and conduct individual ASA 106 topic study before turning in for what will be a challenging 48 hours.  

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Day 4: Tues
The morning is spent in inspecting the boat, checking systems and study.  The updated weather report calls for NE winds 10-15 down Delaware Bay, building to 15-20 with gusts to 25 once we turn into the Atlantic at the mouth of the bay.  Our departure time of 1130 is linked to the state of current in Delaware Bay which can run up to 3 knots.  We exit the Canal at Reedy Point at max flood in N winds 10-15 knots. While this timing means fighting an opposing flood current for two hours, it means that we will be riding the favorable ebb current for six hours down the Bay, expecting to arrive at the mouth of the Delaware Bay shortly before slack tide.  

Once in Delaware River, the flood current initially slows our progress, but once it begins to ebb, we “fly” down the Bay at over 7+ knots.  Underway, we discuss a range of ASA106 topics, review watch standing, navigation rules - including lights on vessels at night and the Captain’s standing orders as we keep track of our progress and monitor the limited ship traffic moving around us.  By early evening as we approach the exit from the bay, we prepare dinner and ensure our harnesses, tethers and lights are ready for the nighttime watches.  Just before dark the sun briefly breaks through the clouds and we have a beautiful sunset.  

By 1900 we are around Cape Henlopen on a broad reach in building winds and seas.  We deeply reef the main and shortly after, in winds now gusting to 25 knots, furl the main and jib, flying just the stay sail and engine on at 1800 rpm to provide additional steering control.  The change of the watch finds us avoiding incoming tug and barge traffic in rolling seas and NE winds between 15- 20 knots with gusts to 25 knots and rain.  Challenging conditions but crew and vessel are preforming well. 

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Day 5: Wed 
Watches pass without much action. Daylight brings little relief from wind - now gusting to 30 knots, rain, and building seas.  We minimize crew on deck to keep warm and dry;  harnesses and tethers are required by all on deck.  We are making excellent time, 6 to 8 knots flying down the coast.  No traffic, just low gray clouds, rain and ever building seas.  

Around 1400 off Assateague, George, who is below, is thrown across the cabin when the boat takes a strong roll, hitting his head on a wooden frame around the microwave in the galley.  Peter Gill, also down below, provides immediate first aid and gets the bleeding stopped to a head wound.  Peter asks Eric Greensmith, a physician on deck with me, to come below and look at the injury.  Eric goes below, examines George and gets him into a berth where he is able to rest quietly.  George remains below until we later enter Little Creek and tie up at Vinings Landings Marina.  

Due to the enhanced pressure gradient between the high pressure system over the NE US and the cut-off low pressure system off the coast, the wind and seas continue to build during the day, with gusts reaching 45 knots of apparent wind out of the NNE—well in excess of predictions. The impressive interaction between the wind and ocean waves is evident to all.  By late afternoon in growing darkness, we turn into the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. Visibility is down to around ½ mile in rain and fog, winds are gusting to 40+ knots and seas are 10-12 ft.  

We have little choice but our timing could not be worse to enter the Bay.  Phil has checked the tidal current tables and we find we are at max ebb.  We are able to see firsthand the power of sea and the value of a strong offshore designed and equipped boat as we surf down the waves and handle these challenging conditions.  Our intended destination is Cape Charles Harbor, inside the Bay and in the lee of the NNE winds, but the combination of strong winds, waves, and exceptionally strong ebb current enhanced by strong Bay outflows force us to divert to a “safehaven” in Little Creek.   

As we are maneuvering in these conditions, a USCG small Search and Rescue boat out looking for those in need of help comes by to see if we are ok – the VHF radio has been filled with calls for help and USCG helicopter rescue attempts.  We give him the “thumbs up” sign and he heads off into the wind, rain and dark.  We attempt to contact Vinings Landing Marina on the VHF radio but no contact.  Phil reaches them by cell phone and confirms there is room at the fuel dock.  We make our way over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and toward the entrance to Little Creek in ¼ mile visibility – radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System) helping to avoid obstructions and large ship traffic.  

By 2000 we surf into the entrance to Little Creek and shortly turn down the channel to the marina, where wind and waves finally drop to what feels like a whisper.  Les brings us into the dock were we secure the boat and survey the damages both below and on deck.  CELESTIAL has done well – with little to show for her hard work above deck and only damp conditions below.   

Now that the boat is secure, Eric examines George's head injury in more detail.  After some initial cleaning and advanced first aid, he determines that a trip to the emergency room is in George’s best interest.  I call 911 and medics and fire department crew shortly arrive.  After being examined by the medics, George was able to exit boat and walk to ambulance under his own power with support from the response team.  Eric and Peter ride to the SENTRA hospital with George, remaining with him until he is released later that evening.  George is given several tests and a set of non-flattering staples to close his head injury. 

While George, Peter and Eric are at the hospital, the rest of the crew straightens up the boat, dry off and get to bed. The day’s challenges have confirmed the need for good crew work and coordination; the value of a strong, well prepared boat and need for extreme caution in moving around on deck and below in these conditions.   It also confirms the need to have planned “safehavens” identified and charts available should conditions call for a change in plans based on weather and crew requirements.  

Day 6: Wed
Based on the weather forecast for today, N winds 20-25 with gusts to 30 knots, the decision to stay in port was made Tuesday evening allowing the crew to sleep in a little today.  Following breakfast, I consult with Eric about George’s condition.  After talking with Eric and George, reviewing the forecast for the next two days and discussing the situation with Tom Tursi at the school office, it is felt that George should not continue the trip under sail.  Another fall at this point might have more serious implications, and we make arrangements for George to return home.  All are disappointed that he must depart so near to the end of the cruise but agree that it's the best for him.  

The remainder of the day is spent in drying out boat and crew equipment and preparing for the final leg of our cruise.  We move the boat from the fuel dock, which proves to be a little tricky considering the gusty wind conditions, but once again the crew preforms up to the task and we are quickly secured in a more protected slip.  We layout the course for our trip north and review the weather conditions which finally call for a drop in wind speed, 10-15 knots but again from the north and with more rain.  As time allows, the crews spends studying ASA 106 topics.  The day ends with the boat and crew prepared for our final leg of the cruise, an overnight passage up the Bay, refueling in Annapolis and a return to Rock Hall.  Dinner at Captain Groovies provides a well-earned break to a long day. 

Day 7: Fri
We are starting to get pressed for time to return to our home port so another early departure.  Our plan is to depart the slip by 0745 to make best use of the flood current once out in the Bay.  The updated forecast shows some drop in wind speed but remains from North with rain and heavy fog.  Peter takes us out the slip and into the Bay where we find the weather as forecast.  

As we approach the Thimble Shoals Channel, AIS picks up heavy approaching traffic and after attempting to cross the channel ahead of the traffic, we turn south and await its passage.  The first ship is a sub with escorts followed closely by several large container ships.  Visibility is down to ½ mile and while we are waiting south of the channel for the ships to pass, one of the escort vessels considers us too close to the approaching sub and encourages us to move further away.  We are finally able to safely cross the channel and motor sail north into 10-15 knots winds which stay with us during the day and into the night.  

We keep track of our slow but steady progress north, monitor passing commercial and recreational traffic and take time to review course material.  Phil makes a great black bean, rice and sausage diner as we prepare for the wet night ahead.  Nightfall provides the opportunity to navigate by lighted buoys, lights ashore and ship navigations lights.  Radar and AIS again prove their value in early identification of approaching traffic.  Proactive coordination over VHF allows safe passage in the rain and heavy fog.   The night passes quickly with plenty of activity for each watch. 

Day 8: Sat 
Daylight arrives slowly with continued rain but we are passing Poplar Island and our first stop of the day is within 10 miles.  As we approach Annapolis, the harbor is coming to life.  Despite the weather, sailboats of all sizes are emerging from the haze.  We avoid the boats, many crab pots and fish lines, and head into Back Creek where we refuel and pump out at the Annapolis Harbor Marina.  It’s nice to get ashore after the wet night underway.  

Prior to leaving the dock we find that the aft head is blocked.  The crew gets another chance for more cruising life opportunities.  We clear the blockage quickly and are underway for the Bay Bridge.  Once out in the Bay we are able to enjoy a short sail in the N 8-10 knot winds but we continue to motor sail toward home.  The skies finally clear a little as we approach the channel into Rock Hall.  We take the time to make sail, finishing at least some part of our final leg without the motor.  This provides an opportunity to execute heaving-to drills before making our way up the channel and into our slip at the Osprey Point Marina.  Docking is a little challenging in the gusty conditions but with our now experienced crew and with some shoreside help, CELESTIAL and her crew are finally home.  

Two tasks remain once the vessel is secure; Eric, Les and Peter need to finish their ASA106 written tests which they started on the way north from Annapolis, and post cruise cleanup needs to be completed.  Both tasks are successfully done by mid-afternoon followed by a final course review.  It has been a challenging class with lots of practical hands-on experience.  All agree they learned more than expected and set their appetite for more.  Hearty farewells bring this cruise to a close for a crew of accomplished mariners who excelled in some very challenging conditions.   Great job by all! 

Captain Steve Runals
On board CELESTIAL, Oct 13, 2013
Osprey Point Marina, Rock Hall, MD

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