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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date June 20-27, 2015
Students: Joe and Mike Burch, Jeff Corwin, Kim Parrish and Arthur Savage
Captain Jochen Hoffmann

Pre-departure Preparation

I arrive Wednesday, June 17 to help prepare the Maryland School’s newly acquired offshore yacht S/V FRINDSHIP (soon to be renamed S/V NAVIGATOR). This Island Packet 40 replaces S/V CELESTIAL which is on the market looking for a new owner. 

My highly experienced student crew arrives during the afternoon of June 19, and we finish provisioning. Stowing refrigerated food early is essential to ensure that it is well cooled with the help of shore power rather than battery power before casting off. Over dinner at Bay Wolf restaurant, we get to know one another and preview our upcoming voyage. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015, Day 1 - Lankford Creek to Swan Creek, Rock Hall
We start after a simple breakfast by inspecting personal gear, lines, sails, and winches above deck, and systems and equipment below deck including safety equipment. Next, we break out charts, including the essential NOAA-Chart No. 1, plus navigation tools and a sample navigation planning work sheet – all of which we use to develop our first navigation plan from Lankford Bay down the Chester River and into Swan Creek near Rock Hall on the Bay. After topping off fuel, water, and pumping out, we delay our final casting off to allow a weather cell to pass. Now, it becomes a race to make it into our first anchorage at Swan Creek before the forecast remnants of Tropical Depression Bill pass over our location. We had planned on weathering that storm by dropping two anchors off the bow. But increasing winds, a look at the leaden sky to our west, and an updated NOAA weather report on VHF now predicting gusts up to 50 mph prompts us to seek shelter securely tied to a dock at Gratitude Marina. Howling winds that are now rocking our boat and a tropical downpour confirm that this was the prudent choice. 

Day 2 - June 21, 2015; Summer Solstice! Rock Hall to Summit North Marina, Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
We depart at 0800, perform engine and man overboard recovery maneuvers (MOB) and, under a freshening breeze of W10 to 15 knots with gust to 18, we set a full main and genoa for a spirited beam reach up the Bay. Joe who is proving himself to be the most adroit with the ship’s new Automatic Identification System (AIS) instructs us all in its operation. We establish a rotating one-hour schedule of crew roles and duties, namely, navigator, helm, lookout, deck hand, and assistant navigator, in order to review and re-inforce essential skills one needs when underway. I remind all that as sailors we need to realize that we are often distracted and short-handed. Distracted because we are simultaneously operating, navigating, and supervising; and short-handed because we are often the only trained, experienced sailor on board when we get underway with family or friends. Taking on the role of Skipper of the Day during this trip will further sharpen the crew’s focus. 

On this leg, we have the tide with us, reach Summit North Marina ahead of schedule, and have ample time to shower, enjoy dinner ashore, and develop the next day’s navigation plan. 

Day 3 - Summit North Marina to offshore via Delaware River and Bay
Arthur is our Skipper of the Day. At sunrise as we make our potentially dangerous exit from the C&D Canal (swift currents and shoals at exit), we use Nav Aids picked correctly by student crew to keep us safely off the breakwaters which can be submerged at high tide. Nonetheless, as we look back at the breakwaters - while the ordered compass course still reads correctly 090 per ship’s compass (psc) - we see vividly that the ebb tide is setting us rapidly down-river. Think about that. 

At nearby Reedy Island, we simulate a bail-out landfall that one would make in case of a sudden gale. But where is the entrance to this through the Reedy Island Dyke on the relevant Chart No. 12311? Jeff spots it as the tiniest open, non-dyke spot just N of the 39º30’N latitude line. A look at the USCG Light List, however, marks the lights on the Dyke clearly as the Gap. Once through the Gap, we double back and follow the channel south. 

Skipper Arthur has picked up the hand bearing compass and is modeling the prudent practice of fixing our position by traditional means. Indeed, the USCG Navigation Rules require of us to use “all available means” when we navigate. We continue to take compass bearing fixes during the remainder of our cruise. But we also unlock the power of the USCG-Light List by highlighting the key fixed and floating navigation aids that we will pass. To be sure, the Light List gives the latitude and longitude positions of many Nav Aids and this simplifies our navigation pre-planning work. But more important, the Light List gives us the exact positions of the Nav Aids that we select to be safe routing. Nor do we have to pass close aboard an Aid to achieve positive visual identification of an Aid for safe passage as long as we can see it with our binoculars and observe the GPS readout as we pass the latitude or longitude line entry of an Aid we have previously highlighted in the Light List. 

Our navigators pick as the departure point from Delaware Bay the west perimeter buoy of the Pilot Area designated as G “5” Fl G 2.5 s Gong which lies just east of the Hen and Chickens Shoal. Voila, we are set to head into the Atlantic on a course of 167º True. 

As Captain I establish Standing Orders and Night Orders to ensure that all know when and under what conditions to call on me if the wind shifts or increases by certain values, a ship comes within a certain radius, etc. 

Day 4 - Offshore from Cape Henlopen to Cape Charles Harbor, Chesapeake Bay Entrance
Mike is Skipper. At sunset last evening, we saw the first of many porpoise and dolphins during our trip – always first spotted by Jeff, a neuroscientist who studied sharks as a graduate student. 

During the night, the 2000 to midnight watch (Kim and the Captain) observes a maneuvering vessel off our port bow the bright spotlights of which wash out its navigation lights. With binoculars, we can make out moving figures on its stern clearly in the process of laying nets. A trawler! Time to alter course and get away from these endangering, trailing obstructions. Now, the distant Assateague Light Fl (2) 5s 154ft 22M is our only companion as the shoreline recedes from view. At midnight all are called on deck as we carry out a nighttime MOB maneuver required by the ASA standards before we continue on a course of 201º psc. 

Repeated fixes during the following day (it’s a HOT one) tell us we are on track to make landfall as expected at buoy R “2N” Fl R 4s south of Nautilus Shoal. This Aid marks our entry into Chesapeake Bay along the North Channel and under the Fisherman Island Bridge with a vertical clearance of 75ft. To this end, skipper Mike who has kept us watchful and alert during this crucial evolution, orders a new heading of 238º psc once we cross latitude 37º10’ N. He asks Arthur to call the Cape Charles Harbor dock master and arrange for a T-head dock. The day’s near record heat of 99º F, compared to a normal of 77ºF for the day, is taking its toll with two student crew feeling symptoms of heat exhaustion. Once safely tied to the dock, showers plus dinner ashore begin to restore all. 

Dinner Conversation: A shipmate relates that he had spoken to his wife and expressed apprehension about being Skipper-of-the-Day. “Don’t worry” was the response. “You love ordering people around.” (Howling laughter follows.) 

Day 5 - Cape Charles Harbor overnight on the Chesapeake Bay to Points North
Joe as Skipper. We sleep in and amble to a delightful coffee shop in town with its décor of the early 1900s still evoking the haberdashery it once housed. Back aboard, we clean the boat, have lunch in a nearby restaurant followed by a nap. We make the group decision to depart by 1600 and sail up the Bay at night both for the experience and to escape the summer heat. Joe calls for our nav plan to be developed and suggests a change in watch schedule so that different pairings sail into and out of the night. With a full main and genoa set in winds WNW at 10 knots, we enjoy dinner underway as night falls. 

The Captain who, together with Kim, has the midnight to 0400 watch, briefs all on what to expect regarding traffic on the Bay at night before going to bed. The plan: stay east and clear of the long Rappahannock Shoal Channel, leaving all shipping to port. Later, an urgent shout “Captain there is a ship,” rouses me from deep sleep. Yes, a container ship is nearing from SE of us and on our starboard. I put the helm down and, disoriented, I ask for the lay of the shipping channel expecting it and the container ship to our West and port side. But both are to our East! During a wind shift, the watch had tacked and then wrestled with a fouled genoa, crossing the shipping channel in the process. The ship had come up fast. Lesson learned. We role in the genoa, tack back again to the safer side of the channel and have an uneventful remainder of the night. 

Day 6 – Underway to Solomon’s Island
Jeff as our Skipper. The forecast had come true. With diminishing winds WNW at 5-8 knots and much cooler temperatures (finally), we motor sail into the morning. Our motor, having performed superbly when needed, has intermittently changed pitch since Cape Charles, showed exhaust steam at higher rpm’s, and is burning engine oil. We had sailed through bilge effluence from a fishing trawler upon entering the Bay, and Arthur found our saltwater strainer caked with sticky goo. When the cleaned strainer improved our engine performance only marginally, we ultimately assumed a water pump issue and kept rpm’s low at 1500 to 1900. (It was later found in Rock Hall that a requested impeller exchange had not been performed. Upon service, our impeller had only four of its nine blades still left to pump and cool our engine. We were fortunate, indeed.) 

Kim has really taken to chart navigation. And whenever updates are needed, he is the first to jump to the task – to the benefit of our progress and our sense of situational awareness. Jeff’s job as skipper is easy: Landfall in Solomon’s Island, Calvert Marina is done with aplomb by this now well coordinated crew. Once tied to the dock, some go off to cool in the marina pool, others explore. Dinner at the Back Creek Restaurant is a success for all. 

Dinner Conversation: A shipmate tells us that he’ll never mess with a recipe ever again. To accommodate the larger number of diners on board and changing ingredients, his cooking had taken two hours – rather than forty minutes. (Chuckle, chuckle.) 

Day 7 - Solomon’s Island to Magothy River
Kim as Skipper. We depart early, have breakfast underway, and enjoy a brisk sail in a NNW breeze until the wind all but dies by noon. Decision time: At low engine rpm’s, we won’t get to Annapolis in time to enjoy it. But we can continue on to the Magothy River and have a late dinner at a pleasant anchorage. This would also cut by two hours our time tomorrow back to Lankford Bay Marina. That’s “money in the bank” should the engine give out. Agreed. But before we drop the hook and savor Joe’s cooking, we have one more flurry of ship traffic late in the day: a cruise ship, container ship, tugs, a Coast Guard Buoy Tender, and two large car carriers. Once well fed, a glass of wine in hand, Kim ensures an anchor watch is in place. We have a very pleasant last night on board. 

Day 8, Magothy River to Lankford Bay Marina
Kim volunteering as Skipper. On our final day, in a cold, stiff wind E 15-20 knots, gusts above 25, and two reefs in the main, we experiment with reefed head sail combinations. But before we settle on the reefed main and full genoa (a perfect balance), the stay sail topping lift parts, trails aft high up on the mast and threatens to foul the main luff track. Mike volunteers to retrieve it and the situation is under control. We enjoy a brisk sail up the Chester River, strike sails in time for us to pump out, top off fuel, and dock the boat while still babying the engine. By now it’s raining hard. But cheers from the two other School boats in the Creek and a welcome-back by Tom Tursi, Head of the School, make us all feel good about our many accomplishments. 

Well done, fellow mariners. Your captain salutes you – with thanks and appreciation.  Fair Winds to you, always. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
On board S/V FRIENDSHIP, June 27, 2015
Rock Hall, Maryland

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