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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date July 11-18, 2015
Students: Janice Cannon, Jeffery Ivey, Ramon Ayala and Hanno Klausmeier
Captain Steve Runals

Pre-departure Preparation: 
I arrive Thurs, July 9 to help prepare the Maryland School’s newly acquired Island Packet IP40 offshore yacht S/V FRINDSHIP to prepare for this cruise. On Friday, before the students arrive, Tom Tursi, students from an ongoing ASA 103 class, Frank and Suzanne Mummert and I christen the boat with its new name S/V NAVIGATOR; a great way to prepare for our offshore adventure.   

The student crew arrives during the afternoon of July 10. Based on an updated weather forecast, we finalize our cruising and meal plans.  Dinner at the Waterman’s Crab House Restaurant allows us to continue getting to know each other that we began the month before in a webinar in which we discussed individual class goals and sailing backgrounds as well as an overview of the course. 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, so after dinner we finish provisioning.  For some like Hanno who had arrived the day before from France and Jeff who had driven down from MI, an early bedtime was a welcomed end to the day. 

Saturday: Day 1 - Lankford Creek to Swan Creek, Rock Hall: 
After breakfast at Pasta Plus, we begin inspecting personal gear, lines, sails, and winches above deck, and systems and equipment below, including safety equipment. Next, we review key chapters of the Offshore Training Cruises Prep Guide (blue book) review the buoy system, navigation lights; break out charts, including the essential NOAA-Chart No. 1, plus navigation  tools and a sample navigation plan work sheet – all of which Ramon, our navigator for the day, uses to develop our first day’s navigation plan from Lankford Bay Marina down the Chester River to Swan Creek off Rock Hall. Each student is assigned responsibilities that prepare us for an early afternoon departure.   

After topping off potable water tank, and pumping out the waste holding tank, we head down the Chester River to our anchorage at Swan Creek.  As we pass the preferred channel buoy at the intersection of the Langford Creek and Chester River we see the sails and long, narrow hulls of Log Canoes racing out of Rock Hall Yacht Club.  It’s a real challenge to sail these unique Chesapeake Bay watercraft.   On our way we practice man overboard (MOB) recovery techniques under power, and all have a chance at steering the boat, practice raising our sails in the light wind, putting in and taking out a reef.  Ramon tracks our progress by taking two-bearing fixes and updating our arrival time.  We arrive at our anchorage just beyond the mooring field in Swan Creek and prepare dinner.  Ramon and Hanno go for a short swim.  We enjoy dinner and a fine sunset and review the events of the day.  Jeff works out our navigation plan for the next day that takes into account the tides in Swan Creek, the strong current in the C & D Canal and an arrival time at the Summit North Marina before dark and before the fuel and pumpout dock closes.   These factors lead us to plan for an early departure time.  Light winds and a passing rain shower make for a quiet night and welcomed rest.  

Day 2 - Rock Hall to Summit North Marina, Chesapeake and Delaware Canal: 
We are up early for breakfast, pre-operation checks and are ready to depart by 0730.  The weather forecast calls for light winds from the south and clear skies.  As we raise the anchor, the deck wash down pump does not work so the value of an all-important bucket is seen by all as we clean the mud from the chain and anchor. We clear the Swan Point Range and head north without incident.  The forecast southern wind fails to develop, instead a light breeze from the NE develops as we motor sail just outside the channel.  Early on we see the value of our Automatic Identification System (AIS) as several tugs approach, turning out of the channel on a head-on course.  We coordinate with them over VHF channel 13 (bridge-to-bridge) for a port-to-port passage. We rotate steering the boat, taking fixes to track our progress northward and review ASA106 topics.  Jeff monitors our progress so we arrive at the Old Town Point Wharf at exactly his desired time – slack before flood.  As we proceed into and along the channel we are able to take advantage of strengthening flood current allowing us to arrive at Summit North by 1630.  The high point of the transit is that just before we arrive at Welch Point we see a large car carrier approaching from Chesapeake City.  Janice, at the helm, prudently advices we circle just outside the channel to allow it plenty of room to pass.  Good advice; it’s huge, filling the narrowing channel.  Not often a ship that big passes so close to you. 

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Showers, an excellent dinner at the Aqua Sol Restaurant and navigation planning for our long passage down the Delaware Bay and along the coast close out this long day.  Hanno develops a navigation plan to take maximum advantage of the ebb current in the Delaware River and Bay that should get us to the mouth of the Bay by tomorrow evening. Janice develops a navigation plan that will take us south along the DELMARVA coast that minimizes the impact of the forecast S to SW winds. By the time we turn in all agree it has been a good day on the water.  

Day 3 - Summit North Marina to offshore via Delaware River and Bay:
Jeff, shipper for the day, has us up, fed, pre-operations checks completed, boat secured, water topped off and ready to go by 0745.  Before departing our slip we check to make sure the CONRAIL Railroad Bridge is open and traffic is clear.  We have the canal to ourselves and make our potentially dangerous exit from the C&D Canal (swift currents, shoal at exit) without incident. We motor sail into a strong flood current and light southerly breezes.  The current will soon change so we will be able to take full advantage of the ebb as we head toward the ocean.   

As we pass Reedy Island, we identify a “bail-out” landfall one would make in case of a sudden gale or problems with the boat; this is a very narrow entrance through the Reedy Island Dyke. Once the current turns, we find ourselves moving at 7+ knots for several hours.  Tracking our progress by using fixes on lighthouses and other navigation aids is becoming second nature to all.    As we near the end of the Delaware Bay the current begins to turn and the wind builds from the south.  All have seen the impact of wind against and with current and this is clearly demonstrated as we pass Cape Henlopen carefully monitoring the passage of the ferries moving between the two Capes. We attempt to sail without the motor into light head winds but find our progress painfully slow so we furl the genoa and motor sail, tacking along our rhumbline.  The forecast calls for winds of 5- 10 knots from the SW and the potential for showers and thunderstorms.  It’s prudent to put in a reef in the main even with these light conditions so before dark we are moving under a reefed main.  Jeff and Ramon have the watch and see lightning in the distance.  As it gets closer we check the radar on a cell phone app and see a line of thunderstorms approaching. Time for a second reef.  Within 10 minutes of getting the second reef in we are hit by rain and strong winds over 30 knots.  Reefing before you need it is always good practice.  The squall soon passes and the night is spent motor sailing south tracking our progress using electronic fixes from the GPS and visual fixes from lights along the coast.  The captain reviews the “Standing Orders” with the crew and provides “Night Orders” in the log to ensure that all know when to call on me if the wind shifts or increases by certain values, a ship comes within a certain radius, etc. 

Day 4 - Offshore Chesapeake Bay Entrance to Cape Charles Harbor:
The night passes uneventfully and by morning we are off Assateague Light and entrance to Chincoteague Inlet.  The wind has built to 10 -15 knots and shifted to SW so we decide to short tack along our rhumbline course in two to three hour legs to give the engine a rest and stay close to the coast to minimize the impact of building waves from the SW winds.  By late afternoon we are near Hog Island and the winds have dropped.  At times it has been a wild, bouncy ride but we still have a long way to go to our stopover at Cape Charles so we motor sail along the coast but with an watchful eye for shallow water.  Our navigation plan has us passing into the Chesapeake Bay under the North Channel Bridge but a strong ebb current and narrow approach channel on a moonless night cause us to alter our plans and enter thru the Chesapeake Channel.  Having alternatives is an important part of passage making.  This requires not only having thought through what alternative are available but to have the charts and navigation information available to use them if needed.  We enter the Chesapeake Bay at 0130 and head north to the Old Plantation Light at the entrance to Cape Charles. By 0430 we are tied up at the Cape Charles Town Docks and ready for bed.  It has been a long passage but all have done well.  For most of the crew this was their first time sailing at night and in the ocean.  It has been a good “baptism under fire.”  

Day 5 - Cape Charles Harbor: 
Before dropping off to a well-earned rest, we decide to spend the day in port cleaning up, repairing some issues with the genoa furling line, studying and catching up on sleep.  Cape Charles is an interesting little town that is well worth exploring.  By early evening we are ready for a good meal, a walk to the beach and an early bedtime in anticipation of our trip up the Bay.  Janice has laid out a course that will take us up to Annapolis initially working against northerly winds that should veer to the E and SE by afternoon - what no head winds for part of this leg!  All have no problem falling asleep. 

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Day 6/7 – Cape Charles Harbor to Annapolis and Rock Hall
The day dawns clear and a little cooler with northerly winds.  We are ready to depart for the fuel dock by 0930.  By the time we depart the Cape Charles channel we have NE winds 10-15 with gusts to 18-20 knots so a double reefed main and full genoa get us on our way.  We get a taste of the ship traffic we will encounter later in the day as we monitor the progress of several passing ships, coordinate passage with another and settle in for beat to the north.  By late morning it becomes apparent that we are making slow progress along our course so in dying winds we motor sail north toward Smith Point.  By the time we reach Smith Point at the entrance to the Potomac River we are moving in a flat calm.  At this key waypoint we are greeted by the largest pod of dolphins we have yet seen on the trip.  As night falls we again put in a reef in the main against a sudden change in wind direction and speed.  The wind does begin to veer to the SE but initially remains light.  We now start to see a steady increase in ship traffic.  AIS does its job, providing early warning of the approaching traffic that will become 10 ships passing us between 2100 and 0400 hrs.  Several of these ships we coordinate passage with over VHF channel 13.  Shortly after the 0400 hour watch, we conduct a nighttime MOB drill.  On this moonless night all see how difficult it is to recover an MOB in the dark.  The ones most impacted are the off watch crewmembers who were sound asleep and were called on deck for the drill.   The importance of staying connected to the boat is understood by all.  The wind has built so we raise sail and rig a boom preventer.  It’s so nice to have our hard working engine turned off. 

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With the rising sun the wind dies away.  Of note is a line of cumulus clouds that have formed just over the middle of the Bay.  The Captain has seen this along the Gulf Stream but never in the Bay.  The warmer Bay water contrasted with the cooler air over the land makes for an interesting sight as the crew slowly comes alive and makes their way to the deck.  The forecast is for continued light winds so the students opt for continuing to sail past Annapolis and on to Lankford Bay, our homeport. Jeff, “skipper of the day” gets us past the Key Bridge and up around Love Point where the crew determines it’s time to turn off the motor and sail – into southerly head winds but a beautiful clear day.   As we sail down the Chester River we hear the USCG reporting that water spouts have been spotted by the Key Bridge; very strange weather to say the least.  It’s a great sail but slow progress, giving us a chance to practice all points of sail.  By 1500 it’s time to “fold our wings” for the last time and return to the marina.  Three docking maneuvers area carried out - the pumpout dock, fuel dock and slip - without a hitch by this well coordinated crew.  As we leave the fuel dock we are greeted with cheers by an ASA 101 class.  It’s good to be home. Our ship has taken good care of us so before heading to well-earned showers and dinner we give her deck a good wash down, clean the inside and store equipment.  It’s been a good trip.  Now all that is left is the ……“Test.” 

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Day 8, Lankford Bay Marina and the “Test”
On our final day together we have breakfast at Pasta Plus, complete boat clean up and packing and head to the office for a chance to see just how much we have learned over the last eight days.  All take and easily pass the ASA 106 test.  I spend time with each student congratulating them on their accomplishments and discussing their strengths and areas for further development.  Each has done well; we have been a good crew.  All look forward to the opportunity to apply newly developed skills in their own sailing and look forward to sailing together again. 

Well done, fellow mariners. I salute you – with thanks and appreciation.  Fair Winds to you, always. 

Captain Steve Runals
July 20, 2015
Rock Hall, Maryland

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