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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date July 23-30, 2016
Students: James Hennessy, David Patterson, Art Rowley, Dave Ryan 
Captain Frank Mummert

Friday, July 22, 2016
Our cruise started with a few bumps when half of the students were delayed by airline problems.  Both David Patterson and Art Rowley ended up getting rerouted and arriving later than anticipated, but they were finally able to reach Rock Hall and we had a successful intro session aboard Navigator late on July 22nd.  Up early the next day. Art and David went into town to go shopping while Jim Hennessey prepared a navigation plan to get the boat to Swan Creek and Dave Ryan assisted Captain Frank Mummert in stowing and preparing the boat to get underway.  After David and Art returned with food for the trip and a full propane bottle, the crew learned how to set and reef the sails, as well as getting an understanding of how to use the genoa pole.

Underway about 1400, the crew set sails once in the Chester River and learned the subtleties of tacking the genoa with an inner stay in place.  A few tacks and the crew back to understand that the cutter rig required a different speed and rhythm than one would use on a sloop.  Thunderstorms passing both north and south of the boat required a sharp lookout and the sun was setting into the western shore as the boat approached her anchorage at Swan Creek. 

Saturday, July 23
The anchor came up just after 0600 and we motored out into the bay and north to the C&D Canal.  Being Sunday, commercial traffic was light, but the recreational boats were all over the place.  Early in the trip, we sailed past a dozen or more fishing boats anchored in the Bay, all angling for the best spot.  By the time we reached the Chesapeake City Bridge, we had passed two large tugs pushing loads, a large Cigarette boat with 100 times the horsepower of Navigator and countless small power boats crammed with families and couples.  We did not, however, pass another sailboat.  Evening found us tucked onto a T-head at Summit North Marina.

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Sunday, July 24
Luckily the Conrail Lift Bridge was in the up position as we left Summit North the next morning, as repeated radio calls to the bridge tender got no results.  We continued our journey into the Delaware River, joining a parade of southbound commercial traffic.  David skillfully navigated us down the channel and we passed each major light in succession.  The wind continued to remain stuck on our nose and we could not raise sail, despite our early morning preparations.  We spent the trip down the bay in discussions about the technical knowledge needed for the ASA106 exam, with each student providing unique information and the captain guiding the discussions with hints on what would and would not be accepted on the exam. 

Afternoon found us sliding out past the shoals at the moth of the bay and into the open ocean.  Up came the mainsail and out came the genny!  We set our course away from land and as far south as we could, given the wind out of the southwest.  Unfortunately, we were fighting what turned out to be a north setting current and being trapped as we were between the Vessel Traffic Scheme and the land, we found ourselves with great sailing, but very little traction in the direction we needed to go.  After two hours of glorious, rail-in-the-water sailing, we found that we had actually traveled only about four miles in the direction we needed to travel.  Bowing to the inevitable, we rolled in the genoa, set a reef in the mainsail and motored-sailed into the night. 

As the night closed in, so did the storm clouds.  Lightning broke all around the boat and the clouds, illuminated by the lights of Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City, showed ominously dark.  Finally, at about 2200, the rain started, deluging the boat, even with all of the cockpit canvas in place.  The on-watch crew, Dave and Art, handled the boat well and the off-watch crew, while listening for any call for assistance, stayed below in the relative dryness and slept.  

Monday, July 25
By midnight, when David and Jim took the watch, the storms had passed off and the wind had begun to fade.  When dawn came and the watch relieved, we were motoring over glassy swells near the Chincoteague Inlet.  Early afternoon found us rounding Cape Charles and reentering the Chesapeake Bay and passing under the Fishers Island bridge.  Late afternoon storm cells were rolling down the land on the western shore, but each fell apart over the cooler water of the bay as we motored north into the still air preceding the storms.  Although the skies were dark and foreboding when we reached Cape Charles Town Marina, the expected rain never fell and we spent a quiet evening in the quaint town, enjoying a rare dinner out in the Shanty, a waterfront restaurant at the end of our pier.

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Tuesday, July 26
We slept late the next morning, recovering from the overnight cruise and it was after 1400 when we left our slip and moved over to the Cape Charles fuel dock to take on fuel and pump out our holding tank.  We had taken on fuel before leaving Langford Bay Marina, so we knew that any diesel we took on would be to replace our own usage.  The 40 gallons we took on almost exactly matched the 40 hours of engine operation and we were able to calculate our burn rate at just about a gallon per hour, far under that predicted by the Island Packet Owners Manual that the crew had studied to prepare for their exam.  We shifted back over to the T-dock to wait for 1900, our anticipated departure time for that night's run to Urbanna, Virginia. 

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Late after noon storms once again threatened our passage and we delayed our departure by an hour to ensure that the winds would have moderated while we were exiting the harbor.  Art took the wheel and navigated us into the gathering dark, where the high humidity was coalescing into a thick haze that effectively reduced our ability to see the lights on the Bay by about half of the expected distance.  Throughout the night, random lightning flashes lit up the sky above us, but we never heard thunder and, eventually, the sky cleared and we were able to watch the sliver of the moon rise over the eastern shore.

The crew got an important lesson in safety as we performed crew overboard maneuvers in the darkness.  The flash of the MOB beacon quickly erased night vision and difficulty of maneuvering on a moving target with no good visual clues reinforced the importance of staying on the boat.  Each crew member had the opportunity to helm the boat during the night and each recovery went a little bit smoother until, by the time Jim's opportunity to rescue his watchmate came, the crew was able to recover the gear within a few minutes, each step of the process falling into place. 

After securing from the drills, Art once again began directing us to our final destination, when he discovered a major problem with his navigation plan.  The major light that he had based most of his Chesapeake Bay maneuvering around had been extinguished.  Instantly realizing that he should have checked the Notice to Mariners, Art began a search for other lights and structures that would allow him to find his location and get us headed for the mouth of the Rappahannock River. 

Wednesday, July 27
We arrived near the Robert Norris Bridge about 0300, where the captain decided to run one more Crew Overboard drill.  While the off-watch was asleep and his watch mate was below working on navigation, Dave was sent forward to clip onto the jack line and sit on the foredeck.  Then, the captain eased the crew overboard gear into the water and gave the wheel a sharp tug.  At the same time, Dave began calling for help and generally making as much noise as he could.  However, the noise of the engine drowned him out and it was only when he noticed the boat's course changes that Art came up to investigate.  Quickly assessing the situation, he took control of the now empty helm and called up the off-watch crew with a sharp cry of "man overboard!"  When they tumbled out of the cabin, David quickly began pointing at the floating "Man in the Water" while Jim grabbed the rescue gear and scrambled to prepare to rescue.  Within ten minutes, all was calm again but a post-recovery discussion in the cockpit quickly brought home the realization that, had this been the real thing, Dave could have been floating in the water for a long time before anyone had noticed his absence.  Again, the message that the most important COB recovery method was not to leave the boat was brought home. 

We arrived in Urbanna at about 0730 and, after tying up at the Bridge Marina, the crew stumbled up to the Harris Pharmacy lunch counter for lots of hot coffee and breakfast.  Although the temperatures were still in the low 80s, even that early in the morning, the hot breakfast revived the crew long enough for us to make arrangements for taking the exam that afternoon, then naps and showers were the order of the day.

Thursday, July 28
Underway again the next morning, the crew reviewed the test results and discussed differences in the various philosophies each brought to sailing.  Everyone had passed the exam with flying colors and, having that stress off their shoulders, they were able to relax and enjoy this last day underway.  Although the wind had been forecast to be out of the north and light for the beginning of the day, we actually found it to be out of the northwest and well over 10 knots.  Again, the main and the genoa made their appearances and we romped along in the cooler air, a line of thunderstorms having passed through during the night.  Unfortunately, once again we were dealing with a foul current and we found ourselves sailing north, but traveling south.  After four hours of tacking up the bay, we were only two miles north of, and still in sight of, the buoy that we had passed setting our sails.  Reluctantly, we once again furled the genny and motor-sailed into the gathering twilight. 

Where our first night's sail had been an exercise in offshore sailing and our second had provided experience in night navigation and emergencies, this third night of travel concentrated on collision avoidance.  Numerous large cargo "monsters" grew out of the horizon both before and behind us and we were passed on both sides by tugs and commercial fishing vessels headed toward some far rendezvous with the shore.  We used AIS and RADAR to track these contacts and compared the sight of them visually with the messages that our electronics provided.  We were able to call some of the nearer vessels and coordinate our crossings with them, getting valuable experience in both the use of the radio and the language of the professional mariners.  As the night progressed, the wind gradually clocked around to our stern and dropped to the same speed we were making northbound, leaving the air on the boat dead and humid.  We looked forward to each small course change as it would change the angle of the wind slightly and sometimes allow more to move across the boat for a cooling breeze. 

Friday, July 29
Dawn found us coming around Love Point and back into the Chester River.  Still with no wind, we brought down the main sail one final time and cleaned it up, finishing by putting the cover back on, a little sadly.  Arriving back at Langford Bay Marina before the office opened, we tied off and went ashore for a hot breakfast and more coffee, before returning to refuel, pump out one last time and return Navigator to her slip.

Captain Frank Mummert
July 30, 2016
Rock Hall, Maryland

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