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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date September 17-24, 2016
Vessel S/V NAVIGATOR  Island Packet 40

Anthony Addeo, Wrenford Phillips, Thomas Hall, Richard Mitchell, Kevin Kurdys

Captain Steve Runals

Pre-departure Preparation: 
I arrive Thurs, Sept 15 to begin preparation of the Maryland School’s offshore yacht S/V Navigator before the students arrive.  Tom Tursi has reinstalled the ICOM 802 SSB radio and I want to check it out and become reacquainted with all ships systems.  I complete these and several other tasks before the students begin arriving during the afternoon of Sept 16th. Based on an updated weather forecast and inventory of on board food and supplies we finalize our cruising and meal plans.  

Dinner at the Waterman’s Crab House provides an opportunity to continue getting to know each other that we began earlier in the month during 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 a good way to ensure it is well cooled with the help of shore power rather than battery power before casting off; so after dinner, we provision for our trip.  Once our supplies are stored, we check out individual safety equipment, go over interior boat systems and assign pre departure duties.    An early bedtime is a welcomed end to the day.  

Saturday: Day 1 - Lankford Creek to Swan Creek, Rock Hall:
After an early breakfast at Pasta Plus, we go over in detail all the boat systems both in and outside to include an above deck orientation, checking standing and running rigging, sails, winches, and safety equipment, followed by a review of essential coastal navigation skills (the buoy system, navigation lights, break out charts, including the essential NOAA-Chart No. 1, use of navigation tools and a simple navigation plan work sheet).  

After reviewing individual pre departure tasks, we take the next several hours to complete assigned tasks. Wrenford, our navigator for the day, develops our first navigation plan from Lankford Creek down the Chester River to Swan Creek off Rock Hall.  After topping off water, we head down the Chester River to our anchorage at Swan Creek.  Along our way we practice MOB under power; all have a chance at steering the boat; we practice raising and reefing our sails in the light wind and rigging the whisker pole while Wrenford 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 on schedule. The anchorage is crowed with several groups of rafted up boats giving us the opportunity to discuss the considerations that need to be taken into account when tying together multiple boats.  We enjoy dinner and a fine sunset while discussing the day’s events.  The weather forecast calls for a building wind, veering to the east so we ensure our anchor is properly set and can accommodate the change in direction.  Anthony works out our navigation plan for the next day that takes into account the tide on the Swan Creek Bar, the strong current in the C & D Canal and a desired arrival time at the Summit North Marina before dark and before the fuel and pump-out dock closes.   This planning leads us to determine that unless we depart by 0100 tomorrow, we will never make the 50 nm trip to Summit North without encountering a strong ebb current in the C & D Canal.  

We choose instead to depart at high tide on the Swan Creek Bar and work our way north to an anchorage in the Sassafras River to put us close to the entrance of the Canal.   Our quiet anchorage is a little less so tonight.  It seems that Rock Hall is “party city” and we have free admission.  By 2100 hours things quiet down, and despite the forecast, a light wind makes for quiet, cool night and welcomed rest.  

Day 2 - Rock Hall to Sassafras River: 
We are up by 0700 for breakfast, complete pre operation checks and are ready to depart by our planned departure time of 0830.  The forecast calls for SW 10 knot winds and overcast skies.  We rig the deck wash-down hose to clean the anchor chain as we recover the anchor rode only to find that the pump does not work.  Our bow crew reverts to the use of a bucket to clean the muddy rode.  

Once the anchor is secured, we carefully exit the Swan Creek Channel. We arrive at the entrance buoy to cross the Swan Creek Bar with several other boats; all make the crossing to deeper water without incident.  Once across, we take the opportunity practice all points of sail and tacking and jibing to get all crew familiar with the commands and actions required to execute each task.  The wind remains with us as we reach up the Bay practicing taking two bearing fixes and monitoring traffic.  All get a feel for the use of the AIS (Automatic Identification System) as a steady stream of pleasure boats pass going north and south. We rotate steering the boat and taking fixes to track our progress northward. 

Once past Pooles Island, we practice MOB under sail and all have a chance to see the several sets of transits or range lights that will become common sites as our trip continues.  Early afternoon finds the wind dying so we motor sail against a building ebb current to an anchorage on the south side of the Sassafras River.  Along the way Tom, Kevin and the Captain change out the deck wash down pump with a new spare.  Having spares and being able to effect minor repairs is an essential part of cruising. 

The forecast calls for rain but we enjoy a quiet night during which Tom, our navigator for tomorrow, works out our timing to take advantage of a morning flood current to get us to the Summit North Marina located in the middle to the C&D Canal.   

Day 3 - Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Summit North Marina: 
The rain holds off till 0530, giving Tom and Wrenford, who have been sleeping in the cockpit, an opportunity to enjoy the cool breeze but gets us up and moving as they retreat to the cabin.  Anthony, our captain for the day, gets us underway in a steady rain, quite heavy at times, entering the Canal and passing our check points on schedule.  We take advantage of the building flood current; all seeing the wisdom of not trying to stem the current the day before.  

By 1130 when we contact the marina, the rain has become a light shower giving us a welcome break.  After refueling and pumping out, we secure the boat, do a quick cleaning of the inside and take welcome, warm showers. Kevin and Richard, who will share the navigator role, as we head down the Delaware River and Bay and then offshore along the DELMARVA coast, determine that an early departure is required to allow us to maximize the ebb current to get us down to the mouth of the Bay before the current changes.  We complete our pre departure checks, top off water, review watch-standing procedures and check personal equipment before enjoying a beautiful sunset, an excellent pizza/salad dinner and early bedtime.   

Before turning in, the Captain contacts Tom Tursi for a weather check.  By now Tropical Storm Julia is no longer a threat and the forecast calls for 10 -15 knot NE/E winds.  We do discuss a potential low pressure area shown in the Weather GRIB files (computer model forecast, not analyzed by a meteorologist) developing off Cape Hatters and moving slowly toward our entrance into the Chesapeake Bay.  The threat seems manageable so we confirm an early departure for tomorrow.  

Day 4 - Summit North Marina to offshore via Delaware River and Bay: 
Tom, skipper for the day, has us up, boat secured and ready to go by 0230.  It’s going to be a long day so getting rest when off watch will be important.  We have the Canal to ourselves and enter the Delaware River just before 0400.  We will be stemming a flood current for the next hour or so but it will let us take advantage of the strong ebb to get us to the mouth of the Bay.  The first two hours in the River are busy.  Several anchored tugs and barges and northbound ships give us plenty of practice identifying ships lights and lighted and unlighted buoys.  We motor sail south in a building NE wind, passed the brightly light Salem Nuclear Plant.  By 0800 we start to have 200 rpm fluctuation in engine rpm – not good.  The RACOR filter shows no water but the fluctuation continues – an indication of a clogged fuel filter.  We locate a spare filter, shut down the engine, and the crew sees how to change filter underway.  The electric fuel pump makes changing the filter easy and we are soon on our way without further problems.  

We spend the day resting, rotating the watch, tracking our progress south and monitoring passing ships.  By 1700 we round Cape Henlopen in a NE 10-15 knot wind.  As we turn SW it’s time to set the whisker pole and sail wing -& - wing but before setting the pole, we tuck in a mainsail reef.  Reducing sail is prudent as night falls and the ability to see approaching squalls is reduced. This sail combination makes for great sailing    Kevin makes a great evening meal that gets us ready for a long night at sea.  The captain reviews the “Standing and Night Orders” with the crew to ensure that all know when to call on him if the wind shifts or increases, a ship will pass  within close proximity, and course to steer guidance.  Despite the building seas, the boat and watch crew handle the conditions well.  We have a chance see a star filled sky till late in the evening when the stars blink out as overcast turns to rain and the wind increases.       

Day 5 - Offshore to the Chesapeake Bay Entrance and Cape Charles Harbor:  
The night passes with increases in wind and waves and a few exciting moments when we accidentally gybe.  The value of a tightly rigged preventer shows its essential value in these conditions and we are soon back in control and on course. We track our progress using shore lights and electronic fixes from the GPS.  By early morning, in winds now ENE 25-30+ knots. we have gybed and are headed for the North Channel fixed bridge and the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.  Picking out the unlighted navigation buoys in the sometimes heavy rain is a challenge against the lighted background of the Bay Bridge but well met. 

We cross into the Bay just after it begins to get light.  In the steadily growing light, we stay close to the coast to get a break from the still strong wind and high waves we motor sail north, passing first the concrete ships at Kiptopeke State Park and then the Old Plantation Light at the entrance to the channel leading into Cape Charles. The rain gives us a break allowing us another chance to see first-hand the benefit of using the two ranges or transits marking the center of the channel into the harbor.  We tie up at the Cape Charles Town Docks by 1130, do a quick cleanup of the boat so first the heater and then the A/C can start to dry out our damp interior.  It has been a fast passage, 31 hrs to cover the 197 nms from Summit North Marina; at an average speed of 6.35 knots.  All have done well.  For most of the crew this was their first time sailing at night and in the ocean: the 30 + knot winds, 5 to6 ft waves and rain, at times heavy, were a good “baptism under fire.”   

After securing the boat we head up to the marina restaurant followed by showers, rest and a little exploring before an early dinner at Kelly’s Tavern.  Before turning in for an early bedtime we wander the streets of this old town.  The lack of traffic seems to indicate we are not the only ones interested in going to bed.    

Day 6/7 – Cape Charles Harbor to Lankford Bay Marina: 
The plan for today is a more leisurely start with breakfast ashore, a review of ASA106 topics and pre-departure checks for an early afternoon departure and overnight sail up the Bay.  The forecast calls for NE 10-15 knot winds giving us a chance to do a little close hauled sailing.  By 1130 we are ready to head to the fuel dock and by 1230 we are clear of the channel leading to Cape Charles.  The wind is higher than forecast so we tuck in reef and head north under still overcast skies keeping a watch on the Baltimore Channel for commercial ships and tugs. By late afternoon we shake out the reef and tack at 1900 for the first time in the day to line us up to safely pass the Smith Point Light.  

The evening forecast is for NE 5-10 winds and clearing skies.  We reach the mouth of the Potomac River by 2200 hrs as the winds dies away to a light breeze; the skies have cleared and we motor sail north under a star filled sky.  As be cross the Potomac, commercial traffic starts to pick up.  AIS does its job, providing early warning of the approaching traffic that will become 7 ships or tugs pushing/pulling barges passing us between 2200 and 0700 hrs. In between this flow of traffic we execute our MOB drill.  While we quickly recover our lighted MOB float, all see the importance of staying on the boat and the difficulty of recovering an MOB in the wind and wave conditions we had the day before when we were entering the Bay.   The ones most impacted by the MOB drill are the off watch crews that were asleep and called on deck for the drill.   

As the sun is making its appearance we have a convergence of two tugs with barges and a tanker.  We all safely pass in close proximity having monitored VHF 13 for passing instructions.  The forecast for the day and tomorrow is calling for 5 knot winds so we make the decision to continue on past Annapolis to Lankford Bay.  It’s a long motor sail home under clear skies and flat seas.  We arrive back at the marina in time to refuel, pump out and tie up in our slip by 1600.  It has taken us almost 27 hrs to travel the 143 miles from Cape Charles, a slow but steady trip that has reinforced the importance of keeping an alert watch, monitoring traffic and adjusting our sails to the wind and sea conditions.      

Our ship has taken good care of us, so before taking showers and a welcomed dinner ashore, we clean the boat inside and out.  Dinner provides a great opportunity to discuss impressions and insights gained from our time on the water.  All were impressed by the way S/V Navigator handled wind and waves and how their individual skills improved during the trip.  Most importantly, each has gain confidence in their ability to handle a wide range of conditions that are part of coastal cruising.   It’s been a great trip.  Now only major task remains ……“Test.”    

Day 8 - The “Test”: 
On our final day together we have breakfast ashore, complete boat clean up and packing before the crew takes the written ASA test.  For all, the test is a great way reinforce what they have learned.  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 each.  

Captain Steve Runals 
Sept 24, 2016 
Rock Hall, Maryland

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