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~ A Cut Above ~

Course Advanced Coastal Cruising; DELMARVA Circumnavigation
Date September 16-23, 2017
Students: Thomas Cooper, Marvin Croy, John Sammis, Doug Smith
Mate: Tom Tursi
Captain Steve Runals

Pre-departure Preparation:
I arrive Thursday, September 14 to help Tom Tursi make final preparations on the Maryland School’s offshore sailing yacht S/V Navigator before students arrive. We review the weather forecast for Hurricane Jose and discuss cruise options, finalize our meal plan and shopping list based on input from the students during an earlier web meeting, review onboard charts and make sure the boat is ready for the cruise.  

All tasks are completed before our students begin arriving during the afternoon of September 16th. Once they are aboard and gear stowed, we review the ASA106 standards, inspect personal safety gear and have dinner ashore.  Despite Rock Hall being crowded, we find a relatively quiet place at the Harbor Shack and continue getting to know each other over a very satisfying diner.  Back aboard, we get a weather update on Hurricane Jose’s forecast track, and discuss marine weather.  The uncertainty of the track leads us to decide to spend tomorrow in port rather than departing the marina for an anchorage near Rock Hall.  An early bedtime is a welcomed end to the day. 

Saturday: Day 1Finalize boat prep and detailed navigation planning:
After an early breakfast, 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, and winches, and safety equipment, followed by a review of essential coastal navigation skills; reviewing the buoy system, navigation lights, break out charts, including NOAA-Chart No. 1, plus navigation tools.  After reviewing individual pre departure tasks, we take the next several hours to complete assigned tasks. Tom Cooper (TC) works with Captain Tom in developing a detailed navigation plan from Lankford Creek down the Chester River to Swan Creek off Rock Hall

Doug then works with Captain Tom to develop our navigation plan for the leg from Swan Creek to Summit North Marina in the C&D Canal.  Both spend time carefully reviewing the USCG Light List and Local Notice to Mariners to ensure they have the latest information. After completing other preparation tasks, John and Marvin support the navigators by working up tide and current projections for the legs to Swan Creek and Summit North.  The extra time for planning provides an opportunity to work each area in detail.  We finish in time to review several sections of the school’s offshore planning book before heading ashore for dinner.    

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Day 2 - Lankford Creek to Swan Creek, Rock Hall 
After an early breakfast we get an update on Hurricane Jose, complete final boat preparations and review MOB procedure before departing the marina heading down the Chester River toward our anchorage at Swan Creek.  Along our way we practice MOB under power; all have a chance at steering the boat and practice raising and reefing our sails in the light winds.  Along the way TC tracks our progress by taking two-bearing fixes and updating our arrival time.  Once opposite Kent Narrows, the wind picks up for a short time and we are able to do a little sailing.  We arrive at our anchorage just beyond the mooring field in Swan Creek and find our anchor windless does not work.  We take some time to trouble shoot but in the end manually deploy the anchor in the shallow water. 

On this early fall evening the anchorage is not crowded but we do share it with several other boats.  We enjoy a simple dinner while discussing the day’s events followed by a little knot tying practice. Hurricane Jose’s track is still a concern but we decide to head up to the C&D Canal to be in a position to take advantage of any improving weather.  Doug updates his navigation plan to determine our best departure time.  He has to balance sun rise for visibility, the tide over the Swan Creek Bar, current in the C&D Canal, which can be very strong, and a desired arrival time at the Summit North Marina before dark and before the fuel and pumpout dock closes.   His planning leads us to determine that we should depart by 0730 tomorrow. We will encounter an ebb current on the way north but by arriving at Old Town Point Wharf at the entrance to the C&D Canal we should have a favorable current to Summit North. A quiet, cool night with light winds makes for a welcomed rest. Moving time: 6.20 hours; distance: 21 nm; average speed: 3.98 knots.   

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Day 3 – Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Summit North Marina:
We are up by 0600 for breakfast, complete pre-operation checks and are ready to depart by our planned departure time.  The weather forecast calls NE winds 5 to 10 knots.  We rig the deck wash down hose to clean the anchor chain and recover the anchor manually; fortunately we are in shallow water.  Once the anchor is secured, TC takes us carefully out along the Swan Creek Channel. We arrive at the entrance buoy to cross the Swan Creek Bar and make the crossing to deeper water without incident.  

Once across, we motor sail north and practice watch keeping and related tasks in one-hour shifts. All get a feel for a combined use of traditional navigation and S/V Navigator’s electronic aids – chart plotter, AIS (Automatic Identification System) and radar. The wind remains on the nose and we stem an ebb current but make steady progress.  Along the way we pass many sail and power boats headed south to avoid Jose.  Doug tracks our progress to help ensure we arrive off Old Town Point no earlier than 1500 hrs and no later than 1600 hrs so we can have a favorable current in the C&D Canal all the way to Summit North. Despite working around crab pot floats, fishing lines and a southbound tug and barge, we arrive within our scheduled time window.  The sun is out, the temperature cool as we make our way along the canal.  AIS identifies two tugs and barges we will meet along the way – one east bound and the other west.  We encounter both in what now becomes a very narrow canal.  

We arrive at the Summit North Marina, refuel, pumpout and are secured in a slip by 1730.  Before heading ashore for dinner we check the forecast for Hurricane Jose.  Based on its track and the resulting wind and sea conditions we decide we should wait out our departure south here for another day.  The new restaurant Grain H2O proves to be an interesting place. Of note is their one desert - chocolate cake, a treat that will not be forgotten. We complete our pre-departure checks, top off water, review watch standing procedures and check personal equipment before enjoying an early bedtime. Moving time: 8.22 hrs; distance: 39 nm; average speed: 4.63 knots.  

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Day 4 – Detailed planning and the “test”:
We spend the day in preparation for our trip down the Delaware River and Bay and offshore along the DELMARVA coast.  Marvin and John will share the navigator role for this portion of the class so they work individually with Captain Tom to develop detailed navigation plans.  TC and Doug work with the NOAA current tables to determine the best time to depart to take advantage of the strong ebb current in the Delaware River and Bay and keep an eye on the forecast wind and sea conditions for the next day.  In this very protected location, it seems surreal that 50 miles to the south Hurricane Jose is passing with winds of 30+ knots at the mouth of the Delaware Bay with seas of 10 to 16 feet high.  

Tomorrow's conditions should be in our favor.  Once our navigation planning is complete, the crew spends some time studying for the ASA106 test.  All then take and pass the test and we celebrate with a fine pizza/salad dinner, followed by some time at Grain H2O for something to drink.  We plan an 0930 departure tomorrow so we enjoy some time discussing the day’s training before turning in for the night. 

Day 5/6 – Summit North Marina offshore via Delaware River to the Chesapeake Bay Entrance and Cape Charles Harbor: 
We complete our pre departure checks and clear the marina by 0930.  We have the Canal to ourselves till we reach the end of the Canal at Reedy Pt where a fast moving USCG cutter enters from the Delaware River.  It will be the only boat we see for the next several hours.  Entering the Delaware River, we stem a flood current for the next several hours until it slows and turns sending us on our way, at one point doing over 8 knots over ground.  We motorsail south with the mainsail up and preventer rigged in 8 to12 knots of NE/NW winds.  

As we approach the entrance to the Delaware Bay traffic begins to pick up and a steady stream of ships pass northbound.  The wind begins to drop and by the time we change watches at 2000, it has fallen away.  A persistent east swell left over from Hurricane Jose is all that remains of the storm.  Despite the light winds, we put a reef in the main prior to sunset as a precaution against unexpected and unseen winds.  The next day Tom uses our time underway to explain the fine points of using plotting sheets and keeping a DR plot.  We have an uneventful passage except for three things – the eastern swell, biting black flies which become extremely annoying and several feathered passengers that come aboard to share the ride.  Some stay for a short time, others come and go over several hours. Unfortunately this is not the case with the flies; they stay with us until we get to the northern Chesapeake Bay.  

 The lack of a moon provides a star filled sky during the night watches.  Late afternoon the next day finds us at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.  It takes a little effort to find the key approach buoy 2N but a vigilant crew soon identifies it and we work our way up the North Channel and its bridge in the fading light, keeping a sharp lookout for the unlighted channel buoys.  We are under the bridge and into the Chesapeake Bay by 1930.  John takes us north to the Old Plantation Light at the entrance into Cape Charles and we carefully work our way into the Town docks. Captain Tom tracks our progress down below on the chart plotter, the crew keeps a lookout for unlighted buoys and John at the helm, carefully follows steering guidance.  Entering Cape Charles at night requires a team effort.  By 2030 we are secured to the dock and ready to head up to the Shanty to celebrate our successful passage.  Moving time: 36 hrs.; distance: 202 nm, average speed: 5.58 knots.   

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Day 7/8 – Cape Charles Harbor to Lankford Bay Marina:
The two day delay waiting out Hurricane Jose has left us little time to relax and take in the sights.  After breakfast ashore, we prep the boat for another overnight passage, refuel and are on our way by 0930. TC and Doug have used the time while offshore to develop their navigation plans for the trip up the Bay.  The forecast calls for NE 5 to 10 knot winds giving us a chance to do a little close hauled sailing.  Once clear of the entrance channel, we experience the joys of sailing in a moderate wind with a flood current. The sailing is fun and we experiment with the staysail and traveler, experiencing their impact on helm balance.  The forecast winds begin to veer more to the north and slowly drop so by mid-morning we find ourselves motor sailing again.  Despite our best efforts to remove the flies the night before, we soon find ourselves again fighting these persistent critters.  

Watch keeping takes on increased importance as we work our way north crossing the major shipping channel several times, avoiding north bound shipping.  North and southbound shipping traffic increases significantly after dark and north of the Potomac River.  AIS does its job providing early warning of the approaching traffic that will become 9 ships or tugs pushing/pulling barges passing us between 2100 and 0700 hours. Some pass very close and require confirming passage plans over VHF Channel 13. We keep in mind that not all vessels have AIS and floating debris, buoys, crab pot floats and other things do not show up on AIS. An alert watch is essential always and is especially important in this high traffic area.  In between this flow of traffic we execute our MOB practice.  While we quickly recover our lighted MOB float, all see the importance of staying on the boat and the difficulty of recovering an MOB at night. Sun rise finds us off Knapps Narrows and a building NW breeze.  We continue to motor sail but with all sails flying to keep up our speed.  

As we pass Annapolis, the Severn River is filled with white sails and power boats – lots of folks out enjoying the sun and fine 8 to 10 knot breeze.  Once clear of the Bay Bridge, we fall off toward Love Pt and enjoy a perfect sail under a blue sky without the motor.  Around the Love Pt Light, we fall off to a run and rig the whisker pole and preventer.  It’s a short sail as the wind falls off again.  We make our return to Lankford Bay Marina under motor, and arrive back at the marina in time to refuel, pump out and tie up in our slip by 1430.  It has taken us almost 29 hrs to travel the 142 nms from Cape Charles, a slow but steady trip that has reinforced the importance of keeping an alert watch, working as a team, monitoring weather and traffic and adjusting our plans to account for changing wind and sea conditions. 

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Before departing, we clean the boat inside and out and conduct a course review.  It’s been a good trip with a good crew and all have learned much, not only improving individual sailing skills but about themselves.  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 all. 

Captain Steve Runals
On board S/V Navigator
September 24, 2017
Rock Hall, Maryland

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