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Course: Offshore Passage Making; Bermuda to Norfolk
Date June 7-15, 2018
Students: Paul Brana, Michael Crombie, John Leighton and Charles Miller
First Mate: Captain Jerry Nigro
Captain Captain Tom Tursi

Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Online crew meeting to review cruise plans, route, personal gear and preparations.

Sunday, June 3
We arrived in St Georges, Bermuda aboard S/V NAVIGATOR, our Island Packet IP40 ocean sailing yacht after a pleasant cruise from Norfolk, VA with the outbound crew of students, who returned to the US by commercial flights. And we berthed alongside inside the main harbor near the center of town and all of the activities that continually go on there. The boat was in good shape and there was little to do to her except clean up, change the oil and do some laundry. First Mate Jerry Nigro and I took care of these chores promptly and then relaxed for the next few days to catch up on sleep and a little R & R. 

Wednesday, June 6
We will be sailing back to Norfolk, a distance of 700 miles in the open ocean, with a new crew of ocean sailors in training who will be arriving aboard this afternoon. I had previously completed the basic food menue and provisioning for the cruise in Norfolk, all except for the fresh items to be procured on the last inport day here in Bermuda.  

By mid-afternoon our ocean crew began arriving on board including: Paul Brana, Michael Crombie, John Leighton and Charles Miller. After introductions, they proceeded to stow their personal gear in the limited space available for six people who would spend the next week together on a 40-foot sailing yacht at sea. Gear stowage completed, we all adjourned to a local restaurant, The White Horse, for dinner and to get to know each other and to discuss goals for the cruise. After dinner, we all proceeded early to bed as tomorrow would be a busy day with pre-departure preparations and training for the ocean cruise and the beginning of molding a group of adult sailors, all strangers to each other except Jerry and I, into a competent working team. Some of the crew judiciously elected to sleep ashore in nearby hotels to maximize their rest prior to going offshore. 

Thursday, June 7
At 0800 Ship's Time (which we a keeping as Eastern Daylight Time Zone 5W) we started work with the entire crew onboard NAVIGATOR with pre-departure training, explaining and demonstrating deployment of all sails including the mainsail, staysail, genoa and storm trisail; also the associated rigging and deck hardware including winches, cleats, line stoppers and the whisker pole used for running broad-off the wind wing on wing with the mainsail and genoa. Then also we demonstrated rigging the sea anchor used for heaving-to in storm conditions, inspected the entire yacht on-deck and below deck, reviewed safety procedures and emergency procedures as described in detail in our Ocean Training Cruises Preparation Guide (Blue Book) developed over the past 25 years based on the more than 250 ocean training cruises that we have conducted in that time. By evening, we were all sweaty, hot and hungry, so we all went to the Wahoo Restaurant for dinner and refreshments before retiring for the night in preparation for tomorrow's busy day. 

Friday, June 8
The Blue Book contains a series of equipment and safety checklists that need to be verified prior to departing for sea, and these were allocated to each of the crewmembers for completion working under the direction of First mate Jerry, while I went to the Somers Market and completed the fresh food procurement and stowed it in the refrigerator. This morning's work was completed by noon, so we broke for lunch in town and returned to NAVIGATOR to undertake the all-important navigation preparations, watchkeeping procedures, and weather review for the cruise.  

Navigation preps were conducted as an all-hands team effort so that everyone onboard would be familiar with the route strategy and navigation details, as well as the charts, reference books, logbooks, and electronic nav instruments. NAVIGATOR has a modern suite of navigation and communications equipment including: GPS-based charts plotters, AIS automated information system, Sirius satellite-based weather data and graphics, Radar, VHF radio, NAVTEXT information system, SSB radio, and Email for text and graphic communications. We also have a SPOT satellite automatic tracking device that transmits our hourly position back to the folks at home. 

In addition to these electronics, our ocean navigation procedures will be based in large part on classic paper and pencil navigation based on the ship's steering compass and the distance-measuring log plus the celestial LOP lines of position that we are able to acquire with Sextant shots of the Sun and other celestial bodies. This information will be integrated into a meaningful navigation procedure based on regular observations entered into the Deck Logbook and the DR dead reckoning plot. So... it takes quite a bit of time for new crewmembers to become familiar with this range of equipment to enable effective and efficient use while underway at sea, and we spent considerable time doing that training.  

We also needed to review the current weather forecasts and couple this information with our route strategy and departure plans. We did this first by reviewing our onboard and internet resources, and second by the supporting forecasts provided by Bradley Mabe, a Maryland School graduate and professional meteorologist who had provided the following initial forecast:  

6/10 winds light & variable becoming WSW 5 - 10 increased chance of showers & T-storms - winds become SW 10 to 12 in the evening

6/11 winds SW 10 - 15 becoming 20 - 25 evening and overnight chance of showers and T-storms

6/12 winds SW 15 - 20 becoming W 10 - 15 

Saturday, June 9
We plan to depart for sea this morning, but first need complete final pre-departure inspections for sea, check the latest weather, clear out with Bermuda Customs, top up diesel fuel and potable water, and clear harbor with Bermuda Radio. We completed the boat inspections and weather checks, then all walked the fifty paces to the Customs office and cleared out there. We then  undocked and motored the quarter mile to Dowling's Fuel pier and topped up diesel and water. At 1045 EDT we cleared with Bermuda Radio and motored out through the Town Cut Channel into the Atlantic in sunny skies and very little wind. So we motored to our departure waypoint a half-mile north of Kitchen Shoal Light, and there at 1300 hours began the dead reckoning plot for our ocean navigation procedure. Winds this afternoon are from SW below 5 knots, and this  continued until midnight. We had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight. The watch schedule is as follows:

  • 12-4 Watch (midnight to 0400 and noon to 1600): Mike and Chase
  • 4-8 Watch (0400 to 0800 and 1600 to 2000): Tom and Paul
  • 8-12 Watch (0800 to noon and 2000 to Midnight): Jerry and Don

If wind directions over the next several days allow, we would ideally like to enter the Gulf Stream south of Cape Hatteras since the Gulf Stream can be expected to push us to the NE as we cross it. However, as long as a low pressure systems or a cold front do not pass through this area, the prevailing winds for this month are usually from the SW along this route back to Norfolk, and our rhumbline route to Norfolk is to the NW. Therefore, we can expect to be sailing close hauled on port tack most of the way. Sailing close-hauled with ocean waves will require that we crack off to a close reach in order to keep the boat moving through the larger waves. This will force us to the north of our rhumbline and make it difficult to lay Norfolk without tacking once we pass Cape Hatteras. The means we'll need to sail the boat efficiently (not pinching the wind thus increasing leeway to the north, and not carelessly footing off too much to the north) to avoid losing our position south of the rhumbline. Otherwise, we may be pushed far north of the rhumbline, and need to fight our way back to the west once passing Hatteras.

Sunday, June 10
Bradley Mabe sent the following weather forecast: 

6/10 morning winds light and variable mostly S becoming SW 10 - 15 in the afternoon chance of showers and T-storms in the afternoon

6/11 winds SW 10 -15 becoming 15 - 20 in the afternoon

6/12 winds SW 15 - 20 gusts to 25 becoming light & variable in the afternoon due to a short wave frontal boundary chance of rain increases

6/13 winds still light and variable becoming S 5 - 10 and then SW 10 - 15 as frontal boundary passes

6/14 winds SW 10 - 15 slight chance of showers and T-storms 

Overnight, the winds increased to 10 knots or so, remaining mostly from SW. It was a squally, rainy day. Sails up, sails down, engine on, engine off, a lot of wind, no wind, some rain, some sun. It was a mixture of everything today. We had chicken stew for dinner. There was a little bit of mal de mer but not too much. The only time it was rough was when the wind died and we couldn't sail but the seas were still choppy from the earlier wind. We've done some celestial work today. John took a few shots and got some good accuracy. Mike took a shot and had good accuracy. Chase and Paul are going to work on it tomorrow hopefully. By evening winds increased to SW 15 knots, and remained so overnight allowing us to sail with reefed mainsail and genoa. 

Monday, June 11
Bradley Mabe sent the following weather forecast: 

6/11 winds SW 20 - 25 becoming W 10 - 15 increased chance of showers & T-storms

6/12 winds W 10 - 15 shifting N 5 - 10 and becoming light and variable then becoming E 5 - 10 overnight

6/13 winds SE 10 - 12 becoming SW 10 - 15 in the afternoon and evening

6/14 winds SW 15 - 20 increased chance of showers & T-storms 

John got a Sun shot at 0648 in the morning, plotted the LOP on the chart and plotted an Estimated Position based on that single LOP with hopes of getting another Sun shot later in the day to determine a Running Fix position, but that was not to be due to cloudy skies for the most of the day. During the day, winds increased to 20 knots but remained SW, and we had some good close-hauled sailing. 

There was a stationary front (cold from the north and warm from the south) running east-west close to our position, which gave us unstable conditions, cloudy skies and quite a bit of rain and squall all day so we were drenched most of the time. There has been a stationary front running east and west near our position both on the trip out and the trip back and it has made for rather indecisive weather. These two fronts have been battling each other. The cold front will advance south and the warm front will advance north. They have been going back and forth. 

We had hotdogs and beans for dinned... By late evening the wind veered west and then north forcing us to steer a northerly course on port tack. 

Tuesday, June 12
Overnight the winds went NE at 20-30 knots, and we went onto a broad reach on starboard tack with reefed mainsail and staysail; it was pretty squally and rainy, similar to what has been going on for a couple of days. By this morning it started clearing up and we decided to reset our waypoint directly towards Norfolk rather than going off to an intermediate waypoint south of Cape Hatteras. Overnight we were on a broad reach with reefed mainsail and the staysail; then the winds continued to decline, and this morning we put out the genoa. It's become a great day. Sunny, puffy clouds and blue skies indicating that the cold front had moved south of our position. 

Bradley Mabe sent the following weather forecast: It looks as though the stationary front that was to your N became un-stationary -

6/12 winds E 10 - 15 shifting S into the afternoon and into Wednesday (6/13)

6/13 morning winds S 15 - 18 becoming SW in the afternoon and evening

6/14 winds SW 15 - 18 becoming light and variable in the afternoon and evening and closer to the coast

6/15 winds light and variable mainly N 10 - 12 near the NC / VA coastal region. Chance of showers and T-storms increases. 

We did quite a bit of sailing on this trip and some of it was pretty strenuous from the standpoint of storms and squalls. We've used all sorts of sail combinations from full sail with the main and genoa down to a reefed main and staysail and all combinations in between. It's been an enlightening sail for those on board to see what goes on during a trip like this. We have had very large waves that were probably 12 - 20 feet high. We were clearly looking up at these waves, but they are smooth, not breaking. We've seen very few breaking waves. We were getting quite a bit of pounding on the boat from the big waves. When a wave catches us just in the right orientation it slams the boat and you get a big bang and it shudders the boat. We were getting a lot of that yesterday and some overnight. Some were breaking into the cockpit, but not too often. During some of the squalls we were seeing wind strengths of 35-40 Knots. So it was challenging sailing for a few days. 

Winds continued from the NE at 20 knots until mid-day today; by 1500 the winds veered to SE and dropped to 10 to 12 knots. By evening, we were just motoring on a very lumpy sea because the wind died. 

The crew is doing well. There was a little bit of MDM for a couple of days but that has pretty much passed. We had a nice chili and rice dinner tonight of which everyone partook, so we've been eating well. 

We still have wave action here even though the wind is virtually gone now, down under 10 knots. We are still looking at waves that are 10-12 feet high but they are very smooth. The boat just comfortably rides up one side and down the other side. All the student crew are old salts now and it's no big deal. The waves were generated by a storm up north and those waves travel a distance and become swells. The waves we are getting now were generated a day ago and they are just reaching us now. There is an interesting picture on the NOAA website of a storm just off Hatteras and it generated waves and those waves traveled all of the way across the ocean from the western edge of the Atlantic to the eastern edge. 

John has been getting quite a few celestial shots and has put some lines on paper. He's getting an estimated position and is working on getting a running fix. We have been keeping the DR plot. That's where John plotted his LOPs. Chase has gotten a number of shots today and is working to improve his accuracy, which you do by repetitive shots to improve your technique. 

We have about 300 miles to go to the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, but it's really too early to forecast an arrival time. We expect favorable winds tonight and tomorrow, but based on the forecast that Brad sent, we are expecting the wind to clock around to the northwest by Thursday and that's then going to be opposed to our heading. 

Wednesday, June 13
Bradley Mabe sent the following weather forecast:

6/13 winds S 10 - 15 becoming SW

6/14 winds SW 18 - 25 shifting W 12 - 18 mid day then becoming becoming light and variable near NC / VA coast.

6/15 winds light and variable with a predominant shift N at 5 - 8 during the morning hours and strengthening N 10 - 15 in the afternoon

6/16 winds continue to shift clockwise E 5 - 8 near coastal VA as center of surface high moves over your anticipated position winds become light and variable eventually becoming SE - S 

Overnight we sailed with deep reefed mainsail and staysail. By late morning the winds veered further to SE, and by 1800 veered to SW and increased to 25 to 30 knots. We had a really challenging day today, 30-35 knot winds with lots of big waves, but it was good. 

The boat handled it fine, the crew handled it fine, everybody is over MDM, eating meals and telling jokes. It was rough going but it was fun actually! About 7:00 PM we got through the Gulf Stream and crossed it in about 5 to 6 hours. We came out of it about midnight, then things smoothed out and we had a beautiful sail since then.  

Thursday, June 14
Bradley Mabe sent the following weather forecast:

6/14 winds SW 10 - 12 becoming W 5 - 10 then becoming ligh and variable in the evening

6/15 winds still light and variable predominantly from W then becoming NNW 10 - 15 in the afternoon

6/16 winds N 8 - 12 except light and variable near Chesapeake entrance 

Overnight  winds remained SW at 10-15 knots and we had some nice sailing straight toward Norfolk. By noon, the winds dropped to 5 knots SW, and we motorsailed on a straight line course to the Chesapeake Bay entrance with about 100 miles to go. Soon after we came up on soundings and were able to read depth. 

Friday,  June 15
At 0845, after rounding Cape Henry and entering Chesapeake Bay, I called US Customs and Immigration to notify them of our arrival from Bermuda. They asked when/where we would be docking, and said they would come to our marina for an onboard inspection. We arrived at 0930 at Vinings Landing Marina in Little Creek Harbor, and three US Customs agents came aboard at 1100 for arrival inspection, after which our student crewmembers departed for home to regale their friends and family with exciting stories of the deep... 

Saturday,  June 16
All is well! NAVIGATOR is back in Norfolk at Vinings Landing Marina in Little Creek Harbor, and is prepped for her next cruise with Captain Steve Runals. All crew have returned home, and I too am going home to recuperate from an enjoyable cruise. I want to thank all who made this cruise a success: Rita for organizing everything and Jerry Nigro a great Sailor and First Mate. To Bradley Mabe who provided timely and valuable weather forecasts, and to our student crew who were all great crewmates and fine sailors, and who worked hard to make this a successful cruise. 

Thanks to all
Captain Tom Tursi
Norfolk, VA


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