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  • Mystic Cruise
    Reports 2000

    Report #3
    July 28 to Aug. 4

    Mystic, CT to
    Rock Hall, MD

    Course:         Mystic, CT, to Rock Hall, MD
    Dates:           July 28 - August 4, 2000
    Safety:          Victoria Fay
    Navigator:    David Smith
    Engineer:      Juan Manuel Lleras
    Boatswains:  Robin Meigel, Barbara Smith
    Vessel:          IP45, HALIMEDA
    Captain:        David Appleton

    Thursday, July 27 I looked forward to rejoining HALIMEDA as I rode the Amtrak to Mystic from Trenton. I had enjoyed my first sail on her during our May DelMarVa cruise and had a wonderful cruise to Bermuda and back on her in June and July. During that voyage, we had used her genniker to good advantage several times and she had proven herself to be a decent sprinter as well as a comfortable cruising boat.

    Joining me this time would be Victoria Fay, whose husband, Bill, had been my watchmate on the Bermuda to Norfolk cruise aboard HALIMEDA in late June into July. Also with us this time would be David and Barbara Smith who, like Vicki, hail from northern New Jersey. Robin Meigel would be joining us from DC and another of our students from overseas, Juan Manuel Lleras, was coming to us all the way from Bogota, Columbia. I looked forward to welcoming them all aboard.

    Vicki arrived early and helped me do most of the provisioning in the afternoon to save time during the seminar day. By 1600, all had arrived so we stowed our gear and headed for town to sample the local cuisine.

    Friday, July 28 --- Seminar We got acquainted with each other more formally this morning with each crew member outlining his sailing experience and expectations from the course. We then conducted the seminar outlined in the Maryland School’s Offshore Training Manual, and assigned the billets as outlined above. David Smith as navigator thought Port Jefferson would be a good destination for the first day, and other crewmembers suggested they would like to stop in Oyster Bay. This also seemed possible, so we decided to aim for Port Jefferson and continue on if we got there early.  By 1830, we had completed most of the pre-sail work, boat survey and check, stowage and so forth, and we were secured for the evening. Once again we headed for town for a last meal ashore.

    Saturday, July 29 --- Mystic to Oyster Bay To catch the favorable currents, we had to get underway at first light at 0530 and make our way down the Mystic River to Fisher Sound and then on to Long Island Sound. Nearly all the buoys on the river are unlit, so we did not want to attempt this passage in the dark, even though the best currents were at about 0400. While we waited a little too long to get the best advantage from the currents near The Race of Long Island Sound, we still had pretty good current speeding us toward Port Jefferson. We were there by 1330 and decided to continue on to Oyster Bay Light winds out of the Southeast meant we had to motor most of the way, but the abundance of navigational aids gave us plenty of opportunities to practice getting fixes using various techniques described in the ASA 105 class. Our Navigator, David, had taken the class and was well equipped to lead the exercises.

    At 1700, we put together a nice stir fry chicken dinner and had plenty of time to clean up the galley prior to entering Oyster Bay at about 1900. Once in this well sheltered harbor, we checked in with Oyster Bay Marine Center and picked up one of their moorings. When HALIMEDA was secured, the crew called for the launch and went ashore to explore the town.

    Sunday, July 30 --- Oyster Bay to Sandy Hook Today we decided we wanted to make it through New York Harbor. We had to plan to time our departure so that we would arrive at the fabled Hell's Gate at the north end of the East River at a favorable time. Currents there can exceed 5.5 knots as they were scheduled to do that day. We rose early, took the boat to the dock, hit the showers by 0730 and got underway by 0800 after some practice in techniques of maneuvering under power in currents

    There were only light winds and the threat of rain so we did not get a chance to sail until later in the day. As we entered the sound from Oyster Bay, we spotted several sailboats under spinnaker in the foggy drizzle. They had to be racing to be sailing in these conditions. Sure enough, when we passing one boat, we noted the sticker on the bow designating it as a contestant in the "Round Long Island" race. It looked frustrating.

    By 1100, we were approaching Execution Rock and City Island beyond. The weather really deteriorated and we had fog and drizzle. HALIMEDA’S radar became not only handy, but also a necessity as visibility was reduced to lest than 1/2 mile and the waters were becoming both more restricted in size and more congested with traffic, commercial and recreational. As we passed City Island, the fog lifted and we got some wind, so we raised the mainsail, resolving to try to motor-sail at least.

    Just before noon, we approached New York City through Throg's Neck and into Hell's Gate. The latter was aptly named. We were there at close to maximum ebb current, which meant we were getting the full benefit of this current and the full wrath of Hell's Gate. What a trip! The crew noted it was like running the rapids on the Colorado River. This gushing current raised improbably huge waves on the river. A couple of fairly large tour boats headed upstream tossed about like toys in a demented agitator washing machine. Some recreational powerboats fighting the current heading toward the Sound almost leaped out of the water as they vaulted through the waves. I can only imagine what HALIMEDA must have looked like to them as we pitched about in similar fashion. Juan, at the helm, enjoyed himself immensely. We all found this an invaluable experience, rich in lessons about the value of sound seamanship.

    Once through this exhilarating experience, we got a chance to catch our breath as we passed under the impressive East River Bridges, the Queen of which is Roebling’s masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge. Robin, a history buff, told some anecdotes about the construction of the bridge as we passed under it. Then we became tourists for an hour or two as we passed around the Battery and watched the Staten Island Ferry and the other commercial and tour boat traffic on the Hudson. We decided to sail up the river and look around, taking advantage of this rare opportunity to see the New York and New Jersey waterfront from the vantage point of the river.

    Just past the Holland Tunnel, we decided we should turn south to take advantage of the still ebbing tidal current on the Hudson and the New York Harbor. We sailed past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, wishing we could have been there a few weeks earlier when the Tall Ships Parade occurred. Then it was under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and on to Raritan Bay and Atlantic Highlands, where we took on fuel at the Municipal Marina.

    Excellent southeast winds gave us our best sail so far as we made our way into Raritan Bay on a close reach. The patchy fog and occasional precipitation in this very busy harbor had vigorously challenged our navigational skills. The crew had met these challenges and felt their skills and confidence burgeon.

    Monday, July 31 --- Sandy Hook to Cape May Another early morning! We got off the restaurant dock at 0530 to clear the way for the fisherman. But we didn’t want to leave that early because adverse currents would make the trip unpleasant and we weren’t in that much of a hurry anyway. So we went out to Horseshoe Cove behind Sandy Hook and dropped the hook. Some of the crew enjoyed a leisurely morning swim in the warm water while others prepared a pancake breakfast.

    After breakfast, we took some time to prepare for the ocean portion of the voyage, with Vicki conducting a safety review of crew overboard and abandon ship procedures. We reviewed and examined all safety equipment.

    We also tried one drill we seldom have a chance to practice, using the Lifesling to hoist a disabled crewmember from the water. Vicki volunteered to be the victim. She got in the water and we deployed the Lifesling, got her into it and hoisted her aboard using the boom as a crane and the ship's handy billy as the block and tackle. The four part purchase on this rig makes it possible for even a smaller crew member to lift a fairly large person from the water with little difficulty.

    By 1030, the boat and crew were ready for the ocean passage and the tide had turned favorable for us, so we weighed anchor and headed out around the point of Sandy Hook and into the Atlantic with Juan navigating and David Smith acting as skipper. Each day we changed roles. Barbara was now Safety Coordinator and Vicki became Engineer, with Robin handling deck duties.

    Southeast winds gave us a decent sail most of the day. Threatening weather was promised by NOAA and some ominous clouds to the west passed to our north. We were passing Manasquan Inlet and on to the bright lights of Sea Side during the early evening.

    Watch Captain Robin and Mate Juan had a busy time of it during the midwatch with several squalls and a lot of tug and tow traffic just north of Atlantic City. They had to maneuver through this traffic carefully, while handling some tricky wind gusts under sail. They did all this with some effort but handled it well. There is no substitute for this kind of experience to build the sort of confidence one needs to sail at night under adverse conditions. These two and the rest of the crew now know they can handle most challenges a near coastal sea passage can present. Juan and David both commented that this "Tug Dodging" exercise was most enlightening.

    By dawn we were passing Atlantic City, having to tack many times now that the wind had shifted to the south. At 1600 we were at the dock in South Jersey Marina. I called a former student, Bill O’Shea who lives in Cape May. He came over to admire HALIMEDA and share some local knowledge about skirting Cape May close inside and saving several hours. This proved a big help the next day when we set out on our voyage up the Delaware Bay.

    Wednesday, August 2 --- Cape May to Chesapeake City We were up at 0430 and off the dock by 0530 and out the inlet and around the tip of Cape May by 0700. We could not use the Cape May Canal and had to make the long passage around because HALIMEDA'S mast is too high at 60’ for the 55’ bridges over the canal, even at low tide. But Bill’s local knowledge and directions allowed us to take the "inside passage" close to the point of Cape May. This gave us some stunning views of the lighthouse and surrounding architecture.

    Once around the point, Navigator Robin put us on a course of 330 degress magnetic toward the light at Mia Maul Shoal. We played the GPS CHALLENGE game in which the crew each gets a fix using two or more bearing LOPs and makes a mark on the GPS to see how accurate their compass fixes were. Dave and Robin were the closest and Vicki was the farthest off, so she would "buy the drinks" when we made port.

    Our timing of the departure to take full advantage of the currents proved accurate and we rode a 1.5 to 2.1 knot current in our favor all the way up the Delaware Bay. We also had a nice southwesterly breeze which translated into a close reach most of the way. All this made for a quick passage over the 52 nautical miles to the C & D Canal. It was also a smooth ride because the wind was more or less with the current. When the wind opposes the current on the shallow Delaware Bay, steep, sharp waves develop and make it very tough going.

    By 1430, we reached Reedy Point, dropped sail and motored into the C & D Canal ahead of a tug pushing a barge. We kept well to the north side of the canal to give him room to pass, which he did about 2 miles in. Currents were still favorable for us since we arrived in the Canal just as the ebb current (east to west) began to run. We arrived at Chesapeake City just after 1600 and sought a pump out facility at the Chesapeake Inn and Schaeffer’s Canal House. The former had a pump out station, but it was broken, while the latter no longer offered this service. Some deal! So our primary mission for Thursday was decided: find a pump out station.

    That issue resolved, however unsatisfactorily, we set about docking at the new floating dock at Engineer’s Cove (or "hole in the wall") on the south side of the Canal at Chesapeake City. Vicki, on watch by this time, had the helm duty for docking and got to use a spring line to warp the boat up to the dock portside to. She did a fine job of docking, duly praised by the owner of the new Beneteau 42 docked there who took our lines for us! These new docks are very nice and the price is right.... free for a 24 hour stay, on a first come, first served basis. There’s a good anchorage there, too, where the many transients can wait out unfavorable currents or rest for the night.

    Once the boat was secured, we adjourned to the Chesapeake Inn for cocktails courtesy of Vicki "the most distant!" from the GPS Challenge. Then Barbara made a nice chicken dish for dinner aboard. NOAA predicted rain, and it came shortly after we cleaned up dinner dishes, so we retired for the night.

    Thursday, August 3 --- Chesapeake City to Rock Hall Captain Robin decided the crew needed a rest so she set departure time at around 0800. We’d had a lot of early mornings so the crew appreciated this chance to sleep in. We paid for our luxurious nap by having to fight adverse currents in the Canal and the Bay for a good part of the day. At about 1030, we fulfilled our pump out mission on the Bohemia River. This gave us another chance to navigate with caution through shallow waters and gave Barbara some additional docking and maneuvering practice.

    By 1100, we were off again heading out of the Bohemia and down the Bay. NOAA had predicted a drizzly day with potential for thunderstorms. The forecast was right and we motored through the precipitation with light SSW winds on our nose. We planned to make it to Kent Narrows to negotiate this area during heavy currents and see what precautions need to be taken. After what we passed through during the furious ebb cycle of Hell Gate and the East River in NYC, this piece of water should seem tame indeed.

    Passing the Aberdeen Proving Grounds at lunchtime, we noted the patrol boat standing by to keep unwary mariners out of the restricted area during firing exercises. While we had some precipitation, we didn’t mind it. The entire voyage had been under cloud cover, but at least it has been blessedly cool.

    At about 1330 as we passed Poole's Island, the southerly winds started pick up appreciably and we began to enjoy a very nice sail to weather. Unfortunately, this required a lot of tacking, but the crew relished the practice. This gave them a chance to use navigation techniques in conjunction with sailing skills to make progress toward our goal, Kent Narrows. Captain Robin and crew continually assessed our position vis-à-vis the wind direction to determine when to tack to best make progress.

    By 1630, it was clear we would be arriving at Love Point, and hence Kent Narrows, much later than we had thought. To our west, over the Patapsco River and Baltimore, ominous clouds were threatening. As we noted this, the Coast Guard issued a weather alert "securite" call on the VHF warning of strong thunderstorms west of us headed east at 20 mph. We checked the charts to plot the squall line’s position in relation to ours. I told Captain Robin of the experience we had a couple of weeks ago in Rock Hall, with damaging hail and brutal winds coming out of conditions that looked a lot like what we were seeing this afternoon.

    Thus informed, Robin made the decision to abort the Kent Narrows excursion and head in for Rock Hall and the marina. We were only about 5 miles away at this point and though the threatening clouds were moving toward us quickly, we judged we would be able to get in before the full brunt of the storm landed on us. We discussed strategies for handling the situation if we did not make it, namely selecting an appropriate anchorage or heading off shore for sea room. Neither of these was necessary since we made it to Spring Cove Marina in plenty of time. We were in by 1930, before the strong winds hit. They only proved to be 35 knots or so, and I was a bit disappointed we had decided to come in rather than ride it out and do some more night exercises. But better to be safe!! After the crew secured HALIMEDA, they headed for the showers and then to a restaurant just ahead of the storm.

    Friday, August 4 -- Rock Hall Since we were in port somewhat early, we had a leisurely morning, sleeping in until 0730! After breakfast we took care of some unfinished business for the class and, at the request of the students, went over some line handling and docking techniques including warping and using spring lines in different ways to maneuver the boat around at the docks. We then went out to practice the Williamson Turn again, with each crewmember getting a couple of chances to try this maneuver. Then it was on to the fuel dock to top off and pump out and back to Spring Cove Marina to clear off, clean up and secure HALIMEDA. Tom Tursi arrived on the dock just in time to take a group photo of the crew with their Maryland School of Sailing Cruise Certificates.

    The crew commented on their experience as we parted, noting that we had passed through a remarkable number of waters from Mystic River to Fisher Sound and Long Island Sound to Hell's Gate, the East and Hudson Rivers of New York Harbor, then on to Raritan Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Cape May Harbor, Delaware Bay and River, the C & D Canal, and finally into the northern portions of the Chesapeake Bay. This cruise had proven a to be rich geographical experience as well as an educational one. I think each crewmember left with a sense of fulfillment as well as accomplishment.

    Captain David Appleton
    aboard S/V HALIMEDA
    Spring Cove Marina
    Rock Hall, MD

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