Captain/Instructor: David Appleton
Mate: Jerry Nigro
Our first voyage to the fabled “Onion Patch” aboard s/v TEAL MONDAY was a study in light air, the value of the cruising chute and careful fuel management. While the light air and quiet seas gave us some unusual views of the Gulf Stream currents, we would have gladly exchanged these for a 15 to 18 knot southwesterly breeze. But this wasn’t to be. That’s life in the Horse Latitudes, as they say! However, we were spared a total 620+ nm motor boat ride by the grace of TEAL MONDAY’s beautiful genniker.
On Saturday May 22nd the adventure began early for crew members Steven Crane of Milwaukee, WI and Edward Kalinka of Detroit, MI when they joined me in Gwynn Island, VA to enjoy a little added cruise helping me take the boat down the bay about 35 miles to Little Creek. At Gwynn we met TEAL MONDAY’s owner, Pete Ashby, who acquainted us with this Island Packet 38’s charms and idiosyncrasies. These included a rather elaborate and efficient 12 volt refrigeration system and the cruising genniker. We grew quite fond of both. Pete had sailed her in the Caribbean 1500 a couple of years back and cruised with her in the Bahamas and Florida Keys as well. He’d also made passages on her to Bermuda. And his partner in the newsletter CRUISING COAST AND ISLANDS is none other than famed cruiser, writer and lecturer, Tom Neale, so you can imagine this boat is extremely well equipped for extended periods at sea such as our ocean passage.
After loading the special school and offshore gear we got under way early Sunday morning timing our departure with high tide to enable us to negotiate the creek behind Gwynn Island just off the Piankatank River. Once out in the bay we were treated to a westerly wind which enabled us to sail and fully check out the rig. That afternoon we cruised up the Elizabeth River to downtown Norfolk touring past the majority of the US Navy docks. A whole lot of haze gray paint there! Impressive!
On Monday we sailed down Elizabeth River and back out into the bay heading East to Little Creek on 25 to 30 knot southwesterly breezes. TEAL MONDAY performed well, taking these strong winds off her quarter in stride. This gave us further opportunity to check out the rig, reefing system and sailing characteristics, as well as confidence in the vessel. Steve, with experience racing scows on midwestern lakes, proved a knowledgeable bosun for our crew, checking out all the lines and sails in the rig. That afternoon we pulled into Taylor’s Landing Marina in Little Creek where we met Jeffrey Papps, captain of the just arrived Island Packet 40, s/v ENCHANTMENT, and Tom Tursi, head of Maryland School who had just delivered the other IP 40, s/v DREAMCATCHER, down the bay from Rock Hall. The fleet was in!
Tuesday, May 25th, saw the rest of our crew arrive. Lee Geiger came in from West Chester, PA and assumed the Engineer position, and Tom Whitaker flew in from Southern Shores, NC and agreed to work with Steve as the second Bosun. Ed was assigned Student Navigator duties. Mate Jerry Nigro, a veteran of several voyages to Bermuda with the School and on his own boat, arrived from Long Island that evening, completing our crew.
On Wednesday and Thursday there was a flurry of activity around the three boats as all three crews immersed themselves in preparations for the voyage. Each Captain and Mate conducted seminars covering safety and emergency procedures as well as navigation techniques, Gulf Stream crossing strategies, and heavy weather sailing techniques and procedures. Each crew got familiar with special offshore devices such as the life raft, sea anchor, harnesses and jacklines and so forth. Special drills on procedures such as preparing and deploying the sea anchor gear and drogue were discussed and practiced.
Each crew member used the “Maryland School Offshore Manual” to guide him as he checked out the equipment his billet made him responsible for. The Engineer is responsible for all ships systems, plumbing, electric, the engine, water, fuel and so forth. He’s also responsible for damage control in the event of some catastrophe. The Mate is responsible for all safety equipment as well as abandon ship procedures and assignments, as well as overseeing the Student Navigator’s work. The Student Navigator is responsible for all navigation related equipment including charts, nav tools, and electronic navigation gear such as gps, loran, and radar. He is also responsible for communications equipment such as VHF and SSB radios. And the Bosuns are in charge of all the deck gear including the rig, sails and so forth. And as Captain, I’m required to oversee the whole affair.
The Island Packet 38, while a truly fine vessel, is challenged in the fuel capacity department. It carries only 57 gallons in the tank, not nearly enough to make the 620+ voyage to Bermuda under power. And we know these Horse Latitudes to be capable of sustained calms this time of year, and us with a schedule to keep! So we prepared by carrying an additional 18 gallons of fuel on deck in 3 six gallon gerry jugs. This provided our Engineer and Bosuns an additional chore, lashing these jugs securely to the deck. For these latitudes and the Gulf Stream can also provide gales and mountainous seas. Thus Steve, Tom and Lee were charged with learning what they did not know about lashing techniques and putting these to practice securing our deck fuel.
Going over the vessel thoroughly according to the checklists in the Offshore Manual, each student crew member was responsible for discovering discrepancies in his equipment and notifying Mate Jerry or the Captain about them. An alert Steve noted some suspicious plastic pieces on the foredeck of our boat and brought it to my attention. We concluded it was part of the genoa roller furling system, and beyond our ability to repair. So we secured the services of a rigger and he fixed it. No sense going to sea with broken gear.
Once all the gear has been checked out each crew member does a little “show and tell” routine familiarizing the rest of the crew with the equipment in his charge. While our mate Jerry oversaw this aspect of our preparations on Thursday, I shopped for the remainder of the needed provisions. Our commodious freezer enabled us to freeze some meats and other food not only for ourselves but for the other boats.
By Thursday evening we were provisioned, prepared and ready to go! We joined the crews of DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT for a final meal ashore at the Crab Claw, a fine local restaurant in Little Creek. And a fine feast it was!
May 28th, Friday morning, we were ready to leave at dawn, but agreed to stay for a photo session with the rest of the crews. The three boats berthed together with all three crews attending them at the dock made for some impressive photo opportunities. We seized them with a bevy of cameras!
By 0930 all shutterbugs had been satisfied and we were able to pull away from the dock at 1010 with ENCHANTMENT close behind and DREAMCATHER, needing to pump out, moving to the fuel dock and finally out not long after. At 1110 we passed over the tunnel at Thimble Shoal Channel and headed for open water. Winds were northerly at 3 to 9 knots and we proceeded under power and sail. As the day progressed the clear skies, light and variable winds, and high barometric pressure readings indicated we were near the center of a high pressure system that would not be likely yield good winds for us in the near future. Monitoring the USCG’s NMN weather reports confirmed this suspicion.
Not long after we departed we realized our SSB radio was defective. Repeated radio checks with the other boats revealed we were able to receive but unable to send. I had previously attributed our inability to get a signal to our unfamiliarity with this non-user-friendly unit, and that all we needed was time with the manual. Extensive reading of the manual by Ed, Jerry and myself, as well as the rest of the crew, showed this was not the case. We later found out (from a radio technician back in Little Creek after this round trip) that our mike was defective. So we resolved to listen in to conversations between ENCHANTMENT and DREAMCATCHER on SSB once we were out of VHF range. This posed no real safety issue since we had excellent VHF range with which to hail a passing ship should we have a problem. And of course we were equipped with a registered 406 EPIRB should we really have problem. I frequently make deliveries to the Caribbean over these waters on charter boats unequipped with SSB. On these well traveled routes you are seldom out of the VHF range of other vessels, particularly freighters with their antennas mounted high above the bridge deck.
At 1600 we execute a MOB drill under power. The crew fails to deploy the horseshoe, strobe and pole rig. Also the recovery takes nearly 10 minutes due to indecisiveness. We review the crew overboard procedures and resolve to try again later in the voyage.
Twilight, at about 2000 we are able to observe evening stars in the very clear skies. Venus and Mars are very clear early. We practiced our techniques for bringing down stars with the sextant.
May 29 at 0700 we enjoy a large breakfast featuring the Captain’s special cheese omelets with bacon, home fries with onions and peppers and a bit of Texas Pete for those so inclined. At least the calm seas are favorable for such fare!
At 0830 we notice disturbances on the placid water ahead of us. We note the water temperature is rising and falling. The range had been 60 to 62 degrees through the night according to our hourly log entries, and it is now up to the 70°s. And between 1100 and 1200 it leaps to 78° and 80° and at the same time we note swirls and ripples in the calm waters. We’re entering “the Stream” for sure. This was a new experience for me. I can’t recall ever having seen the Gulf Stream so placid and the currents and eddies so clearly defined. It’s a truly fascinating sight.
On May 30, Sunday at about 2300 or so the wind had picked up sufficiently for Tom and I, the 2000-2400 watch, to set sails; and at just after midnight the midwatch, Jerry and Lee, was able to secure the engine. Finally we’re doing some sailing. After breakfast and cleanup we try another MOB drill, this one under sail. The crew is a bit more efficient in this recovery. We also exercise a heave to maneuver and use it to launch a discussion of heavy weather sailing techniques. We note the slick left to windward of TEAL MONDAY as she drifts downwind hove to. And we discuss how this would reduce the tendency of waves to break directly to windward of us.
After these discussions the crew enthusiastically launched the genniker at 1010 and we began to make some good speed on a course of about 130 with winds out of the SSW at about 10-12 knots. We realized we were enjoying a sail probably denied the other two boats since they were not carrying a cruising chute. Each crew member got a chance to steer under the chute with Steve providing a bit of coaching based on his experience with spinnakers on scows. We were enjoying boat speeds of over 6 knots on a close reach.
By May 31, thus far we’ve been motoring and motorsailing more than we’d like and fuel is becoming an issue. Engineer Lee Geiger has been carefully monitoring our fuel supply by not only looking at fuel gauges and engine hours, but actually dipping the tank using a dowel to measure the height of the fuel. He also marked before and after dumping one of our 6 gallon jugs into it. So yesterday, May 30th, he was able to compute we had burned 6 gallons in 20.7 hours or about .3 gallons of fuel per hour. This is excellent fuel management and will serve us well should we have to continue motoring. We should be able to make it. For at 1200 to 1600 rpms, our customary engine speed over the past three days, we only burn .3 gph. This gives us a range of over 300 miles on what we have aboard, more than enough to reach Bermuda.
On June 1 at 1030 we stage a damage control drill with the following scenario: monitoring the bilge for our hourly checks and log entries, we note excessive water accumulation. We turn on the electric fuel pump but find it is unable to keep up with the inflow. The source of the water is found to be a leaking through-hull fitting, and the Engineer and Captain determine it is not repairable, so we go to Abandon Ship stations. At 1115 we secure from the drill and discuss the procedures and the crew performance.
During most of the day we got some sailing in using the genniker, but by 1500 winds subsided, and a low pressure system in the area had moved out to the east taking with it the wind it had generated and leaving us with only lumpy confused seas and light westerlies. We gave up on the genniker then and by 1845 we dropped the main and furled the stay and genoa as well. As we closed in on Bermuda, we resumed radio contact with DREAMCATCHER. They were fairly close, within 5 miles at 1845 radio meeting time. And we could overhear their SSB conversation with ENCHANTMENT as well. ENCHANTMENT had taken a far more northerly route than we had, attempting to take advantage of the Gulf Stream eddies and meanders they had observed in Jennifer Clark’s Gulf Stream Report.
On June 2 at 0400 Lee notes we have just a shade over 1/2 reading on our fuel gauge. In the darkness we could see navigation lights of both ENCHANTMENT and DREAMCATCHER to our North and Northeast. They were moving quite swiftly under power. We chose to continue conserving fuel by motoring at only 1600 rpm. I appoint Lee and Steve Captain and Navigator for the approach to Bermuda and they set about poring over the charts and reviewing the check-in protocol. At about 1000 we listen in as DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT check in with Bermuda Harbor Radio, and then we do the same at 1130 as we pass Northeast Breakers and head for Kitchen Shoals.
As we pass through Town Cut, hoist our “Q” flag and head for the Customs dock on Ordinance Island we see ENCHANTMENT and DREAMCATCHER are joined by another Island Packet, s/v SITOA, the Maryland School’s Caribbean class boat, with Curt and Eva Chapman aboard. They’re headed across the Atlantic for the Azores! Once we fueled and watered at Dowlings, they docked, breasted out alongside us and we were pleased to have the chance to visit with them.
We were also pleased and thankful, after comparing notes with the other crews, that we had that genniker aboard. With it we were able to sail much more than either of the other boats in our flotilla. While we motored more than we would have liked, we also got a chance to practice some light air sailing with decent speed for about a day and a half worth of genniker work. Not all bad.
Captain David Appleton
Aboard s/v TEAL MONDAY
St. Georges, Bermuda
June 26, 1999