Captain/Instructor David Appleton
Mate Jerry Nigro
In stark contrast to the last, on this voyage we often had more than enough wind. It turned out to be a memorable exercise in weather monitoring and storm avoidance tactics. On s/v TEAL MONDAY we also got a sobering dose of heavy weather sailing! In many ways this was our most interesting voyage of the summer.
Mate Jerry Nigro and I got a chance to catch our breath and clean TEAL MONDAY up a bit on Wednesday and Thursday after refueling and topping off fresh water at the fuel dock then berthing nearby at Twickenham’s next to the restaurant. We even had time to take a day off Friday, and tour the island with a one day bus/ferry pass... one of the best deals on the island for $10… and far less stressful than the scooters! While we were thus enjoying ourselves, Tom “The Admiral” Tursi tried to find a radio technician who could address our SSB radio problem and fix it. Unfortunately none was available.
On Saturday, June 5 it was back to work for Jerry and me as our new student crew was due to arrive. We de-rigged most of what preparation we had done in Norfolk so this crew would have the experience of starting from scratch, or nearly so.
The crew arrived and an enthusiastic bunch they were, led by Burt Ovrut of Penn Valley, PA and John Wolfe, of Philadelphia. As it happened they had never met before but had been colleagues on the U. Penn Graduate School Faculty for years. As if this was not coincidence enough, while we were there another U. Penn Graduate School Faculty member, friend of mine and sailing student at the Maryland School, Reuben Mezrich, who was in Bermuda on business and who plans to join us on a Bermuda 2000 voyage, stopped by to say “Hi!”. While none of these knew the others before, I enjoy visions of them meeting on campus for coffee at the faculty club or somewhere and sharing salty sea stories next winter....A nice warm image!
Anyway, Ali Albayrak of Ankara, Turkey by way of Orlando, FL arrived. Ali brought considerable sailing experience, too, having grown up sailing the waters in and off Turkey on various sailing craft. Shortly after, that Kelly Wright, of Texas, arrived. He too had considerable experience sailing over the years having, among other adventures, sailed around Tasmania as crew on a vessel entered in the Royal Tasmanian Yacht Club’s Circumnavigation Race. So we had a fine crew -- and we were glad to have them for the challenges we were to face.
On Sunday, June 6, preparations went much as they had in Norfolk for the first voyage out. Burt was extremely interested in celestial navigation. He had brought a sextant and had taught himself the basics, so he was a natural choice for Student Navigator. Kelly was interested in this as well, so with his excellent experience, he became Watch Captain of the “navigator’s watch,” the 4-8 watches (0400 -0800 & 1600-1800). John, seeking to improve his technical skills, agreed to Engineer the voyage, and Ali would enhance his seamanship skills serving as Bouon with Kelly, and joining Jerry on the mid watches. John would join me on the 8-12 watches.
The crew worked well together and preparations went very smoothly. Kelly shared his marlinspike seamanship skills to help John lash the deck fuel jugs securely. Burt, the lightest, most enthusiastic and in other lives an accomplished mountaineer, gladly took the “inspect rigging aloft” assignment, -- Ali launched him in the bosun’s chair and he sped aloft and, monkey-like, swung out to re-secure the radar reflector lashed between the backstays. John familiarized himself with the plumbing, electric and engine departments, then briefed the rest of the crew on these. Jerry, overseeing everything, also prepared the schematic charts of the stowage plan and reviewed, and briefed the crew on the inventory, stowage and use of all emergency equipment.
On Monday, June 7 plans and preparations continued. Today all three boat’s crews focus on what could be one of the most important pieces of safety equipment in a really severe blow -- the sea anchor rig. Each boat of the Maryland School Armada carries one. TEAL MONDAY carries a Para-Tech sea anchor, as does ENCHANTMENT. DREAMCATCHER carries a Shewmon sea anchor. All three crews worked together under the direction of the Captains and Mates to learn how each device works and the proper deployment and retrieval methods. And we practice deployment of these devices at the dock so that if and when the time comes to launch this devise in extreme conditions, we will know exactly what each crew member should do. On TEAL MONDAY we also carry a Seabreak drogue to be used when running off before the wind and seas. We show this to demonstrate its rigging and discuss its use for all.
These three crews were fortunate to see yet another heavy weather survival device, the Jordan Series Drogue. Curt and Eva Chapman of s/v SITOA, the Island Packet 35 Maryland School Caribbean Classes vessel, are berthed breasted out next to TEAL MONDAY, and they carry the Jordon Series Drogue to use (should they need it) on their planned voyage to the Azores which will commence tomorrow, the 8th. They graciously showed it to us and explained its use and deployment techniques. Thus we had an excellent seminar on a variety of heavy weather devices and tactics.
By Tuesday June 8 preparations are complete and we’re ready to go. We top off fuel and water at Dowlings and head for the Customs dock. We clear Customs at 0830 and start to head for Town Cut, contacting Bermuda Harbour Radio to request clearance to go through this narrow channel. We’re denied permission! Cruise ships m/v NORWEGIAN MAJESTY and m/v NORWEGIAN PRINCESS were about to enter the cut, so we and DREAMCATCHER had to await their passage. It was almost worth the hour-long wait to be able to witness this spectacle. Town Cut is a very narrow channel between two rocky hills. Watching these two behemoths negotiate this channel is awe-inspiring. They looked like they needed lubrication on their bulwarks to slide between the steep cliffs that border the channel. DREAMCATCHER joined us in the wait and the watch. ENCHANTMENT had scraped out earlier, just ahead of the onslaught of cruise ships. Thus she was getting an appreciable head start on us.
By 1030 both cruise vessels had squeezed through the Cut and cleared the channel. Harbour Radio now gave us permission to exit, which we did with DREAMCATCHER right behind us. Close proximity allowed for several “photo opportunities” as we transited the Cut.
At 1100 we get our first fix near Kitchen Shoals with which to begin our DR plot, and as the NNW breeze freshened, we settled in for the long haul. By 1400, after briefings on MOB procedures and general discussion of safety practices, we’re able to secure the engine and enjoy the sail.
On Wednesday June 9, the lumpy seas have produced several cases of mal de mer among the crew so we start off with a light breakfast today. The 0530 NMN weather broadcast was not readable and the noon broadcast was equally garbled. After morning cleanup we review abandon ship equipment, procedures and assignments. At 1600 we noted a sailboat heading SSW and thought it might be headed for Bermuda. But it turned out to be none other than DREAMCATCHER!
At 1830 we make radio contact with DREAMCATCHER on VHF. Our SSB remains unable to transmit. They tell us they have copied NMN weather and warned of the low forming to our NE and due to track SW toward us. This is puzzling. It is predicted to track SW contrary to the usual path of these lows which is to the NW, rolling off the front and the prevailing westerlies. DREAMCATCHER tells us they have elected to head SW to elude it and recommend we do the same. I’m reluctant to head too far south, given the Northerly component of the general wind patterns.
Jerry and I discuss the situation and review our position and that of the low and the high to our NW. Given these and the desired course of about 330m to stay near our rhumb line, we elect to continue NE, in effect crossing the predicted path of the low. This will put us on the wrong side, the less navigable side with the more intense winds, but we hope get far enough North to enjoy the influence of the high pressure system to our NW.
We call DREAMCATCHER on VHF to advise them of our decision, but they are now out of range. We’d had our last contact with the rest of the flotilla for this voyage!
At 2200 we observe an impressive cloud bank to our North featuring some towering cumulus and occasional lightning flashes. We interpret these to be associated with the low and hopefully the high pressure system we expect to meet. We’ve been able to make good speed averaging 6 knots or better on courses averaging 320°T through the night.
On Thursday June 10 at 0630 we copy the SSB radio conversation between DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT. Their reported positions put them about 50 nm to our South. Of course our faulty SSB makes it impossible for us to join the game. The weather report has another low forming on 34°N near us. Judging from the low clouds and moist air surrounding us, we are in the midst of the formation of this low. We hope it doesn’t deepen too severely.
At 0700, after assessing the situation we tack, expecting the winds to veer on the interface between the high and low pressure systems in our area. They do and we are able to make a course of 240° to 245°M at 0840 and by 1000 we are on a course of 265°M with breezes freshening to 18-22 knots. This provides an excellent opportunity to stage a Crew Overboard drill which we do. We execute a quickstop maneuver and recover the gear and COB dummy in under 6 minutes (estimated). This maneuver simply requires the helmsman to throw the helm hard-a-lee to lock shouting “MAN OVERBOARD!!---READY ABOUT QUICKSTOP!! HARD-A-LEE!!!”
In this exercise, sheets remain secured and the thus backwinded headsail stops the boat immediately; the wind spins it around, through a jibe and back to a stalled (slow) configuration hopefully just to windward of the victim and certainly in close proximity to him, and nearly dead in the water. From here the remaining crew can figure out the recovery phase of the operation. It’s an excellent tactic for the shorthanded crew vessel in nearly any wind & sea condition. We finish off our exercise with a heave-to configuration and take a moment to observe TEAL MONDAY’s behavior in this set up, making barely 1.2 knots in the 18 knot breeze, and we discuss this tactic’s virtues in heavy weather.
By 1300 winds have veered enough NE to enable us to make a course of 270°M and speeds of 6.5 kts+.... and at 1400 “THAR SHE BLOWS!!!” .. a whale, off about a mile and a half, appearing to feed on fish near a large piece of flotsam. Unfortunately it’s too far off to allow a suitable “photo op.”
At 1800 after a delightful teriyaki steak stir fry dinner, we clean up and have a weather report discussion covering the NMN broadcasting format, and how to take notes on the broadcasts. We also discuss our low, now at 34N x 70W, and our tactics for avoiding it, basically stay North. At 1830 we copy DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT conversing on SSB and their discussion of Herb’s (of “Southbound II Weather Monitoring Net”) prognostication.... saying the other low is at 37°N 68° now heading for 34°N 69°W Friday night. We resolve to make all possible speed out of its way and start the engine as we note some ominous clouds to our north. We turn 2000 rpms on the engine to make 6.5+ knots. This is a break from our rule to keep rpms below 1800 to conserve fuel, but our fuel status is good since we’ve enjoyed ample winds, so we’re not concerned about spending a little fuel now to get out from under this low.
On Friday, June 11 at 0100 we copy the NMN weather report placing the low at about 36Nx68W still to our Northeast but tracking SW toward us. This is contrary to my understanding of normal low behavior. They usually track from SW to NE along frontal systems. But we continue to put our faith in the High to our NW in hopes it will push this maverick out of the way, and give us shelter. But the 0530 NMN broadcast reveals this low is heading right for us still, and it is predicted to be at our 0630 positions 35N x70W at about 1800. We resolve to continue our NW track toward our High with all possible speed to get out of its way ASAP. Turning South to get on the low’s “good” or “navigable” side as DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT had done just didn’t seem feasible for us at this point. If hit with it, we’ll just have to take our lumps and learn from the experience.
At 0630 we copy the scheduled conversation between ENCHANTMENT and DREAMCATCHER. Their positions are far SW of us, DC 170 nm away, and EN 110 nm away. Wow! They had really been chased by the tiger. And reports seem to indicate they will be hit anyway. They’ve sacrificed a lot of sea way between themselves and the rhumb line to escape this maverick low, but it seems it has been to no avail.
Through the day we continue running NW hoping to dodge the bullet. But by 1600 it looks like we will probably be hit with something. We monitor Herb’s weather net and this bears out our fears. It was interesting to hear DREAMCATCHER participating in the discussion today!
At 1800 with the weather threatening and the ominous reports from Herb and “November Mike” we elect to set the storm trisail. It looks like it will be a rough night. The lazy jacks on the main pose a bit of a problem in getting our trisail rigged, but bosuns Kelly and Ali with a lot of help from their friends are able to get it rigged and the mainsail and boom secured, and the storm trisail flying.
Then, at 1900, the winds died! Died dead! There we are with storm trisail set and limp in the doldrums calm! It’s like donning your foulies to ward off the rain clouds! Nevertheless we decided to keep it rigged just in case this proves to be the proverbial calm before the storm. Through our 2000 - 2400 watch John and I motored on watching the lightning strikes in the ominous clouds to our north and feeling only slightly ridiculous under the limp storm trisail, rigged and ready.
On Saturday, June 12 through the night we motored on maintaining our 330°M course at least, but not getting much sailing in. At 0630 we monitor the scheduled SSB conversation between DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT. They give their positions, still well to our south, but apparently ENCHANTMENT has abandoned the southing strategy and was heading NW. DREAMCATCHER expressed her intention to remain South of the low, taking Herb’s advice to let the low pass before entering the Gulf stream.. Both vessels expressed concern or just curiosity regarding TEAL MONDAY’s whereabouts. This amused us somewhat. But Jim Bortnem, ENCHANTMENT’s Mate (who had sailed with us last year aboard s/v IT’S ABOUT TIME -- and with me again on a voyage from Florida to St. Thomas in March on s/v TAINUI a new Island Packet 380) dispelled any concern by quipping, “knowing them, TEAL MONDAY is probably tied up at the fuel dock by now!” We laugh! Not quite yet!
At 0730 Engineer John takes advantage of the relatively calm conditions to dump 2 jugs of deck fuel into the main tank, and thus reduce the vulnerable gear on deck somewhat in preparation for the blow we are probably going to get. And Mate Jerry treats us all with delicious egg sandwiches for breakfast.
But the light NW winds continue and at 0830 we finally decide to douse the storm trisail and reset the main, stay and genoa sails of the normal sail plan. We’re approaching the Gulf Stream and want to get across it swiftly, especially if the Northerly component in the winds remains, so we motor sail. And shortly thereafter, to our great pleasure, the winds veer to the South and freshen to 15 knots. This is beautiful timing for us because at 1000 we enter the Gulf Stream under ideal conditions with the wind out of the Southwest making the seas as smooth as we could hope for. Still, we continue to motorsail making 7+ knots. to get across this potential monster as quickly as possible in this unstable weather.
At noon we monitor “November Mike” and note the larger low had passed behind us and was now heading for Cape Hatteras, somewhere near where we estimate DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT to be. It is then scheduled to head North after making land fall and track North toward the Chesapeake Bay, to arrive at Cape Charles just about the same time we expect to get there. It just won’t go away!
But we have a more immediate low to deal with, one that seems to be literally forming around us. At 1300, judging from the 82° water temperature, we estimate our position to be at or near the axis of the Gulf Stream. The Southerly winds freshen to 20 knots, providing us with excellent conditions to try some heavy weather tactics and techniques. We practice double reefing the main and also reefing the genny .
A useful technique for roller reefing the genoa when caught with it out in a sudden blow is to bear off and ease the main out to blanket the genoa in the main’s shadow. By doing this we take the pressure off the genny and thus we are able to furl it with minimal effort. As we all know, just letting the sail to luff in 18+ knots and attempting to muscle it in is next to impossible. And using the winch to power it in these conditions will probably strain the sail, damaging its seams and perhaps its fabric as well.
We practiced this technique, and at about 1530 we’re very glad we did. To our Southeast we see a well-formed squall bearing down on us. Contemplating it Burt suggests we might want to reef. I concur. When asked, “When should I reef?” I always respond with one of my mantras, “.... as soon as the thought occurs to you!” We do so, and promptly the rain comes pouring down. The rest of us go below leaving the cockpit and the deluge to the watch, Jerry and Ali. Below, we double-check our watertight integrity.
This squall proved to be our comeuppance! The winds freshened and began howling. Below I looked at the instruments and saw the wind speed climb to 35 then 40 knots.... We had the double reefed main and the staysail out, all hatches and ports were closed and dogged thoroughly, and so we could probably handle it with little difficulty. But I wished we had the storm trisail up at this point... it would be a fine opportunity to heave-too under it. As a matter of fact, it would be a good opportunity to launch the sea anchor as well. This thought crossed my mind. But no chance for these tactics now. All we could do is hang on until this monster passes.
I put on my foul weather jacket and headed topside to see if I could help the watch. But Jerry and Ali seemed to have matters in hand. I watched from the shelter of the companionway as they battled the helm and sheets. “Bear off and run with it....” I shouted to Jerry over the howl, thinking this would reduce the strain on the rig. He did so and this seemed to help. But checking the anemometer, I saw the wind gusting to an eye-popping 50+ knots with steady winds of 38. And with these powerful gusts TEAL MONDAY just rounded up and rolled with the punches like a veteran heavyweight champ, seeming unfazed by wind’s fury or the sea’s blows. We all were glad to experience this impressive display of Mother Nature’s power on such a stout, seaworthy vessel.
The faces on Ali and Jerry were a sight to behold. Jerry, at the helm, seemed the picture of endurance as he hung on to the wheel straining against the overwhelming weather helm, the wind and rain of the port quarter now, and then off the beam as she rounds up looking like some monstrous fire hose was trained on him. Ali, a bit more free to look around at this awesome display, observed the proceedings with wide-eyed, gaping wonder. I wished I had my camera! No time for that now.... I just hope it will pass soon as these quick-hitters usually do....
And pass it did! The whole thing lasted only 20 minutes or so, but not before offering us an impressive sustained gust of 64 knots on our anemometer. The edge of the cell moved off, and things went almost dead calm in its center. And the persistent deluge flattened the seas.
This calm gave us an opportunity to review the experience and the multitude of lessons it provided in relative tranquility. We were all thoroughly impressed with this storm’s power and the value of preparedness, and we reviewed the particulars of the necessary preparation. This was a truly rich experience.
At 1845 we monitor the DREAMCATCHER/ENCHANTMENT conversation on SSB. Apparently their southing strategy has not enabled them to escape the primary low’s influence. ENCHANTMENT particularly, having worked farther North, was now in the Gulf Stream and evidently getting pasted with a deluge of her own. So I need not regret our decision to continue North when they had gone South. Everyone got wet and wind-blown anyway; and we were considerably closer to port. The other boats continue to wonder how we are faring. We really wanted to share experiences and weather data with them at this point. The inoperative transmitting function of our SSB is frustrating.
Our own turbulent system was not through with us yet. By 1700 the winds are backing to the East, not a good sign! Through the evening we run wing on wing before 6 to 8 foot seas with 2 reefs in the main and variable reefs in the genoa. This gives us a good prolonged experience running with substantial following seas and a properly rigged preventer on the main, run from the end of the boom to a point well forward, for us the bow cleat, and back to the cockpit. Thus rigged we are protected from the dangers of the accidental jibe.
On Sunday, June 13 the night’s veering and backing winds, shifting from South to Northeast and back again with the passage of various cells, gave us ample opportunities to practice both the intentional and accidental variety of jibes! We blessed our preventer several times during the night. We were making excellent speed, averaging between 6 and 8 knots with double reefed main and bang on course (most of the time) for “CBJ!” But it was grueling work. Jerry and Ali are exhausted after their midwatch, and I felt obliged to join Burt and Kelly on the 0400-0800 to help with the maneuvers required to keep up with the shifting winds. The three of us had our hands full!
During the whole the voyage, Burt had done a truly remarkable job as Navigator. Through all this turbulence he had maintained his DR plot with diligence, updating our position with celestial fixes whenever a break in the clouds made observations possible. His tenacity has been inspiring for us all. He kept us on or near the rhumbline. So we are on or perhaps ahead of schedule for making port today!
Through the night into the early morning the winds have been from the Northeast to East, and by mid morning they have clocked around to the South and by afternoon, they come around to a fairly steady and generally Southwesterly 12 to 15 knots, giving us a more leisurely sail. By 1700 they go to a steady S to SSW at 15 to 20 knots and we are able to sail past Chesapeake Light at 6.5 to 7.5 knots.... flying!
Well, not really. A couple of US Navy Aegis Destroyers showed us flying, overtaking and passing us at breakneck speed--heading for the barn at something well over 25 knots. Kelly and Ali, having assumed the approach navigation responsibilities carefully, guide us well clear of the inbound Traffic Separations Zone where these haze gray hot rods are bound.
At 1900 we pass through the Thimble Shoals Channel opening in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel on a 6.8 knot reach, and head for the Little Creek entrance at the Southernmost point on the Chesapeake Bay. By 2030 we’re at the fuel dock at Taylor’s Landing Marina securing the vessel, making travel plans for home, and wondering when the other two boats will arrive. At around midnight, ENCHANTMENT pulls up to the dock... DREAMCATCHER is still a day away! The crews of the two boats have a chance to get together on the fuel dock and exchange tales of their experiences over the last 6 days. All had an enriched understanding and enhanced respect for low pressure systems, Neptune’s power.
And this evening “November Mike” speaks of yet another low forming, this one a major depression set to deepen into “Arlene” 200 nm southeast of Bermuda-- the first named storm of the season that is predicted by some knowledgeable forecasters to yield 14+ this year. We are glad to hear of her formation so far to our east, and no threat to us, but we are concerned for the Island we’ve just left. And I’m considering how this system will affect our next voyage in a week’s time!
Captain David Appleton
Aboard s/v TEAL MONDAY
Little Creek VA