THE LONG REACH HOME -- SAIL OF A LIFETIME!!!
Captain David Appleton
Mate Bud Holmes
Crew David Costa, Larry Hall, Risa Hall, Norman Miller
This was hands down the best sail of the summer, or perhaps any summer for that matter. The consistent Bermuda High that pumped all that hot air up the East Coast in late June and early July provided our Maryland School of Sailing Armada with steady 15 to 25 knot winds out of the Southeast to Southwest, with a few gusts of over 30. So once we exited Town Cut in St. George’s, we set sail on a port tack which never changed until, with reluctance, we finally furled and dropped sails at about 2 in the morning just outside the Little Creek Harbor a shade over four and a half days later. For the Bermuda to Mainland leg, that’s pretty quick, friend! It was surely one of the finest sails of this sailor’s life!
The fortunate crew for this near sleigh ride included our stalwart Mate, Bud Holmes of Fort Smith Arkansas, who had been with us on the last voyage out amid all those clouds and the rain squalls; another licensed captain, Norman Miller of New Jersey, who served as Student Navigator under Bud’s guidance; David Costa of New York City, a relative newcomer to sailing seeking his first offshore adventure who served as boatswain; Risa Hall of Maine but now NYC (having just moved), our Engineer; and her husband, Larry Hall, who served admirably as our other Boatswain. Larry and Risa had been with me earlier this Spring on a DelMarVa Circumnavigation cruise on s/v GRA’INNE, an Island Packet 350, in May and we were pleased to have them join us again.
The voyage preparation went much as the previous three classes with the exception that we decided to try to get underway a bit early. This simply meant we approached our preparation less leisurely, and started early. As soon as folks arrived and stowed their gear on Sunday, they went to work. Larry and Risa were particularly ready for this given their recent DelMarVa experience, the Maryland School’s “basic training for ocean sailing” course and cruise. Risa was delighted to serve as engineer, an area about which she knew little, because of the educational promise this job held for her. Norman began preparing the charts and the DR plot while David and Larry sorted out the rig, sails and deck gear, making sure all was ready for the voyage.
JUNE 29. By dawn Tuesday TEAL MONDAY was nearly ready! At 0900 Norman and Larry attended the Navigator’s meeting with Tom Tursi, Maryland School of Sailing’s head instructor, and navigation teams from the other two boats. There they reviewed log keeping and DR maintenance as well as reviewing strategies for crossing the Gulf Stream. While they were thus engaged the rest of the crew made a few minor adjustments in the rigging, reviewed department checklists, and replaced the bulb in the sidelight unit. We then broke away from our position on the dock, breasted out alongside ENCHANTMENT and DREAMCATCHER, and motored to Dowling’s fuel dock to top off fuel and water. There Larry and Norman rejoined us and we proceeded to Customs to clear out. At 1053, finished with Customs, we requested and this time promptly got our clearance from Bermuda Harbour Radio, and made our way through Town Cut just behind ENCHANTMENT. Our ships knot log read 14269 nm.
The Weather was ideal. An assessment of the wind conditions as we cleared the Bermuda land mass reveal the WSW to SW winds would be favorable for a genniker reach, at least for a while. And the weather faxes we obtained from the Customs office promised several days of S to SW winds and fair weather. This crew was not yet familiar with the genniker so it took a while to sort it out. But this is a relatively easy chute to fly and before long bosuns Larry and David with Norman’s help were able to get it up and full successfully. We sailed North past Kitchen Shoals on a reach and then turned more Westerly toward Northeast Breakers moving well through the water with ENCHANTMENT off our beam to the East, also moving well.
At about 1300 we make radio contact with DREAMCATCHER as she clears Town Cut and heads out to sea well astern of us. Through most of the day we maintain visual contact with ENCHANTMENT, but she is now ahead and moving very nicely, opening the distance between us. At 1400 Bermuda begins to fade into the haze, and we take bearings on Kitchen Shoals light and North Breakers light to establish a terrestrial fix with which to begin our DR plot. At about 1500 we finally decide the genniker is not helping us that much. So we douse it and unfurl our 130 genoa. This enables us to point a bit higher into the wind that has veered more westerly on us.
At 1615 we have a surprise Crew Overboard Drill with Norm at the helm. He executes a racetrack turn with a controlled jibe and proceed into a heave-to configuration downwind of the “victim.” After assessing the situation the crew douses head sails and makes power approach to the victim. We finally make the recovery in just under 8 minutes, not bad but we should do a bit better when we see the victim fall off. We then spent some time discussing various reactions and approach techniques for the MOB event. My preference is the “quick stop” which immediately stops the boat in close proximity to the victim.
JUNE 30. Throughout this voyage, as with previous ones, we maintained radio contact with the other vessels of our flotilla, meeting early in the morning and just after dinner each evening. So this morning, Wednesday, the three boats met on SSB at our pre-arranged time of 0630 (using EDT for ships time), after we all had copied and interpreted the 0530 (EDT) NMN weather. This report confirmed the weather fax information we had... a promise of several days, at least 4, of southerly winds powered by a very strong “Bermuda High” well ensconced to our east.
We exchanged GPS positions after deciding to continue our conversations on VHF rather than SSB. These position reports revealed all three boats were within a 20 mile stretch of ocean NE of Bermuda, within VHF range. So we switched to VHF-- no need to burden the worldwide SSB channels with our localized traffic. As before, the Captains, for safety’s sake, kept a GPS plot in addition to the DR plot maintained by students. Thus each captain was aware of the other vessels’ positions as well as his own, at all times.
Celestial observations were remarkably easy though. This voyage yielded consistently clear skies, so sun shots were available at our whim nearly all the time. And the evenings provided excellent views of Venus in the evening sky to the West and a very clear Mars to the SSE in the vicinity of Spica for the entire trip. Mornings we had the Moon and Jupiter blazing in the person sky. So we were able to establish celestial fixes quite readily. This particular evening we were treated to a marvelous celestial panorama prior to the moonrise. Crystal clear skies of the high pressure system made for a brilliant view of the Milky Way.
JULY 1, Thursday. Mate Bud Holmes showed us an excellent use of the Celesticomp celestial navigation computer. This spunky little hunk of silicon not only saves the drudgery (and risk of mistakes) of reducing celestial observations by almanac & tables, making sense of the sextant observations in seconds, it also shows us where to look for the best stars at both morning and evening twilight. Bud spent the Thursday morning seminar demonstrating this, showing our student crew how to plot the Celesticomp readouts on the mini Universal Plotting sheets. So each student was able to construct his own version of the reference skychart for this voyage...... a bit less complex and more personalized than the DMA Star Finder.
As the morning progressed the fair winds persisted but lightened, and our boat speed dropped. By 1100 we decide to pop the genniker again. This increased our speed, but forced us to make a more southerly course to use the wind efficiently. But we gladly sacrifice the compass to the knotmeter. Speed is truly intoxicating! And the more southerly route should not hurt us. During a brief VHF contact in the early afternoon DREAMCATCHER asks if we intend to make landfall in Florida! We laugh and speed on. Our overall Gulf Stream strategy calls for us to enter the Stream some 20 miles or so south of the rhumb line. Thus the NE set of the Stream will pop us out fairly close to where we want to be, right next to the rhumb line. Our southing shouldn’t hurt.
At about 1915, just after we finished cleaning up after a tasty chicken stir fry dinner, we had a bon fide emergency. The genniker tack pennant parted sending this huge sail into an uncontrolled flap out in front of the boat in the 15 knot breeze. Fortunately the crew led by Larry, David and Norman was familiar enough with the rig by now to handle the problem using the dousing to get the sail below and stowed with little difficulty. We reviewed the problem, chafe! Chafe is always a sailor’s nemesis in a sea way, and we looked at this particular incident and discussed ways we could have detected and avoided it. There’s never a shortage of learning opportunities at sea, that’s for sure.
At about 2000 as twilight approached Larry, Norman and David prepared for the evening twilight observations using the sky charts they had made that morning to predict the bearing and elevation of the stars and planets they expected to shoot. And behold, they were pleased to find the bodies they sought were right where they were supposed to be. Venus popped out just after sunset like some sort of extraterrestrial headlight, and Mars was not too far behind in time, followed by his neighbor, Spica.
On a more mundane note, our voyage was as beset with mechanical problems as the average voyage can be expected to be. Murphy was a sailor, after all! Being the “reefer ship” of the fleet with the best refrigeration system, was not without its burdens. Along with the need to run the engine in port an inordinate amount of time to keep our 12 volt system adequately charged to accommodate our lovely but power hungry refrigeration system, we found some glitches in the plumbing developed. A couple of times during the voyage we noticed the freezer cycling on and off several times during a single charging period... much more often than would be appropriate. We found we had a clogged raw water line two or three times. So we once again applied the horn trick we learned from Mike McGovern, DREAMCATCHER Mate. We uncoupled the line from the pump and put the business end of the horn to it and blew. It cleared quickly. We reattached the hose and the raw water cooling resumed working efficiently. Another lesson in the importance of the kind of resourcefulness and self-reliance required of the off-shore sailor.
JULY 2. Our voyage progresses with remarkable speed, averaging well over 6.3 knots. We’ve remained fairly close to DREAMCATCHER, enjoying visual contact with her several times. Sometimes she’s ahead, sometimes we are. But ENCHANTMENT continues to fly ahead of both of us making truly remarkable time. At about 2030 on 7/2 we note the rise in sea water temperature from 78° to 80.5° and we check our DR to find we are at about 35°17’ and 70°00’ and entering the Gulf Stream. The Stream proves to be quite docile in the Southwesterly winds. While the winds are strong, 20 to 25 knots, and the seas are lumpy, they’re nowhere near as violent as they would be were the winds out of the NE opposing the current. We’re grateful for this as we slip along on our reach with no discomfort. And so we pass the night.
JULY 3. At about 0400 we experience 82.5° sea water temperature, the Axis of the Stream. Just after 0700 a squall overtakes us and the winds increase to 35 knots and more. We are under full sail on a broad reach with Larry at the helm. I jumped up in the cockpit to see how he was doing--- perfectly comfortable as TEAL MONDAY took the 35+ gusts off her beam in stride, and Larry just grinned! I returned below and continued preparing breakfast! By 0900 the waves subside even further and the sea temperature drops to 77°. We’ve crossed the NE wall of the Gulf Stream. We begin to estimate our time of arrival and realize we are making near record time. We expect to arrive between Midnight and 0200 on the 4th. A truly quick westbound passage.
We achieve radio contact with ENCHANTMENT during our 1845 scheduled meeting-- she reveals she is south of the RAW “CB” fair water mark at the beginning of the Chesapeake deep water channel and expects to be in by about 2200 or so. DREAMCATCHER, a bit further back, joins the conversation announcing her intentions to hold off her approach until daylight, and we publish our intention to press on and arrive at about 0200 or so.
At about 2000 we get a clear look at Chesapeake Light and begin the coastal approach to Norfolk. I appoint Larry Hall “Approach Skipper,” rewarding him for his excellent seamanship on the voyage, with Norm as Navigator. Larry elects to stay south of the main shipping channel and enter the bay just north of Cape Henry, thus avoiding any potential for confrontation with major shipping in the busy Thimble Shoals Channel.
At about 2100 we are treated to the Fourth of July Fireworks display on the barge just off Virginia Beach. It’s still somewhat far away but none the less spectacular.
JULY 4. The wind persists and we are able to enter the Chesapeake Bay under full sail, passing the Bridge Tunnel on the south side of Thimble Shoal Channel under sail at 6.5+ knots. It’s fitting that this marvelous sail should end with a sprint through the bridge. As a matter of fact, we were enjoying the sail so much, we sailed right past Little Creek, adding about 5 miles and nearly an hour to our time. We chastise the Navigator, but not that severely. After all we are still enjoying our sail after over 4 days --and it’s 2 AM!!
At 0245 we begin dropping sail as we approach the Little Creek channel. We proceed to Taylor’s Landing Marina and at 0315 we make fast to the fuel dock on the inside next to ENCHANTMENT. No one aboard her stirs as we slip in. I call customs and immigration to check in. Fortunately we are allowed to clear by phone with little red tape. And we quietly crack a cold beer (acquired from the nearby and mercifully open all-night 7-11 just up the road) and drink a toast a really fine voyage. And our overall time of just over 4 and a half days has to be some sort of record!
But Wait! There sits ENCHANTMENT resting quietly on the other side of the fuel dock. She must have pulled in at least 3 hours ahead of us. Wow! So we raise our glasses (cans really) and toast ENCHANTMENT and her crew, Champions all! They slept! .....Soundly!
JULY 5. We bid goodbye to most of the crew of ENCHANTMENT and TEAL MONDAY. Larry Hall stays aboard TEAL MONDAY to help me deliver her back to her owners Pete and Paige Ashby and their dock on Gywnn Island.
JULY 6. Larry and I get underway early and make our way up the bay to Gwynn Island. Late that afternoon we enter the Piankatank River and circle around Gywnn Island to the draw bridge. As we hail the bridge on VHF, Tom Neale aboard s/v CHEZ NOUS calls us and tells us Pete is expecting us but tides are extremely low. We appreciate the local knowledge Tom offers and use it to negotiate the thin water. Once at the dock, Larry and I set about removing our training cruise gear and restoring Pete’s equipment and gear. This takes a day of hard work in extremely hot conditions. Larry and I pay for our glorious reach on that well established and consistent Bermuda High. It has pumped up a whole lot of hot air from the Gulf of Mexico to give us extremely hot and humid conditions. We are pleased to hook on the trailer and head back north with our Blazer’s air conditioning on full throttle, consuming much iced lemonade and gatorade!
Captain David Appleton
Aboard s/v TEAL MONDAY
Gwynn Island, VA
July 7, 1999