SAILING A SUNLESS SEA
Captain David Appleton
Mate Bud Holmes
This cruise proved to be all about clouds and dead reckoning, with a little bit of plumbing work thrown in for seasoning. While still in sight of land off Virginia Beach shortly after our departure, the sky clouded over and neither Sun nor Moon and nary a star nor planet graced our sky the entire voyage until just as we sighted land 5 days later---Bermuda, just where it was supposed to be.
S/v TEAL MONDAY’s Mate for this and the next voyage was Bud Holmes, a retired surgeon from Fort Smith, Arkansas who aspires to single hand his own boat in the near future. Bud had been a MD School Ocean Passage Making student with us a couple of years back on a voyage from Norfolk to Abaco, Bahamas, and then on to Jacksonville, FL. He had done well on this voyage and we were pleased to have him aboard again.
On Wednesday June 16th the rest of the crew joined us. Dr. Jose Campione-Piccardo arrived from Ottawa, Ontario leading the pack and close on his heels came Mark Howard of Bentlyville, OH. Rick Grabis from Brick, NJ, and David Searles out of Florence, SC. On Thursday we began our seminars with a general orientation to the charts and the voyage we were about to undertake. Crew assignments were made with Rick and Mark becoming the Boatswain Mates, David Searles assumed Engineer duties and Jose, intent on building on his already substantial ASA/CSA Instructor credentials was pleased to become Student Navigator under Bud’s guidance. Billets assigned, we set about inspecting the boat and gear according to the checklists in the “Offshore Manual”. We make an important repair to TEAL MONDAY’s SSB radio by replacing the defective microphone. So this voyage we’ll be able join s/v DREAMCATCHER and s/v ENCHANTMENT in the twice-daily radio conversations. We prepared safety gear and provisioned through Friday, and by that evening we were ready.
On Saturday, June 19th after a good nights sleep all are aboard are ready to sail by 0700. But a few last minute provisions are needed and we have Captains’ and Navigators’ meetings to attend prior to departure. By 0915 all is complete and we are away from the dock at 0938. Exiting the Little Creek Channel we are joined by Norfolk’s famous sailing tug REBEL as she makes for the bay for sea trials after her recent yard period. She overtakes us under power and hoists her sails as she passes out through the jetties. We hoist sails as well, but the strong easterly winds will not allow us to point efficiently toward Thimble Shoals Channel cut in the bridge/tunnel so we motorsail on a starboard tack to a point North of this cut to where we can tack over to port and fetch the cut.
Our knot meter mysteriously ceases to function at 1040. Engineer David Searles is right on the case. Assisted by Bud, he removes the transducer unit, cleans it, and replaces it --functioning properly. This is very important repair because the log function of the knotmeter facilitates our ability to maintain an accurate DR plot. And on this trip, the DR plot proved to be the most important navigational exercise.
By 1100 we tack over to a port tack, secure the engine and sail out Thimble Shoals Channel smartly at 6 knots in the 20 - 25 ENE winds under a clear sky. By 1600 the clouds begin to build in, and we see what would be the last of the sun for the rest of the voyage as evening falls. At 1608 we have buoy “4A” abeam off Virginia Beach, and we have a fix to begin our DR plot with. We settle in for the routine of the voyage with Mark and myself on the 8-12 watches, Bud and Rick taking the Mid and Afternoon watches, and Jose and David S. taking the “navigator’s watch” -- the 4 to 8s.
On Sunday June 20th at 0530 the sea temperature jumps 6° to 80.4° and we realize we have crossed the West Wall of the Gulf Stream. The wind has remained strong between 15 and 25 knots through most of the first day, and we have been able to make 155 nm, a fine pace. I consider 120 nm a day about average for most boats, and anything over 135nm very good. So over 150nm is fine indeed. We run the engine for the refrigeration and to charge the batteries, but we certainly don’t need it for propulsion. We’re making 6.5 to 7.5 knots with 2 reefs in the main. Cloud cover continues with occasional precipitation and strong winds in squalls. Generally we are able to make good speed on courses of 110° to 135° magnetic, making decent progress close enough to our rhumb line course.
Monday June 21st. Summer Solstice! Big problems developed this morning. The head is clogged!! Fortunately, the Island Packet 38 is blessed with two heads, and the other one, the forward head, works. But we usually secure the forward head in a sea way because the motion of the waves at the bow, where this head is located, render it useless (or at least very messy!) So we use it as a stowage locker. The midship head is far more “sea-kindly” and “user friendly” in a sea way. So this is the head of choice. And it’s clogs, given the current fairly rough sea conditions, presented us with a mini crisis. So the morning seminar on damage control and abandon ship procedures was aborted as the entire crew, save the 8-12 watch, Mark and myself, addressed the plumbing problem. They worked throughout the morning but success eluded them. At noon we resigned ourselves to riding the bucking bucket in the forward head for the duration of the voyage.
After cleaning up the plumbing seminar and fixing lunch, we spent an hour or so in the afternoon discussing heavy weather tactics, crises that might call for abandoning ship, and the assignments and procedures for doing so.
During the plumbing work of the morning, we noted that there was a weeping leak around the head discharge through hull fitting. This is potentially serious so we advised ENCHANTMENT of the problem during our 1845 SSB radio meeting. We diagnosed the problem as nothing more than a packing gland leak on the valve handle, none the less, any breach in water tight integrity is a serious problem. We resolved to monitor this leak hourly, and advised ENCHANTMENT of our situation via SSB. They agreed to stand by. I was glad to have the SSB back in working order.
On Tuesday, June 22nd the 0530 NMN Weather broadcast warns of a low forming NW of our position. But the forecast further predicts it will move NE and so should present no danger to us.
We share this information with DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT at our 0630 radio meeting. This morning we can converse on VHF because we are clustered fairly close together.
The TEAL MONDAY crew had mulled and stewed over the clogged head problem all night. All had tried to use the forward head with varying degrees of success. Thus they awoke this morning bristling with ideas and remedies-- they were resolved to fix it! So we fixed them a hardy breakfast to spur them on and they attacked the problem with remarkable vigor. Rick from Brick was particularly industrious as was Bud.
While they were thus employed, Mark and I conned the ship. Mark was particularly good at getting the most out of the boat in terms of speed by virtue of his helm work. He really seemed to have a gift for it, so I let him have the helm most of the watch.
By 1050 the plumbing working party succeeded. They cleared the clog by removing several hoses and snaking the system. They then reassembled the hoses using some damage control tape to repair some ruptured lines. Thus they got a lesson in plumbing and damage control all in one. And the head now works! Joy!
While cleaning up we noted the packing nut leak persisted. We advised the other vessels of this, but resolve to do nothing about it until we reach Bermuda. A manageable minor leak that we can monitor easily is preferred to the gusher we might cause by attempting to fix it.
On Wednesday, June 23rd clouds continue to thwart any hope of obtaining a celestial fix. Jose and Bud are frustrated, clearly. However they carefully maintain the DR plot they started off Virginia Beach. But I, as Captain responsible for the safety of the crew and the vessel, continue to monitor and log our GPS position regularly at our morning and evening radio contacts with DREAMCATCHER and ENCHANTMENT, plotting the positions of all three vessels. At 0630 this morning we exchange positions via SSB contact. ENCHANTMENT reports she’s lost instruments due to a leak near the instrument wiring at the nav station.
We staged a couple of catastrophe drills to enliven the voyage. The first was a mock propane fire in the galley with the stove burning out of control due to a ruptured line and spilled grease. The crew lost no time smothering the flames and Engineer David S. responded by securing the LP gas with reflex speed.
The second at about 1445 was a collision with a container ---also staged, thankfully! At the helm Rick “from Brick” was up to the task and probably would have saved the ship had this been an actual collision. The scenario was that we collided with a partially submerged container which cracked the hull on the port side and we immediately began taking on water through the crack. Helmsman Rick immediately tacked to a heave-to configuration on a port tack which brought the compromised section of the hull to above the water line, or nearly so, and the crew led by Engineer David Searles began assessing the damage and prepared damage control gear, including pumps, plugs and patching materials. We deemed the vessel “lost” despite their valiant efforts so we went to abandon ship stations and prepared to deploy the life raft and all the abandon ship gear before securing from the drill.
Thursday June 24th. We’re moving along well in spite of some course deviations caused by squalls and attempts to navigate around them. Winds remain southerly and fairly strong. This crew has gotten a lot of experience in reefing. Unfortunately, they have not had many opportunities to practice navigation by celestial observations. Clouds persist.
But at about 0700 this morning the sky began to clear. The crew gave a cheer as the sun made itself available for Jose and Bud to make a few sextant shots through the morning clouds. At 1020 we sight Bermuda to the South and we adopt a more southerly course. We check the DR Plot and calculate our DR position to be about 30nm North of our actual position.... much of this difference attributable to the influence of the Gulf Stream on our vessel’s course vis-a-vis our DR course. Not bad for what turned out to be, according to the log, a 718nm through the water voyage!
We relax water conservation discipline and allow everyone to indulge in a real shower. This is a major treat! David S. and Rick join Mark on the landfall team to handle the task of navigating into Bermuda. By noon the sky is nearly clear as we approach Kitchen Shoals. Mark makes contact with Bermuda Harbour Radio and answers their questions regarding our crew and safety gear. We sail on to the vicinity of Town Cut and finally drop our sails just off the Cut at 1300. At just before 1400 we make fast to the Customs Dock at Ordinance Island and we are met there by Maryland School Head, Tom Tursi. DREAMCATCHER had arrived an hour or two earlier and was already berthed just across from the White Horse Tavern. Most convenient! We were scheduled to breast out next to her. We’re pleased. Not too far from the refreshments!
After clearing customs we move to our berth next to DREAMCATCHER, secure the boat, and saunter over to the Tavern to enjoy a taste of the local beverages and exchange sea stories and a few laughs with the DREAMCATCHER crew. Spirits were undaunted by the cloudy skies and clogged heads that plagued this voyage. In the final analysis, all agreed, “a good time was had by all” as the saying goes!
Captain David Appleton
Aboard s/v TEAL MONDAY
St, Georges, Bermuda
June 26, 1999