Sunday, May 16, 2010

Conquer the Chesapeake, After Action Report

Alright, I know everyone is waiting to hear how everything went. All in all we had a great event, nobody was hurt and both the boat and the crew made it across and back safely. Like any event with so much riding on it, it was not without its hangups. So, lets start with a summary, directly from the boat's log:

**** 14 May 2010 ****
1930 - Underway, First Landing State Park Beach, worked into Chesapeake Bay under oars.
1937 - Set Sail, course NNE.
1958 - Navigation lights rigged.
2000 - Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel Thimble Shoals Channel Tunnel N. Island bears NW.
2004 - Sounding taken, five fathoms.
2031 - Entered Thimble Shoals Channel.
2038 - Exited Thimble Shoals Channel.
2100 - Cape Henry Lighthouse bears SExS.
2108 - Rigged Aldis Lamp with tape, made Bat Signal on sail, much to the enjoyment of the crew.
2205 - Entered Chesapeake Channel at the tunnel, observed heat lightning to the North.
2208 - Exited Chesapeake Channel.
2209 - Change Course NExN.
2245 - Lightning bolt observed due North beyond the horizon.
2255 - Lightning bolt observed due North on the horizon.
2300 - Change course NE.
2301 - Kiptopeke lights bear NExE.
2312 - Lightning observed in vicinity of Cape Charles (city). Thunderhead observed during lighning strike.
2331 - Lightning observed in vicinity of Kiptopeke.

****15 May 2010 ****
0012 - Squals from the North, bore up and reefed.
0020 - Encountered rain squall.
0045 - Change course ExS, shook reef.
0105 - Winds light and variable.
0115 - Pulled weather oars.
0133 - Kiptopeke green light bears ExS.
0152 - Took in sail and proceeded under oars.
0158 - Passed between breakwaters at Kiptopeke.
0206 - Beached at Kiptopeke State Park, South Beach. Made fast with best anchor trailed astern on eight fathoms cable and made fast, tow line bent onto bow line and made fast to fence post ashore.
0905 - Underway from beach.
0912 - Spoke two concrete ships aground off Kiptopeke. Ships had nothing to say.
0920 - Moored at Kiptopeke Ramp North Dock with bow and stern lines. Discharged V. Keranen and S. Hendricks. Received onboard A. Green and C. Flores. Took on water and provisions.
1015 - Underway from Kiptopeke under oars, course WxS.
1047 - Change course SxE.
1100 - Chesapeake Channel Tunnel North Island bears SW.
1107 - Lost vang bucket over the side. Rigged second bucket.
1218 - Winds decreasing, holding NxE.
1220 - Passed under North Channel Bridge.
1224 - Changed course SWxS.
1305 - Thimble Shoals Channel Tunnel Northern Island bears WxS.
1340 - Winds light and variable.
1349 - Took in main sail, proceeding under oars.
1355 - Made sail on light wind from NE. Lost starboard oarlock, #2 thwart.
1402 - Becalmed, pulled weather oars.
1405 - Signalled chase boat to pass tow line, towed SxW toward Cape Henry.
1412 - Sprung the leeboard 14" below the gunwale.
1455 - Cast off tow line, proceeding downwind under sail on light NE breeze.
1500 - Cape Henry Light bears SSW.
1524 - Signalled chase boat to close and pass tow line, towed W against ebb tide.
1600 - Cape Henry Light bears SE.
1608 - Cast off tow line, proceeding WxS under oars.
1648 - Change course SWxS, made sail.
1657 - Took in main sail, proceeding under oars toward beach.
1712 - Beached at First Landing State Park. Best anchor trailed astern with six fathoms cable and made fast. Bow line handed.


We started with a great crew. Our total crew strength was 12 people, with two people leaving and two joining in Kiptopeke. Each had met several wickets in order to participate, the foremost being attendance at a training event where they had to qualify in all the basic skills required for the trip. All had gone through the evolutions, from rowing to sailing, anchoring, being towed, beaching and getting underway through surf.

One newcomer was veteran sailor Mr. Victor Keranen. A 78 year old cancer survivor, Mr. Keranen is a veteran of the US Navy and Merchant Marine - and one tough old salt. Of course there was a moment of pause when the idea of having a 78 year old gent - whatever his age - would be advisable, let alone safe. So amongst the controversy Mr. Keranen volunteered to help with shore-side support instead. He did participate in the towing of the boat from the launch site to the beach at First Landing, which was thought of as a compromise between his initial request and our reservations. But it was on that transit that we realized that our reservations were crap. Because while Mr. Keranen had the experience and knowledge of an old veteran, he had the spirit and abilities of a man half his age! Needless to say that when one of our crew members dropped out with Bronchitis, Mr. Keranen joined in his place. All was right with the world, and we were stoked.

Friday night was some of the best sailing I've yet had in the Monomoy, with a fine steady 10 knot breeze from the Southwest carrying us steadily toward our goal. We steered NExN and let the flood tide push us up the Chesapeake Channel, right over the tunnel. From the beach to the tunnel we made good about three knots, and we were doing quite well. From there things started to change.

Just after crossing over the tunnel we began to pick up speed. The change wasn't much apparent to anyone in the boat, as we were running well with the wind - the apparent wind not much changing. But word from the chase boat afterward was that we had a significant bow wave and a great slick running aft. Around the same time we started to see lightning in the distance to the North, but that was pretty much concurrent with the weather forecast - they should stay well to the North. Just after midnight the wind dropped away, then suddenly came howling out of the North. Heeling well over we bore up and reefed, then resumed our course, hauling ass toward our destination, the steering oar vibrating with the speed. Around this time began the confusion about the location of our destination. Navigation aids on the Eastern Shore are few and far between, and those that do exist are rather difficult to find. We sailed toward what we thought must surely be Kiptopeke, only to find later that we overshot by more than four miles. As soon as we realized our error we turned and headed ExS. Oh yeah, and we did all this in the rain while lightning streaked across the sky. Lesson learned: Kiptopeke's navigation aids are very difficult to see - so steer for the parking lot lights instead.

We got in around 2 AM, secured the boat and broke out our tents. I should mention here some particular thanks and immense gratitude to our support personnel - who transported our tents and camping gear to Kiptopeke, along with water, provisions, fuel for the chase boat, sunscreen, bugspray - well, everything. We definately could not have done this without you guys!

Despite the fatigue of the previous night, everyone was up by 7 AM. We had breakfast and relaxed a bit, then cleaned up and got underway to have a look at the sunken ships that form the breakwater. We then tied up to the launch ramp docks to take on provisions and swap out a few crew members.

We got underway just after 10 AM and stood out a bit away from shore. We sailed downwind, keeping to the Beach Channel to pass beneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We made good speed, about 4 knots all the way to the bridge. And just like the day before, the wind changed at that point, this time dying off to a faint breeze. Our speed dropped right off, and before long we were becalmed, breaking down the sailing rig and rowing for our objective. But by that time, the ebb tide had caught us and we were quickly drifting out into the Atlantic. That was when we called uncle and called in our trusty chase boat to take us in tow. Of course, it was during this tow that we heard a resounding crack, that being our leeboard cracking about a foot below the gunwale. Oh well - that just means we can only sail downwind.

Once back safely inside the bay, we took up rowing again. Despite the difficulty of pulling against the tide, we once again proved our worth and darted toward the beach, using the swells to help us make headway. As we approached the shallows, we'd turn and fight out again, then turn and row back. We did this for about a mile, all the way back to First Landing. As we cleared the last fish traps on our run Westward, we set the sail for a short run on the Northeast wind, then took in the sail, stepped the mast and rowed the last few hundred yards to the shore.


A word about the difficulties. Obviously the thunderstorm and squalls on the way North, and the flat calm on the way south were troublesome. But we had one more issue on the way South - my temper. We were all quite tired, and moving more slowly than usual. So it shouldn't have been a surprise when things didn't run as smoothly as they might have during some evolutions. I snapped at the crew, yelling at one person in particular, and opened up on the boat very much like the thunderstorm had the night before. The heat, near total exhaustion and lack of sleep certainly played a factor, but the fact is that it was improper of me, and no way to deal with a difficult situation - I appologize to you members in the crew for that. Of course the person I got into it with happens to be a particular friend of mine (Ted, our Bow Hook and second in command of the boat), and a few bottles of water, some electrolytes and energy bars later, there are no hard feelings.

Point is that you all know you are $*&t hot, that last stretch of rowing along the beach, setting sail rapidly then breaking down just as fast and rowing in to storm the beach proved it. It was awesome. I am exceedingly proud to be a part of the whole thing, and am looking forward to the next event in June.


More information and lessons learned to follow - this is long enough an entry as it is.


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