Annapolis to Marion, MA—Delivering s/v Felix

Posted on Tuesday 26 May 2009

Last Wednesday, I took the Acela train down to BWI. I went down to help my friends deliver s/v Felix, a Gemini 105Mc Catamaran from Annapolis, MD, to her new home port of Marion, MA. I stayed with my friends Mary and Chuck, who also own a Gemini catamaran. Mary would be joining the delivery crew for the trip up to Marion.

My friend John had bought her last week from her owner in North Carolina, and brought her from North Carolina to Norfolk, VA, with the help of her former owner. John, his wife Lorie, and their son Chris, along with Bill, a delivery captain and fellow Gemini owner brought the boat up to the Performance Cruising factory’s docks on Back Creek, in Annapolis.

John and Mary on the way from Back Creek to the Little Magothy River.

John and Mary on the way from Back Creek to the Little Magothy River.

Thursday, John and I went out to get provisions for the boat. While Frank had left the boat fairly well provisioned, it didn’t have all of what we needed aboard. Thursday afternoon, John, Mary and I moved s/v Felix from the PCI factory dock to Mike and Amy’s dock on the Little Magothy River. This turned out to be a wise move, as the Severn River, where Back Creek is, was later shut down due to President Obama speaking at the Naval Academy graduation. If we had stayed at the PCI docks, there would have been a good chance we would have been trapped by the closure of the Severn River and lost our chance to leave with the tide.

Passing under the William P. Lane Jr. Memorial Bridges

Passing under the William P. Lane Jr. Memorial Bridges.

Friday—May 22

Friday morning, I went to BWI to pickup the delivery captain for the Annapolis to Marion leg of the delivery. By strange happenstance, the delivery captain John had hired for this final leg of the trip was a friend of mine, Norm. I hadn’t sailed with Norm in a few years, and I was looking forward to sailing with him again. As a bonus for Mary and John, Norm is one of the better sailing instructors I know, and I knew they would both learn a lot on this trip from the two of us.

After a quick run to the store for some final supplies, we cast off the docklines and headed north, up the Chesapeake. We had planned on leaving a bit before noon, hoping to catch the flood tide and have it help push us north to the C&D canal. It had been quite some time since any of us had done this particular trip—as I haven’t done a C&D canal passage in over 15 years, and for Norm it had been almost 10 years.

Leaving Chuck, s/v Patience Too and the Little Magothy River

Leaving Chuck, s/v Patience Too and the Little Magothy River.

Motorsailing north to the C&C Canal.

Motorsailing north to the C&C Canal.

Friday, we motorsailed for much of the day. The winds were fairly light from the south for much of it… so they did help a bit. We made the canal entrance about 1800 on Friday night. This made the approach easy, but would require us to transit part of the canal near dusk. Fortunately, s/v Felix was equipped with a Raymarine C80 and radar, which made keeping an eye out for other marine traffic much easier. The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is fairly serpentine, and I didn’t remember it being so curved.

A buoy on the C&D Canal shows the strong following current.

A buoy on the C&D Canal shows the strong following current.

Norm shows off his grilling skills while underway.

Norm shows off his grilling skills while underway.

Friday night sunset on the C&D Canal.

Friday night sunset on the C&D Canal.

Saturday—May 23

Once we got out of the canal and onto the Delaware River, keeping an eye out for barges and other large commercial traffic became even more important. Our goal was to make the Cape May canal entrance a bit before dawn. We were planning on waiting until after sunrise to actually enter the Cape May canal. The Cape May canal is fairly pretty. However, the bridges seem a bit worn and most of the traffic appears to be powerboats, rather than commercial shipping or sailboats

Saturday morning sunrise over Cape May, New Jersey.

Saturday morning sunrise over Cape May, New Jersey.

Another view of the sunrise over the Cape May Canal.

Another view of the sunrise over the Cape May Canal.

An old railroad swing bridge on the Cape May Canal.

An old railroad swing bridge on the Cape May Canal.

We made the mistake of stopping at Utsch’s Marina for fuel. Our plan was to get breakfast ashore there, fuel up, pump out the holding tank, and take showers… that wasn’t quite how it turned out. The marina staff there was surly and rude, and the marina doesn’t offer much in the way of services for people not actually staying in the marina. Boats visiting the fuel docks are only given access to a pair of rather disgusting Porta-Johns, rather than the actual restrooms. We decided to just get fuel, water and ice, and get out of there as quickly as possible. I would highly recommend not stopping their if you should be going through the Cape May canal.

Utsch’s Marina, which offers very little to the transient cruising boat.

Utsch’s Marina, which offers very little to the transient cruising boat.

Once outside Cape May, we had a decision to make. Originally, our plan was to go up along the New Jersey coastline, past Sandy Point, into New York City Harbor and go up the Hudson to the East River through the Hell Gate and out into Long Island Sound. Our other choice was to shoot straight for Block Island. Given the fact that it was Memorial Day weekend, and that it was also Fleet Week there, and there would probably be some restrictions on the movement of small craft through the harbor, we decided to go the offshore route.

Mary at the helm, on the bluewater leg from Cape May to Block Island.

Mary at the helm, on the bluewater leg from Cape May to Block Island.

Once we were headed offshore, we decided to kill the engine and unfurl the screacher. We were able to make about the same speed under sail as we had been doing under power, but with far less noise. There is a lot to be said for being able to sail, especially when on a delivery, and trying to make as much progress as possible.

Sailing with the main and screacher on s/v Felix, between Cape May and Block Island.

Sailing with the main and screacher on s/v Felix, between Cape May and Block Island.

At night, we usually tuck in a reef in the mainsail. Tucking in a reef is generally a prudent measure, since trying to reef at night if the wind builds is generally more difficult than doing so before the sun goes down. As the wind died, we fired up the iron genny to keep our speed up a bit. Fuel was a consideration, since we were trying to avoid having to stop to re-fuel again before making Marion. The only real possible fuel stop would have been Block Island, and Block Island on Memorial Day weekend was also something to be avoided.

Norm rests up for his next watch.

Norm rests up for his next watch.

John and I were on watch and the wind picked up a bit… so we unfurled the screacher once again, to try and conserve as much fuel as possible. John and I preferred to sail as much as possible.

Sunday—May 24

The winds on Sunday were rather light and fluky. We motorsailed for most of the day. As the day wore on, the fog would thicken and fall off… having the radar on was reassuring. We used the sails as much as possible, but the fog and light winds were not ideal. As we approached the eastern end of Long Island, heavy thunderstorms were reported in Long Island Sound, with hail, and possibly waterspouts. We were happy to be well off-shore with the bad weather fairly far to our northwest. However, the storms were headed southeast, so we might not get away completely free and Norm put a reef in the main and we made sure to have at least two wraps of the sheets on the roller furled genoa and screacher sails.

As we came abeam of Block Island, an interesting thing happened. I noticed heavy rain on the radar. Zooming out on the display, I saw that we had what appeared to be fairly heavy rains in all directions, but curiously, we were in the center of a relatively rain free bubble in the center of the radar screen. Seeing the heavy rain approaching on the radar, I battened down the hatches, closing off the cockpit door and pinning the port in it shut.

The cockpit of the Gemini is fairly well sheltered, and we had the starboard and aft portions of the cockpit enclosure that attaches to the hard top bimini and cockpit coamings up. Unfortunately, the storm appeared to be coming from the Northwest, which put it on our aft port quarter, where the enclosure was wide open.

The rain storms dissipating around on as seen on the radar.

The rain storms dissipating around on as seen on the radar.

We waited… and waited… and the rain free zone moved eastward with us… I could see the rain off in the distance, but the heavy rain never reached us. Apparently, the weather goddess was hard at work. Norm went off watch and John came on. One interesting thing that John hadn’t seen was how some buoys are also RAdio BeaCONs, or RACONs. The Narraganset-Buzzards Bay Approach buoy is one of these. It emits a Morse A on radar frequencies. The Buzzards Bay Entrance Light is another RACON.

An hour later it was time for me to go off watch. I woke Mary and went over the route and course for entering Buzzards Bay with both of them and headed off to sleep. When I woke the next morning, John and Norm were going over the approach to the northern end of Buzzards Bay. The sun wasn’t quite up yet, and we were headed up to where the route to Marion splits from that to the Cape Cod Canal, just south of Cleveland Ledge.

Monday—May 25

Sunrise over Buzzards Bay, on Memorial Day 2009

Sunrise over Buzzards Bay, on Memorial Day 2009.

As the sun rose, Norm and John turned north to head into Sippican Harbor. Norm pointed out that the Cleveland Ledge and Bird Island Lights form a range that marks the eastern boundary of the approach into Marion. The fuel dock for Burr Brothers is almost as far back in the harbor as you can go. I think s/v Felix will find her mooring quite sheltered.

Norm ties a spring line to s/v Felix at the Burr Brothers fuel dock.

Norm ties a spring line to s/v Felix at the Burr Brothers fuel dock.

While we were tied up to the fuel dock, we rinsed the boat down, fueled up and took showers. Elizabeth, Norm’s wife, was going to meet us for breakfast just a short walk down the street. After breakfast, we all returned to the boat and took her out to her new mooring. Burr Brothers runs a good launch service, but also has dinghy facilities for those preferring to use their own dinghy.

Getting a Crew Together

In the case of this particular delivery, John was fairly lucky. As Norm recently told me, getting sufficient crew together for a delivery is often difficult. Originally, the delivery crew for the Annapolis-to-Marion leg would have been John and Norm. The fact that John and I recently became friends helped, especially since I already knew Norm. For me, it was a bonus, since I was sailing with three of my friends. Norm is a very experienced sailor, and I am fairly experienced. John and Mary are less experienced, and having the mix of experience allowed us to usually have one of the more experienced sailors on each watch for some time.

Serendipity gave us a fourth crew member, as I asked Mary and Chuck if I could stay with them prior to leaving for the delivery trip. She was available and looking to get some experience, including night sailing, and asked if there was room for her aboard the boat. The fact that she also owns a Gemini was a bonus for John and her both. For John, it provided a resource on some boat specific issues that can crop up—like the sonic saildrive leg not retracting. For Mary, it gave her a wide range of experience on what is essentially her boat….while leaving s/v Patience Too for her husband to go sailing on.

John on the foredeck of s/v Felix on the approach to Sippican Harbor.

John on the foredeck of s/v Felix on the approach to Sippican Harbor.

Night Watches

The watch system we used on the trip wasn’t a very rigorous one, but in general, the active watch consisted of two people on slightly staggered shifts, so that there was some continuity between watch rotations. This makes a lot of sense, if you have the people to do it, since it reduces the chances that something will drop through the cracks, like the tug and barge that one watch was keeping an eye on won’t be as easily forgotten about.

If you were on watch and had to leave the cockpit at night, a tether and harness was required. Doing a MOB recovery at night is really not much fun, and you really need to avoid it as much as possible. We had rigged jacklines both port and starboard. My recommendation for permanently rigged jacklines is to use 1/4″ or 5/16″ Spectra or Dyneema line with polyester tubular webbing over it. This gives you a very strong, low-stretch, jackline that is readily identifiable in the dark and won’t roll underfoot.

Reefing the main sail at sunset is generally a good idea, as I mentioned previously. While you might lose some speed, it is usually a good compromise between safety and speed to do so. Shaking a reef out in the morning is not all that difficult to do, and not having to go forward to reef if the wind picks up after dark is something most will appreciate.

Provisioning

First, prior to any passage, it is a really wise idea to get a list of any allergies your crew will have. In the case of this trip, one of our crew had a gluten allergy. Fortunately, Mike and Amy’s dock is about five minutes from a gluten-free specialty grocer, so provisioning the boat for this trip was relatively easy.

Also, checking the boat’s inventory of equipment would be wise. Given how thoroughly equipped Frank, s/v Felix’s former owner, had left the boat, we skipped this, and I was deprived of the pancakes that Mary had promised to make, since we did not have anything remotely resembling a spatula in the galley. Obviously, this is more an issue on a new boat or a delivery than it would be on your own boat.

Sanitation Systems

Because of the way the holding tank is setup on the Geminis, we were able to easily dump the holding tank while out past the three-mile limit. This is something I would highly recommend every boat be capable of doing, since as Utsch’s Marina proved, pumpout facilities aren’t always available where you expect them to be.

Shaking Down s/v Felix

Overall, s/v Felix performed like a champ. John got a pretty good idea of how his new boat handles and performs over a fairly wide range of conditions. We only had a couple small problems that John will need to deal with during the delivery run.

One issue was an electrical one that cropped up with the stern light. Fortunately, we were able to work around it, since s/v Felix is small enough that an all-around white light can substitute for the stern and steaming lights, and a tri-color can be used in place of the stern and bi-color lights.

The other issue was small leaks at some of the ports. My guess is that the dogs on those ports need to be adjusted, rather than it being anything more serious. Still, it was an issue that needs to be addressed shortly.

Tides and Currents

Planning the trip to take full advantage of the tide and currents was important. On most sailboats, which can only go 6-7 knots under power, having the current with you can give you a significant boost in speed, reduce the voyage duration and conserve considerable fuel. We were fairly fortunate on this delivery to have the tides and currents working for us almost the entire trip.

Norm checks the tide and currents one last time as we head north to the C&D Canal.

Norm checks the tide and currents one last time as we head north to the C&D Canal.

Weather Windows

It is important to keep a good eye on your weather window, whether you’re cruising or doing a delivery. The south side of Long Island and the New Jersey coast are both relatively poor areas, since neither has much in the way of accessible heavy weather harbors. If the weather forecast had be less favorable, we might have had to wait it out. However, with cell phones and NOAA VHF broadcasts, it was pretty easy to get a fairly decent idea of what our weather window for the next 24-48 hours would be.

As it turned out, we actually had far better weather by going offshore, since Long Island Sound got pretty badly hammered, and the water was cold enough to dissipate the storms before they could get out as far as us. Cold waters tend to depower and weaken most smaller storms.


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