It's all Larry Polster's fault. At the Krogen Cruisers Fall 2010 Rendezvous, Larry spoke to the assembled group, as he has done every year. But this time he didn't provide a Kadey-Krogen update. Instead he broached the idea of offshore cruising. Not cruises to be led by Kadey-Krogen Yachts, but challenged the Krogen Cruisers build their cruising confidence by not just participating in a cruise, but to tap into the offshore capability of their boats by organizing, leading and participating in two multi-night offshore cruises in a group setting. I think he was a bit skeptical that we'd really pull it off. Perhaps it was his reference likening getting Krogen Cruisers to act in concert to herding cats. Whether it was that or something else in his presentation that piqued people's interest, who knows.
Betty Robinson (LiLi, KK48) and I (Sea Dweller KK44) volunteered to co-chair the committee, dubbed "Cruising with Confidence: Cruising Beyond the ICW". At the rendezvous we met with other Krogen owners who were interested in the idea, and the nucleus of the committee was born. At that first interest meeting, we agreed to pursue Larry's two suggested cruises. The first would be from Stuart, FL to Beaufort, NC and the second from Annapolis, MD to Block Island, RI. We later revised our New England destination to Wickford, RI because our cruise timing conflicted with race week at Block Island.
Prep, prep and more prep
Those of us on the committee that were in Stuart in December met to size the total number of hours of each cruise, set cruise dates and brainstorm the contents of the solicitation of interest to be emailed to all Krogen Cruisers. In looking at dates for the Stuart to Beaufort cruise, we considered when we would have a full moon, the Mother's Day holiday and the typical June 1st insurance date for boats to be north of Florida.
The solicitation of interest email was sent in late December. Interested people were asked to respond to questions to get a feel for offshore overnight experience and barriers to offshore cruising that participants wanted to overcome. We also asked for people to respond whether they'd like to participate using their own boats or to serve as crew.
In mid-January, the committee held its first conference call meeting. Since committee members were scattered, all the meetings were conference calls. Betty had both the big picture and a good grasp of all the details needed for the cruises. The committee was split into three groups and staffed as follows: - Organization of Participants - Safety Prerequisites - Cruising Ground Rules and Procedures
The committee initially focused on safety prerequisites - strongly recommended equipment and crew minimums, to give participants ample time to acquire line up and prepare what was needed. We had no authority to mandate minimums, but tried to articulate what we thought were minimums to ensure a safe and comfortable cruise. The hottest debate was over life rafts. In the end, most boats left the dock with one on board.
The next big undertaking was choosing a navigation route. For Stuart to Beaufort, three were debated - following the coast about 15 miles offshore at each Class A inlet, running in the Gulfstream directly from Fort Pierce to Beaufort up to 100 miles offshore, and one in between. Our decisions were always driven by the underlying purpose of the trips - to provide an experience that would build the confidence of the participating crews, not speed. We felt our target audience was those with little or no offshore multiple overnight experience. We opted to walk before we ran, and so the route closer in was selected. It provided opportunities for participants to head to shore in just a few hours if need be. The entire trip was about 80 hours and included three nights at sea. The selection of the navigation route for Annapolis to Wickford was more straightforward. There was only one course to choose from once exiting the Delaware Bay: run north and east along the southern coast of Long Island. There would be no bail out opportunities after we moved away from the New Jersey shoreline. With those two foundation decisions made and communicated to the interested participants, the committee sub groups settled down to flesh out all the details over the next 10 weeks. Participants were emailed updates of the committee's progress, and were given the lists of recommendations and procedures for:
- Crew and equipment for offshore cruising - Safety items and spares to carry onboard - Damage control kit - Maintenance survey for offshore cruising - Educational resources - Navigation route - Watch schedules - Operational logs - Radio communication protocols - Cruising responsibilities of the group leader and of individual boats - Operational cruising weather procedures
All of this information was compiled into a "Cruising with Confidence Guide" that the committee published on the Krogen Cruiser website so that the entire membership might benefit from the planning efforts.
The final preparation step was the captain's meeting the afternoon before our scheduled departure. All crew were encouraged to attend and most did. We reviewed most of the cruising guidelines from the CWC Guide: responsibilities, communications, course, formation and most importantly the latest weather forecasts. John Holum quipped that this cruise was planned better than the Normandy invasion.
The proof is in the pudding
How well would all the planning pay off? At 6 a.m., Tuesday, May 10th, eight Krogens threw off lines and headed north to the Fort Pierce inlet. Within an hour, one of Solveig IV's engines overheated. Cleaning out and changing the sea strainer brought no relief. They headed to a dock at Fort Pierce to have a diver look at the boat and with hopes to catch up with the group. With our lead boat out of commission, LiLi was unanimously "volunteered" to lead our inverted V formation once we cleared the inlet. Partly cloudy with just a 6 inch to 1 foot chop; we were off. Station keeping is an art. Calibrating speed and relative position kept everyone occupied initially. It certainly was reassuring to see a Krogen beside you any time you looked out the pilothouse door. A jellyfish clogged a sea strainer aboard Grand Adventure, but that was quickly cleared. Betty lead our radio status calls like a pro and everyone else reported in all OK. Within a few hours we saw our first sea turtle. Two boats had fishing lines in the water, hoping to get lucky. And one did - catch and release. Our first night passed uneventfully. The wind picked up and so the waves did too, but the 2 to 3 footers were a following sea.
Mid-day on Wednesday, we heard from Solveig IV. Removal of some barnacles in the raw water intake had quickly fixed their overheating problem and they had not only caught up to us, but had passed us! They had headed further east out into the Gulfstream were they screamed along over 10 knots. They were headed west to rejoin us. Shortly thereafter, the Navy announced live fire exercises in the area we were traveling. After a quick radio consultation, our fleet made a course correction and steamed on. Now get this. The Navy radioed a fishing boat within the live fire range his response was "You just keep doing what you're doing and I'll keep doing what I'm doing and we'll be just fine." The Navy's action was to change their coordinates!!! Solveig IV rejoined us a few hours later after negotiating a course with the Navy, and LiLi gratefully relinquished the lead and took up position in the middle of the back row. Hats off to Betty for jumping in and doing a superb job of leading us.
The second night brought a bit more excitement. The captain on Dawn Treader captured it beautifully. He wrote, "Picture this; you are the Captain of an oil tanker, headed for Savannah at about midnight, when the mate says, 'Capt, look at this on the radar.' What he sees is a V-shaped return from a single point in front expanding to two miles wide at the back and three miles long from tip to tail. Peering out into the darkness the wedge shape is confirmed by eight sets of running lights. While pondering this you notice that while the V shape is still in perfect form, the wedge is now sliding sideways off to the east and no longer on a collision course. But just to make sure, you decide to show every light your tanker possesses. You continue to Savannah and the wedge continues to Beaufort NC." A sight to behold.
By the third night, the trip was beginning to tire some of us. Our entertainment for the night was a lone fisherman. We could see him on radar and caught a glimpse of his lights now and again. John Holum radioed him to which he responded "I ain't got no radar, but I can see y'alls lights. What are you?" Turns out his concern was that we were Georgia shrimpers coming into his territory. Radio check-ins and the occasional joke helped pass the rest of the night.
Friday the weather, winds and waves were kind and the fleet rolled into Beaufort at 2 p.m. - 80 hours after leaving Stuart. At dinner at Floyd's that night, we all shared our special moments. Many of the crew had experienced overnight travel at sea for the first time and standing watch alone for the first time. There were many expressions of thanks for the willingness of other helm watchers look out for each other - especially women to women. Whether or not people choose to undertake a similar trip again, I think they feel more confident that they CAN do it. So Betty, if the proof is in the pudding, it tasted pretty sweet. All that planning did pay off.
Let's Hear It For Stabilizers And AIS-- Annapolis to Wickford, RI
Fast forward to Father's Day. Another afternoon gathering of captains and crew - albeit smaller. Four boats were planning to head out in the morning to travel up the Chesapeake Bay, through the C&D Canal, stopping at a marina for the night, then down the Delaware Bay, out around Cape May and on northeast to Wickford, RI. Again we reviewed responsibilities, communications, course, formation and most importantly the latest weather forecasts. It was a go. Icy Devil, Sea Dweller and Bagheera met up just north of the Bay Bridge around 10 a.m. Jeremiah would join up with us in the morning as we started down the Delaware Bay. The rest of us arrived at Delaware City Marina coming through some skinny water in their channel and spinning around in the current as we docked to be poised for our morning departure.
We were running the agreed upon "green" side of the Delaware Bay channel, so we were surprised to see our leader, Icy Devil suddenly head across the channel to the red side. A quick radio call to Frank confirmed that it was a crazy auto pilot that was quickly reined in. By the way, we always knew Frank would be on the radio on Icy Devil; the crew was comprised of three Franks! And they proudly displayed three "Foxtrot" flags on their spreaders. As we headed around Cape May, the wind and current were in opposition - waves on the nose. Here we go. Quickly we were stuffing the no skid and towels in amongst the dishes that were sliding around in the cabinet making a racket. Once we turned north, the seas were off our starboard stern quarter. Not a problem for the three boats with stabilizers, but a challenge for Jeremiah. They opted to tack for over an hour for comfort's sake. Let's just say the crew have a new appreciation for their stabilizers aboard their boat The Good Life (KK44), and the Captain may have officially started the stabilizer fund. The wind swung around to the south and with following seas we all settled down into our diamond formation for our long run to Wickford.
The first night passed uneventfully. Icy Devil and Jeremiah were treated to the sight of a whale passing along their starboard side shortly after sunrise. What a way to start the day! Here we go with live fire exercises again. This time it's the Coast Guard, so we altered course. Mid-afternoon, four Navy training boats all in a line slid by us heading south - I'm partial to our diamond formation.
The early evening got off to a peaceful start. Then the fog rolled in, diminishing visibility to 1/4 mile. We moved into single file. Time to put those instrument skills to the test. By complete nightfall, the fog had eased a bit, but just temporarily. Near midnight - why do things always happen at midnight?? - the fog had rolled back in and coming out of the relative shelter of Block Island, the waves built. Our leaders on Icy Devil had the benefit of night vision goggles, the rest of us were watching chart plotters and radars intensely. Icy Devil and Sea Dweller had receive-only AIS, Bagheera had send and receive AIS. A "securite" announcement from a tug with a 2,000 foot tow got our attention. We confirmed it on AIS. A fishing boat captain announced he was "lit up like a Christmas tree" - again confirmed by AIS. Then a sailboat chimed in announcing they had no radar aboard, but were flashing their position using a hand-held flashlight on the bow. Great! Then the rain squall hit - you knew that was coming, didn't you? The rain clutter significantly diminished the usefulness of the radar.
Our group was chided (I'm being politically correct here) by the tow barge and fishing vessel captains for being out in such conditions and for having receive-only AIS. Additionally, the Coast Guard told Frank, who had said he was at the head of our party of 4 boats, to move his "chatter" to another channel, as 16 should be reserved for hailing and emergencies. Frank later noted that the conditions, and collision avoidance strategies being shared during these conditions, certainly fit the standards for Channel 16. Our fleet slowed to a crawl to ensure the tow and fishing boats passed by, which resulted in the return of the Cape May washing machine churn - causing dismay for at least one boat. It was crucial that we accurately locate and avoid buoys marking the entrance to the West Passage. Icy Devil stayed in the lead until all passed Beaver Tail light, at which point Jeremiah took over the lead and directed all of us to the mooring field and anchorage at Dutch Harbor, based upon his local knowledge and previous good experiences there. At 3AM, each boat celebrated its safe arrival in its own way - some hitting the racks immediately, others raising a toast first and others toasting until the sun rose!
Under gray skies late Thursday morning, we made our way to the dock at Wickford Marina, where we were welcomed by Gratitude (KK48). They had expected us much earlier and had coffee and pastries on hand. As we all gathered and chatted, the Air Force Blue Angels also flew by to welcome us. Some may say that they were making practice runs for the upcoming airshow, but we know better. Then they whipped us some delicious "macaroni and gravies" for all of us! Delicious homemade tomato sauce full of basil over pasta! As we all raised a toast, we knew we had arrived.
Having participated in the planning and both of the Cruising with Confidence trips, I have a keener appreciation for the preparation required for offshore cruising. All those safety items gave me comfort that we had back up if needed. The fleets had planned for the worst and hoped for the best. It all paid off. Radio protocols established in advance made it easy to quickly discuss a matter at hand. I am also much more comfortable using the chart plotter and radar than ever before. Some of that just comes with doing it. I always knew we had a boat well suited to offshore cruising; now I know that I can ably crew on her.