Coastal Passage Making: Crew Position….. Club Nautique

I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be in the midst of final preparations for your first CPM adventure. The email chatter amongst the team started about nine days prior to departure. I didn’t find our skipper to be very engaged but I didn’t truly know what to expect. The navigator did not submit the sail plans at the specified time in advance of the sail. As I recall, they came in a day or two late. There were only sporadic reports of the anticipated weather.

Steve Saul was the instructor. His knowledge and experience sailing is vast. I had sailed with him during the radar clinic and found him to be a tremendous teacher. His communication style is very direct and honest. I appreciate those types of people. You know where you stand with them. This is precisely what is required during a learning environment.

We met at the club at about 2 PM, introduced ourselves, and then proceeded to the boat. I don’t even remember the vessel. I believe it was one of the typical class boats for CPM adventures. We begin the process of inspection, each of us with our own checklists depending on our positions and responsibilities. I was assigned to be the engineer and, of course, the crew member. I had reviewed my responsibilities in advance and got to work. The other sailors who formed our team were busy with their responsibilities. The skipper supervised the lot of us. Our junior navigator was a graduate of the CPM program and was filling in because there was no one available to fill that student position.

After 3 to 4 hours, we finally left the dock and proceeded to the Sausalito channel where we did the “measured mile“ which truly isn’t exactly a mile, but it’s close enough to determine if the log is sufficiently accurate for coastal sailing. There was an ebb current offsetting our course and, so, it was difficult to know whether one had actually sailed a straight line while trying to maintain a compass heading so as to be close to the charted “mile.” I was at the helm for this part of the evening. The difference between our two runs of the mile was so great that we decided to do a third run. I was asked to turn the boat around in the channel for the third run. The wind was right for a back and fill so that’s what I did. I executed it perfectly. It was, however, the wrong move as both the skipper and the instructor felt that I should’ve simply executed a U-turn so as to maintain forward progress of the boat in a channel with other vessels coming and going. Point well taken!

Next, we proceeded to the mouth of Richardson Bay and did the swingshift evaluation of the deviation of the ships compass against a magnetic handheld compass on the fore deck. Everything checked out well.

It was time for dinner and a nights rest so we headed to Richardson Bay where we anchored for the evening. As crew, I was assigned the task of being at the bow of the boat regulating the anchor and the trip line according to the skippers instruction. All went well except I couldn’t figure out what to do with all of that excessive line that we didn’t need with the trip line. I created a nice coil for the excess, still attached to the anchor, and let it fall to the seabed with the anchor. That was a mistake.

I had some difficulties resting on the boat because of all of the excitement. Furthermore, one of the crewmembers was snoring loudly. Also, I was interested in the swing of the boat around the anchor as a result of current flows. So, I would get up periodically just to see where we were and how we had moved. It was educational but I needed my rest.

The next morning, we had breakfast and then decided to disengage the anchor and continue our journey. It probably took us an extra 10 minutes because my elegantly tide coil somehow made it difficult to bring the anchor off the sea bed. The line was a mess. I had to clean it before we could stow it. We were delayed again, because the skipper was washing dishes that we have used for the breakfast that he had prepared. The instructor didn’t care much for that. He felt that one of us could have washed the dishes while underway. That made perfect sense to me.

We motor sailed to the Golden Gate bridge and were greeted by a dense bank of fog blanketing the ocean beginning halfway through the Golden Gate channel. The instructor asked the skipper what he wanted to do about that. His reply was to continue. The instructor asked the skipper and the navigator why they didn’t have the radar on and operational. They didn’t have a very good answer. The instructor asked the navigator for the days weather. He hadn’t checked. The navigator and the skipper spent five minutes attempting to engage the radar and tune the images but they really didn’t have a clue what they were doing. The instructor ordered us to return to Richardson Bay, to anchor, to check the weather, to make the radar operational, and only then would we consider proceeding with our journey. I hope those of you planning your CPM journeys are learning a few things through the mistakes of others. There’s more to come.

Five hours later, when the wind was really blowing, we were finally ready to depart. He proceeded out the gate. The closer we got to the demarcation line the more severe the wind and the waves. In fact, our tacks were not very favorable and it probably took us an extra 45 minutes to get through the passage. After we were abeam of point Bonita it was as if we were in a washing machine. Water was everywhere! The boat was rising and falling. The sails were reefed. There was a swell with wind waves on top of that and the seas were 12-15 feet at times. We were paying the price of early morning difficulties necessitating a late departure.

The skipper proved to have difficulty sailing through the waves. The instructor took over and demonstrated technique. It was a bit beyond me since this was my first journey into significant wind and waves in the ocean. I did, however, find some comfort in the rocking rising and falling motion of the vessel. I was sitting in the cockpit and probably was able to sleep for about five minutes.

At one point, the instructor and I were the only ones in the cockpit he asked where I thought we were. I told him I thought we were south of the sailing lane when we had expected to be north. I was only able to estimate this because I had been out the gate maybe five times with my mentors. I had some sense of the shipping lane in reference to land masses. He agreed. We confirmed it by switching on the chart plotter. The instructor called the skipper and the navigator out of the cabin and asked where we were. The navigators response was “I don’t know.” He was asked where were we were at the last fix. The answer was “I don’t know.“ He was asked to bring the chart to the cockpit for review. It turns out he hadn’t accomplished any dead reckoning, estimated positions, or fixes. There were no logbook entries. The navigator was not doing his job and the skipper was not appropriately supervising the navigator. Still learning from the mistakes of others? I hope so. Wait. There’s more.

As you might expect, the navigator was asked to return to the navigation station and determine our precise location. Within a minute we heard a crash in breaking sound emanating from the cabin. The instructor asked with a sense of urgent curiosity what was the matter. The navigator indicated that he had lost his footing with the motion of the boat and crashed into the dining table in the cabin. We took a look from the cockpit through the companionway. The table was leaning sideways and partly ripped up from the base of the floor. The instructor asked the skipper what he wanted to do. His response was “I guess we can go ahead and sail to Half Moon Bay and try to fix it there.” The instructor, dissatisfied with that answer, indicated that not only was the broken table a potential danger to crew in the rough seas, but it could fly loose and the post could hole the boat and sink us. So, the instructor made the decision that we were going to turn back.

In essence, both the skipper and the navigator had independently, and in conjunction with one another, endangered the vessel and the crew on multiple occasions. It was my turn at the helm to get back through the gate, under the bridge, and into the bay. We had 35 kn of wind in the bay. It was actually fun learning to sail in wind of that strength. In the back of my mind, however, was the fact that the weekend has been a wash and that we would all have to repeat our journey to get credit. I was somewhat disappointed because I knew that I had a lot to learn and yet, at the same time, I felt I had learned a tremendous amount as a result of the adverse experiences. I presumed we were headed back to the dock to call it a day. Interestingly, our junior navigator was able to somehow get the table somewhat partially fixed and to ensure the temporary safety of that part of the vessel. After inspecting to determine if that was the case, our instructor agreed and decided that we would sail to the Alameda/Oakland estuary and visit the yacht club.

I enjoyed traversing the estuary. I was provided the opportunity to see the only true measured mile in the bay. I was impressed by the size of the cargo ships that were docked to deliver their goods to the Port of Oakland. We docked at the yacht club, took a break, and then we talked about some of the things that had gone wrong during our sail. Thereafter, we got off the boat for a while and ultimately went to the yacht club for a nice dinner. We slept on the boat at the dock.

The next morning, we departed and headed back into the bay, where the wind was 25 kn, and we started practicing crew overboard maneuvers. Each of us was required to attempt a couple of different and well describes maneuvers. I completed my tasks successfully on every occasion. The navigator did fairly well, too. The skipper failed to stop the boat to enable retrieval of our “surrogate” person in the water on five consecutive occasions.

We were back at the dock in Sausalito by 2 PM. We had to use the guest dock at Clipper Yacht Harbor because someone had occupied our slip. We collected our belongings, put the boat to rest, and disembarked. The instructor approached me and said he wished to speak to me first. He explained that I had actually met all the criteria to successfully pass the position as crew and that I had fulfilled my responsibilities as engineer to his satisfaction. I would move on to the junior navigator position for my next sail. I was asked to provide constructive criticism to him regarding my appraisals of the duties performed by the navigator and skipper. We agreed that, in many ways, the experiences had provided me with a great deal of education and that, overall, it was a very successful journey.

Needless to say, the skipper and navigator did not pass their positions. The skipper was young, not that that matters, but I think he was also inexperienced. I don’t think that he had done much of the prep work that I referred to in my earlier posts regarding the CPM course. I’m not sure that he had sailed much. I believe I recall that he told the instructor that it had been several months since he had last been out on the bay. I don’t think he was prepared. I also question his judgment. We all make mistakes. But a litany of mistakes? Maybe it wasn’t his day. But I think it’s more than that. The navigator was a really nice guy. I found him to be rather intelligent. Very polite. I just don’t feel that he was ready to navigate a vessel on the water. You have to show up prepared to do the navigator position. You have to know that, as the navigator, it’s on you. Don’t plan to take on that position unless you KNOW that you can do it. Hopefully, you will practice in the bay prior to your sail at navigator position. Work with a mentor and ask to navigate a boat from either Sausalito or Alameda to the San Francisco buoy. Do the DR positions, EPs, and obtain some fixes. Use radar. Ensure that you know how to work the charts and your tools on a vessel underway. This preparatory work will ensure that you are more likely to accomplish your tasks when it is time for “the real thing.“

A sailing crew is just like any other team or family. If one or more of the member shows up ill prepared, unfocused, or lacking knowledge or commitment then the whole team is going to suffer.

Southernmost section of Richardson Bay anchorage. Angel Island in the background.

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