Geronimo is a voyage of self-discovery. Student crew members discover the joys and challenges of life aboard a 69-foot cutter as they sail along one leg of a tour that in 2017-18 will take the boat along the eastern coast of the U.S., from Rhode Island to the Bahamas and back. As they live, learn and explore together, classmates discover what it truly means to be a crew.
We are in the final stretch of the Spring Geronimo voyage with tonight being the students’ last night on board. Over the course of the past 6 weeks we have covered more than 2500nm sailing from Puerto Rico back home to Rhode Island. It has been an excellent voyage and we are excited to be the crew to deliver Geronimo back to Newport and St. George’s.
The last few days on the boat have been jam packed. Late Tuesday we arrived in Block Island where Mary smoothly docked Geronimo with little instruction from the crew. Our stay on Block Island was made all the better by the generosity of the Elwell family who acted as our hosts for our time there, providing pizza and wings upon arrival and a tour of the island the next day. Before long though, we had to keep pushing on to Narragansett Bay. Thursday the students had their Marine Science practical. This consisted of each student tacking and gybing the boat, directing the other crew through the maneuver. Everyone did very well. Natalie stood out as the only student to execute a perfect gybe without missing a step.
Today we are in Bristol, RI making final preparations for our return to Newport. In the morning the USCG stopped by the boat for our annual inspection. We were asked to go for a short sail and demonstrate how we would react in an emergency situation. The students demonstrated confidently how much they had learned and how integral they are to the safe operation of Geronimo. Currently the students are taking their marine science final exam, once completed we will go out to dinner to celebrate and reflect on our voyage.
Tomorrow morning we will all be up early to get underway for Newport!
We have had a great transit up the east coast. On Saturday we rounded Cape Hatteras cruising at 9kts on a broad reach. Within 24hrs of our departure from Cape Lookout we were at the mouth of the Chesapeake. Covering just shy of 200nm in 24hrs. Since then the wind has been more sporadic and we have at times needed to motor to keep our speed up.
More than on any previous leg of the voyage the students have especially come together on this passage as shipmates and as sailors. They have handled the range of conditions calmly and thoughtfully. They continue to show excitement for sailing and for life on board. We have really hit our stride as a crew.
We are, however, working to embrace the cooler temperatures we are now sailing in. Almost immediately after rounding Cape Hatteras the sea and air temp started to decrease drastically. Warmer jackets and gloves are being passed around between the watches and lots of tea and hot chocolate is being consumed.
Later today we hope to make it to Block Island where we will spend the night, our first port of call back in Rhode Island.
Geronimo is securely anchored in the shadow of Cape Lookout light waiting for a front to pass by, after which we will round Cape Hatteras and press on north. Being Cinco de Mayo, we had a Mexican themed day in the galley with Chris cooking fajitas and sapodillas for dinner. Earlier in the day we had a marine science class where we broke out sextants for the first time and the concept of local apparent noon and how to find your latitude using the sun was introduced. It was also a momentous day as Hallie and Zoey finished all their non marine science course work. The first two students of the trip to do so.
Dinner clean up has just finished and most of the students are playing cards together or working on their school work. As soon as the weather clears we will be back underway.
The crew of Geronimo has spent the last two days in Charleston, SC. This was our first stop in a city since the students joined the boat in Puerto Rico. Our transit north from Georgia was very smooth and had us arriving late in the afternoon on Sunday. The crew of the Spirit of South Carolina was on deck to greet us and catch our mooring lines when we arrived. We were also pleasantly surprised to see the Swedish sailing training ship Gunilla also docked nearby.
Monday morning was dedicated to wandering around Charleston enjoying local shops and food. In the afternoon we had a marine science class at the South Carolina Aquarium where we looked at the exhibits which related to the ecosystem presentations the students have made throughout the trip. Afterwards we had the opportunity to tour the sea turtle hospital associated with the aquarium. This was particularly interesting after our hands-on experience with sea turtles in the Bahamas. In the evening we were given a tour of the sailing school vessel Gunilla by some of their students. This was a great experience as Gunilla is also a high school program at sea and the students were able to directly compare experiences on very different style vessels.
Tuesday was the Charleston Scavenger Hunt, an activity that has become a tradition for Geronimo students. Broken into two teams the crew was given a list of 40 tasks to complete in 3 hours. Most of which focused on the history and culture of Charleston. In the evening we got together with the crews of the other vessels for a potluck dinner and soccer match.
We are now underway for Cape Lookout on the North Carolina coast. We plan to arrive there tomorrow afternoon where we will decide when to make our push around Cape Hatteras. Everyone is already settled back in the underway routine. We have a light easterly breeze and are making 6kts motor sailing. Most students are up on deck reading or journaling while enjoying the nice weather.
Cumberland Island is a barrier island on the Georgia coastline and is only accessible by boat. Once predominantly owned by the Carnegie family the southern half of the island is now mostly managed by the National Park Service. On Friday morning we hauled back the anchor and made the short 5nm trip from Florida to Georgia and tied up to the dock at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island. This island is a favorite stop amongst the professional crew on board and we were eager to share it with the students.
Over the course of our twenty four hours there we explored what seemed like a never ending beach and sand dunes, climbed live oak trees covered in Spanish moss and walked the trails of the island. Often we would encounter a wild horse or armadillo on our path as we went. Everyone enjoyed being at a dock for the night, a reprieve from anchor watch, and the ability to stretch their legs. Also on the island is a camp site complete with showers, albeit only with cold water. Many students still took advantage of the fresh water and rinsed 4 weeks worth of salt water off.
Currently we are making our approach to Charleston Harbor where we plan to tie up alongside the Spirit of South Carolina, another sail training vessel that will play host to us for the next few days. A Watch currently has the deck with Natalie and Jackson sailing us up to the harbor entrance. Then it will be Mary and Zoey’s turn to pilot us to the marina.
A quick note to share that Geronimo is back in the contiguous United States for the first time since the summer of 2015. We had a great passage from the Exumas over to northern Florida covering more than 500 nm in a little more than three days. The students planned the entire trip including where we would enter the Gulf Stream and where to exit it to make our leap to Florida. Hallie was the final JWO of the transit bringing Geronimo up the St. Mary’s River to our current anchorage. They all did a great job, and I am proud of their achievement. Tomorrow we will make the short jump to Cumberland Island in Georgia.
We are underway for Florida! Our departure from the Bahamas was delayed by a day as we waited for some unsettled weather to pass, but now we are sailing along the coast of Grand Bahama Island pressing on for the Gulf Stream.
Jackson organized his fellow shipmates to get us underway from our anchorage at Highbourne Cay. The first leg of the voyage was westerly across the Exuma Banks eventually reaching the Tongue of the Ocean. This was the first deeper water we have transited through in days. It wouldn’t last long though as we next had to pilot through the North West Channel and Mackie Banks. Natalie remained focused on the helm as she steered Geronimo both onto shallow water and in close proximity to other vessels also using this route. In the early hours of the morning Mary and her watch brought us off the banks and into the North West Providence Channel opening the way to Florida to the west of us.
Now we are patiently waiting for the wind to fill back in from the South so we can make some more progress to the West and join the Gulf Stream to give us a boost to the north.
Spirits are good aboard Geronimo. Everyone is enjoying the pleasant weather, calm seas and fresh fish for dinner.
The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park covers 176 square miles of the Exuma Islands. The crew of Geronimo has spent the last few days exploring this special part of the Bahamas. Here fishing is prohibited and special attention is given to where boats can and can’t anchor to better preserve the underwater environment. B watch, composed of Hallie and Chris sailed us through narrow Dotham Cut to reach the Exumas Banks where we would start our trek through the Park. Natalie was at the helm as we sailed on to the anchor at Big Major Spot, our first anchorage here. The following morning we set out in our small boat for Thuderball Grotto to check out a unique snorkeling location. Once inside the grotto we viewed the brightest coral we’ve seen to date on the trip as well as rays and one large docile nurse shark.
After lunch, Hallie, Chris and Mary, sailed and piloted Geronimo to Wardwick Wells where we picked up a mooring for the night. The three of them executed the planning and sailing conscientiously and we were tied up to the mooring well before sundown. For the first time on the trip jackets and sweatshirts were broken out to keep us comfortable while having dinner together on deck. Afterwards, the students turned their attention to schoolwork for the rest of the night.
This morning, it was Port watch’s turn to move the boat. Zoey stepped up to be the first Junior Watch Officer of the voyage. This phase of the Geronimo program requires the students to take charge and put what they have learned over the past three weeks to work. Zoey set a great example for future “JWOs” and sailed Geronimo on to the anchor off of Norman Cay. Here we made a quick stop to check out a sunken plane that has become a habitat for sergeant majors, damsel fish, cuttlefish and other species of reef fish that we got to swim with.
Next it was Chris’s turn to be JWO and orchestrate sailing Geronimo to our anchorage for the night at Highbourne Cay. With the help of his watch Chris sailed Geronimo on and off of the anchorage, timing our arrival right with sunset.
The crew of Geronimo has spent the last two days anchored off of Pigeon Creek at Cat Island. We came here especially to resume our sea turtle tagging and research program which Geronimo has been involved with for over 20 years. Working with University of Florida’s Archie Carr Sea Turtle Research Center and the Bahamas National Trust, Geronimo collects data used to better understand sea turtle population, growth rates and their general well-being in the Bahamas. This part of the Geronimo voyage is a highlight for many students as they get to interact directly with these impressive animals.
Today all our energies were focused on catching and documenting Green Sea Turtles. Every student caught at least one turtle and participated in the measurement and tagging of the animals. Jackson and Rachel were naturals at it and each caught three. It was, however, truly a team effort and without everyone’s contributions spotting, swimming, and jumping in the water we would not have been so successful. Three of the turtles we caught today had previously been tagged so we will be able to look back at the data that was collected on the animals earlier and understand more about their growth rate and if they’ve been spotted elsewhere.
This evening aboard Geronimo, Mary cooked a hearty and spicy jambalaya for dinner to refuel us from the big day. Tomorrow we will get underway very early for the Exuma Islands and the Exuma Land & Sea Conservation Park. In preparation for the snorkeling we plan to do there, Natalie and Rachel gave a presentation on Coral Reefs after dinner. Thus far we have had a great introduction to the Bahamas, especially its natural side, which will continue as we make our way west.
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