2008 Caribbean Cruise

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Course ASA106 Virgin Island Cruise
Date Nov 30-Dec 1, 2008
Students: Hu Benton, Patricia Eldredge, John Garhart and Mark Kallio
Captain: Lee Tucker

Our crew arrived the afternoon of Saturday, November 29, and after stowing all personal gear aboard CELESTIAL we shared introductions over dinner of fresh Mahi-Mahi at “Tickles” the marina’s restaurant.  All experienced sailors, our crew was looking for a new cruising destination to refine their coastal navigation skills. Late Autumn sailing in the Virgin Islands would serve nicely! 

Day 1  Sunday, November 30
Today began with initial crew assignments by Captain Lee. For vessel orientation purposes, Mark would serve as engineer and Patricia as emergency/safety coordinator. John and Hu, as boatswains, would become thoroughly familiar with standing and running rigging and deck gear.  All would brief the entire crew on ships systems, operations, spares, tools, and safety and emergency gear. Lee reviewed emergency response procedures and actions taken in vessel and crew distress. After menu planning, we provisioned at the local market, Pueblo and stored our purchases on board. We reviewed navigational charts over dinner and, with weather predictions in mind, began to plan a daily itinerary. This crew could not pass up the opportunity to make port at Anegada since it's usually off limits to bareboat charterers. This would come at the cost of missing Vieques, but would still include landfall at Culebra for a taste of the Spanish Virgin Islands. 

Day 2  Monday, December 1
With a forecast of winds ENE 15-20kts, CELESTIAL left her slip at Crown Bay transiting the East Gregorie Channel with our skipper of the day, Patricia at the helm. Under full genoa and 1-1/2 reefs in the roller furling mainsail, we navigated our way close-hauled past Buck Island and Current Hole east to St. John and the north coast anchorage at Francis Bay.  There, we took turns at mooring pickup practice and Mark, aided by Patricia, prepared a welcome dinner of pasta and tomato sauce with salad. 

Day 3  Tuesday, December 2 
This morning, our crew received a chart briefing by Patricia, our navigator for the day.  Our skipper, Mark expertly sailed us off the mooring under mainsail alone and we then set genoa for a beam reach to Jost Van Dyke to clear BVI Customs and Immigration. After an hours break, we continued east to Virgin Gorda and entered Gorda Sound from the north to anchor in the lee of Prickly Pear Cay. 

Day 4  Wednesday, December 3
Our NOAA weather report on VHF 6 described a stable high pressure system to the north and a slow moving tropical wave moving east to west just to our south. We would experience reinforced trade winds in the 20+ knot range with some showers. We exited 

Gorda Sound to the north and briefly sailed on a beam reach to clear the islands. In the lee of Anegada reef, we conducted crew overboard drills under sail with all crew participating at all crew positions. After a series of successful rescues, we continued north on a beam reach with full genoa and staysail and one reef in the mainsail. By 1300 we had safely navigated the reef guarding the entrance and were at anchor. We dined on the beach at the famous Anegada Reef  Hotel on grilled local lobster and swordfish under a clear starry sky.  

Before turning in for the evening, Hu our navigator for Thursday and John, Friday’s navigator put finishing touches on our 24 hour day /night cruise to begin the following morning. This intended course would take us around the west end of Anegada north to the Anegada passage then a beat to weather east and finally south, downwind well east of Virgin Gorda. After a jibe or two, we would find ourselves sailing 10-12 miles south of St Thomas on a course west to Culebra, timed for a daytime landfall after navigating through the treacherous reefs there. 

Day 5  Thursday, December 4
By 0710, all engineering and boatswain checks were complete and we were off our anchor navigating the reef-strewn entrance to Anegada harbor. In this segment of the course, each crewmember would stand watch for 4 hours with a watch-mate and be off watch for 6 hours. The Anegada Passage presented choppy 8 ft seas and the beat to weather was wet. By mid-afternoon, we were well clear of the north coast and navigating on a close reach 10 miles east of Anegada’s invisible southeast reefs.  

By late afternoon, we were able to turn downwind well offshore of the southeast coast of Virgin Gorda. We rigged a boom preventer for the first time in the cruise.  At 1830 hours on a moonless night, we conducted crew overboard rescue drills under sail alone on the open seas until all deck crew were able to perform all maneuvers. Exercises of this type usually give crew the opportunity to perform every sail maneuver in rapid succession- tacks, gybes, luffing and heaving-to. This night was no exception.  Drills were complete by 2000 hours and we resumed our nighttime sail west, past the British Virgin Islands eight miles to the north. 

Day 6  Friday, December 5
Just after midnight, we performed a controlled gybe to bring CELESTIAL to a compass heading of 300°M for Culebra. Two hours later, south of St Thomas our alert watch crew observed ship lights on the starboard horizon on an apparent collision course. After initiating radio contact with the vessel, Hu established that the cargo ship did indeed see us and a starboard-to-starboard meeting was arranged. We passed safely in the darkness, no closer than 2 miles apart. As we pressed on to the west, the soft glow of St Croix could be seen on the southern horizon and the radio towers on Vieques loomed off the port bow. We furled the genoa to slow CELESTIAL for a daylight approach to the outer reefs to her southeast. 

As dawn broke and the sun illuminated the harbor entrance, we navigated into Ensenada Honda, the harbor of Dewey, Culebra’s only town. After clearing customs, an exceptionally efficient exercise performed on the town dock, we raised anchor and left Dewey for Culebrita, a pristine out-island part of Culebra’s marine park. We found the north anchorage too rough for an overnight stay so we elected to pick our way back to a quiet anchorage on Culebrita’s west coast where we were alone and secure for the night. 

Day 7  Saturday, December 6
Well rested after our 25 hour 157 mile non-stop cruise, we followed breakfast with anchoring practice using 2 anchors off the bow.  After bringing both anchors back on deck, we were under way north through the passage between Culebrita and Cayo Norte bound for Water Island, just south of St Thomas.  With dissipation of the high pressure system to our north, winds had moderated to 10-15kts and seas were in the 5-6 ft range. We sailed close-hauled past Sail Rock tacking several times to approach Flamingo Bay on Water Island. Capt Lee prepared red beans and rice for dinner as we savored another beautiful tropical sunset from CELESTIAL’s cockpit. 

Day 8  Sunday, December 7
After breakfast and a final review of ASA 106 topical information, we raised anchor and made our way to our home port, Crown Bay Marina a short distance away. After, exams were taken by all and passed with flying colors. We agreed the experiences of the past week had helped us develop new skills, refine old ones and increase our self-confidence as sailors. 

Capt. Lee Tucker
St Thomas, VI
7 December, 2008

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