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Course Advanced Coastal Cruise; Punta Gorda, FL to Marsh Harbor, Abaco, Bahamas
Date April 20-27, 2008
Students: Richard Dixon, Wolfgang Linke, Bill Magness, Manny Rosa, Jim Spilbore
Captain: Andy Prescott

Pre Departure 
Thoroughness, clear communication, and detailed preparation and planning are essential elements of an offshore endeavor. Prior to arrival each crew member had been sent numerous references, texts, and handouts in preparation for the trip.

The depth of the schools instructional capability was demonstrated at the start when intended Captain Instructor Jochen Hoffmann had a medical issue and at the last minute Captain Andy Prescott was called in to skipper the cruise with Captain Joe Kliment teaming with him for the pre-departure orientation. 

The student crew consisted of five able bodied sailors ready for a challenge. They included Manny Rosa an enthusiastic sailor and teacher from Brooklyn; Richard Dixon – retired and considering some significant blue water sailing aboard his IP 35: Bill Magness an IP380 owner from Florida with the same thoughts in mind; contractor and Hudson River sailor Jim Spilbore from New York ; and Wolfgang Linke a high spirited mechanical engineer and Etap owner. 

Day One
On Day One the previously noted material and fine experience of Captain Joe was utilized to inspect the Island Packet 440
CELESTIAL and her systems. The team discussed possible itineraries and the sailing opportunities that would challenge us. The roles of the navigator, boatswain, engineer, and emergency coordinator were discussed.   

Daily responsibilities for the week were assigned and discussed with each person being given the opportunity to serve for at least a 24 hour period as Student Skipper, Navigator/Radar person, Engineer, Cook, and Deckhand.  

After a very informative day the team shopped for provisions and enjoyed dinner ashore. Captain Andy joined them that evening on board. 

Day Two
We did not want to take any chances as we began an offshore journey. So the morning consisted of each team member checking things carefully followed by an 1130 briefing regarding roles, responsibilities, and review of ASA 101, 103, and 104 terms and rules of the roads.

At 1400 we headed carefully out of Burnt Store Marina bound for Boca Grande Pass, the Gulf of Mexico and a 24 hour run to Key West. Jim was excellent as skipper while Bill did a fine job of navigating us out to sea! 

Once clear of Boca each crew member practiced tacking and gybing, first with mainsail alone and then adding the head sail. It was a good refresher and got everyone on the “same page” regarding these basics. Particular emphasis was placed on the use of the preventer – always important but even more so on offshore jaunts! 

This advanced coastal cruise would be particularly challenging as there would be several overnight sails and a Gulf Stream crossing. A watch schedule was established that teamed Captain Andy with Manny; Bill and Richard; and Jim with Wolfgang. 

Our first sunset at sea was followed by a wonderful star filled night with a spectacular full moon. 

Day Three
Night watches of three hours each made the shifts pass quickly as the team adjusted to life at sea – but initially putting some stomachs to the test. A nice sunrise introduced an incredible performance by a dozen dolphins leaping and diving beneath our bow with great speed and agility as
CELESTIAL rhythmically rode the waves at seven knots.  

Jim took over as navigator with Rich as the student skipper. Their leadership brought us successfully up the Northwest Channel and into Key West’s Galleon Marina where the team raced for the showers. 

Manny demonstrated his prowess in the galley cooking up a storm just in case we ran into one over the next few nights. Chicken, salmon, and hamburger cooking all at once – A very impressive feat and nicely packaged too for easy access while at sea.

The team dined at Guy Harvey’s followed by Jim treating everyone to some sinful pie and taffy at the Key Lime Factory. By 2300 there was a sextet of snoring in the key of sea! 

Day Four
The crew was up at 0600 and by 0830 Manny skippered us out of the marina and steered us in the direction of Hawk Channel for a run up the east coast of Florida inside the reefs. We needed to cover about 93 nautical miles before we could take a break, anchor, catch some shut eye and prep for the Gulf Stream crossing.

The head sail and main were fully deployed as we sailed with favorable winds. Wolfgang demonstrated his engineering and craftsmen ability as he modified a stubborn lockset on the aft head door. Meanwhile Manny served a gourmet lunch of burgers and dogs. Bill worked hard at navigating our northerly course and applying his coastal navigation knowledge and skills. Jim’s jokes and expressions kept the team's spirits high while Richard concentrated on prepping for tomorrow’s travels. 

It was agreed by all that it was a “ten” day – absolutely perfect sailing on a beam reach at seven knots with one to two foot following seas and not a cloud in the sky. 

At 2000 with the winds building and the skies darkening an accidental jibe demonstrated to all the importance of the preventer! We took in the sails to the second reef point and with winds of 15 to 20 we were sailing along once again at a very comfortable seven knots. 

Day Five
At 0400 we finally reached our mark and dropped the hook at 25.15N / 80.16W – just off the Hawk Channel to wait for daylight and heading through the reef out to sea. Everyone enjoyed a few quiet hours of deep sleep before waking up at 0700 and enjoying a cup of Wolfgang’s great coffee.

Up anchor and off we went. At 0930 we turned at marker 23 and followed the pass at Turtle Reef off Key Largo. The forecast was for light north winds and four to six foot seas as we began our Gulf Stream Crossing. This was not perfect but also not too bad as south winds are preferred which make for lighter seas in a current that runs north sometimes at four or five knots. 

Unfortunately the forecast was not altogether correct. The winds built to 20 knots the seas rose to a confused 10 to 12 feet – quite miserable and uncomfortable as we plugged along with a deep reef in the main and staysail. There was to be no fancy lunch today but we were making progress. It certainly will be long remembered as something to avoid if at all possible! 

At 1615 the cruise ship Carnival Glory was heading for us on a collision course. A call to them on VHF 16 switching to 13 made our presence known and we agreed to alter our course and pass behind them. 

The evening hours and setting sun brought calmer seas and higher spirits. 

Day Six
The early morning hours found us approaching North Rock but no light was shinning despite what the charts and light lists indicated. But other readings also pointed out that lights and other navigational aids in this part of the world are very unreliable. Welcome to the Bahamas! We all agreed that it was a wise decision to stick to the longer but deeper and less risky route.

A good case of mal de mere also hit the crew as we reached our way point now heading easterly via Northwest Channel. But by daylight spirits and stomachs had improved and we sailed along as thoughts turned to making landfall and some good times in the Bahamas. 

The excitement of this day occurred actually at night. Around 2100 in the course of thirty minutes we would weave our way in and around three cruise ships and two freighters. The Raytheon radar was fantastic at keeping us abreast of so many targets coming at us from all directions.

Day Seven
As we turned and headed north around the south end of Abaco our thoughts turned to North Man O War Channel and how we would approach Marsh Harbor. Careful planning was needed to ensure we came in with the tide through the treacherous cut. We needed to be there by noon but our progress had slowed over the night. Deliberate steering and fine sail trim was needed to make the mark. The crew came through with flying colors as we carefully negotiated the channel at 1200.

Our next thoughts turned to finding a marina and planning how to weave our way through the poorly marked and shallow Marsh Harbor. A big fishing tournament was underway and many places were filled. But we lucked out and found a slip at the predominately sailboat oriented Conch Inn Marina – home of Sunsail and the Moorings.  

After a false start entering the Harbor we retraced our steps and tried again with success. We passed a variety of live aboard boats from all over the US and Canada that were anchored throughout the Harbor. We pulled up to the fuel dock and were greeted by a big smile and hello from a very nice Bahamian lady. 

The next game was clearing customs and immigration which really was a test of our ability to switch from sailing time to “island time.” After a three hour wait we were finally cleared! We topped off the fuel tanks and headed for our slip. 

Shore leave was enjoyed by all with celebratory drinks at Curly Tails followed by dinner at Mangos. 

Day Eight
After a great night's sleep it was back to work for one more day. Tops on the list were a final review of ASA106 materials followed by the written test. Through out the week we had spent class time on deck covering a variety of topics so all did well. Some crew then headed for gift shopping while others walked around the island.

After packing, CELESTIAL was spit shinned before all said their good-byes. Clearly the class was an adventurous group who preformed outstandingly well. Mother Nature had given them a good taste of what she and a Gulf Stream crossing cruise from Florida to the Bahamas have to offer aboard CELESTIAL

Captain Andy Prescott
April 20, 2008

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