2009 Caribbean Cruises

Course Descriptions
School Yachts
Schedule of Courses
Ocean Training Cruises
ASA Certification
Registration Info
Our Location
Our People
Contact Us

Course ASA106 Virgin Island Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date February 12-19, 2009
Students: John Beard, Mike Brown, Chip Lohman, Jim Wallace
Captain: Lee Tucker

Thursday, February 12, 2009:
The ASA 106 Advanced Coastal Training cruise began today in the Virgin Islands aboard the IP 440 CELESTIAL. The crew consists of John Beard, Mike Brown, Jim Wallace, Chip Lohman and myself, Captain Lee Tucker.  Work began bright and early preparing for departure. We provisioned, filled propane tanks, fueled the dinghy and assigned day 1 crew positions: Chip-Engineer, Mike-Safety Coordinator, Jim- Boatswain and John-Bos'n and Mate. All mechanical systems were reviewed, safety, MOB and abandon ship gear inspected and demonstrated. All running and standing rigging inspected and belowdeck systems checked. Presentations were made for each system by the respective crewmember. We began the overall navigation plan tonight, establishing a tentative cruise plan, subject to weather. 

Weather today was moderate: 84 deg, wind 20-22 ENE. Tuesday/Tues night it was E 25-30 with gusts to 45 due to a high pressure system just north of us. Our plan tomorrow takes us East, toward St John, possibly the VI National Park waters. This will place us well for clearing into the BVI at Jost Van Dyke. 

Friday February 13, 2009:
Crew assignments for today: Mike as navigator, Chip as engineer, Jim is Bos'n and John as skipper. Crew positions will rotate each day as will galley duty with each meal. After filling water, and completing final preparations aboard S/V Celestial for our cruise, our navigator of the day completed the day’s navigation plan; we obtained clearance from the Crown Bay Marina harbormaster and departed our slip at 11:00. We transited the East Gregorie Channel with today's skipper, John at the helm and we set the mainsail with one reef between Hassel and Water Islands. 

Motor-sailed east along the south coast of St Thomas, short-tacking between Buck Island and St Thomas. We passed Great St James Island around 1:00 PM and passed through the Current Cut to enter Pillsbury Sound. We crossed the sound with St John to our starboard, Lovango Cay to port. At this point, our crew elected to cross north to Jost Van Dyke, to clear customs and immigration on a weekday. Altered course to the north, set the genoa and sailed directly to Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke, arriving at 3:00PM. We anchored and went ashore to clear in, returning to Celestial at 4:15. We then left Great Harbor to move east to Little Harbor, quieter with better holding at anchor. 

Chip prepared a delicious dinner of shrimp stir fry with rice and salad. Little Harbor remains an idyllic, peaceful place to spend the night. Weather today was wind E- 15-19 knots, seas to 5 ft, sunny and 85 deg. A typical February day in the tropics! 

Saturday February 14, 2009:
After a clear starry night at anchor in Little Harbor, Jost Van Dyke, we were up before 7:00 for a beautiful tropical sunrise. Following breakfast, our engineer of the day, Mike, completed his checks, John, our boatswain verified the integrity of our rigging and Jim conducted a chart briefing of today's cruise. We would sail windward to Virgin Gorda along the north coast of Tortola. 

After leaving our peaceful anchorage at 9:15, we sailed east past Sandy Cay and sheeted in hard for our close-hauled course. At 10:40, John, looking ahead from the starboard side of Celestial spotted something ahead of us in the water. Whale-Ho!!! We passed within 50 yards of a mature humpback whale swimming on the surface at 18deg 27.9N and 64deg 40.5W. The whale spouted for us, lingered a few moments, then dove. We didn't see her again. As we continued east we kept a lookout for more whales, as they are known to migrate here this time of year, but no luck. 

Jim continuously updated our position with 2-bearing fixes and we sailed smartly along Tortola, passing to the north of Guana and Great Camanoe Islands, the dog islands and finally Virgin Gorda. We entered Gorda Sound at 3:51PM and were anchored in sand in 18ft of clear turquoise water 20 minutes later. Mike is cooking us a pasta dinner tonight, but first, a brief shore excursion to the Bitter End Yacht Club. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009:
After a quick visit ashore on Saturday evening at the Bitter End in Virgin Gorda, we settled into our quiet anchorage in peaceful Gorda Sound. Arising early on Sunday Feb 15th, we sailed north into the Atlantic Ocean between Virgin Gorda and Richard Branson's Necker Island. There, in 19 knot winds we practiced crew overboard rescue drills until all crew retrieved our hapless "victim" from the water, a life jacket---using sail power alone. Everyone was successful! 

Once this training was completed, we set sail at a compass heading of 007 deg for the island of Anegada. This landfall is especially fun, since the island is off limits for most bareboat charterers and the main attraction is the delicious Anegada lobster, grilled over an open driftwood fire and eaten on the beach! The tricky, shallow reef entrance poses a special challenge, perfect for an advanced coastal cruising class. We arrived at noon and after some of the crew enjoyed a brief swim in the brilliant turquoise water, the captain led a 2 hour group discussion of advanced coastal cruising topics. It was time for dinner and we rode the dinghy ashore for the lobster feast. 

Monday, February 16, 2009:
Early Monday morning we secured the dinghy in the stern arch and made preparations for sea. Lunch and dinner were prepared in advance and a complete navigation plan prepared and the crew briefed. We were about to embark on a highlight of this cruise, a non-stop circumnavigation of Anegada and the British Virgin Islands, past St Croix, St John and St Thomas to reach the Spanish Virgin Islands, with landfall expected in Culebra, part of Puerto Rico. 

We sailed around the west and north coasts of Anegada and, as darkness fell, the wind began to decrease due to an approaching frontal system. At 8:00 PM we practiced crew overboard recovery at night, under sail alone. This always proves to be a very challenging and intensive exercise in open waters. I am happy to report all crewmembers successfully maneuvered Celestial alongside our horseshoe ring and pole buoy,to bring the big boat to a complete stop for rescue. 

Onward, into the night! The stars and Venus were brilliant, and the winds softened even more. We soon found ourselves motorsailing to maintain 4 knots of boat speed. As I write this, the sun has risen, we see Culebra rising in the haze above the bow and we have been underway for 22 hours. Each crew is standing watch for 4 hours on, 6 hours off, with 2 crew standing watch at any given time. We anticipate navigating the dangerous reefs of Culebra within an hour and hope to make port by noon. With that update, I'll close now to oversee the navigation challenges ahead-- our crew has come together as a close unit and their excitement of making this landfall is already rising. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009:
On Tuesday morning, we successfully navigated the coral reefs guarding the entrance to Ensenada Honda, Culebra's main harbor. With skipper Jim at the helm, our bow crew set anchor in 12 feet of water and we rode ashore in our dinghy to walk to the airport to clear Culebra customs and immigration. Our jovial customs agent made the process painless and he gave us a great recommendation for a lunch of local cuisine just a short walk from the airport! 

We returned to Celestial and elected to explore the neighboring out-island Culebrita and her outlying reefs! Hooray! Another navigational challenge! With the captain taking the helm for our now weary crew, we motored north from the protection of Ensenada Honda through the "canal of the sea" between Culebra and Culebrita to the East. 

How pristine and primeval a scene, untouched by mankind, a scene of indigo and turquoise water against the rugged cliffs and green meadows reaching to pale tan desolate beaches. Sea turtles abound and thrive in this sanctuary. The unusually calm conditions allowed navigation to a secluded north coast beach transiting through water so clear, the reef was clearly visible at 45 feet deep. We anchored on 15 feet of sand in pretty blue water a short swim from the beach and most of the crew took a short refreshing swim. After two hours in this remote paradise, we needed to seek the shelter of more protection, since the forecast called for strengthening winds from the northeast that night. 

We found a mooring on the west coast of Culebrita and had the entire anchorage and island to ourselves. The sun set and we were treated to a dazzling display of phosphorescence in the tropical water. Chef Jim turned in a magnificent performance in the galley of pasta and tomato bread with "Alabama Toast" and our stalwart crew finally succumbed to fatigue, retiring by 8:30PM. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009:
On Wednesday morning we arose at the usual time, Mike conducted engineering checks as our crew busily prepared their ship for one more voyage -- East to the US virgin islands. Before we left, as if to bid our sailors farewell, a wild deer appeared on the shore and walked along the beach. We hoisted our dinghy on the radar arch, navigator Jim led a crew chart briefing, and we began a 6-1/2 hour lively sail to weather. 

It was a wet, challenging sail as the wind had freshened to 20-23 knots NE and the seas were a confused mix of NE and NW swells, the latter a remnant of the previous day's winds. Chip kept us on course; past a local landmark "sail rock" named for its resemblance to a brigantine under full sail, then turned the helm over to Mike who sailed us into Lindbergh Bay on the south coast of St Thomas. Once at anchor, the captain prepared a dinner of black bean soup, pan seared grouper with asparagus. Jim and Mike took the ASA 106 and passed! Congratulations! 

Thursday February 19, 2009:
Today is the last day of this ASA 106 Advanced Coastal Cruising voyage. We had the perfect anchorage: shelter from the wind and waves, breezy, cool and quiet! We all slept soundly and as we awoke, we realized the wind, which had been building yesterday, was still blowing 22 to 25 knots from the Northeast. We reluctantly began to prepare Celestial and ourselves for our return to our home port for the winter, Crown Bay. 

Mike dutifully motored us to the east to enter Elephant Bay where the captain radioed for port entry clearance. The Atlantis submarine was beginning her daily trek to Buck Island and was waiting for her tow vessel to pull her away from the harbor entrance.

We deftly navigated astern of the sub and had a perfect alongside docking at the marina's fuel dock where we filled the diesel tank. Next, with an assignment for each crewmember and the captain at the helm we silently and efficiently docked Celestial in a 25 knot cross breeze without a word spoken. 

Jim had asked me earlier in the trip to tell him at what point in such a trip did I think sailing students typically come together as a crew. I'm still not sure of the precise moment on this voyage, possibly during the 25 hour non-stop run, but it was plainly evident we were one cohesive crew now. We truly enjoyed each other's company and we trusted each other as Celestial's crew. The sense of pride a captain feels for such a crew after only 8 days is remarkable. 

Captain F. Lee Tucker
St Thomas, USVI
February 19, 2009

Return to Home

© Copyright The Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship, Inc., All rights reserved.
Web site design by F. Hayden Designs, Inc.