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Course ASA106 Virgin Island Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date November 30-December 7, 2009
Students: Michael Collora, James Cosgrove, Richard Dixon, Jim Maher, Carol Staheli
Captain: H. Jochen Hoffmann

Sunday, November 29, 2009, Crown Bay Marina, St. Thomas, USVI
Student crew and captain arrive by plane within the span of hours and are greeted by superb tropical weather. Once on board we get acquainted, begin with a review of boat systems below, and make plans for the week ahead. James, Mike, and Richard prove to be “old hands” in that they have taken earlier courses with the Maryland School. 

Monday, November, 30, 2009. Day 1
After breakfast at Tickles, the dock-side restaurant in the Marina, we continue with the review of systems below. By about 1130 we conclude training on lines, sails, and emergency equipment and develop our meal plan in air conditioned comfort. Then Carol and the captain start provisioning while the rest of the crew inventories equipment and generates a detailed navigation plan for the next day. By early afternoon we are almost ready. A recalcitrant LPG valve that has to be replaced at the filling station, a torn starboard flag halyard high in the rigging (needed in foreign ports), and a stuck outboard motor bracket screw (needed free to lift the motor off), delay us long enough for us to realize we won’t make it to Christmas Cove before sunset (1730 hrs). The crew votes to get up at daybreak next day (0600 hrs), have a shower and breakfast ashore, and cruise through St. Thomas Harbor to view a large, picturesque island port before going to sea. 

Day 2
The weather forecast for the next three days calls for light trade winds – ENE 10 to 15 knots with no showers. We are getting underway as planned - with Richard as skipper for the day, captain as coach. Once inside St. Thomas Harbor, we identify a navigational range and proceed to sea past large cruise ships. Jim and Carol have developed a navigation plan covering several challenging legs to Jost Van Dyke, BVI, our destination. We motor sail upwind to clear safely marked and unmarked rocks in our path, and to buck the west setting current at Current Cut and the Windward Passage. At Current Cut we steer to have the sun behind us to learn to read the depth in tropical waters by water color. South of Jost Van Dyke, everyone takes the helm to practice handling of an ocean yacht under sail and then under engine power. Inside Great Harbor it takes two tries before our anchor holds and we can proceed to BVI customs to clear in – and to check out nearby Foxies, the storied island bar/restaurant under palm trees. Indeed, there is Foxy himself to welcome us and recite his poetry. We decide to return for dinner under the stars, a real treat. 

Day 3
James is skipper for the day. We get up early to have time for nav planning, engineering, and boat handling under power. Then we tack to weather across a rhumb line course to Virgin Gorda - established by James and Mike - that takes us close to Guana Island. Here, Carol demonstrates the power of piloting skills: a running fix using two ranges. From the chart she picks a set of two prominent head lands lying on either side of Guana Island - North Bay then Muskmellon Bay. She waits patiently as each set comes into view, draws each range line on the chart and advances the first range as the second comes into view 20 minutes later. Voila, she has fixed our position precisely. Neat! 

We press on and the crew is sure that we will clear Scrub Island to close with Virgin Gorda on this particular tack. But Richard rightly warns of the dangers of a lee shore, and we tack to the NE. Once we have a clear, dead-center view into the marked channel leading through the reefs into spectacular Gorda Sound, we take down sails and motor to a wind-sheltered anchorage near the Bitter End Yacht Club. While some swim and others take the dinghy in for ice and water, dinner is prepared which we enjoy in the cockpit. 

Day 4
We get up after sunrise, the captain makes breakfast, and Mike lays out the nav plan to attractive Anegada, the eastern most of the Virgin Islands. It’s a straight shot of 006° psc, with dangerous reefs at the west end anchorage being the greatest challenge. Well, not quite. Our MOB exercise under sail in five foot seas and 18 knot winds proves frustrating when the genoa fouls as we try to tack to retrieve the victim, a small buoy and PFD. Fortunately, our spotter keeps his eye on the victim who is retrieved in due course. On entering the Anegada reefs, two lookouts at the bow – having the sun behind them – have a clear view of coral heads 30 feet below and call out warnings as we enter this fine, secluded spot. A swim, a long nap, followed by the famous Anegada lobster dinner on the beach puts us in the best of moods. 

Day 5
Today’s challenge (for skipper Jim and the rest of us) is to fix the LPG stove – after having succeeded in making coffee and frying six eggs. Eventually, we determine (correctly as I later find) that a short in the new solenoid breaker must be the culprit since 2 fuses have been blown in succession. We start up the generator and heat water in the microwave and cook six more scrambled eggs. With this learning experience, we determine that our overnight trip should lead us to St. Croix more directly through the island chain - rather than around Anegada. This route, in fact, gives us lots to see and turns out to be highly enjoyable. Once in the Caribbean Sea, we feel the full force of the Trades and their steady swells. I have set watches of four hours on and 8 hours off to give each of us the opportunity to stand a full watch in total darkness. Our MOB practice after dark (with a deeply reefed jib and main) shows us once more that practicing this evolution is essential. As the wind builds to a steady 22 kts, we are closing with St. Croix at midnight – faster than calculated - and decide to tack on a course to Culebra, Spanish VI, and a part of Puerto Rico 

Day 6
Conditions remain steady through the night – with boat speed still high. At 0200 we heave to on a starboard tack, with CELESTIAL forereaching at an easy 1.5 knots. At 0400 the watch wakes the captain: “Culebra lies dead ahead; we should tack.” They are right. We strike the jib and motor sail away from the island under deep-reefed main and an easy speed of 3 kts. At 0600 the next watch – Carol, our skipper for the day and I - steer toward waypoints worked out by Richard that take us through well marked reefs into Ensenada Honda, a beautiful lagoon with the tiny town of Dewey at its head.  At 0800 the hook is down, we leave an arrival message for U.S. Customs, and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. After clean up we call Customs again and have the good fortune of being cleared back into the U.S. over the phone. A swim, shower, long nap and shore leave for the crew rounds out the day. We review course topics, have dinner on board, and are tired enough for lights-out at 2030. 

Day 7
We get up at 0600 to have breakfast from the Microwave. Jim does the nav plan to St Thomas, Mike is skipper, and we all review tide and current calculations on San Juan, PR and St. Thomas. Carol as engineer runs the up-anchor exercise and we head through the narrow channel as foul weather is brewing offshore. A roll cloud under nimbostratus clouds indicates we are in for a rough spell. Yes, but it is short lived. Once the system is gone, we set all three full sails and track our upwind progress on a course of 070° True with numerous fixes. One last challenge in Lindbergh Bay: furling the mainsail tightly inside the mast after a fabric fold had jammed it. Now, up W Gregorie Channel in the wake of the passing freighter NIEDERSACHSEN to top off fuel and perform a final, smooth docking maneuver in our marina. It’s 1630 hours, and all are proud of their accomplishments during this advanced coastal cruising course. 

Day 8
Thorough boat cleaning, test taking (all pass), and hearty farewells bring this eventful cruise to a close for my group of dedicated mariners. Your captain thanks you and bids you Fair Winds, always. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
Crown Bay Marina, St. Thomas, USVI

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