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Course ASA106 Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date February 12-19, 2010
Students: John Hontz, Jim Ozenberger, Jim Robinson, Michael Rudd 
Captain: Lee Tucker

As the record-setting winter blizzards of 2010 covered the mid-Atlantic region, four determined sailors made their way south through airline flight delays to join Captain Lee Tucker in St. Thomas, USVI aboard the Maryland School’s Island Packet 440 training yacht, CELESTIAL. 

First to arrive was Jim Ozenberger who spent the previous night in St. Thomas after flying in from Detroit. Michael Rudd arrived shortly thereafter, but airport delays threatened to derail plans for John Hontz and Jim Robinson who finally arrived a day later on the first day of class.  Fortunately, the first day is typically spent in port so the Captain, Jim O. and Michael provisioned at the local market Pueblo.  After stowing provisions and gear, Michael began a thorough examination of the ships running and standing rigging, including a trip up the mast. Jim O. began a systematic review of the ship’s operating and mechanical systems as our engineer for day one. 

Late in the afternoon, John and Jim Robinson arrived and Celestial departed Crown Bay Marina, her Winter base, for a nearby anchorage. John, a veteran of a Maryland School ASA 106 Delmarva circumnavigation, would serve as our initial safety coordinator and began an inventory of all safety equipment on board - everything from the life raft and EPIRB to the comprehensive offshore medical supplies.  After motoring away from Crown Bay Marina in the West Gregorie Channel, CELESTIAL entered beautiful  Lindberg Bay to find it a bit rolly due to a SE swell. The crew decided to continue to Brewer’s Bay for the protection of a huge breakwater that serves double duty as the Cyril King airport. The number and size of sea turtles in this particular bay is always amazing! Tucked in on the south coast of St. Thomas, we were well protected from the huge 12-20 ft long-period swells now arriving from Atlantic storms to our north.  Jim O. served up a delicious first meal of teriyaki steak stir fry over rice and, with a blazing tropical sunset as a backdrop, we all agreed we were fortunate to have escaped from the land of ice and snow! 

Day 2: Saturday 2/13/10
Our collective goal today was to sail to the BVI and clear Customs and Immigration. The sun seemed to rise slowly due to a stalled frontal system over Hispaniola, creating more cloud cover than usual. This system also interfered with the usual trade wind flow, reducing it to under 12 knots and moving it to the SE as opposed to the usual E or NE at 15-20 for this time of year. With navigation chartwork in place, Jim O conducted the first of the daily chart briefings and we worked our way upwind to Jost Van Dyke in time to clear Customs & Immigration and have lunch at the famous Foxy’s.  The entire crew practiced coastal navigation skills along the way to supplement half-hourly log entries and dead-reckoning plots. That evening, Jim R. prepared a pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs dinner with salads all around.  

Day 3: Sunday 2/14/10
With dissipation of the stalled frontal boundary, the skies cleared. After John finished his safety coordinator’s briefing, we sailed east through The Narrows past Tortola propelled by a 1.5kt favorable current. To our starboard lay Norman, Peter, Ginger, Cooper and Salt Islands which we passed in succession on our way to Virgin Gorda.  Just south of Great Dog Island in the Sir Francis Drake Channel one crewmember asked a question about heaving-to. “Why don’t we just do it and see?” the Captain replied. There we were, a mile from The Baths at Virgin Gorda, nearly motionless in the Drake Channel. On our way once again to the north-west, we used 2 and 3 bearing fixes to enter the north entrance to Gorda Sound where we anchored in the lee of Prickly Pear Island in 15 feet of clear water over a sandy bottom. This night, John and Jim O. teamed up for a delicious chicken stir-fry in a garlic-ginger sauce.  

Day 4: Monday 2/15/10
Our destination today was Anegada. At 0900, we exited Gorda Sound and altered course toward Necker Island where we conducted crew-overboard rescue drills under sail alone in 15kt of wind from the east. Each crewmember had the experience of each crew position and the challenge of making quick turns as well as figure-eight rescues. A day before, while this crew enjoyed swimming after a long day, the Captain supervised a rescue practice where the Lifesling was used to winch crewmembers on deck.  It really sinks in how challenging a sea rescue is when combining sail maneuvers with the realities of getting the victim back on board. 

After completion of this drill, we set sail for Anegada using coastal navigation skills to fix our position along the way. It’s easy to see why Anegada is off-limits to most bareboaters without prior experience here. It is impossible to read water depth based on water color since the water over this exposed reef is perpetually a milky turquoise color. The numerous charted and uncharted wrecks in the area are a sober reminder of the dangers posed by unfamiliar waters. In this ASA 106 class, they are an intermediate instructional challenge in preparation for entering Culebra! Dinner was ashore tonight as all voted in favor of Caribbean lobster on the beach at the Anegada Reef Hotel. Last year we missed Jimmy Buffett, a regular here, by one night. Would he surprise us this time? 

Day 5: Tuesday 2/16/10
“Sorry, mon, no seen Jimmy”.  Maybe next year?  After a coordinated navigation plan developed by our next two daily navigators John and Jim O, we began our non-stop voyage to Culebra at 1000. As we rounded the west end of Anegada, we encountered the 8-10 ft remnants of the long-period north swell. This storm swell was now in opposition to the 6 ft SE trade-wind driven swell which made for a confused sea state. With contrary currents, leeway and an adverse seaway, our course over ground as established by GPS fixes took us well north of our DR plot. This aspect of the voyage is similar to an ocean passage in that there are no coastal reference points: Anageda is too flat to be seen and the BVI are too distant for bearings.  We made long tacks to the NNE and SSE and finally rounded the east end of Anegada as darkness fell. Each crewmember stood watch for 4 hours with 6 hours off watch, sharing the first and second halves of his watch with different shipmates. The danger was far from over, as we needed to clear the eastern extreme of Horseshoe Reef by ten miles. The reef extends east like a huge elbow east from Anegada. Once clear, we were able to bear off to a broad reach and sail southwest and west. We had ham and smoked turkey sandwiches for dinner, prepared in advance of departure.  

Day 6: Wednesday 2/17/10 
Our 0800 position, 18deg 17.9N,  64deg 25.9W placed us south of the south chain of the BVI, heading WSW on a course of 260deg M. We arrived at the outer reef of Culebra in good light at 14:30 and navigated our way through the maze of reef to enter Ensenada Honda at 15:15. We were happy to have made landfall in plenty of light after traveling 156 miles overall. The Captain called Culebra Customs and Immigration to report our arrival and we departed the harbor for another navigation challenge, the adjacent island of Culebrita and her reefs. We anchored in the north bay of Culebrita after transiting water so clear that individual coral heads were plainly visible at 35 feet.  A quick trip ashore to the “Jacuzzis” a basin of volcanic rock into which the sea bubbles and churns was therapy for the tired crew. 

Day 7: Thursday 2/18/10
After breakfast, our navigator of the day, Michael planned the return crossing to St. Thomas.  Before leaving, we practiced deploying the whisker pole used to trim the genoa downwind. After the crew enjoyed a morning swim in the gorgeous waters of Culebrita, we left our anchorage for the south coast of a tiny island Cayo Geniqui. Here, sheltered from the remnant of the north swell, we created a deviation card for the ship’s compass by taking bearings on the Culebrita lighthouse and comparing with bearings obtained with a hand-bearing compass from mid-deck. John, our helmsman of the day, sailed us back close hauled to Brewer’s Bay where Jim O. took and passed the ASA 106 exam with flying colors! Both Michael and John had previously become ASA 106 certified and diplomatically declined taking the exam again. The Captain prepared one last dinner of pasta and the crew enjoyed a warm evening of conversation in the cockpit, acutely aware this was the last sail in warm weather for a while. 

Day 8: Friday 2/19/10
Jim R. plotted our return to port and Jim O. deftly piloted CELESTIAL and her crew past the airport into the West Gregorie Channel. We tied up alongside the fuel dock, fueled and then silently and professionally relocated to our assigned berth. Such a performance is always a fitting conclusion to such a cruise, and even more so when Jane, the Crown Bay Harbormaster herself is taking the lines! We enjoyed one final lunch together at Tickles the marina restaurant, joined by John’s wife Cindy. We had so much fun, we were ready for another week!

Captain Lee Tucker
St. Thomas, VI
19 February 2010

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