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Course ASA106 Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date February 23-March 2, 2010
Students: Peter Budulas, Jeff Kelly, Charley Shipley, Mike Spinelli and Tom Tursi 
Captain: Lee Tucker

The third Virgin Islands circumnavigation in the Maryland School’s Winter 2009-2010 program began as the school’s founder, Tom Tursi joined Captain Lee Tucker and student crew Charley Shipley, Jeff Kelly, Mike Spinelli and Peter Budulas for eight days of trade-winds sailing and certification in Advanced Coastal Cruising.  For Capt. Lee and Tom it was a welcome reunion, having sailed many ocean miles together on various vessels between Norfolk and Bermuda in the 1990’s. As winter storms continued to make life a challenge for those on the continent, our crew boarded S/V CELESTIAL at Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas under warm sunny skies and a light breeze from the southeast. 

Tuesday, February 23   Day 1
Crew assignments today helped familiarize our team with the complexities of this ocean-going yacht. While the first day is spent in port, time passes quickly as each crewmember thoroughly examines the ship’s operating systems and gear and leads a crew orientation session in his/her assigned area. Today, Peter is safety officer, Jeff is engineer, Mike is boatswain and Charley—navigator. Under Tom’s watchful eye, Peter and Jeff begin their work as the Captain, Mike and Charley obtain and stow provisions from the nearby market, Pueblo. After lunch, with crew orientation complete, an interim mainsail, procured from an Island Packet 420, is bent on.  The dingy is hoisted and lashed to the stern arch and the week’s sailing itinerary is reviewed with Charley. 

The weather forecast for the upcoming week indicates a frontal boundary will move into the area and stall with a low pressure system moving to our south-east. The result will be light wind, including wind from the south and west—unusual for this time of year.  In view of the prediction for light wind, the Captain retrieves the asymmetrical spinnaker from storage, hoping to fly it when the opportunity arises. 

Wednesday, February 24  Day 2
We depart Crown Bay Marina by 10:00AM and transit the East Gregorie Channel with Mike at the helm. We find the wind is west of south, allowing for a rare downwind passage east along the south coast of St. Thomas. Our destination is Jost Van Dyke to clear Customs and Immigration and possibly anchor for the night. We visually navigate through the narrow passage in the coral at Current Hole, then cross the Pillsbury Sound leaving St. John to starboard. Once clear of the Durloe Cays, a hazard of closely–knit islands and the aptly named Blunder Rocks, we turn north for Jost Van Dyke. The wind is due to clock around to the NW and NE during the night, so we reason Great Harbor at Jost will provide adequate shelter. We are successful in setting the hook on the first attempt in 18ft in sand near the southeast edge of the anchorage. After dinner ashore at the infamous Foxy’s, we retire back to CELESTIAL for a peaceful first night at anchor. 

Thursday, February 25  Day 3
After the morning’s ritual of breakfast followed by engineering and boatswain checks, we are underway at 0900 under full genoa and mainsail heading east. The wind has completed its turn and is now south-southeast in the 8-12 knot range. We easily sail close-hauled on one tack along the north coast of Tortola, standing off far enough for clear air.  No whale sightings today, sorry !  We sail on, with the entire crew participating in coastal navigation practice. Our DR plot is updated every 30 minutes and parallels our pre-departure rhumbline nicely.  Our position is progressively fixed with a series of 2 and 3-bearing fixes, running fixes and electronic position fixes for comparison. Nearing Virgin Gorda, we double the angle on the bow to estimate our distance off one of the Dog Islands, Seal Dog.  Two miles – perfect!  Much better than the captain’s estimate of one mile!  

We carefully navigate the north entrance into Gorda Sound. The weather forecast again helps with our choice of anchorage. Wind is expected to be less than 10 knots, southwest to west, becoming northwest on Friday.   We opt for the seclusion and protection of Gun Creek located in the southwest corner of Gorda Sound. Once the small but fast-moving passenger ferries from Biras Creek, Saba Rock and the Bitter End stop running after dinner, the water is as smooth as a pane of glass and the setting idyllic. All rest well after a full day of sailing and a magnificent chicken stir fry dinner from Jeff our chef du jour! 

Friday, February 26  Day 4
The crew excitement is notable today as we prepare for our journey to Anegada. Wind has clocked as promised and is now WNW at 10-12 knots. We slowly motor out of Gorda Sound and, after raising genoa and full mainsail, clear Necker Island. Here, we practice crew-overboard rescue maneuvers under sail alone with quick turns and figure-eights as necessary to return to the “victim” our horseshoe-strobe-pole combination. It is always instructive to practice rescue under sail on one’s boat. In the case of CELESTIAL, our crew quickly learns how much momentum a 32,000 lb. vessel carries even after luffing all sails!   All crew participate in rescues from all crew positions and after two hours, our “victim” is brought onboard for the last time. 

We now must sail in good light to Anegada. But where is she?  At 22ft elevation, the flat island isn’t visible until almost there. Our navigator today is Tom (yes, the author of  the navigation textbook) who updates our course to steer to Anegada after receiving 2-bearing position fixes from our crew. After a two hour sail on a port tack, we enter the shallow and narrow channel and anchor in ten feet on a sandy bottom. After a group review of selected ASA 106 discussion topics in the cockpit, we go ashore early for dinner on the beach. The crew’s unanimous choice: Anegada lobster! 

Saturday, February 27  Day 5
Spirits are high today in anticipation of our non-stop circumnavigation cruise to Culebra, Puerto Rico one of the Spanish Virgin Islands. After our morning boat checks, the dingy is secured for sea and a crew seminar is conducted on safety topics, including emergencies at sea, emergency radio calls and abandon ship procedures, led by Jeff our safety officer of the day. Mike and Charley have collaborated on the navigation plan spanning two days, Saturday and Sunday. The captain reviews the watch schedule: 2400-0400/1200-1600 Lee and Mike, 0400-800/1600-2000 Tom and Peter, 0800-1200/2000-2400 Charley and Jeff. There would be two crew on watch at all times for four hours with an eight hour break until the next duty. 

NOAA weather radio continues to predict light to moderate trade winds in the 10 knot range from the southeast and south. Unfortunately, a large north/northwest swell has entered the region with 10-12ft long period swells originating from storms in the North Atlantic. We decide to lay a rhumbline to the south, passing east through the Necker Island Passage which is located to the north of Necker Island. After departing Anegada at 1330, the southeast wind sets CELESTIAL to the west, so a tack is necessary to clear Necker Island to the south and the Horseshoe Reef to the north. We exit the passage, sailing south-southwest as daylight recedes. A brilliant full moon rises over the gentle southeast swell. Well south of Virgin Gorda and Pajaros Point, we bear off and sail west with apparent wind just broad of the beam. 

Sunday, February 28  Day 6
At 0400, we begin a drill to rescue a crew overboard under sail at night. With Friday’s exercise fresh in our minds, we each maneuver CELESTIAL under sail back to our hapless victim, now affectionately named “Chuck”. Even in the moonlight, we remark how much more difficult sighting the victim is at night.  It is a clear message to us all: stay on the boat and wear a strobe! As dawn arrives, we see the Island of Culebra before us to the west. Soon thereafter, we identify the red-lighted buoy at Bajos Grampus and plot a 2-bearing fix with the lighthouse on Culebrita Island. At 0800, Charley and Jeff are on watch, guiding CELESTIAL into Ensenada Honda and our anchorage off the town dock near Cayo Pirata. We obtain Customs and Immigration clearance by telephone from the efficient staff on duty in Fajardo, PR and go ashore to tour the town. It was a sleepy Sunday in the sleepy village and most of the activity was centered on the ferry dock in anticipation of the ferry from Puerto Rico whose mountains were clearly visible to the west.  

Monday,  March 1  Day 7
We begin the day with an on-deck demonstration of rigging a whisker pole to the genoa sheet. After stowing the pole, it’s time to leave Culebra and return to St Thomas. The weather is favorable, but the wind is still light for this time of year, 8-10 knots. The wind direction—SSE means we can probably sail back on one tack. Better still, we have plenty of time to rig the asymmetrical spinnaker in this light air, so everyone can be ASA 106 “spinnaker qualified”.  We first hoist the protective sock with the spinnaker halyard, then raise the sock as the spinnaker opens and fills. Snap! One could feel CELESTIAL accelerate under the big sail as we headed off at 100 degree apparent wind. After a few controlled gybes, we all had a feel for this wonderful sail and it was finally time to douse it. After flaking the sail into its bag, we continued our starboard tack to Brewers Bay where we set two anchors off the bow in 18ft over a sandy bottom. The Captain was guest chef, preparing the crew’s choice of hamburgers while Jeff, Charley, Peter and Mike took and passed he ASA 106 examination. Congratulations!! 

Tuesday, March 2  Day 8
returned to Elephant Bay with Charley at the helm, navigating the West Gregerie Channel to find the world’s largest cruise ship, OASIS OF THE SEAS in port at Crown Bay. We top off diesel at the fuel dock, pump the holding tank and quietly return to our slip. All express the desire to sail together again and it is no wonder—in 8 days we function like a professional crew, as competent navigators and confident mariners. We’ve become certified in Advanced Coastal Cruising.  Most of all, we’ve enjoyed each other’s company and realize the hard work of the last week has paid off. And we had so much fun.

Captain Lee Tucker
St. Thomas, VI
March 2, 2010

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