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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Intermediate Coastal Cruise
Date December 31, 2009-January 7, 2010
Students: Anne & John Osborne, Joyce Bianco, and  Michael Breslin
Captain: Steve Runals

29-30 Dec: Sometimes getting someplace is a bigger challenge than what happens while you’re there.  For the Capt and student crew of CELESTIAL, the school’s IP 440, that proved to be the case for this class.  CAPT Runals was to have arrived on the evening of 29 Dec to inspect and prep the boat but spent the night in San Juan PR along with the passengers from 42 cancelled flights because of volcanic ash in the air from an eruption in Montserrat delaying his arrival till mid AM on the 30th.  The students were to arrive the afternoon of the 30th but they too were delayed.  Mike is able to get in by early evening on the 30th but Anne called that evening to say that she, John and Joyce have been diverted to San Juan because of weather and didn't know when they'd get in.  A good start to what would be a great week in the Caribbean and the beginning of a new year. 

Day 1: 31 December 2009: While awaiting word on the arrival of the three remaining students, the Capt and Mike develop a general cruise itinerary and initial meal plan. Mike inventories stores already on board as a starting point for our provisioning.  The intention is to depart the marina by late afternoon to be able to spend New Year’s Eve at anchor if the remaining crewmembers arrive in time to get acquainted, oriented and provision the boat.  Delayed by a combination of aircrew late arrival, weather and mechanical problems, Anne, John and Joyce finally arrive by 1230, a little worn from the trip, but ready to get into cooler cloths and get started.  After stowing gear, we all head to Tickles, the dockside restaurant at the marina, to get acquainted and finalize both the itinerary and provision requirements.  Following lunch, we head to Pueblo, the local market, for provisions.  Despite their late arrival, Anne and Joyce do a great job carefully selecting the necessary provisions and staying within our budget.  After provisions were stowed, the Captain orients his new crew to the ships basic operating systems.  

With still 1-1/2 hrs of daylight left, the crew opts for a departure from the marina that afternoon, so at 1600 we clear our slip at Crown Bay Marina with John at the helm and motor down the West Gregorie Channel past several large cruise ships to Water Island following Mike’s instructions as navigator. There, we find the anchorage at Flamingo Bay suitable with 25 feet of depth and a sandy seabed. Our bow crew exercises the art of dropping and setting an anchor, including setting up a range on shore to ensure the anchor does not drag.  The students are all Chesapeake Bay sailors used to anchoring in the Bay’s more shallow waters.  The crew quickly learns that anchoring in waters this deep is common practice here. 

Under an overcast sky, which finally clears to reveal the last “Blue Moon” of the decade, it is a perfect place to begin our cruise and await the coming of the New Year.  After a dinner of spaghetti, salad and garlic bread, the adventures of getting to St Thomas finally take their toll and all turn in by 2200 hours but not before two cruising rules were introduced and executed: The cook does not do the dishes or clean up the galley, and the boat is prepared to get underway in an emergency - dishes and galley secured, key by the ignition, dingy secured, flashlights at the ready and windless ready to operate.

Day 2: Friday, Jan 1 2010: Following breakfast, we review in detail the combined course material and ASA standards, the ship’s standing and running rigging, deck hardware and safety equipment. After a check of the weather for the next 36 hrs, training begins in the cockpit with line handling and winch operating procedures in preparation for a full day of sail training exercises. Following this orientation, we conduct our pre operations maintenance checks and locate the required USCG safety equipment. 

After raising and securing the anchor, all crew participate at the helm or as line handlers as we maneuver CELESTIAL through all points of sail, reef the mainsail and heave-to as we avoid the hazards of Porpoise Rocks, Saba Island and the Flat Keys. We then sail to windward to Christmas Cove at Great St James Island and are at anchor by 1600 hours.  Prior to dinner the Capt and crew opt for a short swim in the clear, warm Caribbean waters – seeing starfish, rays and other tropical fish in our secure anchorage. What a way to start the New Year! After a quick wash down, the crew takes their ASA 101 test while the Capt prepares dinner - Stouffer’s Lasagna w/garlic bread. 

Following dinner, we review the test - all pass with flying colors - and conduct a review of the day’s training followed by a discussion and assigning of responsibilities for the next.  A full day of training does not deter a quick game of PIG in which Anne proves the master at balancing risk and reward.

Day 3: Sat, Jan 2: After yesterday’s thorough preparation and hands on practice, our crew is gaining confidence in their sailing skills.  It’s time to sail east toward St. John. The NOAA weather forecast on VHF radio predicts winds from the East 8-14 knots with a north swell due to Atlantic storms off the US east coast. North swells are common in the winter, so we opted to begin our sail along the south coast of St John. Prior to weighing anchor we conduct a detailed review of the engine operating systems, complete pre departure checks and a review of man overboard (MOB) procedures under power. As we are securing the anchor, we see a large loggerhead sea turtle lazily swimming by the boat. 

We conduct MOB drills under power, rotating all crew positions in the vicinity of Cow and Calf Rocks then set sail, heading east past Dog Island toward a VI National Park Service mooring in Little Lameshur Bay. After exploring the southern Bays of St John, a series of tacks brings us to a mooring in this beautiful Bay by early afternoon.  Our bow crew finds that their MOB practice prepared them well to successfully pick up and secure our mooring and rig a bridle off the bow.  Anchoring is forbidden in National Park Service waters for vessels under 65 ft.   After two days of anchoring, the mooring was a welcomed change.  Following lunch we enjoy snorkeling, a trip to the beach by dingy and a spectacular sunset.  Anne makes a great dinner of chicken breasts in mushroom soup and rice.  The day ends with a review of the training conducted and discussing a plan for the next day - the NW swell is subsiding so we finalize our plans for a trip to the north coast.

Day 4: Sun Jan 3: Following breakfast, we prepare to continue our voyage East. Our student navigator of the day, John conducts a chart briefing prior to departure and describes our intended route to Francis Bay which will take us past Saltpond Bay, around Ram’s Head, Privateer Point, thru the Narrows, past Whistling Cay and to a mooring at Maho Bay by early afternoon.  Along the way we intend to conduct MOB practice under sail. Joyce has assisted John in route planning by setting up a danger bearing to keep us away from Eagle Shoals at the southern end of Coral Bay using a bearing to Leduck Island.  After conducting pre operations checks, getting a weather update and reviewing MOB under sail procedures, we slip our mooring and head east in light winds. 

After “looking into” Saltpond Bay, we round Ram’s Head and attempt to execute MOB under sail but the winds are so light it was a good thing our MOB “dummy” is a good swimmer.  We continue motor sailing along our planned route while taking and plotting two-bearing fixes.  Arrive at Maho Bay by early afternoon with Joyce at the helm and execute a perfect pickup of our mooring under bright sunny skies.  We were in good company with an interesting variety of private and charter sail and power boats on the surrounding moorings.  After securing the boat, it is decided to make a trip into Cruz Bay for a look about.  A quick inventory of provisions identifies several items were needed; a shopping list is prepared, change into going ashore cloths, the dingy is readied and we head into the beach.  

After securing the dingy, we quickly secure a taxi that takes us into town on a white knuckled ride that exceeds anything we have encountered at sea.  Cruz Bay is a port of entry, a small artsy community that offers cruisers a range of basic services.  A mix of old and some new, it’s home to the headquarters of the VI National Park Service and a variety of small shops.  After a visit to the National Park HQ to pay for our moorings and read about this national treasure, we break up to explore the area – some checking out the shops in the Mongoose Junction shopping area and others filling the provision list at the local grocery store – the Starfish Market.   Shopping away from the large grocery stores we are accustomed to in the States takes getting used to.  We buy a 14 oz can of cut green beans at this store for almost $3.00 later in the cruise.   A short visit gets you around most of Cruz Bay so John secures us a taxi for the return trip home. Our return is a little less exciting but more enjoyable when our driver stops at several overlooks to allow us to take pictures of some incredible panoramic views.  After returning to the boat, the students take the ASA 103 test, which all pass again with flying colors, dinner is prepared and our daily review conducted.  The full day of honest work leads to a sound sleep in the secure anchorage.

Day 5: Mon Jan 4: Today’s plan is to head north to Jost Van Dyke in the BVIs and pay a visit to the fabled Foxies restaurant.  This will allow us to experience the ocean swell for the first time.  John, our Capt for the day, guides us thru our pre operations checks, weather update and slipping our mooring.  We head northwest between Whistling Cay and Johnson Reef and into the open waters between Great Thatch Island and Jost Van Dyke.  The wind is up so we practiced MOB under sail, rotating all crew positions and heaving-to for lunch.  After lunch we head into Great Harbor, a BVI port of entry, to clear customs.  

Anchoring in Great Harbor can be a challenge - lots of boats, a worked over holding ground and deep water.  Despite the challenges, we are up to the task and by 1430 are anchored in 35 feet of water on our first attempt.  Before going into customs we see an all too often repeated “race” between two charter boats to get to one of the limited moorings – in this case the mono hull beats out the catamaran.   After clearing customs, we all head ashore to visit Foxies and look around.  Interesting place - especially the limited section of provisions at the two small grocery stores and bakery. Foxies on the other hand is ready and able to handle any and all comers at their gift shop.  

After making reservations for an early dinner, we have a chance to spend time relaxing in beachfront hammocks and stretching our legs exploring the area.  After a super dinner, we hand back to the boat, noticing that the harbor had substantially filled up with more boats, and a large four-masted luxury motorsail yacht the Wind Spirit is anchored at the entrance to the harbor.  Dressed out with all its lights on, it makes a great background to discuss the day’s events.  While waiting for dinner, Mike had been told by Foxie that a 40 ft charter boat had gone ground in White Bay, just to our west.  Some folks are not having a good day.

Day 6: Tues Jan 5: Today proves to be one of the best sailing days of the entire cruise.  The weather forecast indicates a return of the NW ocean swell which supports our plan to sail to Norman Island in the BVI.  This will take us between Great and Little Thatch Islands, past Soper’s Hole, east thru the Narrows and across Sir Francis Drake Channel to Norman Island and a mooring in Bight Bay.  Wind is forecast to be from the SE at 10- 20 knots, making for close hauled sailing.  

Joyce as navigator plots our course and Mike, Capt for the day, gets us underway out of the harbor past the Wind Spirit.  After raising sail, we sail past Little Harbor and then turn toward West End.  With winds building to 20 knots, we sail on a close reach under main, genoa and staysail. At one point John has us sailing over 8 knots!  As we approach Little Thatch Island, the wind drops so we furl the genoa and motor sail past a very crowded Soper’s Hole and into the Narrows where the wind, now at over 20 knots, requires us to reef the main before unfurling the genoa.  We continue tacking toward Norman Island, finally motor sailing into the Bight where we again smoothly pick up a mooring.  

Along the way we review ASA 104 course material. After securing the boat, the Capt and several crew head into shore to make reservations at the restaurant and visit the gift shop/museum followed by a dingy trip over to the Caves for some snorkeling.  Following our return to the boat, Mike acts as an MOB and we practice several techniques for on board recovery – the elevator method using a genoa sheet, a block and tackle rigged to the life sling and the use of the spinnaker halyard.  They all worked to some degree with the most effective being the spinnaker halyard.  After cleaning up, we head into shore for another excellent meal and back to the boat for review of the day’s events and to plan our return to St Thomas.  Mike was somewhat disappointed that we did not make a stop at “Willie T’s” but the general consensus was, based on the volume of the music coming from ship, to enjoy its charms from a distance.

Day 7: Wed, Jan 6: A busy day.  Mike, as navigator, plots our course to the west to take advantage of the forecast SE winds by returning along the southern coast of St John. We need to clear back into to the US and decide to take advantage of the customs office in Cruz Bay.  This route also gives us the opportunity to use a preventer to keep the main under control as we contend with winds over the stern quarter and wind driven waves.  We look longingly at the moorings and beach at Little Lemeshur Bay as we sail west to Pillsbury Sound, around Steven Cay and into the harbor at Cruz Bay.  All moorings here are private so we find a temporary anchorage in the left channel in only 6.5 ft of water... are we back in the Chesapeake Bay?  

After dingying in and clearing customs, we spend a little time in this unique little town – a little more shopping, getting something cold to drink and quick trip to the store to get that $3 can of green beans.  Back on board, we secure the anchor and head toward the Current Cut by Great St James just was the sky darkens and it begins to rain.  The rain at times is heavy but without much wind. We finally furl the genoa and motor sail toward St Thomas, paying particular attention to Packet Rock. Our intended destination is to anchor for our final night in Lindbergh Bay, just west of Water Island and close to tomorrow’s final destination of Crown Bay.  As we approach the Bay, the wind picks up from the SE and we find the anchorage rolly so we head out around the end of the airport and find a more secure anchorage in Brewers Bay where we practice anchoring with two anchors in a moderate SE wind.  

After securing the boat, the students take the ASA 104 test, followed by a dinner using left over’s.  After dishes are washed, we review the test – all pass, making a clean sweep of all course requirements.  Anne asks the question: “how long it will take to get back the marina” – she gets the answer after plotting our final course home.  During the night the wind drops and then changes direction, the boat motion changes and we find the two anchors lines are starting to twist together.  It’s up one anchor, make sure the other is secure and then back to sleep, underscoring the need to be able to deal with the undesired but not unanticipated.   

Day 8:Thurs Jan 7:
Our forecast today is for light winds so after a final breakfast of eggs and toast we motor up the West Gregorie Channel and after contacting Crown Bay by radio, enter the marina and tie up the at the fuel dock with Anne at the helm. It’s a little crowded with several boats already there but she does a great job docking starboard to. As a graduate of the Maryland School's docking course, one would expect nothing less.  After topping off our fuel, Mike puts us back into our slip - again with little fanfare, underscoring how effective we have become as a crew.  After securing and cleaning up the boat, we exchange farewells on the dock. There was more than one hope expressed to sail together again. Congratulations to all for a job well done, fair winds and great sailing to all! 

Captain Steve Runals
St Thomas, VI
8 Jan 2010

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