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Course ASA101-104 Virgin Island Cruise
Date March 6-13 2011
Students: Bill Miller, Shannon Stewart, Justin Waller, Mary Ann Endo, Carol-Anne Murray
Captain: Steve Runals

3-5 Mar: Captain arrives from the cold north to find CELESTIAL waiting to get back under way after having just completed an ASA 106 course. Several minor issues are corrected and boat and Captain are ready to receive the crew who arrive during the afternoon of the 4th. Bill, Shannon and Carol-Anne had arrived 36 hrs earlier and spent some time on St John Island getting acclimated and doing some snorkeling. Justin arrives with Mary Ann’s luggage but no Mary Ann. Her luggage had made the trip but she missed the plane. After stowing gear and initial boat orientation, we head up to Tickles, the dock side restaurant, for dinner and to start getting to know each other. While each member of the crew brings a different range of sailing experience, each is looking forward to a week away from the cold and snow and the opportunity to sail in this beautiful area. Following dinner, we return to the boat and start developing a cruise plan and associated meal plan. We also get an update that Mary Ann will arrive early the next day having spent the night in Puerto Rico.

Day 1: Sun, 6 Mar: All up early and ready to start class by 0830. We finalize our cruising plan and complete our inventory of on board stores before finalizing our provisioning list. The Captain, Shannon and Carol-Anne head to a very picked-over Pueblo, the local market, for provisions while Bill and Justin check out the boat to find required/recommended safety equipment and get familiar with boat storage and equipment locations. We return from the market to see that Mary Ann has arrived. After stowing provisions, we review the ASA course standards, Federal boating safety equipment requirements, "rules of the road", and begin an orientation on charts and the buoyage system before breaking for lunch. After lunch, we review all boat systems, inspect all areas on deck, go over winch operation and line handling and discuss maneuvering under power. Shannon lays out a course to one of several possible anchorages and we depart the marina with Bill at the helm shortly after 1500. 

We motor down the West Gregorie Channel, and head into Brewer’ Bay to anchor for the night. Shannon said she is interested in experiencing "local color" and we find it right on the beach – a local singer and band keep us entertained till well after dark. Several take the opportunity to go for a short swim and some snorkeling before helping Carol-Anne prepare and partake of a truly outstanding pork chop w/lemon sauce and rice dinner. We all enjoy a beautiful sunset; and Justin and Mary Ann lay out our course for tomorrow. After this great meal and time examining the star filled sky, it’s time to turn in. Before we head to bed, the Capt introduces two cruising rules: 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: Mon, 7 Mar: Following a quiet night and light breakfast, we review in detail a pre- operations checklist, check weather, review MOB procedures and review our course to Christmas Cove on Great St James Island. As we are departing, several sea turtles pay the boat a visit – a good omen for the trip. After raising and securing the anchor, all crew participate at the helm, and as line handlers as we conduct MOB drills under power, and then maneuver CELESTIAL through all points of sail, reef the mainsail and heave-to as we avoid the hazards of Porpoise Rocks, Saba Island and Flat Keys. We then sail over to Christmas Cove at Great St James Island and are at anchor by 1500 hours. 

Along the way we have several opportunities to discuss and apply navigation rules and get a feel for sailing our 22 gross ton boat in the 8 to 18 knot winds and ocean swells as we beat toward our anchorage. After anchoring, the Captain dives the anchor to check its set and all go for a swim. Bill and Shannon, avid divers, explore a large section of the shoreline by mask and snorkel. The afternoon finishes with study and taking the ASA101 test, which all pass with flying colors, and then a great TACO dinner. The cool, quiet evening is filled with discussion of the day’s events, Bill catching and releasing several large snappers and Shannon baking some really good chocolate cookies while Carol-Anne lays out the course for the next day. The quiet night is broken up with occasional rain showers, allowing us to get the hatch closing and opening routine down.

Day 3: Tues, 8 Mar: 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- 5/6 predicts winds from the North East 8 to14 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. While raising and securing the anchor, several large turtles again pay us a visit. We transit the Current Cut and enter Pillsbury Sound where we practice all points of sail and heave-to. 

After refining our sailing skills and understanding of the responsibilities of "stand-on" and give-way" vessels, Carol-Anne directs our course south and around the western end of St John. By early afternoon the winds become very fluky and we end up motor sailing to the small but beautiful Little Lameshur Bay where we pick up a mooring. Our bow crew finds their MOB practice prepared them to successfully pick up and secure our mooring - rigging 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 is a welcomed change. The rest of the day is spent in a trip to the beach, snorkeling, review of ASA103 material and a great chicken and rice dinner. The day ends with a review of the training conducted and discussing our plan for the next day – the North swell is subsiding so we finalize our plans for a trip to the north coast of St John.

Day 4: Wed, 9 Mar: Following an early morning walk on the beach by Justin and Shannon and breakfast, we check weather, conduct pre-ops checks and continue our voyage East. Our chart briefing includes opportunities for all points of sail but warns of potential light winds. We sail east around Rams Head and beat northeast to round the eastern end of St John. Our navigator, Mary Ann, establishes a danger bearing to keep us away from the Eagle Shoals at the southern end of Coral Bay by using a bearing to Leduck Island. We beat northward in 10-18 knot winds, round Privateer Point, sail thru the Narrows past Whistling Cay and to a mooring at Maho Bay by early afternoon. 

We were in good company with an interesting variety of private and charter sail and power boats that are attempting to avoid the still present northern swell. The anchorage is rolly but not too uncomfortable. All opt to go ashore where we learn the fine art of landing a dingy in a running surf… Timing is everything. After dinner ashore, we return to the boat where the crew demonstrates what they learned – taking and passing the ASA103 test. Carol-Anne, who has been fighting a cold, "soldiers on" carrying out her share of boat tasks and passing all tests. Following navigation prep for the next day, we play a game of PIG to see who has nerves of steel and settle in for a rolly but uneventful night.

Day 5: Thurs, 10 Mar: Today’s plan is to head north to Jost Van Dyke in the BVI’s and pay a visit to Foxies. This will allow us to experience the full ocean swell. Mary Ann, our Captain for the day, guides us thru our pre-operations checks, weather update and slipping our mooring after we review our checklists and engine systems. We head northwest in light winds between Whistling Cay and Johnson Reef into the open waters between Great Thatch Island and Jost Van Dyke. Our plan is to practice MOB under sail but the light winds and frequent rain showers frustrate the effort. It does provide us an excellent opportunity for Shannon, our navigator, to take several rounds of fixes to confirm our position. We finally motorsail into Great Harbor, a BVI port of entry, to clear customs where we pick up a mooring. 

After clearing customs – a very painless process, we all head down the beach to visit Foxies and look around. After a late lunch at Foxy’s, we decide to check out nearby Little Harbor. After motoring down for a quick "look see", we decide Great Harbor is better protected for the forecast wind direction and ashore activities so we return and pick up another mooring – another opportunity to practice. After securing the boat, Bill and Shannon go snorkeling, Justin and Mary Ann head to the beach and Carol-Anne, still fighting her cold, takes a nap. Later we meet at Ali Babbas for dinner ashore. After dinner we are entertained by the sounds of a nearby church service and music at Foxies – an interesting combination. A quiet nights rest follows in the very crowded anchorage.

Day 6: Fri, 11 Mar: Today proves to be one of the best sailing days of the entire cruise. The weather forecast indicates a return of the northern 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 the south side of Peter Island and finally into the Bight at Norman Island. We depart Great Harbor in moderate winds that later turn light and variable making tacking by Sopers Hole a challenge that we finally fail to achieve. After entering the Sir Francis Drake Channel the wind picks up, 17-19 knots. 

We have a fine sail to Peter Island and Key Cay, flying the staysail to help balance the helm. After a short stay at anchor, we head toward The Bight at Norman Island, practicing MOB under sail in steady NE winds along the way. We pick up a mooring in time to make dinner reservations and go for a short swim before sunset and a dingy ride into dinner. We find that Spring Break is in full swing here. Lots of college students taking advantage of the fine Caribbean weather, so the anchorage is crowded and filled with an interesting range of sights and sounds well into the night. After dinner ashore, we return to the boat and take the final test – ASA104 which all pass despite multiple opportunities for getting distracted by the goings on around us.

Day 7: Sat, 12 Mar: A busy day. After surviving the overnight Spring Break crowd activities, we depart for home under overcast skies and light wind. We sail down the Sir Francis Drake Channel, sometimes broad reaching and at other times sailing wing-on-wing, giving us the opportunity to set up and use a preventer. Winds remain light and after rounding Whistling Cay, we motor sail to Cruz Bay where we anchor off the town to clear back into the US. On the way into customs, the USCG pays us a friendly visit to make sure we have a required safety gear on the dingy. 

After a slight delay, we clear thru customs and head in different directions to explore this interesting little town. Carol-Anne, Mary Ann and the Captain head to the local pharmacy for cold medicine, and Justin, Bill and Shannon go off to explore. After lunch, we return to the boat and sail over to anchor in Christmas Cove. We spend the last day enjoying this beautiful anchorage and the sunset that closes it out - no tests to worry about. After dinner, Mary Ann and Justin plan the trip back to the marina, Bill fishes – catching a large tarpon (put up quite a fight before getting free) and the others relax and enjoy the starry sky.

Day 8: Sun, 13 Mar:
After a very quiet night at anchor, we motor sail toward home. As we motor up the East Gregorie Channel we contact the marina for clearance to the fuel dock. Bill brings us in to top off our fuel and Justin puts us back into our slip – each done with little fanfare, underscoring how effective we have become as crew. After securing and cleaning up the boat, we exchanged farewells on the dock. There was more than one hope expressed to sail together again. Congratulations to a great crew and a job well done. Fair winds and great sailing to all! 

Captain.Steve Runals
St Thomas, VI
March 14, 2011 

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