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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Intermediate Coastal Cruise
Date January 10-17, 2012
Students: Cathy and Bob Lyon, Tullio and Liz Pagano, and Carl Grensing
Captain: Jochen Hoffmann

On the afternoon and evening of January 9, 2012, I meet my new crew of aspiring mariners: Cathy and Bob Lyon who want to buy and voyage on a boat in retirement; Tullio and Liz Pagano, wind surfers who want to explore sailing on a bigger boat;  and Carl Grensing from the Great Lakes area who wants to buy a boat in retirement and live in warmer climes. Over dinner ashore, we get to know another. 

1/10/2010, Tuesday. Day 1
Carl arrived by late flight last night and my crew is now complete. We begin with the intense activities needed to get crew and ship ready for an eight-day voyage among tropical islands. They include inspection of systems below and above deck, explanation of standing and running rigging plus sails, and deployment of sails. Safe line and winch handling and operating the anchor windlass properly keep us busy until a late lunch. After meal planning, provisioning, and taking on water, we are ready to cast off. Dodging two huge cruise ships, we share their channel leading out to sea. We decide on the quiet anchorage of Lindbergh Bay where we enjoy our first of many beautiful sunsets over a glass of wine. 

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Day 2
After a quick breakfast of cereal and boiled eggs, we begin motoring and sail practice in earnest. All take turns at engine operation and maneuvering, including our first MOB (Man Overboard) practice. Sail setting and handling practice in gentle 10 to 12 knot winds near Flat Cay and Saba Island take us to the departure point from which we intend to follow Cathy and Bob’s navigation plan to Great St. James Island. Like all good plans, they are but a guide, which we quickly abandon when queasy stomachs prompt us to use the inside passage north of Water Island on our way East. Once again in open water, we motor sail with a flat mainsail to steady the boat. By the time we reach our mooring in Christmas Cove, all feel well enough to swim and snorkel just before sunset while spotting rays and sea turtles nearby. 

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Day 3
We had a pleasant night, enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs, and cleaned the boat before planning the day. In the shelter of Great James Island, we practice picking up moorings, study water depth based on color of the visible, deep bottom below, and proceed into Pillsbury Sound off St. John to practice sailing maneuvers and MOB under sail. Our prospective ASA104 students have planned a course to Megan’s Bay on the north side of St. Thomas from 18º20.6’ North; 064º00. 50’ West; bearing 295º True. This takes us along the Leeward Passage to Picara Point marking the turn south into the two-mile deep Megan’s Bay – a magnet for vacationers and nature photographers. Once we have the anchor securely set in swimming distance to the beach, Liz, a certified life guard, organizes us as we swim and snorkel in pairs to the beach trailing PFD’s on lanyards for safety. I check-in with the lifeguard ashore while my shipmates explore the beach and its amenities. We time our swim back to well before sunset. And after refreshing showers on the swim platform, Tullio and Liz prepare and serve a delicious Italian dish. 

Day 4
Our ASA101 and 103 students, Carl and Liz respectively, have taken and passed their test with flying colors, and we make ready for the long upwind sail to Cruz Bay. Once in the easterly swells of the Atlantic, tender stomachs prompt us to proceed inside of Thatch Cay. Here, a brief tropical down pour requires us to turn on navigation lights and double our lookouts. And none too soon: two unlit jet ski craft appeared out of the mist -  stopped dead ahead to await the end of the squall. In Cruz Bay anchorage we practice dinghy operation on our way to the village dinghy dock from where my shipmates set out to dine and shop. For the night we motor to a mooring at Caneel Bay from where we watch a gorgeous sun set over St. Thomas where twinkling lights soon form a new horizon. 

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Day 5
After morning boat routines, I introduce my ASA103 students to NOAA Chart # 1, the nautical charts, navigational tools, and charting of courses. In fact Carl – a licensed mate on a Great Lakes iron ore carrier with a pilotage license – continues his role as navigational tutor. In the meantime, our aspiring ASA104 shipmates – Cathy, Tullio, and Bob, all mechanically adept - have opened up the engine space and related hatches, and I join them to give an extended introduction to a ship’s power and electrical plant. Next, we head on Tullio’s course of 059º magnetic well north of dangerous Johnson Reef for more sailing maneuvers among the British Virgin Islands, including MOB under sail (see demonstration on the MDS’s web site “MOB Webinar”). In the early afternoon, we arrive at Leinster Bay just in time to get the last available mooring. From here we dinghy to a prime snorkeling spot in the National Park of St. John – Waterlemon Cay – to observe coral, schools of many-colored fish, and diving pelicans.  

Day 6
By now, the crew has turned into competent sailors. Everyone plots a segment of the navigational plan to circumnavigate St. John. We are headed by strong current and winds as we make our way East in the narrow Sir Francis Drake Passage between Tortola and St. John. Everyone takes a turn at the wheel to judge the various forces acting on a vessel sailing to weather with flattened, partially reefed sails and to further improve their boat handling skills. During a fast, glorious run toward Ram Head, there is time to check our progress using fixes. As we spy the white beach of Palm studded Salt Pond Bay - and one last available mooring - another, shallow draft boat takes the dangerous east approach in order to beat us to it. Just as we are about to turn around, keen eyes on CELESTIAL see that another boat is making ready for sea. We get our mooring, swim and snorkel, and settle down to wine, salsa, and cheese as a full rainbow encircles the setting sun. 

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Day 7
My eager students spent part of last evening and early this morning studying and declare they are ready to take their tests. All pass and with spirits high we prepare for the long run to Crown Bay. Everyone gets to choose one more maneuver or activity they'd like to perform. So, we pause on our way west to heave-to, find promontories to use as navigational ranges, run wing-on-wing, etc. As icing on the cake, we take a detour through St. Thomas Harbor before entering our marina to take on fuel and start our final docking. While we have had great chefs, dinner ashore is still a treat. 

Da y 8
Since some have to leave by 10:30 a.m. to catch their flights, we are up early to clean and wash down the boat, top off water, and perform the many final tasks that are part of a “bare boat chartering” certification. Many hands make quick work and we have time to review and bid each other fond farewells. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
St Thomas, VI

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