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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Intermediate Coastal Cruise
Date January 21-28, 2012
Students: Mike Dunlavey, Tim Hunter, Greg Sachs, Chris Sachs
Captain: Steve Runals

Fri 20 Jan:  Students arrive and stow gear.  After an initial orientation of several key boat systems, we head to Tickles, the dockside restaurant, for dinner and a chance to get 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 for the opportunity to refine their sailing skills on a larger boat in more challenging wind and sea conditions.  After dinner, we return to the boat to develop our cruise plan and an initial cut at the supporting meal plan.  Our berths provide a welcome end to a long day.

Day 1: Fri 21 Jan:  All up early and ready to start class by 0830.  We review the ASA requirements for each of the three courses (101- 103 -104), update our cruising plan, and complete our inventory of on board stores before finalizing our provisioning list.  The Captain, Greg and Tim head off to Pubelo’s, the local market, to get provisions while Mike and Chris check out the boat to find required safety equipment. After returning from the market, we stow our provisions and begin a review of coastal navigation tools and publications, Rules of the Road and the buoy system.  Chris and Mike show the location of key ships equipment before we break for lunch.  Our planned departure is for 1500 hours; so after lunch we conduct a thorough inspection of on deck boat equipment and sail handling gear, complete a chart orientation and review maneuvering under power before topping off water and securing for departure.  Mike takes us smoothly out of our slip; and our navigator, Greg directs us to a secure anchorage in Brewers Bay for the night.  We enjoy a great time swimming, dinner and beautiful sunset before turning in.     

Day 2: Sun, 22 Jan: Following a light breakfast, we review in detail a pre operations checklist, check the weather, review all points of sail, MOB procedures under power and layout a course to Christmas Cove on Great St James Island. After 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 sail close hauled in winds 12 - 25 knots over to Christmas Cove and pick up a mooring in rainy overcast conditions.  The skies clear and we enjoy time swimming and snorkeling before preparing a great dinner of chili and corn bread under a sky filled with stars. Armed with a review of course material, Tim and Chris take and easily pass the ASA101 test.  A quiet night broken up with occasional rain showers allows us to get the hatch closing and opening routine down.     

Day 3: Mon, Jan 23:  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 East @ 15- 25 knots. Prior to weighing anchor we conduct a detailed review of marine weather and complete pre departure checks. Chris, as navigator, has laid out a course that takes us across the heavily trafficked Pillsbury Sound and north along St John to Francis Bay.  Along the way we verify our position reading water depth by its color and taking two bearing fixes as we transit the Current Cut and short tack thru the Windward Passage and past Johnson Reef.  We pick up one of the many National Park Service moorings.  After time spent swimming, snorkeling and for Chris and Greg exploring the area by running several roads and trails, we dingy into the Maho Eco Camp for a great dinner at the camp’s community dining hall.  After dinner it’s back to the boat to prepare for tomorrow’s trip east around St John and to study for the next ASA test.  We spend a secure night on our mooring despite the gusty winds and frequent rain showers.

Day 4: Tues Jan 24: We awaken to the sound of roosters crowing. Following breakfast, we review in detail engine operating systems and MOB procedures under sail.  Our destination today is Salt Ponds on the south side of St John.   After clearing the mooring, we raise sails and practice all points of sail before the crew tries their hand at recovery of MOB under sail in building winds and seas.  All execute their assigned responsibilities and our “tipsy dummy” is finally recovered and secured for the last time.   We work our way east to enter the Thatch Island Cut near Soper’s Hole, short tacking our way in heavy to light winds till we finally enter the Sir Francis Drake Channel and head toward the tip of St John.  After rounding St John and heading toward Ram’s Head, Mike plots a danger bearing to keep us clear of Eagle Shoals.  Around Ram’s Head and into the beautiful Salt Pond anchorage where we pick up a mooring and spend time exploring this area on and under the water and ashore.  Some great snorkeling – turtles, rays, barracudas and a wide range of fish are spotted throughout the afternoon.  Chris and Greg run the trail to Ram’s Head and attempt to spot our destination for tomorrow – the Spanish VI some 40 miles away.  Back on the boat, we enjoy a great chicken dinner, take the ASA103 test and prepare for our sail to Vieques.  Another quiet night is spent under a bright canopy of stars.      

Day 5: Wed, Jan 25: We depart with the rising sun, clearing our mooring and underway by 0645 to Vieques in the Spanish Virgin Islands some 45 miles to our west.   Once out of the lee of St John, we broad reach and then run wing-and-wing in 12 to25 knot winds and building seas.  As we pass the eastern end of Vieques and travel along it’s beautiful southern shore, we pass beckoning white sandy beaches and sheltered coves in this newly protected national wildlife preserve (once part of a Navy live fire training area) as we head to our destination – Esperanza.  We arrive off this small community by late afternoon.  After some exploring of the area by boat and a slight misunderstanding with a local fisherman over a mooring, we settle into a secure anchorage at the east end of Sun Bay.  We clear into the area with HLS by phone and secure the boat before taking the dingy to shore to see what new opportunities await.  A short walk from the beach brings us to town and a cool drink at Bananas followed by an excellent dinner at the Flamboyan.  A wet ride brings us back to the boat where we spend another quiet night under a moonless, star filled sky as we plan our next adventure – north to Culebra.

Day 6: Thur, Jan 26: The day dawns bright and clear, but before we can depart we need to clear the stopped up the aft head – it’s helpful to remember when these type “opportunities” arise that cruising is “working on your boat in exotic places”.  We accomplish this quickly.  After stowing all gear, completing pre departure checks, reviewing the day’s route and weather forecast, we head out in building winds and seas – all on the nose. We beat east along the southern coast in occasional heavy rain showers and winds at times reaching 30+ knots.  We keep track of our progress by taking bearings, matching our sails to wind conditions and rotating crew positions to allow all to take advantage of this great learning opportunity.  Once around the eastern end of Vieques, we head north to enter the shoal lined entrance to Ensenada Honda and the anchorage off the town of Dewey. As we approach our anchorage, we find that the anchor windless does not work, so we retrace our course and pick up a mooring to diagnose the problem.  Greg, an electrical engineer, finds the problem.  We replace a fuse and its holder and head back to the anchorage - again a windlass problem - but we deploy the anchor by hand in gusty winds and secure the boat for a short but well-earned rest.  A new port to explore calls us into the dingy and a landing at the Dingy Dock Restaurant where the well-stocked bar and inviting fragrance from the kitchen end our touring exploration till after a superb dinner.  Following dinner, adventure calls.  We take a short but interesting walk around town finding many places to explore during future visits; then it’s back to the boat to plan our return to St Thomas and study for the final ASA test. 

Day 7: Fri, Jan 27: Another early start.  Following a light breakfast, preop checks and weather  checks, we fix the windless and are underway as the morning sun lights our way out of the entrance to the Ensenada Honda Sound.  Once away from the shoal guarded entrance to Culebra, we trim sails and beat our way east toward our waypoint of Sail Rock in gusty winds and building seas on the way to our final anchorage in Brewers Bay.   Along the way we track our progress by taking bearings, adjusting our sails to the wind conditions and reviewing the ASA 104 course material.  By early afternoon it’s time to motor sail into Brewer’s Bay, anchor and take a short swim before taking the final test.  All have learned their lessons well and easily pass the written test, having demonstrated proficiency in all hands-on areas in the high winds and seas of the last few days.  A clear night, good meal, secure anchorage with new friends all provide a perfect setting for our final night in this beautiful area.

Day 8: Sat Jan 28: After a final night at anchor, we motor sail back home. As we motor up the West George Channel we contact the marina for clearance to the fuel dock.  Greg brings us in to top off our fuel and Tim 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. All indicate that the training has exceeded their expectations.  Congratulations to a great crew and a job well done. Fair winds and great sailing to all! 

Capt. Steve Runals
St Thomas, VI
29 Jan 2012

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