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Course ASA106 Virgin Islands Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date March 17-24, 2012
Students: Bruce Fowler, Lou McFadden, Scott Risher, Rob Wagner, Nils Winkler
  Steve Runals

14-16 March: 
The Captain completes several minor maintenance issues leftover from his just completed ASA101-104 course, and is ready for the arrival of the crew by the afternoon of 16 March.  All arrive by late afternoon except Bruce who calls and indicates that airline connection problems will delay his arrival until early evening. After stowing gear and initial boat orientation, the rest of us head up to Tickles, the dockside restaurant, for dinner and to start getting to know each other. Each member of the crew brings a wealth of sailing experience that we will seek to share and build upon over the next week.  Following dinner, we return to the boat and start developing a cruise and associated meal plan.  By 2000 hours Bruce arrives, a little travel worn but ready to go sailing.

Map of Trip
Bruce Fowler credit for this diagram plus an extensive series of top quality photos of the cruise

Day 1: Saturday, 17 March:  
All up early and ready to start by 0830.  We finalize our cruising plan and complete our inventory of onboard stores before finalizing our provisioning list.  The Captain, Scott and Rob head to Pueblo, the local market, for provisions while Bruce, Nils and Lou check out the boat to find required and recommended safety equipment and to get familiar with boat storage and equipment locations. After stowing provisions, we review the ASA course requirements, check personal safety equipment and go over key sections of the Maryland School Blue Book – a great source of information for passage preparation. We focus on operating procedures, safety, navigation and boat systems.  

Following lunch, we spend time on deck inspecting the standing and running rigging, rig the storm trisail, set the whisker pole and hoist the spinnaker.  We check engine and generator, finding all in order.  Pre departure equipment inspection is critical when cruising especially when planning overnight cruises.  Better to find and correct maintenance issues before leaving the dock than having to do so underway. It’s St Patrick’s Day, so after a full day we head up to Tickles to enjoy dinner and a unique St Pat’s celebration.   For most of the crew it’s an early night but some stay on to enjoy the music and refreshments. 

Day 2: Sunday, 18 March: 
After topping off our water and securing all lines, we depart our slip heading first to the protected, west side of Water Island to get familiar with maneuvering the boat under power and sail and then we head east to find a mooring at Christmas Cove by Great St James.  We practice MOB under power and sail, reefing, and heaving-to before we take advantage of the sometimes gusty winds to beat our way toward our night’s mooring.  Along the way, we practice coast navigation and plotting skills by taking two-bearing fixes to confirm our position and track our progress on the chart.  

After securing the boat on one of the few open moorings, we have time for swimming and snorkeling before settling in to prepare dinner and put the final touches on our navigation plan for our overnight sail around St Croix and on to Vieques.  Today we determined the engine charging system is not working properly but our generator is able to keep the batteries topped off.  Redundant systems are essential for successful cruising.  Tonight we enjoy a truly great meal prepared by Rob, a very resourceful cook, followed by a quiet night on our mooring under a star filled sky, each thankful we are not at home in the cold.

Day 3/4: Monday, 19/20 March: 
In preparation for our overnight passage, we sleep-in a little this morning.  By 0930 we have eaten, cleaned the boat, rigged our lee cloths and done our pre operations checks.  We take the opportunity to discuss marine weather and get a weather update for the next 36 hours. The forecast calls for light and variable winds of 2 to 8 knots. We check the GPS to make sure we have not fallen thru a “worm hole” and ended up somewhere other than the VIs in the winter. Not often do we have winds this light in early March.  After clearing the mooring, we secure the boat and motor sail SE on a course that will have us pass to the east and south of St Croix.  Despite some occasional gusts, the wind lives up to the forecast.  Fortunately the seas are also down so at least we are able to motor sail without any rolling.  

We round a distant St Croix as evening closes in and we cross courses and exchange info with a large yacht also under power headed to pick up a charter in St Martin.  With the exception of this boat and a motor yacht early in the trip, we have had the ocean to ourselves.  Throughout the evening and night we rotate watches and monitor the passing of the occasional power vessel headed to St Croix.  After rounding the western end of St Croix, we conduct an MOB drill in a very dark night.  After securing our MOB equipment, we discuss the difficulties of recovering a MOB at night.  Even in tonight’s calm seas and light winds, without the strobe lights it would have been very difficult to find someone in the water.  Better to stay hooked in and stay aboard than in the water.  Before sun up, the wind finally picks up; we have a great reach north toward Vieques and the town of Esperanza.  Along the way we see numerous flying fish and are visited by several dolphin.   By early afternoon we are anchored, boat secured and cleared in with Homeland Security.   

Despite the lack of sleep, all are ready to explore this less traveled cruising destination so we head ashore to see what awaits us. Over some cool refreshments, we congratulate ourselves on our overnight passage and excellent navigation. After a walk about town dodging numerous rain showers, we return to the boat in the slowly filling anchorage and later go ashore for a well-earned dinner at the El Quenepo Restaurant. While waiting for dinner, we watch a water spout churning just outside the anchorage –interesting to see but glad it does not affect the anchored boats.  After a long night at sea and a great meal ashore, it’s early to bed under a star filled sky, confident in the knowledge that our 140 nm overnight passage has given us new skills to be further developed and utilized.

Day 5: Wednesday, 21 March: 
Our plan for today is to head east along the coast to an anchorage at Bahia Salina del Sur, just short of the tip of Vieques.  After breakfast, boat cleanup and pre-operational checks, we beat our way east along the coast. Along the way we avoid numerous fish floats and trade tacks with another boat.  Around noon we see and then hear several loud explosions a short distance inland.  Until 2003 this part of Vieques was a Navy live fire impact area.  Today it is a nation wildlife refuge with teams ashore disposing of unexploded ordnance.  Later as we turn to enter our anchorage, we are warned away by Range Control – more ordnance disposal is planned in the immediate area.  

We retrace our course and head into what turns out to be a very secure anchorage in Ensenada Honda.  A little tricky getting past Punta Carenero but an alert bow crew and careful piloting by Bruce gets us into a mangrove lined anchorage with one palm tree – so named by Lou as “Lone Palm”.  There is no sign of human life except for one other boat that quickly ducks into a small cove well away from us.  We have this beautiful spot all to ourselves and feel isolated from the rest of the world. Swimming, catching up on sleep, studying and reading fill out the afternoon. We find we are surrounded by 2 to 3 pound Spade fish (known to be good to eat) schooling around the boat   After dinner, Rob leads a discussion on the brightly lit stars that, without any outside light, fill the clear sky.  A quiet night in this very secure spot finishes out this great sailing day.   

Day 6: Thursday, 22 March:  
Up early to prepare for our trip to round the eastern end of Vieques and north to Culebria and the town of Dewey.  After pre operation checks, we hoist anchor and carefully thread our way out of our anchorage.  Once clear of the surrounding reefs, we again beat our way east.  As we tack back toward Vieques we are warned to stay at least one mile off shore by a range control patrol boat – more explosives are being cleared.  We round the tip of Vieques in darkening skies.  

The weather forecast is calling for numerous rain showers to include thunderstorms and we see them building all around us. Showers are heavy at times. The sky gets darker and visibility becomes significantly reduced.  Entrance into the channel leading to Dewey needs to be done with an eye to the changing water colors because of the numerous reefs so we decide to heave-to and allow the rain to pass and visibility to improve.  We appreciate the comfort of a good dodger, bimini and foul weather jackets as we are pounded by heavy rain and high winds.  Finally, the rain lets up and the visibility and improves.  

Back under way, we make good time in the fresh breeze and quickly reach the outer marker into the Sound.   By the time we have the anchor down and boat secured, the sky has cleared and the sun is out; a nice change.  Our first stop ashore is the Dingy Dock Restaurant and Bar where we find some liquid refreshment and plan our strategy to explore the area.  Most head off in different directions but Rob strays and makes friends with some of the locals who point out several good places to eat.  Unfortunately, today is a Puerto Rican holiday so many places are closed.  We split up for dinner, three eat at the Dingy Dock and three go for pizza at Heather’s near the ferry dock; both provide excellent meals.  We spend a quiet night at anchor in preparation for our return to St Thomas and for Rob and Scott to take the ASA106 test.

Day 7: Friday, 23 March: 
After breakfast and pre-operation checks, we depart for our final night in Brewers Bay. The forecast is for numerous showers and NE winds of 10-15 knots.  After yesterday, we anticipate a long, wet beat to weather but find the wind is more northerly and we make one long 14 mile tack almost to our destination.  As we approach Saba Rock, the winds turn light and variable and the sky fills with dark clouds.  We work our way into the anchorage in now gusty winds and frequent rain showers.   After securing the boat at anchor, the sky clears overhead but with numerous rain showers all around us.  Scott and Rob take and pass the ASA106 test, Lou heads ashore for some exploring, finding some excellent snorkeling in the north part of the Bay, and Nils and Bruce go for a swim and enjoy the quiet.  We finish out the day with a great chili dinner and a beautiful sunset.  A great way to end our trip and perfect background to discuss lessons learned and to make future cruising plans.

Day 8: Saturday, 24 March:
After our final night at anchor, we motor sail toward home. As we motor up the West Gregorie Channel, we contact the marina on VHF channel 11 for clearance to the fuel dock.  Lou brings us in to top off fuel and to back into our slip – each maneuver done with little fanfare, underscoring how effective we have become as crew.   After securing and cleaning up the boat, we have a final review of the cruise and exchanged farewells. All agree this has been a great learning experience, exceeding all training objectives.  More than one of these sailors expresses a hope 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
26 Mar 2012

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