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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Intermediate Coastal Cruise
Date April 19-26, 2012
Students: Margaret Baker, Emmanuel Ericta, Alexander Malykhin
Captain: Jochen Hoffmann

Thursday, April 19, 2012, Crown Bay Marina, St. Thomas, USVI. Day 1
The student crew of three arrived yesterday afternoon, settled into their quarters, and we got to know one another over dinner at Tickles dockside restaurant. Meg and Alex have racing experience while Manny, so far an “arm-chair sailor”, is here to absorb as much as possible in order to start sailing on his own. I had spent the previous two days doing maintenance, had the rigging inspected, and a Bimini seam re-stitched. Now, all is ready. We inspect the boat below and above deck, practice setting and furling all sails, operating the anchor windlass, and make a meal plan. While some of us buy provisions, others top off water, make a navigation plan, and sea stow all gear. By 1530 we cast off, practice some engine operations, do some piloting, and anchor in Brewers Bay in time for a swim and shower to be ready to enjoy Meg’s delicious chicken dinner.

Day 2
The weather forecast is for E winds 10-15 knots. After breakfast, we cleanup the boat, 103 students develop a nav plan to Great St. James Island, and Manny and I make ready for sea by first stowing all gear and then freeing a recalcitrant anchor chain. We motor to sheltered waters and become familiar with key steps in a Man Overboard (MOB) rescue exercise. Everyone has a go at it and learns in the process the importance of getting quickly to a “Rescue Spot” upwind of the victim (our make-shift dummy) and heaving a line properly to connect victim and boat. Once sails are raised, we tack close hauled to the east with Capella Island and Cow and Calf rocks providing clear danger bearings we must not cross. Underway we review Rules of the Road, learn how to pick up a mooring and to swim safely off a boat with lookout and swim/snorkeling master agreed upon.

Day 3
While Meg and Alex work out the navigation plan for the day – segmented legs, marks, magnetic bearings, distance, estimated time en route – Manny and I review the ASA standards for basic keelboat sailing. Then we are off via the ever dangerous Current Cut into Pillsbury Sound where we practice points of sail and MOB under sail using the heave-to maneuver. We start the engine on stand-by and all take turns sailing to the rescue spot upwind of the victim and heaving the throw rope to make contact with that poor dummy. Despite the stiff breeze, all succeed very well in this exercise. Then it’s on to BVI waters for more sailing and navigation practice before we pick up a mooring in Caneel Bay, launch the dinghy and practice its operation. Finally, we dinghy into Cruz Bay, St. John for shopping and a dinner at sunset as lights on distant St. Thomas begin to twinkle.

Day 4
We are up early and have breakfast while motoring to have maximum daylight for our long, 40 mile leg to the Spanish Virgin Islands. Alex is our skipper-of-the-day and all agree on the village of Esperanza on west Vieques Island, Puerto Rico as our first land fall target. A tropical downpour cuts our visibility to under a mile. We turn on navigation lights and have our air horn ready to start required sound signals. But just then the squall moves on and once past Great St. James Island, we set and trim all sails for a broad reach on a rhumbline of 260º magnetic worked out by Meg. While Alex and later Meg fix our positions underway using land features and depth contours, Manny and I are unlocking the navigation chart mysteries with the help of NOAA’s Chart No 1. Manny is trying his hand on laying out course lines and then joins in for discussions of weather, hypothermia, anchoring, and foreign landfall procedures. As a treat, we were able to set our cruising spinnaker for a while until a threatening squall prompts us to stow it and reef sails.

Meg steers us safely into our anchorage and once all is secured, we are able to clear into U.S. Customs over the phone. There is enough daylight left to dinghy to shore, stroll along Esperanza’s colorful Esplanade, listen to live salsa music/song, and locate an outdoor dining spot to our liking. To be sure, our seafood paella, including a huge lobster, is the best all of us have ever had. We spot our anchor light, dinghy back, and sink into our bunks dreaming about the past great day 

Day 5
Today, Manny is doing our nav plan while I cover engineering topics with Alex and Meg. The forecast, a rare S wind at 10-15 kts, puts us on a beam reach along Vieques and a downwind run north to Culebra, PR. We set our spinnaker pole and practice a challenging MOB maneuver with a poled-out jib. All are surprised how far the boat travels before we have the jib furled, the boat turned, and the victim in sight. But all know their roles by now and by using electronics, course reciprocals, etc. we spot the dummy directly on our bow. Tricky reef navigation follows before we can drop anchor in Ensenada Honda and find a waterfront table at the delightful Dinghy Dock Restaurant. 

Day 6
Alex is treating us to yet another great breakfast. After boat cleaning, we review course topics. Meg, as skipper-of-the-day, and Manny as navigator takes us through yet another series of dangerous reefs to nearby Culebrita, PR. Here we practice dropping two anchors off the bow in what turns out to be the most pristine anchorage imaginable. During swim and snorkeling outings, Manny, an active participant in coral reef cultivation and preservation, shows us six different types of coral, while Alex, a certified diver, spots for us the most colorful tropical fish. With giant sea turtles swimming around us, we enjoy a glass of wine and yet another superb dinner on board. 

Day 7
Today, we’ll have a long up-wind sail and get up at 0545 for an early start. A pot of coffee and preview of the day helps to get us focused. We retrieve first the all-chain plow anchor then the chain and line Bruce anchor. That brings us close enough to a neighboring boat to exchange farewells. We thread our way through the fairway with coral visible either side, enjoy a bowl of cereal and cold boiled egg before setting a full main, jib and staysail. After reviewing conversion formulas for chart plotting in degrees True, Meg sets a rhumb line of 086º True to the S end of Savannah Island 20 nm distant. With the wind ESE, Manny, who has the wheel, is sailing close-hauled and can hold a more northerly course of 075º psc toward Cockroach Island. Eventually, we tack S through Savannah Passage past Flat Cay where we tack one last time and then motor to our final anchorage in Lindberg Bay. Having demonstrated an MOB maneuver using the life sling before anchoring, Alex takes one quick swim and volunteers to be a victim whom the rest of the crew retrieves from the water utilizing the life sling attached to the spare halyard. It’s not easy but do-able once we bring the halyard to a winch. Dinner and then ASA tests (all pass) bring this full day to a good ending. 

Day 8
We raise anchor at 0715 and motor to Crown Bay Marina where we top off fuel and then proceed to our slip. We work through the bare boat chartering close-down check list, including boat wash-down, and finish in good time for all to take showers before catching their flights. A hearty farewell brings this fantastic cruise to a close for a new group of coastal sailors. Your captain thanks you and bids you Fair Winds, always. 

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
On board CELESTIAL, April 26, 2012
Crown Bay Marina, St. Thomas, USVI

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