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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Intermediate Coastal Cruise
Date December 31, 2011 to January 7, 2012
Students: Jonathan Cantwell; Catherine and Mauricio Martinez; Wanda and Charles Lee
Captain: Jochen Hoffmann

New Year’s Eve, 2011 - Day 1
Four of my students arrived last evening, with the boat ready in Bristol fashion. We start our first day with a simple breakfast on board and are happy to welcome Jon to complete our crew. To take advantage of cooler morning temperatures and lower wind conditions, we look at all systems above deck: lines, rigging, and safety features. We unfurl and furl all sails and practice safe winch handling. We also deploy both anchors – with everyone operating the motorized windlass and learning how to do so safely. Then we check out systems below deck, make a meal plan, stow food, and make ready for sea. The crew favors casting off and celebrating New Year’s Eve with a glass of Champaign at anchor. Wanda practices VHF radio communication as she requests departure clearance from the Marina Office. Catherine puts her prior MDSchool training to good use and develops the first navigation plan of our voyage: West on W Gregerie Channel to a waypoint 18 deg 20’ North; 065 deg 00’ West. From here due E deep into Brewers Bay where we practice setting two anchors off the bow. Mauricio and Catherine prepare a delicious chicken dinner while the rest of the crew learns how to perform the safety checks associated with morning and evening deck walks. We feel content but tired enough to hit our bunks early and forget the celebratory Champaign. 

New Year’s Day, 2012 – Day 2
Happy New Year’s wishes, a hearty breakfast and boat cleaning are getting us started. This crew professes that getting the most out of this week-long class is more important than celebrating. I introduce all to chart interpretation and how its mysteries can be resolved with the help of NOAA Chart # 1, which describes symbols and abbreviations used on nautical charts. After deciding on today’s navigation plan worked out by Mauricio, and checking all fluids and making related log entries, we raise anchor and depart. Students perform various maneuvers under engine power, and finish off with a crew overboard (MOB) practice exercise. Prevailing Christmas Winds over 20 knots from the east off Saba Island and six to seven foot swells make for some queasy stomachs, and prompt us to opt for the in-shore passage east of Water Island and a motor sail to Great St. James Island. The only available mooring ball in Christmas Cove has its pennant cut off. Nothing to tie up to? To the contrary: Students learn how to bring up the mooring chain itself and how to use a double sheet bend with one line plus a rolling hitch with another to tie the boat up – bridle fashion. This happy crew is now ready to swim, snorkel and explore. Their last log entry sums up the day’s finale: “The dinner – salad, rice, etc. – was the best!! We’re getting schooled in food prep as well as sailing.”   

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Day 3
While I spend time with my ASA 101/103 students, the others continue with such morning routines as deck walk, fluid and battery monitoring, log keeping, navigation planning, etc. We have another fine tropical day ahead of us and cast off to practice MOB maneuvers under power. Then, our ASA 104 students perform a landfall approach using Cowpet Bay as their target. This includes assigning roles – helm, navigator, lookout, line handler – doing a slow target drive-by to check for obstructions, and close-quarter maneuvering. After passing through narrow Current Cut, we head into Pillsbury Sound and points north to practice sail handling and points of sail, MOB under sail, and sailing a compass course. We pick up a mooring in Caneel Bay off St. John, lower the dinghy, and all practice dinghy operations on our way to Cruz Bay for some touristy shopping and a fine dinner as the sun sets over distant St. Thomas. For the long dinghy ride home to CELESTIAL, the crew is getting a taste navigating in the dark with only a few visual cues and yet locating CELESTIAL among a moored fleet on first try. Jon, a seasoned outdoors man, continues his preference, maintained all week, to sleep in the cockpit under the stars.   


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Day 4
The day begins with morning routines and students completing the exam for the first of their two courses. My ASA104 shipmates join me for a thorough discussion and inspection of a yacht’s mechanical and electrical systems and how to troubleshoot them, which is hardly an issue for Charles and Mauricio who are hobby mechanics. The reward for hard work is a short sail to Whistling Cay known as one of the prime snorkeling spots in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. We are not disappointed. Later on, while practicing points of sail and MOB under sail among the British Virgin Islands, more excitement: a three-masted Tall Ship plus a large schooner under full sails are heading on a course of SSW to Jost van Dyke. We set an intercepting course and get some great camera shots. For the rest of the day and evening we pick a mooring in Maho Bay, close enough for a short dinghy hop for a wholesome dinner at the rustic Maho Bay Eco Camp restaurant tent. 

Day 5
Today, our navigation plan calls for rounding the east end of St John. Wanda and Jon record the weather report: light easterly winds in the morning building to ENE 12 knots in the afternoon – perfect points of sail once we round to bring the wind on our quarter. Motoring east in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, CELESTIAL is being hailed on VHF Channel 16. The caller: MDSchool Captain Lee Tucker - also known as author/presenter of the MDSchool webinars on Medical Preparations for an Ocean Voyage and Storm Tactics and Use of the Sea Anchor. He has spotted us from his IP440 KINJA moored just inside Leinster Bay. What an exciting, rare happenstance. We double back for a cruise-by, exchange hellos, and then motor on our way. More pleasant surprises: While the crew takes navigational fixes, I determine that conditions and crew experience are right to set the cruising spinnaker. Now there is excitement - but also hard work, and lots of learning. When we spot an approaching tropical shower, we hasten to take it in since we won’t have the opportunity to dry a wet chute. It’s time to pick a mooring in delightful Lameshur Bay for a swim, snorkeling, and much needed rest.


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Day 6
During breakfast, deck walk, and boat routines, we run the generator to charge the boat’s batteries. Discussion on weather, VHF communication, maintenance topics, and knot tying follow. Today we head south into the Caribbean Sea and navigate, with Charles taking the lead, by obtaining fixes using elevations, depth contours, and ranges. From offshore, we practice a 104-level landfall and flag hoists by heading into Coral Harbor where we anchor for lunch. We raise the anchor and round Ram Head to fly west with jib and main sails wing-on-wing to quiet Rendezvous Bay where we review how to set two anchors off the bow and do an anchor watch.   

Day 7
The forecast – winds east at 15 knots – is perfect for our intended downwind run on a course of 270 degrees True past Capella Island to Crown Bay. Underway, we set the whisker pole to hold jib sheet and jib out as we surf down six-foot waves. To practice furling and unfurling the jib thus and also performing an MOB evolution with the poled out jib proves to be tricky but doable. By 1600 we tie up at our slip in Crown Bay after having topped off fuel on a crowded dock as one more good experience under our belt. We enjoy a dinner ashore exhausted but happy. 

Day 8
We start by following a list of final close-down chores and procedures that certified bare boat charterers need to know. Then, all sit down for ASA103 or 104 exams which students pass with flying colors. While some depart for an extended island vacation, others need to leave to catch their planes. Still, what a way to start the New Year!!! Well done, friends

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
St Thomas, VI

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