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Course ASA106 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date Feb 22 to Mar 2, 2014
Students: Tim Brinker, Graham Jones, Robert McKenney, Douglas and Margaret Kimmerly
Captain Lee Tucker

Saturday, February 22
Captain Lee Tucker was preparing s/v Celestial  the Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship’s Island Packet 440 for a challenging 8 day cruise in the spectacular cruising grounds surrounding the US and Spanish Virgin Islands. In the early afternoon, the crew began to arrive:  Douglas and Margaret Kimmerly, Tim Brinker, Robert McKenney and Graham Jones. All are experienced sailors with past completion of requisite ASA 101, 103 and 104 certifications. After personal gear was stowed we became acquainted over dinner at Crown Bay Marina’s Tickles Restaurant. 

Sunday, February 23
After breakfast, the captain assigned duties of the day so that each crewmember could become familiar with the vessel’s safety and emergency equipment, sails and rigging, propulsion system as well as shipboard electrical and plumbing systems. The location and purpose of each thru-hull was reviewed. After Margaret and Captain Tucker returned with provisions it was time for lunch and planning for departure was completed. We bent on a new staysail, topped off water, secured shore power cables and discussed the theory and practice of docking—and undocking our ship. After a navigation briefing and a discussion of the fine points of anchoring and use of the windlass we departed Crown Bay Marina motoring the short distance down West Gregerie Channel to Lindbergh Bay on the south coast of St Thomas. Here we spent the night under the cooling 15 knot breezes of the open bay, away from the lights and distractions of the busy marina. 

Monday, February 24
To make the most of our limited time together and to enrich the learning experience, daily duties on board are designated for each crewmember and rotated around the crew. Today duty rotations begin with a designated engineer, navigator, skipper of the day and two boatswains. After a thorough check of the weather, ship’s operating systems, rigging and deck gear, the crew is briefed in the day’s navigation plan, conducted by the navigator. Many find this exercise the highlight of the morning.

The weather is typical for this time of year, wind is East at 15 kts, partly cloudy with highs around 85 degrees. We raise anchor and motor slowly South from Lindbergh Bay and, once in open water begin our first safety drill, crew overboard rescue under power.  After all crew have participated in the successful retrieval of our “victim” from all crew positions, we fix our position and direct our attention to the navigation plan—a beat to weather to Rendevous Bay, St. John, USVI. The rhumb line takes us due East along the South coast of St. Thomas across the Pillsbury Sound to our destination on the South coast of St. John.  We take the opportunity to refine skills of efficient motorsailing, where we short tack with wind at 30 degrees apparent to optimize our eastward heading. When we reach Rendevous Bay, we marvel at the beauty of this pristine anchorage, so often overlooked by cruisers and charters alike. Since we are alone here with plenty of room for practice, we decide to set two anchors at 90 degrees off the bow. 

Tuesday, February 25
After a morning’s review of ships systems, we depart Rendevous for a beat East-southeast tacking well South of St John to return on a northeasterly heading to Round Bay, St John. We enjoy lunch en-route, prepared prior to departure.

 In the open waters of Round Bay, we take the opportunity to practice crew overboard training under sails, with each crew serving in turn as skipper or deck crew until all are satisfied they have learned the skills required. It is another beautiful day and the wind has moderated a bit to the 10-15kt range with plenty of sunshine. We anchor for the night in the calm recesses of a northeast cove in Round Bay. 

Wednesday, February 26
This morning we conduct our usual system checks with particular attention to our upcoming extended voyage to the Spanish Virgin Islands. Updated weather is entered into the ship’s log and now two navigators are collaborating to create a sailing plan that will span the next two days, cover up to 150 nautical miles and require between 20 and 30 hours of continuous sailing. The captain creates a watch schedule with 2 crewmembers paired for each four hour watch. One crew will take the helm for one hour with a change at the top of the hour when each log entry is made.  At approximately 11:00 hrs we motor across Round Bay and calibrate our speed instrument which we believe is in error. Once complete, we fix a position abeam of Leduck Island, St John and begin our dead reckoning plot. We are close hauled on a port tack with wind from due East at 15kts. On this heading, we are heading directly to Christiansted, St Croix. All crew are participating in obtaining position fixes with a variety of two and three bearing fixes as well as running fixes.  It is a pleasant yet vigorous sail under full main and genoa with a six to seven foot swell on the port bow.  At 1700 hrs we are nearing Christiansted and its time to alter course to starboard and follow the north coastline of St. Croix to Ham’s Bluff. At 1920hrs we establish radio contact with a large cruise ship departing the dock at Frederikstad, St Croix and arrange clear passage. We bid m/v Celebrity Century a good cruise and the courtesy is returned by the Century’s bridge. By 1950hrs, it has been dark for nearly 3 hours and we are five miles west of Frederikstad in the open ocean. The captain issues a securite on VHF 16 to alert all stations we are about to conduct crew overboard training exercises for the next two hours under sail using a strobe. With this crew’s previous overboard-training experience, all goes well for the drill, not to mention our “victim” who is promptly and skillfully rescued with each rotation at the helm.

We take fixes off the lights of St. Croix, now shimmering in the distance and compare with GPS—spot on! Our navigation plan now directs us to sail south-southwest from our current position and the off-watch crew retires until called while our watch keepers sail Celestial into the night on a very pleasant beam reach. 

Thursday February 27
Our position at midnight is 17deg31.30N and 65deg52.72W. The moon is intermittently visible through the clouds as we have a change of watch. Soon, we will alter course to the west-northwest and make our way to Vieques, Puerto Rico, one of the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands.  A cargo vessel has been closing on our stern and clear passage is established on VHF 16. It masses 1nm off our stern. At 0530 we begin to see the first light of the coming morning off the starboard stern and by 0915 we are at Puerto Real, Vieques. The Captain is instructed to appear with ships papers at the customs office located at the Vieques airport and clearance is finally obtained by 1315hrs.We celebrate our arrival with lunch at one of the sea side restaurants in Esperanza, along the Malecon. The anchorage is rolly, however. After a return to Celestial, the crew decides to depart at 1540hrs and relocate to the next bay to the East, Ensenada Sun Bay. This proves to be a big improvement and several boats follow us from Esperanza. 

Friday, February 28
Our weather forecast indicates conditions are about to change, due to a South Atantic high pressure system moving east over the area. The result will be diminished trade wind flow. Wind will vary between 5 and 15 knots with scattered showers likely. After a good night’s rest we are ready for more challenges. Today our navigator plans for a passage to Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico to the north of Vieques. At 1058hrs, we depart the lovely Sun Bay and work our way east along the south coast of Vieques and at 1410, we round the east end of Vieques to turn north. This coast has provided many suitable navigational landmarks and we make full use of them to maintain up to date position fixes. We now turn our attention to Culebra and obtain fixes with Cayo Luis Pena and the lighthouse atop Isla Culebrita, or little Culebra. At 1545hrs we are safely at anchor next to Cayo Pirata in Ensenada Honda at Dewey, Culebra. We go ashore for dinner at Mamacita’s restaurant on the canal in Dewey. 

Saturday, March 1
Our weather today is perfect for sailing, with east wind 9-14kts and seas of 2-4 ft. At 0904hrs, we depart Ensenada Honda and transit the East Channel towards Culebrita. There, we practice picking up moorings until all are comfortable with their skills. After rounding the north coast of Culebrita, we sail close-hauled back to St. Thomas, obtaining fixes on Savana Island, sail rock and Culebrita along the way. At 1420hrs we arrive at Brewers Bay, St Thomas in time for additional didactic review of ASA 106 curriculum. As the captain prepares dinner, all take the ASA 106 written examination. 

Sunday, March 2
Following our morning review of the vessel’s systems, sails and rigging, we review principles and practice of docking. Our maneuvers today will include coming alongside and departing from a crowded fuel dock as well as returning to our designated slip.  The wind is light at 5kts, ESE. At 0800, we depart our anchorage at Brewer’s Bay and motor eastward along the West Gregerie Channel to Crown Bay Marina.  After obtaining clearance we expertly maneuver into position and top off diesel, then spring off the fuel dock to round up into our slip. All actions are performed silently and capably by our crew, working together as a coordinated team. The week has passed by quickly and we have returned to the marina with more experience and confidence in our abilities. We met as strangers a week ago and have returned a polished crew of a fine sailing yacht. 

Captain F. Lee Tucker
St. Thomas, VI

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