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Course ASA106 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date Jan 28 to April 4, 2014
Students: Predrag Bundalo, Adrian Gynra, Les Holden, Joe Mofitt, 
Captain Steve Runals

26-27 Mar: The Captain completes several minor maintenance issues left over from the last class and is ready for the arrival of the crew by the afternoon of 27 Mar.  All arrive by late afternoon. After stowing gear, inventory of on board supplies and initial boat orientation, the Captain provides an overview of the course, cruising area and cruising options. We head up to Tickles, the dock side 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 to develop a cruise and associated meal plan. After much discussion, the crew opts to spend an additional day sailing in vicinity of St John before heading off on our overnight sail.  All settle in for a well-deserved night’s rest. 

 Day 1: Fri, 28 Mar:  Up early and ready to start by 0800.  We finalize our cruising plan and associated provisioning list.  The Captain, Les and Joe head to Pueblo, the local market, for provisions while Les and Joe check out the boat to find required/recommended safety equipment and get familiar with boat storage and equipment locations. After stowing provisions, we review the ASA course requirements, review Federal Boating safety requirements and check personal safety equipment before spending time on deck inspecting the standing and running rigging, rig the storm tri-sail, set the whisker pole and demonstrate the rigging of the spinnaker.  Following lunch, we go over key sections of The Mdschool course “Blue Book” – a great source of information for passage preparation. We focus on operating procedures, safety, navigation and boat systems.  This is followed by time working on assigned crew duties: Pred, as navigator, lays out course for tomorrow; Adrian, as engineer, checks engine fluid levels, other mechanical systems and locates spares and tools; Joe, as emergency coordinator, checks the medical supplies and safety equipment; and Les, as boatswain, checks all standing and running rigging.  With few exceptions, all is found 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.  After a long day on the boat, the crew elects to walk up the hill behind the marina to Victors, a restaurant with excellent food and a view of the area that is truly exceptional. The walk back sets us up for an early night to bed in preparation for tomorrow’s adventures.                                    

Day 2: Sat, 29 Mar: After topping off our water and securing all lines, we depart our slip heading first to the west side of Water Island to get familiar with maneuvering the boat under power and sail and then east to find a mooring at Christmas Cove by Great St James.  We practice MOB under power, reefing, all points of sail and heaving to before taking advantage of the sometimes gusty wind conditions 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 tracking our progress on the chart. The gusty winds and building seas give a foretaste of what offshore sailing conditions can become and for some symptoms of mel de mar.  As we approach Great St James, we see numerous sails – small and large, some with brightly colored spinnakers.  We remember that the 42d St Thomas Regatta is underway and we will be in an excellent position to see the action.  As we close on the mooring area, it becomes clear that lots of other boats have already settled in to see the race, all moorings are taken.  Adrian, our navigator, quickly works out an alternative course thru the Current Hole, across Pillsbury Sound and into Rendezvous Bay where we anchor in 15 ft of clear, blue water.  By dusk our anchorage is empty; we are alone in this beautiful spot enjoying our first meal at sea and discussing the day’s events.  Taking time to fully analyze each day’s experiences is an important part of each day’s training, providing an opportunity to answer questions, emphasize key learning points and identify areas for further emphasis.  The day’s work is not yet finished.  Joe, tomorrow’s navigator, must layout our course for tomorrow which will take us up and around St John.   Short work is made of this important task with help from other crew.  We are soon able to enjoy a quiet night at anchor under a star filled sky.  No one has trouble falling into a well-earned night’s sleep.     

Day 3: Sun, 30 Mar: Another early day. After a quick breakfast, a review and execution of pre operations checks which includes a NOAA wx update, we are ready for the day’s adventures.  Once the anchor is up, we head west into Pillsbury Sound where we again practice all points of sail.  Joe carefully tracks our progress up the Sound and thru the Windward Passage where our ability to short tack thru this narrow passage proves essential.  All are getting their “sea legs,” adapting well to the wind and waves that make sailing in the Virgin Islands so sought after.  Once clear of the reefs and small islands that guard the passage into the area north of St John, we head up toward Jost Van Dyke and practice MOB under sail.  This provides another great opportunity to practice boat handling and see the difference in MOB recovery techniques.  With the tipsy MOB dummy secured, we beat our way into the entrance to Thatch Island Cut and by Soper’s Hole at the west end of Tortola.  Short tacking thru this narrow cut continues to refine the crew’s boat handling and coordination skills.  By the time we enter the Sir Francis Drake Channel and head toward Privateer Pt at the east of St John, all are ready for some long tacks and a break in the action. As we enter the Channel, the wind picks up and we have a great ride east, seeing how reefing sails, adjusting the traveler and different sail configurations affect the balance of the boat.  Shortly after lunch we have reached the east end of St John and turn south where we fall off to a broad reach and, for  the first time, spend time running before the  wind in rolly seas.  All quickly see the value of a boom preventer and the importance of Joe’s danger bearing to keep us clear of the Eagle Shoals near Ram Head.  After rounding the point, we head into a much anticipated mooring at Great Lameshur Bay where we quickly secure the boat in this quiet anchorage.  A swim and snorkel in these beautiful waters are followed by a quiet afternoon relaxing in the cockpit.  While Adrian and Joe prepare dinner, Les and Pred, our navigators for the next two days, layout our course around St Croix and up to Vieques.  The wind is expected to be light, so they layout two course options that give us flexibility to take advantage of however the weather develops.  Dinner again provides the perfect opportunity to review the day’s events, enjoy a beautiful sunset and discuss tomorrow’s long distance adventure.  After a short time enjoying the bright, starry sky, no one has trouble falling asleep in this secure anchorage.      

Day 4/5: Mon/Tues, 31 Mar/1 Apr: In preparation for our overnight trip, we sleep in a little this morning.  By 0930 we have eaten, cleaned up the boat, rigged our lee cloths and done our pre operations checks.  We take the opportunity to discuss marine wx and get an update on wx for the next 36 hrs. The forecast calls for light and variable winds: 5-10 knots from ESE. We check the GPS to make sure we have not fallen thru a “worm hole” and ended up somewhere other than the VI in the winter. Not often do we have winds this light in late Mar.  After clearing our mooring, we secure the boat and are able to sail a course that takes us west of our intended course line.  By mid-morning the winds have dropped and we motor sail back to our rhumb line and then further east hoping the afternoon winds will allow us to continue under sail.    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.  Les and Pred discuss the option of going north of St Croix because of the light winds, but we decide to continue our course south round Lang Bank, off the east end of the island. By late afternoon as we are approaching Lang Bank our AIS (automatic identification system) picks up a NOAA research vessel moving east and west across the Bank.  They broadcast a SECURITE safety of navigation radio alert so we contact them by VHF to establish a clear passage.  We round the Bank just before dark and are treated with a beautiful sunset.   We head west, south of a distant St Croix as a moonless night closes in and cross courses with a larger tanker.  We coordinate crossing info and watch him cross our bow and turn north over Lang Bank, an interesting choice of course.  With the exception of the NOAA vessel and the tanker, we have had the ocean to ourselves.  Throughout the night we rotate watches and monitor our progress along the south of St Croix. At the change of the 2000 hrs watch, we conduct a MOB in a very dark night.  After securing our MOB equipment, we discuss the difficulties of recovering a MOB at night.  Even under power in the calm seas and light wind, without the strobe light it would have been very difficult to find someone in the water.  Better to stay hooked in and stay aboard than in the water no matter what the conditions.  As the sun rises, hoped for wind fails to materialize.  The warming sun does cause low lying cumulus clouds and several small rain showers to dissipate as we continue to head toward the town of Esperanza on Vieques.  Along the way we see numerous flying fish, but have the sea to ourselves.   By mid-morning we have picked up one of the new moorings off the town, boat secured and cleared in with Home Land 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 and lunch, we return to the boat for swim and showers, later going ashore for a well-earned dinner at the Trade Winds Guest House and Restaurant.  After the 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 145 nm overnight passage has given us new skills to be further developed and utilized.      

Day 6: Wed, 2 Apr:  Up early to prepare for our trip to Culebra.  Adrian lays out a course that takes us around the east end of Vieques and north to Culebra, with its guarding reefs, to an anchorage off the town of Dewey.  After pre operations checks, we drop our mooring and make ready for sea.  The forecast again calls for light winds, but as we round Cayo Real at the entrance to Esperanza we host sails in hopes that sailing winds will develop during the morning.  We are able to sail / motor sail as we head east.  Once around the tip of Vieques, we bear off toward R2 at the entrance to Culebra. Along the way we refine our coastal navigation skills by taking several two bearing fixes and a running fix to confirm or location and update arrival time.  The entrance into the channel leading to Dewey needs to be done with an eye to changing water colors because of the numerous reefs, so we keep a sharp eye out for reefs and entrance buoys.  By midafternoon we have the anchor down and boat secured.  Our first stop once ashore is the Dingy Dock where we find some liquid refreshment and plan our strategy to explore the area.  We have some time before dinner so it’s off to explore this interesting little town.  We decide on dinner at the El Eden Restaurant.  Although away from the water, they serve an excellent meal, providing a perfect background to review the events of the last several days.  After a brief stop at a local market for some needed supplies, it’s back to the boat and a quiet night at anchor in prep for our return to St Thomas and the ASA 106 test.                   

 Day 7: Thurs, 3 April: After breakfast and pre operations checks, we depart for our final night in Brewers Bay. The forecast is for isolated showers and E winds 12-17 knots.  After yesterday, we look forward to the long beat to weather, so we position ourselves to the north of the rhumb line by heading up the Canal de Sur and around the north side of Culebrita. This gives us time to see more of this interesting island and several anchorages that beckon to be explored. Once clear of reefs and small islands, we have a welcomed sail east toward St Thomas. Along the way we have the opportunity to see Sail Rock from multiple perspectives. By early afternoon its time to work our way into our anchorage at Brewers Bay.  Numerous rain showers give us an opportunity to wash a little of the salt off the decks.  Anchor down and boat secure, its time for Adrian, Pred and Joe to take the ASA 106 test; all pass with flying colors.  Most then take a short swim and shower before we enjoy our last dinner on board.  Although there are numerous rain showers in the area, we have a nice sunset, a great way to end our trip and perfect background to discuss lessons learned and make future cruising plans.    .    

Day 8: Fri, 4 Apr: After a very quiet night at anchor, we motor sail toward home. As we motor up the West George Channel, we contact the marina on VHF Channel 11 for clearance to the fuel dock. Joe brings us in to top off our fuel and Adrian puts us 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 exchange farewells. All agree this has been a great learning experience, meeting all training objectives.  Adrian recruits several of the crew to help him move his IP 42 down the east coast this summer in preparation for his own offshore adventures. Congratulations to a great crew and a job well done. Fair winds and great sailing to all!  

Capt. Steve Runals 
St Thomas, VI 
5 April, 2014 

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