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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date February 13-20, 2016
Vessel S/V JEMA JOY - Island Packet 440
Students: Derek and Tracy Eve, Harald Hefel, and Derick Moore
Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann

Pre-departure Preparation
Both Rita Hanson, MDS office director, and the Captain (yours truly) had sent out cruise guidance in December and January to help my student crew prepare for their ASA Basic Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Charter adventure. We also concluded that a January on-line meeting would be helpful for the crew to get to know one another, discuss meal planning plus possible destinations. All want to explore the USVI. I arrived in Red Hook a day ahead of time to go over paperwork with the charter company and – on Friday - do boat check-out with staff of the Island Yacht Charter Company. My student crew arrived Friday afternoon, and we went straight to work developing our meal plan, checking out the boat, and enjoying dinner ashore. Since two of our shipmates have similar-sounding names, we count first-name letters and all agree to call Derek “D1” and Derick “D2”. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016, Day 1
After breakfast at the aptly named “Latte in Paradise”, D2, Harald and the Captain shop for provisions. Meanwhile, Tracy and Derek-D1 (who had already taken ASA-105, Advanced Coastal Navigation) plot a nav plan circling Pillsbury Sound clockwise to Christmas Cove via Caneel Bay. Tracy starts at G “1” Red Hook Channel entrance on a course of 068º psc (per ship’s compass) past Two Brothers rocks to the 60 foot depth contour west of Windward Passage. D1 lays out course lines to Caneel Bay and thence to Current Cut at Great St. James Island. We depart at 1115, practice maneuvers under engine, trimming to various points of sail, and picking up moorings. 

When we arrive at Christmas Cove in midafternoon, we find that all mooring balls have been taken plus a large fleet of anchored boats extends to the north off the mooring field. When we finally see a patch of sandy bottom free of coral and drop anchor there (as required), Harald who had offered to dive on the anchor reports that our heavy plow anchor is skipping on packed sand. Anchor aweigh it is. Just as we are about to return to Caneel Bay to find a mooring ball there, we see another sandy spot large enough to receive two anchors. They will hold us firmly in place during the windy night. After a refreshing swim, we enjoy dinner at sunset. 

Day 2 Francis Bay via Atlantic and BVI Waters
After breakfast, we look at area charts of different scales and devote time unlocking chart mysteries with the help of the indispensable NOAA booklet Chart No. 1. It is always amazing what wealth of information can be gleaned from a few square inches on a nautical chart. As we examine the most recent LNM (Local Notices to Mariners) affecting our charts and route, we note navigation aids that are damaged or have gone missing – notably around dangerous Johnson Reef. While Tracy and D1 do a pre-departure check and ready our vessel for sea, Harald and D2 develop a nav plan from Current Cut into the Atlantic via Windward Passage and from there to Francis Bay.  They are also among the first to check the VHF weather forecast. Winds will be up to the low 20-knot range, which calls for a reef in the main sail. 

Man overboard drills (MOB) under engine power, later under sail, keep us busy as we also learn to heave to with two sails or a single main sail. As we head for the last available mooring ball in Francis Bay, a catamaran cuts us off and grabs it. On to Maho Bay where we moor and then practice dinghy and Outboard engine procedures on our way to the U.S. Park Service Pay Station. Three of our number are excellent swimmers who are heading for the beach under the watchful eyes of a kind “life guard” on board. Students have to “fight” Harald for a turn at cooking dinner since he not only likes to cook, but also concocts excellent meals. All are happy. D1 is still alert enough to start tomorrow’s nav plan using Chart 25647-Pillsbury Sound with Soundings in feet. 

Day 3, Rendezvous Bay via Cruz Bay 
After checking the weather forecast, and with Tracy as skipper, we motor – at D2’s request - from Maho Bay to the Whistling Cay passage to get a good look at the old customs and guard house ruins ashore. The stiff wind off Jost van Dyke notwithstanding, all learn how to maintain the all-important “rescue spot” during MOB maneuvers. We had decided to pick up a mooring in Caneel Bay, dinghy in to Cruz Bay for lunch and inspect significant nav aids on the way. We cruise by storied Carvel and Blunder Rocks and it’s only just past noon as we reach Caneel Bay. But again: a “ball thief” on a catamaran overtakes us and grabs the last free mooring ball. 

We now motor into Cruz Bay, take note of the danger mark Fl 4s 12ft 5M off a reef and then examine the harbor’s junction buoy. It had been Green over Red for years but has now, in fact, been changed in color sequence to Red over Green, marking the east channel to U.S. Customs the preferred channel. We anchor in a crowded anchorage and the Captain decides to stay onboard and do the boat watch while the crew dinghys into Cruz Bay village for lunch. Upon departure, we note nearby Stephen’s Cay, notorious for its rock outcroppings. With our eyes peeled on the depth sounder, we used the 30 foot depth contour and the distant channel buoy R “2” Fl R 4s to establish a danger bearing, and we cleared the channel between Cruz Bay and Stephen’s Cay and headed for Rendezvous Bay. We have this beautiful bay with no mooring balls all to ourselves and practice once more setting 2 anchors off the bow.  Students take the ASA103 test and all pass, and then enjoy dinner and a glass of wine in the cockpit. 

Day 4, Salt Pond
We begin the day covering the mechanical and electrical power plant and waste system on board and how to troubleshoot each. Tacking east against winds in the mid 20 knot range, seas 6 feet and against 2 knots of current makes for slow progress. It’s a lesson in planning: extra time and energy are needed in such conditions. As the crew takes bearing fixes, D1 spots a rare sight - two whales breaching repeatedly a quarter mile to starboard. Tacking toward shore, we augment bearing fixes with GPS Lat/Long danger bearings to keep us off reefs and in line with a narrow Salt Pond access channel. With Harald at the wheel and lookouts posted on either side, we safely negotiate the unmarked reef. 

One of the six local moorings is still left by mid-afternoon. Great! We find that only mono hulls have ventured out into the prevailing wind, currents and seas. We swim and snorkel with turtles then take the dinghy to shore to hike through mangroves to the outdoor “Tourist Trap” food truck for dinner surrounded by tropical trees and birds with a gorgeous view over Coral Bay. Harald plans to visit here after our class and send a photo.   

Coral Bay 2016b.jpg (205390 bytes)

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Day 5, To Leinster Bay 
D1 and D2 start our nav plan to round the east end of St. John using Chart 25641 - Virgin Islands with soundings in fathoms. Tracy and Harald plot the final legs into Leinster Bay. By now, students have learned how to convert headings per ship’s compass into headings per True geographic North and vice versa. From now on, all chart plotting is being done in True. Underway, D1 at the wheel, D2 monitors our progress closely. To keep us clear of Eagle Shoal, he revises our danger depth contour from 10’ to 15 fathoms on a course of 044º True to the channel between Privateer Point and Flanagan Island. While we are able to sail the ordered course close hauled, bearings and our GPS danger latitude show that current and leeway are setting us uncomfortably close toward Eagle Shoal. We tack away and then resume our course on a close reach. We rig a preventer while navigators Tracy then Harald order courses for a series of downwind legs that take us into Leinster Bay. 

We find a perfect mooring close to Watermelon Cay, snorkel, and then dinghy to shore and hike, as Tracy had hoped we would, to the intriguing Annenberg ruins, a sugar mill and rum distillery that operated for 150 years around the 1800s. Back on board, while Harald is preparing yet another delicious dinner, others plot courses to circumnavigate St. Thomas tomorrow. D2 has picked Sir Francis Drake Channel to west of Hans Lollik Island; D1 plans to round Outer Brass Island and through Dutch Cap passage; Tracy plans to pass through Savannah Passage to Flat Cay; and Harald plans a route along SW Road and up W Gregerie Channel, and finally past St. Thomas Harbor to Buck Island. 

Day 6, Circumnavigation of St. Thomas
Our navigators have plotted their rhumb lines in degree True and entered estimated position marks assuming a speed of five knots.  During the first two hours down wind, we make half that distance in light air. Time to check our progress with range and bearing fixes. The lookout spots Hans Lollik Rock a distance ahead, danger depth contour 10 fathoms, and the helm turns south to clear it. Winds have piped up to 15-22 knots from the east as we round Outer Brass Island and head up toward Savanna Island Passage. A series of short tacks follow to clear the passage prompted by strong counter currents. Finally, we tack again to reach W Gregerie Channel. As we make our way out of storied St. Thomas Harbor guided by the bright green mid-channel range on shore near the Governor’s House, a sea plane takes off to our starboard. Exciting. Once safely moored at Buck Island, there is time for another swim (lots of turtles and a ray), a glass of wine, and yet another delicious dinner prepared D2 and Harald. 

Day 7, Red Hook via Current Cut
Our final mooring ball at Buck Island had presented us a chafed pennant eye without thimble. Rather than just threading our mooring line through the eye, we choose to stack two sheet bends through the pennant eye which we finished with two half hitches in order to transfer our load directly to the pennant rather than the eye. It held us beautifully. On our way to Current Cut, the captain takes the helm and we focus on text review. 

In sight of Stephen’s Cay, we listen to Securite calls on VHF Channel 16 alerting passing mariners to a salvage operation of two sailboats that had struck the rocks surrounding Steven’s Cay near 18º18.198’N; 064º49.48’W. In fact, we see one stranded sailboat still above water at the north end of Stephen’s Cay and leaning toward the beach.

Sobered, we head for the crowded fuel dock at Red Hook where D1 at the helm carries out perfect standing turns until an opening at the dock allows the Captain to dock our good ship to take on fuel. Once in our slip, it’s time for the ASA104 test (all pass with flying colors) and to clean the boat as expected for bareboat chartering. Then we head for a final dinner ashore. 

Day 8, Red Hook
Again we enjoy breakfast at “Latte in Paradise” before final “broom cleaning” the boat and packing our gear and emptying fridge and freezer to turn the boat back to the owner in excellent shape. 

D1 has captured the outline of our routes on his tablet, which I intend to attach here. What a great adventure for all. And what an accomplishment on the part of the crew. Your captain salutes you – with thanks and appreciation – and with good wishes for Fair Winds, always.

Derek Chart.jpg (292508 bytes)

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Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
On board S/V JEMA JOY, February 20, 2016
Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI

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