2017 Caribbean Cruises
Schedule of Courses
Ocean Training Cruises
2/10 - After getting the Captain and crew aboard our Island Packet 482, Hometown Girl, we went out for a quick get acquainted dinner. We returned to the boat and set out to develop a meal plan for the week and a shopping plan to provision. By nine o'clock, everyone was snug in their bunks, the next day's plans being set.
2/11 - Early up for breakfast at the local coffee shop, then a trip to the grocery store for provisions. While half the crew stowed food and supplies, the rest prepared the boat for departure, gathering snorkel equipment, topping off the water tank and breaking out the deck gear. By 1300, we were underway for Pillsbury Sound. The water was a little rough, since a passing weather front in the previous days had brought wind out of an unexpected quarter and the seas were confused. We set the main and staysail for the initial trip across to Saint John's Island and sailed through the ferries, returning charter boats and day trippers, angling out of the area and avoiding Two Brothers rock (which was the only navigational hazard not moving). After a few hours of sailing in the relatively less-traveled area between Saint John and Jost Van Dyke Island, we slipped into Francis Bay and took a mooring ball at the National Park Service mooring field.
2/12 - Morning found us motoring out past Whistling Cay and into the large expanse of water we had used the previous day, between Saint John and Jost Van Dyke. This area, about 20 square nautical miles, became our playground for the day as the crew learned to sail, tack, gybe, use a preventer and heave to, all of the sailing maneuvers expected of competent 101/103 level students. Lunch was served while we were hove-to, watching the big catamarans sail to and from the British Virgin Islands. Near the middle of the afternoon, we sailed up the Narrows between Saint John and Great Thatch Island, hoping to tuck into Leinster Bay for the night. However, we had played too long in the open waters and all of the mooring balls were taken. We motored back to Francis Bay and stopped there for a second night under the glorious clear night sky. Sitting in the cockpit, the discussion ranged free and far that evening.
2/13 - As we left Francis Bay for the second time, we stopped and performed engine maneuvering drills, particularly working to master the standing turn in this much larger vessel. Then it was on our way to Jost Van Dyke to check into the British Virgin Islands for a few days. Although not originally part of "the plan," weather and wind had changed our outlook enough to make the more protected areas of the southern shores of the BVI a better destination for our time. We set sails for the trip across what had become our little stretch of ocean, but the winds simply would not cooperate and we found ourselves having to motor-sail to make any headway at all. We arrived in Great Harbor a little after lunch and, although we tried to anchor in the harbor, the anchors from thousands of visiting boats had scoured the sea bed to almost nothing. Luckily, there was a well set private mooring field that we were able to use. After the captain had cleared the boat and crew into the BVIs, it was time for swim call and a run into the beach in the dinghy. A walk along the waterfront included a stop at Foxy's, the quintessential Caribbean Beach Bar, with a visit from Foxy himself and the discovery of a little bakery for delicious pastries and a loaf of banana bread to add to breakfast treats. Then it was back to the boat for dinner and the evening cruising lessons. That night, our classwork was punctuated by the music from the many waterfront bars just off our stern.
2/14 - The wind still not putting in an appearance, we motored around the east end of Jost Van Dyke Island and tucked into a little mooring spot near the break between Jost and Little Jost Van Dyke Islands. The captain ferried members of the crew over to the snorkeling fields off of Green Cay, right on the Atlantic Ocean, then returned to the boat to set up for a full afternoon of Navigation Class. After picking the crew back up and letting everyone get some lunch, we learned the basics of chart-based navigation, the mysteries of the three-bearing fix and the difference between Ded Reckoning and Estimated Positions. With everyone's effort, we were able to lay out a course from our current position to the Marina at Nanny Cay, on the south side of Tortola. As a reward for their diligent efforts, the crew granted themselves another liberty call and were soon on the beach, attempting to find the illusive Bubbly Pool, a natural hot tub spa on the ocean side of the beach. Some found it, but most of us crawled out of the scratchy hot brush with a new appreciation for the cooling effects of seawater.
2/15 - With the sun just coming up, we prepared the boat for our underway passage to Tortola. Motoring out of the mooring field, we had little hope for a sailing trip, but as we came out of the lee of Sandy Cay and the sun rose, the winds started to cooperate more. We set the main and genoa and started a downwind run toward Great Thatch Island and the Narrows. We weren't going fast - three knots on the knotmeter became three and a half when we took bearing fixes and plotted our actual speed over ground. However, as we reached the Narrows, the wind, funneled down from Sir Francis Drake Passage, rose to almost fifteen knots. Of course, at just that point, our course took us in that direction. Soon, we were tacking up the channel, giving the crew plenty of practice in bringing the genoa around the forestay. After a few hours of tacking every fifteen to twenty minutes, the channel had finally widened out enough that we were able to do "long legs" and "short legs," giving the crew the opportunity to try to determine how far to go on the short leg to maximize the length of the long one. Finally, we were in sight of Nanny Cay Marina and, after calling them on the radio and getting our slip assignment and details of the arrival (fenders down, lines to starboard, bow in, sir), we furled out sails and motored into the small marina, a first event for much of the crew. With a little help from a willing dockhand, Hometown Girl was soon snug in her slip.
2/16 -Taking advantage of the opportunity, we had breakfast ashore and topped off water and ice before departing for the day. Our visit to the BVI only allowed for a three night stay, so we had to sail back to Cruz Bay on the west end of Saint John to clear back into the US Virgin Islands. We had been warned that the mooring fields in Cruz Bay were tight and unforgiving, so we sailed into Caneel Bay and took a National Park Service mooring ball there instead. Everyone cleaned up and jumped into the dinghy for the trip into the Customs and Immigration office. A quick walk around afterwards convinced the crew that a dinner ashore would be a treat. We traveled back to the boat in the dinghy and had the afternoon lesson (engines and other things), then it was back to shore. After dinner at the Dog House Pub, we returned to the boat after dark. This allowed for practice in night time navigation as we avoided the moving vessels and tried to identify Hometown Girl from all of the other anchor lights in Caneel Bay.
2/17 - Another good sailing day as we motored out of Caneel Bay, then set our sails for the Pillsbury Sound. South out of the Sound, dodging the ferries and fishing boats along the way, we ran out past Little Saint James Island and the Dog Rocks. We spotted the tops of Saint Croix as we set our keel into the Caribbean Sea for the first time. With the wind out of the South East and the North Equatorial Current pushing back into the Pillsbury Sound, we were making long tacks, but making very little headway around the southwestern point of Saint John. The crew had no complaints about this, the point being to sail and the sailing being the point. Of course, the unannounced "Crew Overboard" drill didn't improve our speed over ground! Finally, we were able to clear our path and sail into Rendezvous Bay. Tucking into the eastern edge of the bay, we anchored on forked anchors for practice, with the anchors buried twenty feet below us in sand and grass. We shared this wide open space with a large power cruiser on her own mooring ball, a charter catamaran and tiny boat almost on the beach. Swim call for all, then let the testing begin. Five students and a total of eleven tests later, everyone was passed and ready to be qualified. Our last dinner on the hook found laughing and music as we recalled the adventures of the trip.
2/18 - Up with the sun, we pulled our anchors back aboard and were headed for the Caribbean as the sun came over the tip of the hill. We motored back into the Caribbean, then turned toward Saint Thomas and Red Hook Bay. The trip would take a little more than an hour if we could do it straight line, but off course, we spent a significant amount of the run dodging the ever-present interisland ferries. We made it to the fuel dock at Atlantic Yacht Harbor where we took on fuel to replace what we had used - 18 gallons for a week! Apparently, we had done much more sailing than it had felt like. Cleaning up the boat, removing the gear and saying good-bye were the last things on our list as our class came to an end.
Captain Frank Mummert