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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date March 10-18, 2017
Vessel S/V Jema Joy, IP440

Chip and Karla Combs, Matthew Combs, Barbara Forney, Bob Huxster,

Captain Steve Runals

Pre-departure preparation: 
Preparation for our training began with cruise/training guidance by Rita Hanson, MDS office director, and an introduction letter from the Captain (yours truly).  In February we conducted an on-line meeting to provide an opportunity for the crew and Captain to get to know one another, identify individual training goals and concerns, discuss cruise plan options and begin development of a supporting meal plan. Our crew for this class has spent considerable time cruising and traveling together over many years.  They come with a wide range of sailing experience that each looks forward to building on during the class as they rotate through responsibilities as student captain, navigator, engineer, bosun and safety officer.

Arrival: Friday, Mar 10, 2017: 
I finished onboard boat preparations by early afternoon which included checking the main engine, all lockers, boat systems and starting the outboard - just ahead of Bob and Barbara's arrival. By 1630 Chip, Karla and Matt arrive and quickly stow their gear.  Barb and Karla have discussed a meal plan, brought some provisions (including 8 lbs of bacon) with them and a plan to fill out the provisioning list.  The Captain assigns tasks to Chip and Matt who will remain on the boat to find required Federal safety equipment while the Captain, Barb, Karla and Bob head to Moe’s, the local grocery store, which is small but surprisingly well stocked.  Provisioning today allowed us to cool down our provisions in the refrigerator and freezer while we were still on shore power.  Once provisions and individual gear are stowed, we head to dinner at Fish Tails where we continue to get to know each other.  After dinner we go over key on board systems and review course requirements.  It’s been a long day traveling, so an early bedtime is welcomed. A good start to our week.       

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Day 1: 
We begin the day working thru The Boater’s Guide to Federal Boating Requirements booklet, going over all ships systems both below and on deck (running/standing rigging, canvass, and deck nomenclature) followed by an introduction to coastal navigation with its charts, tides and buoys.  While all have extensive cruising experience, this is the first time they have sailed on a cutter rigged boat and where they will be have a chance to work on refining coastal navigation skills. It’s a busy day at the dock for the charter company, so we finish our preparations by reviewing MOB under power procedures and topping off our water tanks, and we're ready to depart by 1130.  

Once clear of traffic in Red Hook harbor and well into a crowded and rolly Pillsbury Sound, all have to opportunity to maneuver the boat and conduct MOB drills under power.  Once our “tipsy dummy” is finally secured, we make our way under sail to an anchorage in Rendezous Bay.  Chip, our navigator for the day, confirms our position with a two bearing fix as we enter this open bay.   We have this quiet anchorage all to ourselves once a lone power boat leaves.  With the anchor set, we enjoy this beautiful spot knowing winter is still very much alive back home.  

We set up the grill only to find that we have to improvise a system to keep the grill high enough off the coals to keep things from burning – it’s too late to make the fix tonight but close attention to the pork loan insures we have an excellent dinner and enjoy a beautiful sun set.  As we clean up after dinner, we find the anchorage is not quite as empty as we thought. The Captain finds there are two VERY LARGE remoras under the boat that are looking for any “handouts” that might come their way.  The almost full moon and star filled sky provide a great backdrop to review the day’s events, go over knots and prepare the navigation plan for tomorrow.  It’s great to be on the water.         

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Sun, Day 2: 
Yesterday’s ship and sail handling provided a good starting point for the day’s training.  Karla, our navigator, has laid out a course that takes us back into Pillsbury Sound, to a mooring at Caneel Bay, thru the Windward Passage and on to Francis Bay on the north side of St John for the night. The forecast calls for E winds 10-15 knots and a northeast swell.  Once back into Pillsbury Sound, we practice all points of sail while gaining a clearer understanding of the rights and responsibilities of “stand-on” and “give-way” vessels in this heavily trafficked area.  We pay particular attention to the potential dangerous of jibing.  Once all understand how to properly utilize preparatory and execution commands and control the main sheet, executing this maneuver in the increasingly strong winds no longer seems as intimidating as it once did.  

By late morning we have worked our way around the Two Brothers and after reviewing mooring procedures, pick up a National Park mooring at Caneel Bay.  The resort here has special history for Chip and Karla who honeymooned here years ago and for Barb who visited the area as a school girl. We take the dingy into the resort; have a look around, make a quick visit at the gift shop before heading back to the boat. Back aboard we head for the Windward Passage and our anchorage in Francis Bay.  The winds have built and backed a little to the NE at 14 knots with gusts to 25 as we tack our way thru the narrow Windward Passage.  It’s a nice sail where we have a chance to see the value of the staysail and “play” the traveler to balance the helm in these windy conductions.  

Once we have secured a mooring, all take and pass the ASA101 test.  Classwork complete, it’s time to enjoy the warm afternoon with some snorkeling while Barb and the Captain work on the navigation plan for tomorrow.  We have another excellent dinner using our modification on the grill and discuss the day’s events.  The bright, nearly full moon and dropping wind make for a quiet night and well-earned rest.        

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Mon Day 3: 
Today’s task is to practice MOB drills under sail and navigate to an anchorage on the south side of St John.  Our route will take us into the sound south of Jost Van Dyke, thru the Thatch Island Cut, into the Sir Francis Drake Channel and round the east end of St John.  Before departing we conduct pre-operations checks on the engine and find we have a small amount to algae in the bottom of the Racor fuel filter.  The filter’s function is to separate out water and impurities from the fuel so this becomes something to be concerned about.  For the moment, we clear the bowl and monitor the situation. 

We also review marine weather and MOB under sail procedures. Once clear of the mooring area, we sail out into the area south of Jost Van Dyke and exercise several MOB exercises in building wind and sea conditions.  The point all take away is to stay onboard but with practice, recovery under sail is very possible.  We have a great sail to the entrance of the Cut with lots of company and refine our tacking procedures as we pass Sopher’s Hole and enter the Drake Channel in east winds of 20 to 28 knots.  We sail in company of two catamarans, which despite their reputation from not being able to sail to the windward, slowly pull away from us.  By early afternoon we have rounded the east end of St John. The wind is now off our port quarter so we set up a preventer to stabilize the boom and prevent an accidental jib.  All quickly see its benefit in these rolly seas.  Barb has plotted a danger bearing using the prominent landmark of Rams Head to ensure we stay clear of Eagle Shoals, a potentially dangerous area for the inattentive sailor.  As we sail along the coast we take several danger bearings to ensure we are staying well clear of the Shoals

Barb had spent some time years ago in the Lameshur Bay area so we head to Great Lameshur Bay to pick up a mooring. It’s a little rolly from the swell but a beautiful area. Not a lot has changed in this beautiful spot and we spend some time snorkeling, visiting the marine research center area and preparing for our downwind sail to Culebra.  As part of preparations, we check the fuel filter and find the bowl filled with increased amounts of algae.  We drain and refill the bowl, restart the engine – a now standard procedure.  All seems fine but we now know we have a fuel problem that needs to be monitored very closely. After another great dinner, we enjoy a beautiful night under a full moon and quiet night once the swell quiets down.                                          

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Day 4: 
Based on the forecast of a NE swell and easterly winds, Matt, our navigator for today, has plotted a course south of St John and St Thomas, across the Virgin Passage and through the reef-strewn entrance into Culebra to an anchorage off the town of Dewey in the Ensenada Honda.  We get an update on the weather, conduct preop checks and drop our mooring by 0730.  Once underway and settled on our course, we find the steady wind allows us to sail wing-on-wing even in these rolly conditions without a pole.  

Matt tracks our progress by taking several two bearing fixes and we rotate time on the helm to give all practice sailing in these conditions.  Once clear of St Thomas and Savanna Island we come under the influence of the NE swell and easterly wind-driven waves making keeping the sails full and drawing a challenge but well met by our helmsmen.  All again see the advantages of running with a preventer to secure the mainsail boom in these rolly seas.  To prevent the genoa from coming out of its track in these conditions, we reef one full turn on the headsail. We carefully approach the entrance buoys to the reef guarded entrance to Ensenada Honda and follow the channel markers into the very protected anchorage off the town of Dewy.  

After dropping anchor and clearing in with Customs and Border Protection, we head into the store for some additional provisions and make a stop at the Dingy Dock Restaurant for some cool refreshment. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy the view of a harbor filled with boats flying a wide range of country registrations. We take some time to wander the streets of this small town before settling on Mamacita’s for an excellent dinner before returning to the boat.  Once back aboard, we open hatches and enjoy the beautiful anchorage lighted by a bright full moon. 

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Day 5:  
Our plan today is to stay in the vicinity of Culebra working on the mechanics of all points of sail and executing MOB drills under sail. Bob, our navigator for today, gets us out past the entrance reefs to Ensenada Honda, south around the tip of Culebra and into the Canal de Luis Pena where we practice all points of sail with an emphasis on jibing and MOB drills. Several have indicated a desire to the see the well regarded Bahia Flamenco on the north side of Culebra so rather than taking the short route to our anchorage on the east side of Culebra, we decide to take a scenic route and sail around the island. 

Bob plots a new course that takes us safely past the small islands off the west end of Culebra and into the Atlantic Ocean with a still moderate swell. As we tack our way east past the northern beaches, Bob finds that keeping a “dead reckoning” plot of our position with some leeway added in provides a fairly accurate estimated position (EP) when compared with our handheld GPS. The north side of Culebra is almost completely undeveloped.  We work our way east into the Canal de Cayo Norte, finally motor sailing into the beautiful anchorage off the Canal del Sur in Bahia de Almodovar where we pick up one of the free moorings. It’s a beautiful spot behind a reef with a view all the way to St Thomas.  Several boats are already there but the area is large enough for all.  The first order of business after mooring is the ASA103 test which all pass without a problem.  

After checking the mooring, the Captain checks the fuel filter and finds the bowl completely full of algae and what appears to be a little water.  We are able to drain and clear the bowl. The engine starts with a little prompting.  I report the situation to Skip at Island Yachts and find that another boat has had similar problems but the fuel line is blocked and the engine will not run.  There is not much we can do at this point, so after discussing the situation, we determine to continue as we have been. We finish out the day doing a little snorkeling, planning our trip back to St Thomas, enjoying a great dinner and a fine sunset.  

The snorkeling turns up a marine mystery. We find an “upside down jellyfish” swimming in the area of the mangroves.  Despite all the time in the water by the crew in different area of the world, this was a first.  One is recovered for further study but is returned a little prematurely to the sea before close examination. The clear, dark night provides an opportunity to do a little practice in timing of navigation lights.  The very prominent light atop Isla de Culebrita and several buoys in the Canal de Sur serve as excellent training aids.  Another beautiful evening and quiet night.                     

 Day 6: 
Today is the long trip back to St Thomas.  The forecast calls for 10 to 15 knot E winds so it looks like a good opportunity for some close windward work.  Chip and Matt, sharing the navigation duties, have laid out our return course anticipating long tacks which will bring us near Sail Rock, an excellent waypoint to gage progress.  Before departing, we spend time going over engine systems in detail and conduct pre departure checks with an emphasis on making sure the Racor filter bowl is clear and all hatches and portlights are secured.  Bob gets us clear of the reefs guarding the entrance to Culebra and we settle into a close hauled course before rotating helmsmen. 

It’s great sailing in fresh winds and ocean wave as we cross the Virgin Passage.  As anticipated, Sail Rock becomes our reference point for tracking progress as we move east.  Once in the lee of the NE swell from Savanna Island and St Thomas, the wind freshens as we tack our way toward Brewers Bay just north of the busy St Thomas airport. Just short of entering the Bay, with our headsails furled, we attempt to start the engine – no success. We make several attempts and try different solutions to include “jumping” the starter but with no success.  Matt, Chip and the women keep us under control and away from shore and airport runway while Bob and the Captain work on the engine.  Finally a call to Wolf, Island Yachts service manager, solves the problem.  The engine starts after we push a “reset” button on the instrument panel.  Wolf indicates this is a very infrequent issue, required only maybe once a year but it does the trick and we head in the crowed anchorage.  

Once the anchor is secure, we finish out the day planning our way home, grilling an excellent dinner and enjoying a fine sunset.  We have chosen this anchorage because it affords and opportunity to see the “green flash” just as the sun sets.  Despite being in the perfect position to see it, the clouds line the horizon – no green flash.  A little disappointed we enjoy this beautiful location and a very quiet night once the airport shuts down for the night.                

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Day 7: 
Our course today is designed to minimize another long series to tacks to the east. It will take us around Water Island using the East and West Gregerie Channels, past Crown Bay Marina, then along the south side of St Thomas, thru the Current Cut and back to a mooring off Caneel Bay.  As we approach the end of the West Gregerie Channel we are treated to the sight of a seaplane coming in for a landing in the Haulover Cut by Hassel Island, not something you see every day.  Once clear of Water Island we sail east in initially light winds which build as we tack past Buck Island.  The forecast has called for scattered rain showers and we are surrounded by and feel the impacts of several isolated squalls.  We pass the very crowded anchorage at Christmas Cove and motor sail thru the Current Cut bringing us back to the now familiar, busy waters of Pillsbury Sound.  

We attempt to sail across the Sound but the winds have turned light so we make our way under power to a National Service mooring.  After lunch, Bob, Chip and Matt all take and pass their final ASA test (104). The test includes as no surprise, course plotting which all are now very familiar with. There’s time now for a little snorkeling before we take deck showers and head into the resort for dinner and opportunity to discuss the events of the day and review the course.  The snorkeling finds better than expected coral and lots of sea turtles and rays. It’s nice to see healthy looking coral especially in this well used area.  After an excellent dinner, it’s back to the boat for packing, star gazing and an early bedtime.   

Day 8: 
In addition to returning the boat to Red Hook today, Chip, Karla and Matt will be meeting the rest of their family who have flown in to spend a week on Jost Van Dyke so it’s an early start to the day.  We motor over to the entrance to Red Hook, call in and are cleared into what can be a very busy fuel dock and are soon secured in our slip. The charter agreement requires that we have the salon “broom-cleaned”, the fridge emptied and cleaned, and the topside hosed down and free of salt residue. Working as a team all tasks are completed in plenty of time for Karla, with Barb’s assistance, to do a little grocery shopping at Moe’s for the upcoming week, the crew to meet arriving family and the Captain to closeout requirements with Island Yachts.  It should be noted that we did fail in one key area – we returned with 3 lbs. of bacon.

It has been a great class with unique opportunities and a few challenges but each has grown in skills and confidence.  I salute each of you – with thanks and appreciation – and wish you Fair Winds as you continue in your sailing adventure.

Captain Steve Runals  
On board S/V Jema Joy
Mar 18, 2017 
Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI 

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