2009 Caribbean Cruise

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Course ASA101-104 Virgin Island Cruise
Date February 1-8, 2009
Students: Ken & Debbie Chmara, Leigh & Donna Sargent, Curtis Cobb
Captain: Lee Tucker

Our crew boarded Celestial the afternoon of Saturday, January  31 to join Captain Lee Tucker aboard the Maryland School’s Island Packet 440 for a week of sailing instruction in the sunny Virgin Islands.   Our crew stowed gear and quickly became acquainted over dinner at “Tickles” the marina’s restaurant/bar. Curtis had previously sailed with the Maryland School’s Captain David Appleton becoming ASA 101 certified on Chesapeake Bay. He was motivated to become certified in ASA 103 and 104 this week. Ken, Debbie and Leigh would pursue certification in ASA 101 and 103 and Donna sought certification in ASA 101.

Day 1  Sunday, February 1
Following breakfast ashore we planned the week’s on-board menus and provisioned at Pueblo, the local market. An important aspect of bareboat charter preparation is learning the provisioning process, especially in tropical and foreign ports. After provisions were stowed, the captain oriented his new crew to the ships operating systems. The crew opted for a departure from the marina that afternoon, so at 16:30 we cleared our slip at Crown Bay Marina and motored west down the West Gregorie Channel to Water Island. There, we found the anchorage at Flamingo Bay suitable with 20 feet of depth and a sandy seabed. Our bow crew learned the fine art of dropping and setting an anchor, including setting up a range on shore to ensure the anchor did not drag. It was a perfect vantage point to catch the setting sun. 

Day 2  Monday, February 2
Following breakfast, we reviewed in detail the ship’s standing and running rigging, deck hardware and safety equipment. Our training today began in the cockpit with line handling and winch operating procedures in preparation for a full day of sail training exercises. All crew participated at the helm and as line handlers as we maneuvered Celestial to all points of sail, reefed the mainsail and hove-to. We maneuvered between the hazards of porpoise rocks, Saba Island and the Flat Keys. We then sailed over to Lindbergh Bay on the south coast of St Thomas and practiced crew overboard recovery under power until all crewmembers gained experience maneuvering Celestial in close quarters.  After a full day of training, it was 4:00PM and time to anchor for the evening. Peaceful Lindbergh Bay served nicely and we tucked into the north-east corner for the night.

Day 3  Monday, February 3
After yesterday’s thorough preparation, our crew was gaining confidence in their sailing skills and it was time to sail east toward St. John. The NOAA weather forecast on VHF- 6 predicted winds from the East 12-17 knots with a north swell arriving due to Atlantic storms off the US east coast. North swells are common in the winter, so we opted to begin our sail on the south coast of St. Thomas and St John. We weighed anchor, set sails with a reefed main and a full genoa and sailed past Water Island then east toward Buck Island. After a series of tacks, we arrived at Great St. James Island and had more anchor practice in Christmas Cove. The crew opted for a swim and enjoyed spotting the numerous loggerhead sea turtles swimming nearby.

Day 4  Tuesday, February 4
Following breakfast, we continued our voyage East. Our student navigator of the day conducted a chart briefing prior to departure and described our intended route. The forecast called for East wind in the 10 to 20 knot range with 4 to 5 foot seas. We raised anchor, placed one reef in the main, set a full genoa and sailed to the south of Great St. James Island, leaving Dog Island and the Dog Rocks to port. We sailed southeast then tacked to the northeast to get a better view of the south coastline of St John.  We practiced coastal navigation skills using charted land objects since there are no man-made aids to navigation along this coast. As we passed Reef Bay in a tack, the genoa halyard suddenly parted at the masthead. Our skipper quickly turned Celestial downwind and we furled the genoa without difficulty. We then set the staysail to replace the genoa and continued to our destination, Lameshur Bay with a loss of  just 1 kt in boat speed.  At Lameshur Bay, we practiced picking up a mooring and rigging a bridle off the bow, since anchoring is forbidden in National Park Service waters for vessels under 65 ft. Once we were settled in, we removed the broken genoa halyard and raised the genoa with the spare spinnaker halyard. That evening Leigh Sargent, and Ken and Debbie Chmara passed their ASA 101 exams!

Day 5   Thursday, February 5
Today’s plan was to continue east to St. John’s Round Bay for crew overboard rescue practice under sail.  Our student navigator identified the hazards ahead. Once we cleared the headland known as Ram’s Head, a dangerous shoal known as Eagle Shoal loomed just under the surface to the south of Leduck Island. Our navigation plan included plotting a compass course to steer and the creation of danger bearings from Leduck Island. Finally, we would take magnetic bearings and fix our position along the way. Motorsailing due east from Lameshur Bay, we tacked to the north and set the genoa, now sailing to our destination. We practiced crew overboard recovery until all crewmembers had a successful turn at the helm and recovery positions. We set two anchors off the bow for practice and settled in for lunch. After lunch, we continued our voyage east between St John and Norman Island, BVI turning north to enter The Narrows. We rigged a preventer and enjoyed a leisurely downwind sail on a starboard broad reach to Cinnamon Bay, on St John’s north coast. By now, the north swells had subsided and we had an opportunity for more mooring practice.  Once moored, we began to enjoy sighting the numerous large sea turtles living in this beautiful bay. Curtis takes and passes ASA 103!

Day 6  Friday, February 6
Our crew elected to have a shore excursion today in Cruz Bay, St John. A new north swell was beginning to form, so we moved Celestial to the relative protection of Francis Bay to the east. We took the opportunity en-route to practice backing and maneuvering Celestial in close quarters with a series of standing turns. Our crew was amazed to find this 22 ton yacht could make a 360 degree turn in just over one boat length!  Dingy operation and safety is easily practiced as the dinghy is a necessary conveyance to shore. We made a perfect beach landing and once ashore we explored the unique shops and architecture of “Love City” as Cruz Bay is known locally. After lunch and a little more exploring, we took a taxi back to Francis Bay along the North Shore Road. Our driver, Claudius obliged us at every opportunity for picture taking. The views were post card perfect with the water shades of indigo and turquoise against the white sand beaches.

Day 7  Saturday, February 7
This morning, before getting underway, Leigh, Ken and Debbie take and pass the ASA 103 exam and Donna passes ASA 101!

Curtis, our navigator of the day. plotted a rhumb line north from Francis Bay, St John to the BVI island of Jost Van Dyke and a tack back to St. John and Lovango Cay  across Pillsbury Sound. Log entries were made every 30 minutes so he could later plot a DR of our route. The crew were busy taking magnetic bearings and making log entries as we sailed north, encountering a long-period northwest swell in addition to northeast winds and seas. Debbie, our skipper of the day found this lively sail challenging yet  we held our magnetic course. As we returned to St John, Leigh took the helm and led us downwind to Current Cut where we transited to the lee of St Thomas and Cowpet Bay. There, with Ken at the helm, we found the anchorage  crowded so we opted for Christmas Cove. Once again, we were well placed for a dazzling sunset. Curtis updated our DR plot to reflect the day’s cruise and, after dinner, takes and passes ASA 104. Way to go, Curtis!  

Day 8  Sunday, February 8
Our forecast was for east wind 15 to 20 knots so we rigged a preventer and set a downwind course for Crown Bay for our last day of class. We enjoyed a close-up view of St. Thomas and the south coast villas and resorts as we entered the East Gregorie Channel. With Ken at the helm in Elephant Bay, we radioed for clearance into the marina. With not even a whisper between crew members, we expertly docked Celestial with 20 knots of wind on the starboard beam. Our crew had grown together as a real team over the last week. As we exchanged farewells on the dock there was more than one hope expressed to sail together again. Congratulations to all for a job well done ! 

Capt. Lee Tucker
St Thomas, VI
8 February, 2009

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