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Course ASA106 Virgin Island Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date February 23-Mar 2, 2009
Students: Todd and Rina Landry, Scott Duncan, Aiji Graham and Sharon Cheeseman
Captain: Lee Tucker

Monday February 23, 2009:
Captain Lee Tucker boarded the CELESTIAL to begin an ASA 106 Advanced Coastal Cruising class in the Virgin Islands with students Todd and Rina Landry, Scott Duncan, Aiji Graham and Sharon Cheeseman. It was a typical February day in the Virgin Islands: air temp 85 deg and a blue sky dotted with white cumulus clouds. The wind was blowing a steady 20 kts and it was once again time to go sailing on one of the school's well found yachts, the Island Packet 440, CELESTIAL

Following our menu planning, we experienced the provisioning process in a tropical port at the local market, Pueblo. Groceries stowed, the captain assigned crew positions for the day: Todd and Scott, boatswains; Rina safety and emergency coordinator; Aiji navigator and Sharon as engineer. Their respective review of the ships systems was followed by group seminar and discussion, lasting well into the evening. 

An inoperative foredeck light caused us to send Todd up the mast to retrieve the blown bulb, which was replaced the next morning by Scott, following a quick trip to a hardware store. By days end, we had a much clearer understanding of CELESTIAL's operating systems as well as sails and rigging. 

Tuesday February 24, 2009:
The weather was to be a repeat of Monday's, so we rose early and prepared our ship for departure. After a thorough briefing by our navigator Aiji, we departed our slip and traveled along the East Gregorie Channel between Hassel and Water Islands. After setting the furling mainsail with one reef, we motorsailed into open water along the south coast of St Thomas setting our course to take us as far east as possible on each tack. 

We were sailing into 25 to 27 knots of apparent wind from due East. We set the staysail for an added boost and to moderate weather helm. After two hours, we transited Current Cut to enter Pillsbury Sound, estimating water depth by color. We sailed past St John, up the windward passage then set our course directly for Jost Van Dyke. Once there, our anchor finally held on the 3rd attempt and at 3:00 PM we went ashore to clear BVI customs and immigration. We then walked down the beach to Foxy's bar/restaurant where the captain led the crew in a group discussion of ASA 106 curriculum topics. We stayed on for dinner ashore returning to CELESTIAL by 8:00 PM. Before retiring, Aiji put the finishing touches on his DR plot and bearing fixes. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009:
The anchorage at Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke proved to be breezy and quiet with protection from swells, since we were tucked into the northeast corner. Our navigator today planned a series of long rhumb lines to Virgin Gorda along the north coast of Tortola, with a contingency stop at White Bay on Guana Island in case our progress to weather was less than expected. 

We chose to try to make Gorda Sound by 16:00 in order to position us for a reach to Anegada the following morning. After departing our anchorage heading east, the day was full of practical navigational challenges. Each crewmember, in rotation, followed Todd's lead in obtaining 2 and 3 bearing fixes, continually updating our position and Todd's DR plot. 

Nearing Guana and Great Camanoe Islands, our crew practiced a series of running fixes. To the Northeast, the turquoise-bottomed cumulus clouds marked the location of the Anageda Reef, although the island itself was not visible. We updated our position in preparation for entering Gorda Sound with several 2-bearing fixes. We entered the narrow channel between Colquhoun reef and Cactus Reef with full main and staysail on a beam reach at 15:30. 

Overall, the day's weather had moderated with wind 15 to 18 kts and seas, mostly protected by Tortola, to a maximum of 5 feet. We anchored in the lee of Prickly Pear Island in 15 feet on a sandy bottom in the company of several loggerhead turtles. After the captain led a group discussion of marine weather topics relevant to temperate and tropical climates, Sharon and Aiji prepared a fabulous dinner of sauteed chicken parmesan in a tomato-based garlic sauce. We celebrated Sharon's birthday with a surprise birthday cake and a rousing chorus of "happy birthday". Then some of the crew opted for a swim and discovered the bioluminescence occasionally present in Gorda Sound. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009:
After breakfast aboard CELESTIAL, we raised our mainsail and Sharon sailed us off our anchor as Aiji and Todd brought up our plow anchor. We bid farewell to Virgin Gorda as we sailed north from Gorda Sound to the lee of Necker Island where we conducted crew overboard training under sail in open waters. 

After all crew successfully rescued our "victim", our navigator Rina plotted a rhumb lone to Anegada at 005 deg magnetic. Sharon steered a perfect course as we trimmed our full main, staysail and genoa for speed, topping 7.5 knots in about 15 knots of wind from the beam. We overtook several large catamarans and soon spotted the red and green nav aids marking the entrance to the Anegada anchorage. 

At anchor, the Captain conducted a 2 hour review of marine weather and seamanship topics. The crew went ashore for a dinner of the famous Anegada lobster on the beach under a brilliant starry sky. Returning to CELESTIAL, our crew prepared for the voyage ahead as Scott and Sharon plotted rhumb lines for our next destination, Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. 

Saturday, February 28, 2009, Day 6:
Location: 18deg14.9N 65deg13.7W, approaching Culebra, Puerto Rico. We are nearly through our 25 hour non-stop cruise around the British, US and Spanish Virgin Islands. We have been underway since 10:35 Friday, Feb 27 when we left our anchorage at Anegada. 

The scene could not fail to impress--brilliant turquoise water fringed with reefs against a cumulus dotted sky. Our co-navigators, Sharon and Scott planned our route through the shallow (8-10ft) channel from the anchorage west then north, around the west end of Anegada. From there we entered the Anegada Passage dividing St Martin from the Virgin Islands. We aggressively sailed north and east against an impressive east swell of gentle eight-foot waves. We soon lost sight of Anegada and with only the horizon to our west, north and east, the only landmass still visible was distant Virgin Peak above Virgin Gorda. 

Todd and Scott shared the first watch of four hours. Later watches were rotated among our entire crew every four hours. We sailed well under full main and genoa working our way across the north coast of Anegada and her dangerous reefs which extend for some distance east and south. The sun set and we continued our watch rotations, updating our DR plot every hour and refining it whenever the opportunity arose to take a magnetic bearing on a charted land mass. 

A 600ft tanker on a collision course with us was contacted at 02:30hrs and we agreed on a port to port passing, doing so with 0.4 nm between us. 

At 0400 hours the captain contacted a cruise ship bound for St John, 6nm distant at the time, to alert them that we would be conducting nighttime crew overboard exercises in the vicinity and to not be concerned in the event they spotted a strobe on the water in our direction. 

With all hands on deck, we commenced crew overboard recoveries under sail power alone with full main and genoa in open waters of the Caribbean Sea, 20 miles north of St Croix and 15 miles south of St Thomas. The night suddenly appeared very dark and alone on this moonless night as each crew in turn rotated at helm, spotter and sail management positions. We continued our exercises until all had the taste of success, and then thanked our off-watch crew so they could get some rest. 

At this moment we are approaching the outer aids to navigation at Canal del Oeste to enter Ensenada Honda and Dewey, Culebra to clear Customs and Immigration back into the United States and Puerto Rico. 

Sunday, March 1, Day 7:
At 11:30 Saturday morning, we sailed into Ensenada Harbor, Culebra past the tiny Cayo Pirata to anchor off the town dock at Dewey. The captain had already called Culebra customs and arranged to meet on the dock with ships papers and passports in hand. The dinghy was unlashed and lowered from the arch and the outboard was shipped. Entry was pleasant and efficient. 

This captain is always impressed with the professionalism and courteous way business is conducted by Culebra Customs and Border Protection. Once cleared, we lowered our yellow quarantine flag, had lunch and motor sailed from Ensenada Honda along the east coast of Culebra, inside of the reefs to the west coast of Culebrita. 

There, we selected a mooring and settled in with water so clear, the details of coral heads were easily distinguished 35 feet below. The crew went for a refreshing swim while Scott took a quick nap and the intrepid Aiji discovered a nurse shark while snorkeling on the reef below. After Todd and Rina prepared an East Indian dish of curried chicken on rice, we continued our topical review of ASA 106 curriculum with group discussion of engineering and safety questions. 

The last few days have challenged this crew and they have risen to the task of sailing the vessel non-stop 25+ hours day and night, building on navigational skills acquired before this course and refined over the span of a week and a couple of hundred coastal sailing miles. The overall feeling now was one of confidence and a desire for a good night's sleep, which we had under the stars of a moonless night in the quiet lee of Culebrita. 

Sunday morning we rose early and Aiji created a nav plan to take us to Lindbergh Bay on the south coast of St Thomas. We arrived at 15:00 and set two anchors off the bow for practice under the watchful eye of some very large sea turtles. After a full day following a full week, at 16:00 our crew decided it was time to take their ASA 106 written examinations. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to our sailing saga! 

Monday, March 2, 2009:
Late yesterday afternoon, in the protection of Lindbergh Bay, St Thomas each of our five student crewmembers settled into their ASA 106 examinations. All passed with flying colors! CELESTIAL was secure riding to the two anchors we had set at 45 degrees of the bow and we all enjoyed one last dinner meal together aboard CELESTIAL, Mexican burritos prepared by chef Rina. 

This morning with Sharon at the helm, our bow crew raised our 2 anchors and we motored into the West Gregorie Channel to Crown Bay. After the captain obtained port clearance, we landed at the fuel dock and topped off our diesel. With each crew member briefed on docking procedures of our 32,000 pound ship, we demonstrated solid teamwork as we glided into our slip without touching a piling. 

With lines secure, we washed her down and exchanged sincere wishes to sail again together. Knowing this crew as I do, we probably will for the fun of it, but there can be no doubt each are qualified to do so independently and will enjoy a lifetime of confident coastal sailing. 

Captain F. Lee Tucker
St Thomas, VI
March 2, 2009

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