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Course ASA106 Advanced Coastal Cruise
Date February 23-March 2, 2011
Students: Mike Christakos, Larry Heck, Gary Hutson, Art Rowley and Park Terrell 
Captain: Lee Tucker

Tuesday, February 22 (crew arrival day):
Our first ASA 106 Advanced Coastal Cruising class of the year began in sunny St. Thomas, Virgin Islands as Captain F. Lee Tucker was joined aboard S/V CELESTIAL by Gary Hutson of Maryland, Art Rowley of Colorado, Park Terrell of North Carolina and Larry Heck of Pennsylvania. Our sixth crewmember, Mike Christakos of New Jersey was delayed by weather and joined up with CELESTIAL’s crew the following day.  All were excited to be participating in this circumnavigation of the US and British Virgin Islands in pursuit of ASA 106 certification. In addition, Gary, a captain for the Maryland School is taking the opportunity to accumulate more sea time and advanced cruising experience. This cruise turned out to be a reunion of sorts for Larry and Captain Lee as they sailed together last year in the USVI as Larry achieved ASA 104 certification.  All will have the opportunity to practice and refine their coastal navigation skills continuously over the next week. 

After personal gear was stowed, the captain assigned tasks for day 1 orientation to the crew: Larry would be engineer, Art-safety and emergency coordinator, Gary and Park- boatswains. After a thorough review of ship’s systems and gear, each will serve to orient the remaining crewmembers to CELESTIAL’s operation. 

Wednesday, February 23, Day 1:
An inventory of  CELESTIAL’s food stores was completed and soon menus and shopping lists were prepared. Since Larry and Art had completed their respective system checks, they joined the captain provisioning at the local market, Pueblo. Mike arrived shortly after provisions were stowed and crew orientations began, conducted by each crew member in turn. The day went by quickly as we immersed ourselves in safety orientations, engineering details and operation of the vessels deck gear, sails and rigging. 

Thursday, February 24, Day 2:
Each day, our crew will rotate crew positions assuring that everyone has a focused introduction to each task. Today, Larry is the navigator. After planning a route east along the South coast of St Thomas past Little St. James Island and the Pillsbury sound to Great Harbor Jost Van Dyke, he conducts the first chart briefing of the voyage. Gary is today’s engineer and gives us the go ahead. After clearing Crown Bay Marina, Art takes the helm and all crew members practice coastal navigation, plotting a series of 2 and 3 bearing fixes. We arrive at Jost Van Dyke too late to clear customs and settle in with a dinner of pasta and meatballs. 

Friday, February 25, Day 3
The NOAA forecast is for ENE wind 18-23 and the ride is wet as we aggressively motor sail along the north coast of Tortola to reach Gorda Sound at Virgin Gorda before nightfall. Numerous humpback whales have been sighted here in previous days as they are migrating, but no luck today! Continuous 2 and 3 bearing fixes are supplemented with running fixes and we are confident of our position  at all times. We practiced doubling the angle off the bow to determine distance offshore with good success. Following Art’s nav plan for the day, Park keeps us well on course and we enter Gorda Sound in plenty of light anchoring in the lee of Prickly Pear Island. Mike serves up a delicious dinner of chicken stir fry with a ginger-sesame sauce. 

Saturday, February 26, Day 4
Park lays a course for Anegada, almost due north after clearing the outer reef of Virgin Gorda. As we clear the reef, we instead alter course to starboard to Necker Island to conduct crew-overboard drills under sail. The wind is blowing 25kts and conditions are challenging in this open water, but all crewmembers successfully rescue “Bob” taking turns at helm, sail trimmers and spotter. After a 2 bearing fix on Virgin Peak and Necker Island, Park fixes a new position and course to steer to reach the channel entrance to the anchorage at Anegada. It’s a fast ride up to Anegada at 8kts boat speed on a close reach and we arrive shortly after 13:00. The captain takes the opportunity to lead an extended group discussion on a variety of ASA 106 topics before we go ashore for a dinner of Anegada lobster. 

Sunday, February 27, Day 5
Morning brings low grey clouds, passing squalls and forecasts of ENE winds of 18-25kts gusting to 32. The anchorage, however is calm with no hint of the building seas in the eastward Anegada passage. Larry and Mike collaborate on a passage plan to depart Anegada to the south, following inside the “Horseshoe Reef”, east through the Necker Island Passage into the Anegada Passage. From there, our plan takes us to the south of St. Croix and northwest to Culebra, PR.  Our trip is estimated to cover 150 nm and take 24 hours, although we believe we will be sailing faster than that, given the wind strength. Our watch schedule calls for 2 crew on watch at all times for 4 hours “on” and 8 hours “off”. Gary and Park, Capt Lee and Mike and Larry and Art form the 3 watches.   

We depart Anegada under grey skies and isolated showers with Capt Lee and Mike taking the first watch. Later the sun returns and we enjoy a brisk sail on a beam reach to the Necker Island Passage. Once clear of Virgin Gorda, the seas build to 7-10 ft. Although many waves are steep, they are following us and none are true breakers, only the tops crumble brilliant white against a deep indigo blue background. We are off soundings now with water depths over 6,000ft. Night falls as we approach the east end of St Croix. We race along the south coast, navigating by the many lights. By midnight we begin our turn northwest around the western cape of St. Croix. 

Monday, February 28, Day 6
Dawn is clear and bright as we approach the Bajos Grampus reef guarding eastern Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. We apply all our coastal navigation skills to establish our position in these dangerous waters. We elect to sail for Culebrita Island and take a mooring on the southwest coast. We are cleared in by Puerto Rico Customs and Immigration and most of the crew choose to go ashore and hike up to the old lighthouse at the top of Culebrita. Somehow, we manage to fit in some practice setting two anchors off the bow and demonstrating a crew overboard rescue with the lifesling as Park obliges us as a waterlogged “victim”. Later, it’s more ASA 106 review in the cockpit, crew swimming and finally a shrimp stir-fry dinner prepared by chef Larry for our appreciative, but tired crew. 

Tuesday, March 1, Day 7
The wind is still blowing ENE 18-25 as we make our way north past Culebrita, Sombrerito and Cayo Norte Islands on our way back to St. Thomas. It’s not looking good for spinnaker practice in these winds! Our return course takes us past Sail Rock, that odd mountaintop island frosted with guano resembling a square-rigger from a distance and marking the halfway point between Culebra and St Thomas. We arrive early in the afternoon, so we choose to do some more crew overboard practice under sail! Next we practice heaving-to and find it much better using only the mainsail as opposed to the textbook-recommended practice of back-winding the genoa. We try lying ahull and discuss the disadvantages of the tactic in storms. We sail into Brewers Bay where we anchor for the night. All take and pass the ASA106 exams with flying colors as Capt. Lee prepares a dinner of red beans, chorizo and rice, Puerto Rican style. 

Wednesday, March 2, Last Day
Art takes the helm and guides us to Crown Bay Marina, following Larry’s navigation plan. We have a short seminar on docking theory and practices. After our lines and fenders are set we call for clearance into the marina and fuel dock. We have just enough room to tie up behind a megayacht, then back slowly and turn to enter our slip. Docking is accomplished with a silent efficiency befitting this accomplished ASA106 crew. We make plans to share pictures and stay in contact with each other and, after such a challenging week are sorry to say goodbye. We know we see each other again somewhere, out there. 

Captain F. Lee Tucker
St. Thomas, USVI
March 3, 2011

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