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Course ASA106 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date January 21-28, 2014
Students: Paula Nelson, Richard Jensen, Rorie Watt, Jeffrey Ivey
Captain Steve Runals

Mon 20 Jan: Students arrive and stow gear.  After an initial orientation of several key boat systems and inventory of onboard stores, we head to Tickles, the dockside restaurant, for dinner and a chance to get to know each other.  While each member of the crew brings a different level of sailing experience to the class, each is looking forward to a week away from the cold and snow for the opportunity to refine their sailing skills on a larger boat in more challenging wind and sea conditions.  After dinner, we return to the boat to review the ASA requirements for each course (101- 103 -104) and develop our cruise plan and an initial cut at the supporting meal plan.  Our berths provide a welcome end to a long day.

Day 1: Tues 21 Jan:  All up early and ready to start class by 0830.  We update our cruising plan and finalizing our provisioning list.  The Captain, Dick and Paula head off to Pubelo’s, the local market, to get provisions while Rorie and Jeff check out the boat to find required safety equipment.  After returning from the market and stowing provisions, we begin a review of coastal navigation tools and publications, “rules of the road” and the buoy system followed by a thorough inspection of on deck boat equipment and sail handling gear.  Rorie and Jeff point out the location of key ship’s safety equipment before we break for lunch.  Our planned departure is for 1430 hrs; so after lunch we conduct a chart orientation and review maneuvering under power before topping off water and securing for departure.  Paula takes us smoothly out of our slip and our navigator, Jeff, directs us to a secure anchorage in Brewers Bay for the night.  We enjoy some local music and swimming before dinner and a beautiful sunset.  After dinner entertainment centers around practicing knots and studying course material before turning in after a long and challenging day.

Day 2: Wed, 22 Jan: Following a light breakfast, we review in detail a preoperations checklist, check the weather, review all points of sail, MOB procedures under power and our course to Christmas Cove on Great St James Island. After securing the anchor, all crew participate at the helm and as line handlers as we conduct MOB drills under power and then maneuver Celestial through all points of sail as we avoid the hazards of Porpoise Rocks, Saba Island and Flat Keys.  We sail close hauled in winds 12 to 23 knots into Christmas Cove.  Dick has a chance to put his ASA 105 Coastal Nav skills to good use, tracking our progress along the southern coast of St Thomas using dead reckoning and two-bearing fixes. By midafternoon we pick up a mooring and secure the boat after our long beat to windward.  The rest of the afternoon is spent swimming and snorkeling before enjoying a great dinner and a beautiful sunset. Armed with a review of course material, Jeff and Rorie take and easily pass the ASA 101 test.  A quiet night under a starry sky, broken up with occasional rain showers allow us to get the hatch closing and opening routine down perfectly.

Day 3: Thurs, Jan 23:  After yesterday’s thorough preparation and hands-on practice, our crew is gaining confidence in their sailing skills.  It’s time to sail east toward St. John. The NOAA weather forecast on VHF- 5/6 predicts winds from the east @ 15 to 25 knots. Prior to weighing anchor we conduct a review of engine systems and complete predeparture checks.  Rorie, as navigator, has laid out a course that takes us through the Current Cut, across the heavily trafficked Pillsbury Sound and through the Windward Passage to Francis Bay. Along the way we built in a stop for lunch at Cruz Bay.  Once underway we verify our position reading water depth by its color and practice all points of sail. We gain practical experience with the “rules of the road” by sailing in close proximity with numerous ferries and power and sail boats. After a morning filled with tacking and gybing, we head over to Caneel Bay where we pick up a National Park Service mooring and dingy into Cruz Bay for a walkabout in this interesting little town and have lunch.  After stretching our legs ashore, we dingy back to the boat and drop our mooring to resume our trip east.  We short tack through the Windward Passage, gaining a good understanding of the challenges of close hauled sailing in gusty conditions.  Once through this narrow passage, we sail into Francis Bay and pick up one of the many Park Service moorings. The Maho Eco Camp located on the Bay has been sold so we are not able to see much on shore but we do explore the area a little on the beaches and underwater before returning to the boat for showers, dinner and preparation for tomorrow’s adventure.  We spend a secure night on our mooring under a star filled sky which has more than its share of passing rain showers.      

Day 4: Fri, Jan 24:  Following breakfast, we review in detail marine weather and MOB procedures under sail.  Our destination today is Salt Ponds on the south side of St John.   After clearing the mooring, we raise sail and practice all points of sail before the crew tries their hand at recovery of MOB under sail in building winds and seas.  All execute their assigned responsibilities and our “tipsy dummy” is finally recovered and secured for the last time.   We work our way east to enter the Thatch Island Cut near Soper’s Hole, short tacking our way in heavy to light winds.  We finally enter the Sir Francis Drake Channel and head toward the eastern tip of St John in gusty winds and occasionally heavy rain showers.  After rounding St John and heading toward Ram’s Head, Paula plots a danger bearing to keep us clear of Eagle Shoals. We get a chance to practice sailing downwind with a preventer and rolly seas.  This will stand us in good stead when we head west tomorrow.  We round Ram’s Head and look into the Salt Ponds anchorage but see all the moorings are taken.  Under increasingly overcast skies we motor down to Great Lameshur Bay where we pick up a mooring just after another rain shower moves thru the area.   The rainy afternoon is spent studying and taking the ASA 103 test; all pass with flying colors.  Following dinner Dick, our navigator, prepares for the downwind sail to Isla de Culebra.  Another quiet night is spent under a now clearing sky filled with a bright canopy of stars.

Day 5: Sat, Jan 25: We depart shortly after sunrise, clearing our mooring and underway by 0730 to Dewey, the main town on Culebra in the Spanish VI some 35 nm to our west.   Once out of the lee of St John, we initially find light and variable winds but they build as we sail to the west, sailing wing-on-wing with a poled out genoa and preventer. Rain showers pass around us as we review the ASA 104 course material and get another chance to experience downwind sailing.  By midafternoon we close reach to the entrance of the reefs guarding the entrance to Ensenada Honda and our anchorage off Dewey.  We anchor off this small community and clear in with Homeland Security by phone.  A new port to explore calls us into the dingy.  After dropping off our trash at the town dock, we tie up at the Dingy Dock Restaurant for some cool refreshment and an opportunity to see a little of this interesting little town.  After some exploring, we settle on Mamacita’s for dinner which turns out to be an excellent choice.  Before we return to the boat a quick stop at a nearby grocery store allows us to replenish a critical boat supply – wine. It’s back to the boat to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.   Another quiet night with a few passing showers. 

Day 6: Sun, Jan 26: The day dawns full of promise - bright, clear and windy.  After breakfast and preoperational checks, we head out for some day sailing and a chance to explore the area while refining our sailing skills.  Once clear of the entrance to Ensenada Honda, we turn south in the Canal del Oeste, carefully watching water color to stay clear of the surrounding reefs.  Clear of this tricky passage, we practice jibing as we broad reach west in ocean swells till we are in the lee of Cayo de Luis Pena off Culebra’s west coast.   We sail along its western shore till we spot and pick up one of the free day moorings for lunch and a quick swim.   We later continue our circumnavigation of the island, short tacking around the northern end of the island till we can reach down the Canal de Luis Pena.  This great sail ends as we round Punta de Soldado at the southwestern end of Culebra and make our way motor sailing carefully through the reefs guarding the entrance to the Ensenada Honda till we enter the Canal del Sur.  We continue north till we can clear into the entrance to Puerto del Manglar, round Pela Island and pick up a mooring in the very protected anchorage at Bahia de Almodovar.  This surreal anchorage lies behind a reef that keeps ocean swells and wind driven waves at bay while allowing the strong breeze to keep us cool.   Our boat remains rock steady, rolling less than when we were at the dock with St Thomas in sight some 18 miles to the east.  We explore the interesting waters around the mangroves, take showers, enjoy dinner and another quiet evening under a now clear, starry night sky.

Day 7: Mon, Jan 27: Another early start.  Following a light breakfast, pre ops and weather checks, we are underway as the morning sun lights our way out of the entrance to Puerto del Manglar and into the reef bordered Canal del Sur.  Once away from the shoal guarded entrance to Culebra, we trim sails and beat our way east toward our waypoint off Sail Rock in winds 19-28 knots and seas 4-8 ft on the way to our final anchorage in Brewers Bay.  All do well in these challenging conditions but one of our crew learns the importance of being able to quickly get to the lee rail.  By early afternoon it’s time to motor sail into Brewer’s Bay, anchor and take a short swim before taking the final test.  All have learned their lessons well and easily pass the ASA 104 test, having demonstrated proficiency in all hands-on areas in the wide range of wind and sea conditions of the last few days.  A clear night, good meal, secure anchorage with new friends all provide a perfect setting for our final night in this beautiful area.  The evening is made even better when the Captain and Paula see the “green flash” as the sun goes down... It really does happen.

Day 8: Tues Jan 28: After a final night at anchor, we motor sail back home. As we motor up the West Gregorie Channel we contact the marina over the VHF for clearance to the fuel dock.  Rorie brings us in to top off our fuel and Dick puts us back into our slip – each done with little fanfare, underscoring how effective we have become as crew.   After securing and cleaning up the boat, we conduct a final review of the cruise, discussed the next classes and sailing experiences we were considering and exchanged farewells. All indicate the training exceeded all expectations and hope to be able to sail together in the future.  Congratulations to a great crew and a job well done. Fair winds and great sailing to all! 

Capt. Steve Runals
St Thomas, VI
30 Jan 2014

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