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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date Jan 10-17, 2015
Vessel Snowflake IP440
Students: Patty and Joe Ault, Rick and Joan Smith, and Kevin Farrell
Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann

Pre-departure Preparation
Both Rita Hanson, MDSchool General Manager, and the Captain (yours truly) had sent out cruise guidance in November and December to help students prepare for their bareboat training adventure aboard S/V SNOWFLAKE, an Island Packet IP440 ocean sailing yacht. We also concluded that a January online meeting would be helpful for the crew to get to know one another, discuss meal planning plus possible destinations. I arrived aboard a day ahead of time to go over paperwork with the charter company and next morning to do boat checkout with Skip King, head of the Island Yacht Charter Company. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015, Day 1: 
I finished onboard preparations by noon - just ahead of the arrival of four of my students, Patty and Joe Ault and Rick and Joan Smith. We went right to work developing our meal plan, went shopping, and stowed provisions so that that perishables could cool down in the refrigerator while we were still on shore power. While shopping, Keven Farrell arrived and my crew was complete. All came to get certified at the ASA104 Bareboat Charter level for which they had to meet a demanding set of standards. This makes sense, given that they’d be chartering boats with a price tag of many hundreds of thousands of dollars and, above all, be responsible for the safety of their own crew. So, this report highlights the training we conducted at the ASA104 level. As to destinations, some wanted to sail to the Spanish Virgin Islands (SVI) others to the British Virgin Islands (BVI). All were aware that destinations are weather and time dependent, and that they as crew needed to demonstrate at the outset the skills required for an open water passage to the SVI. After a quick dinner ashore, Joe took on developing the navigation plan eastward through the Durloe Cays, using charted objects, depth contours plus latitude/longitude lines as way points. 

Day 2: 
We begin the day working from my handout titled Skipper of the Day, a list of activities showing what it takes to be in charge as a charter captain and to operate the boat safely dawn to dusk and overnight. Activities include checking out the boat below and above deck, learning about deck safety and proper line and winch handling to ensure we don’t sustain injuries. We also checked the weather, engine fluids and VHF radio reception. Once safely out of the busy Red Hook Harbor and well into Pillsbury Sound, underway training begins in earnest. It includes engine operation, tacking under sail, MOB under engine and sail and picking up moorings. After lunch in Caneel Bay, Joe navigates us to Francis Bay, taking note of the large Johnson Reef, the north edge of which being located at 18º21’47” N and 064º46’21” W and helpfully ringed by a set of yellow buoys. We secure a mooring and learn about dinghy operation on our way to the National Park Service’s floating pay station where we drop off the mooring fee. While Patty prepares the crew dinner of sausage, rice and beans, Joan develops a proposed navigation plan to Tortola. A final look at the weather forecasts tells me that inclusion of both the BVI and SVI is manageable since I have made landfall in both places many times. All are becoming increasingly aware that – given the available time span - our multiple destinations make for an ambitious route that no charterer should attempt without a lot of experience, an experienced crew, and extra time each day for contingencies. To be sure, filling the day with planning and transit, cuts deeply into time margins needed in case of breakdown. 

Day 3, Rick as Skipper of the Day: 
With winds gusting to 25 knots, we start training in the relative shelter of Francis Bay. We practice stopping at a desired spot, then a series of ever more complex evolutions of man overboard, and various points of sail, including heaving to. Now, it’s on to the Atlantic side of the islands to hone tacking skills which we shall need during the SVI portion of our cruise. Joan is navigating us into Tortola’s West End using latitude and longitude boundaries as well as visual cues as we approach the large mooring field of Sopers Hole. Alas, all moorings are already occupied, requiring us to set two anchors in 70 plus feet of water to keep us on station. In strong shifting winds, our anchor lines foul creating an unacceptable chafing danger. With Patty’s deft wheel handling and interpretation of hand signals from the bow, we raise both anchors and set them again in proper fashion. More than an hour has already gone by when Rick spots a departing boat and its now-free mooring ball. Safe holding power in these strong winds calls for prudent action. We raise anchors yet again and tie up at the mooring. Our problems are not over yet: When we try to start the dinghy motor to go to British Customs, the weather-worn pull cord separates from the handle and retracts inside the fly-wheel housing. We don’t have the needed tools to get to it.  Now we are only about an hour away from sunset. The Captain manages to hire a dinghy and driver from the marina to take us to customs, on to Pusser’s Restaurant and back to the boat. Well, we had quite a day. 

Day 4, Patty is Skipper: 
Our nice dinghy driver is back with a proper set of tools and fixes our O/B motor pull cord. Voila, we are off. Patty has her navigation plan in hand and gets us first into Caneel Bay. Next, we take the Dinghy from our Caneel Bay mooring to Cruz Bay to clear U.S. Customs. Once back, there is the ASA103 test to be taken before we can open up multiple hatches plus the engine space to cover 104 level engineering and associated mechanical trouble shooting topics. While Joan prepares a delicious salmon dish, next day’s crucial navigation planning commences with Kevin taking the leg south of Buck Islands, Joe the dead reckoning leg to Culebra and Rick the passage through the reef-strewn entrance into Culebra, Ensenada Honda. The NOAA Light List helps us in that it gives us buoy and range locations. By now, students also know how to convert headings per ship’s compass (psc) into headings per True or geographic North. From now on, all chart plotting is being done in True. 

Day 5, Joe as Skipper: 
At sunrise in continuing ESE winds up to 23 knots, reefed main, full genoa and the main boom secured with a preventer, we are underway. At Kevin’s way point off Buck Island, we begin broad reaching (later wing-on-wing) to Culebra on Joe’s DR course of 263 degrees True. We now begin taking bearing fixes and running fixes to check our fast progress using charted lights, land features, and depth contours. In sight of what we assume to be the Culebra approach buoy RN “2”, we take in all sails and do a drive-by under engine to check the GPS danger bearings we had established earlier to keep us safely off the reefs: Yes, we were near, and still south of latitude 18º16’36” N. Next, we steer slowly from westward closer to our longitude line of 065º15’11” W which marks our eastern boundary through the reefs. Sure enough, our entrance buoy RN “2” lies dead ahead. From here we can see the next red and green marks that eventually put us first onto the Outer Range and then the Inner Range lines. Our lookouts are able to spot the hard to see range boards which we line up to stay in the center of the ever narrowing channel. We drop anchor in Ensenada Honda among a large number of sailing yachts, check in with customs, and go swimming. Alas, it takes three more calls and three hours before we finally reach the clearing agent one more time to learn that we had been cleared in. At last, we can take the dinghy to tour the mangroves and the village and end up with a great meal at the Dinghy Dock Restaurant. 

Day 6, Kevin as our Skipper: 
Last evening, we had one more event requiring prompt, appropriate action: Rick had heard and saw water rushing freely from a hose into a salon locker and onto shelves. A loose hose clamp had allowed the shower cold water supply hose to separate. Mopping up of lots of water and properly connecting the hoses again took care of both the matter and our adrenaline rush. Today, Joan as navigator takes us back out through the reefs. Patty had earlier plotted a DR course of 090º True to St. Thomas. Winds are SSE at 12 knots which result in a short tack south, a long tack to the north of Savanna Island, another short tack to clear Savanna Island before we tack again and reach Brewers Bay. There is time for text review, another swim, a glass of wine, and a delicious pork chop dinner prepared by Kevin. 

Day 7, Joan as Skipper: 
Upwind tacks back to Red Hook along Joe’s navigation plan are uneventful. Students start their ASA104 test as soon as we arrive (it includes, no surprise, course plotting). All pass and – with Snowflake fueled up and back in her slip - we celebrate with a Happy Hour drink on board and a final dinner together at Malone’s. 

Day 8: 

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. In fact, the boat shines by the time we are done. Everyone is rightfully proud of his or her achievements and voices plans to further hone their skills on the water. 

Your captain salutes you – with thanks and appreciation – and wishes you Fair Winds, always.

Captain H. Jochen Hoffmann
On board S/V SNOWFLAKE, January 17, 2015
Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI

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