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Course ASA103-104 Virgin Islands Coastal Cruise
Date 29 Jan - 6 Feb, 2016 
Vessel S/V Snowflake IP440
Students: Glynis and Harold Koehler, Cary and Randy Frostick, Glen Miller 
Captain Steve Runals 

Pre-departure Preparation: 
Preparation for our training began early with cruise guidance provided by Rita Hanson, MDS office director, and an introduction letter from the Captain (yours truly) prior to the end of December.  We conducted a January online meeting to provide an opportunity for the crew to get to know one another, identify individual training goals and concerns, discuss cruise plan options and begin development of a supporting meal plan. Our crew comes with a wide range of sailing experience that each looks forward to building on during the class as they rotate through training responsibilities as captain, navigator, engineer, bosun and safety officer.  

Friday, January 29, 2016, Day 1: 
Captain arrived the day before to get an early start on the day’s activities.  The school is using a charter boat from Island Yachts so early duties included going over paperwork with the charter company and doing a boat inspection and checkout with Skip King, head of the Island Yachts charter company.  It’s important to know and exercise all boat systems to include checking the main engine, all lockers, sail controls, boat systems including running the windless, and checking the dingy and starting the outboard.  

I finished onboard preparations by noon, just ahead of the arrival of four of the crew who had arrived on island a day early. We go right to work reviewing our cruising plan based on forecast weather and finalizing the meal plan.  As we are about to head to Moe’s, the local grocery store, Glen arrives completing the crew.  The Captain, Harold and Randy head to the store while the others finish stowing gear and getting acquainted with the boat to include locating all Federal required safety equipment. Provisioning today allows us to cool down our perishables in the refrigerator while we were still on shore power.  Once provisions and individual gear are stowed, we have an excellent dinner ashore at Fish Tails followed by a review of below deck operational systems before turning in after long productive day.  A good start to the week.   

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Day 2: 
We begin the day below going over safety rules, Federal safety requirements and rules followed by an introduction to coastal navigation with its charts, tides and buoys.  This is followed by an on deck orientation – reviewing and discussing the operation of all standing and running rigging. We then break into our crew assignments to get ready to depart.  Randy, our navigator for the day, develops our navigation plan for the day, Cary checks out the engine with some help from the Captain, Glen and Glynis checkout all deck rigging and rig the jacklines while Harold, as student captain for the day, keeps a watchful eye on all. We break for a final meal ashore and return by 1300 for a review of all points of sail and man overboard (MOB) under power procedures.  

We depart the marina by 1330, and, once clear of traffic and well into Pillsbury Sound, we all have the opportunity to maneuver the boat under power and conduct MOB under power drills.  Once our “tipsy dummy” is finally secured, we make our way under sail to an anchorage in Rendezvous Bay.  We review the procedures for anchoring and are secure by 1630.  It’s nice to have the anchorage all to ourselves to enjoy this beautiful spot as we prepare dinner.  Over dinner we review the day’s events and try our hands at tying many of the sailor’s essential knots.  Following cleanup, we enjoy a beautiful sunset, Cary lays out our course for tomorrow, and all spend time studying. The waning moon and star-filled sky provide a great backdrop to continue reviewing the day’s event and getting to know each other.  It’s great to be on the water and away from the noise of Red Hook, especially knowing how cold it is at home.  

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Day 3: 
Yesterday’s ship and sail handling provided a good starting point for the day’s training.  Cary, our navigator, has laid out a course that takes us back into Pillsbury Sound, thru the Windward Passage and on to Francis Bay for the night with a stop to pick up a mooring at Caneel Bay and lunch ashore in Cruz Bay.  The day’s forecast calls for 10 to15 knot NE winds, a nice range of winds to get comfortable with our “home away from home.”  Once back into Pillsbury Sound, we practice all points of sail while gaining a clearer understanding of the rights and responsibilities of “stand-on” and “give-way” vessels in this heavily trafficked area.  The crew has voiced concern about jibing, so we spend extra time focusing on this potentially dangerous maneuver.  Once all understand how to properly utilize preparatory and execution commands and control the main sheet, executing this maneuver in the increasingly strong winds no longer seems as intimidating as it once did.   

By late morning we have worked our way around the Two Brothers rocks and after a review of mooring procedures, pick up a National Park Service mooring at Caneel Bay. We discuss outboard motors and dingy operations as we head into Cruz Bay for lunch and a walkabout.  Back on the boat, we head for the Windward Passage and Francis Bay.  The winds have built and veered to a strong SE wind, gusting to 25 knots as we tack our way thru the narrow Windward Passage.  Once thru, Cary carefully tracks our progress past the potentially dangerous Johnson Reef, helpfully ringed by a set of yellow buoys.  The building winds and seas give us the opportunity to see the value of the stay sail and reefing the main to help control weather helm.  We secure a mooring with little difficulty and after a short review Randy, Cary and Glynis all take and easily pass their ASA 101 test.  Now it’s time for a swim, a rest while watching boats move about the mooring area, and preparing dinner.  Over a light dinner, we review the day’s events and help Glen lay out our course up toward Jost Van Dyke, around Soper’s Hole, into the Sir Francis Drake Channel, around the east end of St John to a mooring area on the south side of the Island. The moon, starry skies and dropping wind make for a quiet night and well-earned rest.    

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Day 4: 
Today’s tasks are to navigate around to the south side of St John and practice MOB under sail.  After an excellent breakfast and pre-operational checks supervised by Cary, our student captain for the day, we depart by 0830 after a review of MOB under sail techniques.  The forecast is for light winds so we motor up toward Jost Van Dyke.  By 0900 the winds have filled in with occasional showers and we are able to execute several Figure-8 MOB maneuvers before heading to the gap between Thatch Island and Sopers Hole.  Tacking thru this narrow passage really exercises the crew, underscoring the need for clear preparatory and execution commands and teamwork.  Once into the Sir Francis Drake Channel, we settle in for a long beat up the Channel in winds between 15 to 25 knots.  Charter boats in the Channel provide an excellent opportunity to exercise “Right of Way” rules.  

We round East End and head toward Ram Head.  The wind is now off our port quarter so we set up a preventer to stabilize the boom and prevent an accidental jib.  All quickly see its benefit in the rolly seas.  Glen has been monitoring our progress by taking several two-bearing fixes.  After reviewing the chart the night before he had identified Eagle Shoal as a danger area.  He determined a danger bearing to help keep us clear of the shoal and we now take a series of bearings to monitor our progress.  Randy, who has been tracking our progress on his iPad using iNav, alerts us that we are getting too close to the shoal, the danger bearing say we are safe and there has been no change in water color indicating a change in depth – who is right.  Just at the point Randy says we should be in 4 ft of water the depth gage reads 54 ft.  Electronic navigation tools can be very helpful but should always be considered aids to navigation.  Knowing how to navigate with and without electronic charts and keeping a good visual watch are essential coastal navigation skills.  

We round Ram Head and start looking for a mooring ball in Salt Ponds Bay.  Randy and Cary, who have been there before on a dive trip, indict this is a good snorkeling spot.  We spy two empty mooring balls and after a careful approach, are safe and secure.  It does not take long before all are in the water.  After a refreshing swim, shower and quiet dinner in our beautiful anchorage, we discuss the day’s events and prepare for our 30 mile trip to Culerbra.  Glynis, navigator for tomorrow, gets a chance to put to use all she has learned about navigation by watching and helping others.  After some careful planning, she announces we will need to make an early departure.  So after some star watching and study, it’s off to bed. The crew agrees this has been a good, challenging day with tomorrow promising to be its equal.    

Day 5: 
Today’s task is to navigate along the south side of St Thomas, past Sail Rock, through the reef-strewn entrance into Culebra to an anchorage off the town of Dewey in the Ensenada Honda.  We get an update on the weather, conduct pre-op checks and drop our mooring by 0645.  The forecast is for light E to ESE winds and reduced northerly swell.  Once on course and motor sailing in light winds, we find the remainder of a SE swell making for a very rolly ride.  Thankfully the preventer is rigged and doing its job.  As we reach the end of St John and entrance to Pillsbury Sound, we discuss the option of turning north into the Sound and then sailing along the north side of St Thomas to minimize the impact of the still very pronounced swell.  Glynis goes to work laying out the new course which is only slightly longer and we take up her new heading.  Flexibility is essential in any cruising plan – wind, sea and other weather considerations are all important considerations that must be continually reassessed.   

Once on our new course Glynis, with the help of several of crew, tracks our progress by taking a series of two-bearing fixes. We build confidence in our ability to fix our position using a hand bearing compass by comparing the solution to an electronic fix from a handheld GPS.  After passing Savanna Island, we come up to a beam reach and enjoy a beautiful sail to the entrance buoys to Ensenada Honda.  We carefully work our way into this very protected anchorage with the help of Randy’s iPad, a set binoculars and many eyeballs.  

After dropping anchor and clearing in with Home Land Security via phone, we head into the small town to a hostel where we are able to take very welcomed fresh water showers without having to monitor water use.  Harold and the Captain make a quick trip back to the boat with some items we picked up at the grocery store while the others do a little exploring.  We all meet at the Dingy Dock Restaurant for some cool refreshment and enjoy the beautiful setting.  We head to a local restaurant for an early dinner, enjoying the time to discuss the day’s events.  Back to the boat for a little study time (tomorrow is the ASA 103 test) and laying out our course for tomorrow.  The breeze is light, the sky filled with stars, the anchorage is quiet ….. except for the sounds of rosters calling to each other.    

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Day 6:  
Our plan today is to stay in the vicinity of Culebra working on the mechanics of all points of sail and executing MOB under sail drills.  Before departing, Randy prepares an excellent breakfast, we execute pre-departure checks and review marine weather.  Directed by our navigator Harold, Glynis, our student captain for the day, gets us out past the reefs guarding the entrance to Ensenada Honda, south around the tip of Culebra and into the Canal de Luis Pena where we practice all points of sail with an emphasis on jibing and the Motor Sail MOB recovery technique.  All appreciate the value of being able to stay close to our “tipsy dummy” using the motor to get us into the “rescue position” and wind to get us within range for pick up.  All agree that although we can recover a MOB, it is far better to have everyone stay aboard and not have to demonstrate that skill.  

In building winds, we tack our way around Luis Pena Island and head back into Canal de Luis Pena where we work our way back around the western edge of Culebra, thru the reefs outside Ensenada Honda, into the Canal Del Sur and finally into the surreal anchorage at Bahia de Amodovar.  Careful navigation by Harold and piloting by Glynis get us safely into this beautiful spot, protected by a reef and mangroves yet open to the still strong northerly winds.  We have clear view of St Thomas 17 nm ahead to the east. Anxious to get the work out of the way, the crew decides to take their ASA 103 tests before a swim, deck shower and dinner; a good choice on this busy day. All do well on their test, motivated by the opportunity to take a shower and eat grilled hamburgers and bean salad. Glen, our “grill master” demonstrates his craft, providing an excellent meal.  We finish the evening reviewing the day’s events and planning our return trip to St Thomas.  Another beautiful evening.                                 

Day 7: 
Today is the long trip back to St Thomas.  The forecast calls for 10 to15 knot NE winds so it looks like a good opportunity for some close windward work.  Randy, our navigator, has laid our return course anticipating long tacks which will bring us near Sail Rock, an excellent waypoint to gauge progress.  Before departing we spend time going over engine systems in detail and conduct pre-departure checks with an emphasis on making sure all hatches and portlights are secure.  In anticipation of some ocean sailing we all don harnesses and tethers and see how to use the rigged jacklines – a good opportunity to see their value. With Harold’s guidance and local knowledge, we clear the reefs guarding the entrance to Culebra and settle into a close-hauled course which has us within 10 degrees of our desired course – a very rare event.  It’s a great sail, a single tack in winds 14 to24 knots the entire 28 miles to Buck Island off the southern coast of St Thomas.  Along the way Randy takes several two bearing fixes to track our progress and we rotate the helm for all to get a feel for sailing in ocean waves.   

Buck Island is a popular destination for local charter boats but cruisers can use the moorings late in the afternoon and evening.  Once secure, its time to explore; first in the water – a wreck sets 30 feet below our mooring ball and lots marine life to explore; then it’s into the dingy for a trip ashore and some exploring.  After several charter boats depart, we have this beautiful spot to ourselves.  Over a dinner of grilled pork chops and a beautiful sunset we take time to review the course with individual assessments of how well their course objectives were achieved.  All agree that their expectations have indeed been met; the sail back from Culebra has been the highlight of the trip.  Another quiet night under a star filled sky makes the end of this perfect day.    

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Day 8: 
Cary has laid out the return course to give us time for some final sailing practice and to get back to Red Hook by 1300 so that Randy, Harold and Glen can take the final ASA 104 test.  With Randy at the helm, in light winds we motor sail around Dog Island at the end of St James Island and back into Pillsbury Sound where the winds picks up.  Cary updates our position as we work our way up to and around the Two Brothers and head back to Red Hook. We call ahead to the fuel dock for clearance to refuel – this can sometimes be a long process requiring careful maneuvering in this crowded harbor.  

After docking and refueling we are guided back to our slip at Island Yachts.  By 1330, we are secured in our slip, empty our trash and those taking the ASA 104 test head up to a cool place in the shade of the veranda for the test.  The test includes, as no surprise, course plotting with which all are now very familiar. All do extremely well on the test.  The Captain, Cary and Glynis start the boat cleanup process by conducting a thorough cleaning of the outside of the boat.  Then it’s showers and a final celebratory dinner ashore.  A great way to end the week.  It’s Friday night, and the Red Hook marina bars are hopping with a bands and a lively crowd, but it doesn’t deter a good night’s sleep.   

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Day 9   
The charter agreement requires that we have the salon “broom-cleaned”, the fridge emptied and cleaned, and the topsides hosed down before departing.  We have breakfast, clean the boat, have a final course review, and are showered and ready to go by 1000 hours.  Everyone is rightfully proud of their achievements and voice plans to further hone their skills on the water.  It has been a great class with unique opportunities and a few challenges but each has grown in skill and confidence.  I salute each of you – with thanks and appreciation – and wish you Fair Winds as you continue in your sailing adventure.                    

Captain Steve Runals  
On board S/V SNOWFLAKE, Feb 6, 2016 
Red Hook, St. Thomas, USVI

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