Pulling People Out of Their Comfort Zone - Sailing Rallies
From Yacht Club Cruising to Ocean Crossings
By Daria & Alex Blackwell
Humans are interesting creatures. There are those who get a notion and immediately pursue it – risks and obstacles notwithstanding. Take Saint Brendan, Leif Erikson, and Columbus – each of them crossed the Atlantic to “discover” new lands. None knew for certain what, or if anything was ‘out there’. That took a great deal of courage; or density, or destiny. Matt Rutherford and all those who were first to attempt a feat in recent times, also fall into that category.
For most sailors, anchoring overnight might be adventurous. Doing an overnight sail would rarely be contemplated unless someone is there to hold their hand. For most, this first overnighter would be on a yacht club cruise. Someone else has made all the arrangements. There is safety in numbers, as other yachts make the same transit at the same time. The weather is checked by experts. The places to dine are pre-selected. And there’s a party in ever port. What’s not to like?
Like so many others, we started out sailing locally; going out for day sails, learning how to anchor. But soon we felt the need to venture further. We wanted to see new territory. A long weekend would provide the opportunity to sail as far as we could in a day, then hopscotch our way back after a wonderful night at anchor.
Then we had a week’s vacation. We wanted to explore new cruising grounds – further away. Worrying more about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see than how long it might take to get there, we employed the same principle as we did on our weekend forays. We picked a destination and then selected ports for the return leg. Only problem, that destination was 150 miles away; that is 30 hours at 5 knots! No way could we do that in a day. So we sailed right through the night and the next day. Our first lesson: “OMG! It’s dark out there.”
Having gotten ‘there’, we sailed back slowly, visiting a number of new harbours and towns on the way back. We were in heaven. We were cruising. Yet, by the third time we’d done ‘that’, we needed more. We wanted to cross the ocean. As it turned out we did this when we moved to Ireland years later, but that is another story.
So Ya Wanna Cross an Ocean
Crossing Oceans in Company
How do you go about crossing an ocean? There are people who jump into their boat and sail off to see what’s on the other side without passing another thought. For most mortals, however, cruising under the sun may be a lifelong dream, yet crossing the ocean to get there is a seemingly insurmountable step. There are several ways to do this without feeling desperately alone along the way.
One way is to simply join up with other boats heading the same way in an informal cruisers’ network. This is often initiated by a couple of get-togethers on the beach and results an informal SSB net. That’s what we did crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean one year. We heard from some cruisers in the marina that an informal net was forming and there was a BBQ planned to “organize” it on the beach. We joined the BBQ and met a few folks, including the net controllers. Essentially, the self-named MadLantic net allowed cruisers to leave when they pleased, but still stay in touch. As we sailed off, the first boats were already arriving on the other side. The net was all about sharing information about the weather, conditions, and general camaraderie. It didn’t cost anything and it had its benefits. It was most amusing at times when calm conditions made life boring. The banter on the net livened things up. It was also a good safety tactic. When our steering failed, we had two boats divert to our position in case they were needed. One stayed on the radio with us for hours as we worked through the problem. It ended well, we fixed our steering, and toasted with several net buddies as they arrived in Barbados at the other end. We were still staying in touch with boats underway long after we ourselves settled into island life in Grenada.
Another option is to join an organization like Ocean Cruising Club or Seven Seas Cruising Association. Such clubs often organize radio nets for members heading in the same direction. They will allow non-members to listen in on their nets and provide periodic position reports. Members of the OCC are all highly experienced sailors. They have all already done ‘it’. To join, one must have completed a 1,000 nm passage in a boat no more than 70 feet in length. They have very well-known sailors among their ranks who are often willing to provide advice and assistance when asked.
There is another option. That is to join an organized cruising rally. There are quite a few of them. The rallies differ in their degree of organization and sophistication. Some are basically just informal nets that repeat every year; others cost quite a lot of money to join and are run more like yacht club annual cruises. They might have formal training, boat safety inspections, feeder races, races across the ocean, blue water support services, crew vetting, radio nets with weather routing, and lots of social events and dinner parties with prizes. If this appeals to you, then here is a listing of some of the rallies you might consider.
ARC Caribbean 1500
The ARC Caribbean 1500 is the longest-running ocean cruising rally in North America. The rally has two destinations: The Caribbean 1500 fleet sails from the Chesapeake Bay to Nanny Cay on Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and the ARC Bahamas sails to Bluff House Marina on Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos.
The start location and dates make the most of the available weather to maximize Caribbean sailing, and the week-long pre-departure program prepares participants for cruising. Prior to leaving, sailors are treated to a week of social gatherings, safety gear inspections, and they are greeted and assisted with clearance procedures on arrival at the destination.
Boats begin to gather in Virginia in late October and head out early November (weather dependent). The awards ceremony takes place mid-November (12 days after the start). The Caribbean 1500 and the ARC Bahamas is now managed by World Cruising Club.
The ARC Europe is an Atlantic crossing West to East. The rally has two starts: from the Chesapeake on the US East Coast and from Tortola BVI, with the two fleets meeting in Bermuda then continuing on to cruise the Azores before the final voyage to to Marina de Lagos in Portugal. More than just a trans-ocean delivery, ARC Europe is a friendly way to start a European adventure or to end a Caribbean season. Their WCC team organizes shore activities including parties and tours, advice and support.
The ARC also holds rallies in the Baltic, Portugal and Scotland (they’ve taken over The Malts Cruise). So once you get to Europe, you can continue the party in several directions.
Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)
For sailors that need to cross the pond from Europe to cruise the Caribbean, there’s the ARC. This rally can only be described as massive as there are typically more than 200 participating boats. The ARC has been setting sail across the Atlantic every November since 1986, making it one of the longest-running rallies. Boats gather in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the fleet heads out around Thanksgiving weather permitting. Most boats will arrive in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia by mid-December and each boat is greeted with rum punch and fresh fruit.
The ARC organizers provide a full itinerary of social events on both sides of the pond, and many ARC sailors continue to cruise in company after the event is over. For cruisers with an interest in stopping in the Cape Verde islands, the ARC+ rally gathers in Gran Canaria and heads down to Sao Vincente before crossing the Atlantic.
Starting from Saint Lucia and Australia, the World ARC is a 26,000 NM trade wind circumnavigation with the World Cruising Club (WCC). World ARC is a mix of cruising in company and free time to explore, although it is typically completed in one year so the pace is rather brisk. The best aspect is that they help to coordinate check-in at all destinations, smoothing the clearing process in places that may otherwise be challenging. Participants can complete a full circumnavigation or sail half a rally. The fleet stays together, enjoying shore-side activities as a group while pushing to sail with the best weather. As most shore based activities are staged by the WCC team in every stopover, it may not be the most authentic cruising experience. Families with children, those with limited time in a grown up ‘gap year’, or retirees who may not wish to cross oceans on their own may get the full benefit of circumnavigating with the World ARC.
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