Humans are interesting creatures. There are those who get a notion and
immediately pursue it – risks and obstacles notwithstanding. Matt Rutherford and all those who were first
to attempt a feat fall into that category.
Take Saint Brendan, Leif Erikson,
and Columbus – each having crossed the Atlantic to “discover” the Americas when
there was nothing known or recorded about crossing oceans. That took a great
deal of courage. Or density. Or destiny.
Most of us, however, need to take baby steps. Some of us never take that first step,
fearing falling off the edge. Until
someone leads us out there. Most people
experience this with a yacht club cruise. Whereas on their own, they may never
sail from Long Island to Maine, if the entire club is cruising to Maine, it
makes it easier. The arrangements are made by someone for you. The weather is
checked by experts. The places to dine are pre-selected. And there’s a party in ever port. What’s not
Did I get a notion to cross oceans and just do it? Nope, I
spent years methodically preparing for it. Taking courses, getting
certifications, building up experience and talking to others who have done it. I spent ages thinking about what would be the
right boat. I listened to lectures by
anyone who would talk about it.
Most people start out with a small boat. I learned on a
sunfish but the first boat I owned was a Hobie 18.
It felt huge. The next boat was a Sabre 36 – twice the length of the
first boat. It felt huge. The next one
after that was a Frers 41. It felt huge. And then we jumped to a Bowman 57.
It is huge. Except on a big ocean in a storm. Then it feels tiny.
Pulling people out of their comfort zone
We, like so many others, started out sailing locally. Going out for day sails, learning how to
anchor. But soon we needed to venture
further. 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. The next thing you knew, we had a week’s vacation. To
get to some really good cruising grounds and back in a week, we had to sail
overnight. OMG! It’s dark out there.
we sailed overnight and all the next day and made it to Martha’s Vineyard – an
island. OMG. Then we sailed back slowly, or what we thought was slowly,
stopping in Cuttyhunk, Block Island, Newport, Stonington, Fisher’s Island, The
Thimbles, Port Washington, and home to Rye. We were in heaven. We were
cruising. Yet, by the third time we’d done that, we needed more. Farther.
So the next step for many people who get the itch to go
further is to join a rally. Now we have rallies so people can cross oceans
together with others. The Atlantic Rally
for Cruisers and the World ARC spring to mind immediately. After the demise of
several long held rallies, new ones are springing up. Jimmy Cornell’s Blue Water Odyssey, The Salty Dawg Rally from the US to the Caribbean, Nereid’s Rally from
the Caribbean to South America, Stokey Woodall’s Atlantic Circuit and
Sailing Rallies' new Christmas Caribbean Rally are all centered on the Atlantic,
competing with the ARC and the NARC. What’s the deal?
Although we have not participated in any rallys, we have
taken in yacht club cruises and cruises in company with other boats heading in
the same direction. We have also spoken with lots of sailors who have taken
part in world sailing events. Most go with organized rallies for the safety of
it. They’ll join up with the ARC for the safety drills, the vessel checks, and
the rescue vessels which provide the sense of security to first time passage
makers. Many of the sailors are quite
experienced although they may not have yet crossed an ocean, something that can
be quite daunting. A few are novice sailors,
some of whom really haven’t yet discovered how they will react out there.
Honestly, I don’t get rallies. It’s counter intuitive to cross oceans for the
experience of being out there alone against the elements and to do it with 200
other boats in proximity. I am more of an
individualist. For so many sailors,
joining a rally has helped them achieve their lifelong dream of crossing
oceans. Some may never sail again. Others will keep on going forever more.
Crossing Oceans in Company
There are people who jump into their boat and sail off
across oceans to see what’s on the other side. For some people, however,
cruising under the sun is a lifelong dream, yet crossing the ocean to get there
is the daunting step. There are several
ways to cross oceans 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 which is often tied together by a
couple of get-togethers on the beach, followed by 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 would allow cruisers leaving
at different times and strung out from one end of the ocean to the other to
stay in touch about weather, conditions, and camaraderie. It didn’t cost anything and it had its
benefits. It was most amusing at times when calm conditions proved boring and
stories told 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 and one stayed on the radio with us 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.
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. Often they’ll allow non-members to
listen in on the nets and provide periodic position reports. Members of the OCC
are all highly experienced sailors; to join, one must have completed a 1,000 mi
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, although a few like the Blue Water Rally have folded in recent years. 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 to consider.
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.
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 Salty Dawg Rally is the most like an informal cruiser’s
net and is run as a non-profit organization.
2014 marks the fourth running of this independent newcomer to the rally
scene—and each year, it just gets bigger! The Salty Dawg Rally is free to join,
and there are social gatherings in the week leading up to departure. Free
weather routing is provided by Chris Parker, and other discounts are available
to participants as well. The rally leaves from Hampton Roads, Virginia on November
4 (weather permitting) and winds up in warm waters—the bulk of the fleet heads
to the Virgin Islands, but others head for the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and other
The Baja-Haha is the West Coast’s largest cruising rally
(100+ vessels) and a whole lot of fun. The rally starts in San Diego,
California and continues in three legs to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico at the tip of
the Baja peninsula. The essence of the Baja-Haha experience lies in the beach
parties, costume parties, barbeques and potlucks that the crews participate
in. Boats begin gathering in San Diego
around mid-October, and Leg 1 begins at the end of October. The paperwork difficulties in Mexico have
made this rally more of a challenge in recent years.
For sailors that need to cross the pond 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.
Jimmy Cornell has launched a new transatlantic rally for
cruising sailors. What makes this rally different is that participants will
have a choice of start dates and departure ports. The Atlantic Odyssey will
leave from two ports in the Canary Islands—Lanzarote in November and La Palma in
January—and head to Martinique in the Caribbean. The aim of this new rally is returning
to the spirit of a non-competitive event for cruising sailors, with the
emphasis on safety and the enjoyment of participation in this kind of amateur
A round-the-world-sailing event spearheaded by Jimmy
Cornell, the BPO aims to raise awareness of the global effects of climate
change and the most urgent issues facing our oceans, as rising sea levels
threaten to extinguish island communities such as Tuvalu and the Maldives by
the end of this century. Starting from
Key West, Florida in January 2015 and allowing several choices of routes,
participants are feeding in from Europe and the Atlantic Islands and Caribbean,
while others will join in the Pacific.
The ARC Europe is an Atlantic crossing West to East. The cruise in company starts from the
Caribbean or from the US East Coast to Marina de Lagos in Portugal. 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 they continue on to cruise the Azores before the final voyage to
Europe. 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).
You can finish the Caribbean season with a friendly cruise in
company to the US East Coast from Nanny Cay on Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
They sail first to St George's on Bermuda, then on to the US when there is a
good weather and a favourable Gulf Stream forecast. The fleet joins with
the ARC Europe fleet for social activities in Nanny Cay and again in Bermuda.
A little different from the other rallies, the NARC is for
professionally skippered boats. It departs from Newport, Rhode Island, stops in
Bermuda, and winds up in St. Maarten. The Rally started in 2000 as a way to get the Swan charter fleet south.
The rally is free to join and includes dockage and fuel discounts, a radio net,
weather routing, social events and more. Offshore Passage Opportunities is the
organizer behind the rally and, if you are looking for more sea time, OPO can
place you on a NARC boat. The NARC leaves Newport on November 1, or when
weather allows. The IGY Marina Group is sponsoring the
rally finish in St. Maarten with a final party and two days free dockage at
Simpson Bay Marina plus a 10% discount thereafter for those who wish to stay
longer. Other Rally benefits include weather routing, Radio Net for SSB, fuel
discounts, social events in Newport, and waiving of the head tax in Bermuda.
Sailing Rallies was established in 2012 to make ocean
cruising accessible to all and to promote safe sailing in company. They now run a Christmas Caribbean Rally, a
Baltic 4 Nations Rally, Antigua 2 Falmouth, and a Spanish Rias Rally. They also hold Transatlantic and Baltic
This Rally goes from the Caribbean to South America. Boats depart Trinidad & Tobago in
September to take advantage of the favourable conditions when the currents,
winds, and seas ease making it reasonable to sail to Guyana, Suriname, and
French Guiana. There are send-off
parties and a formal welcome, as well as organized tour offerings along the
The main emphasis of SWAC is to offer an affordable rally
for amateur sailors to cross the Atlantic, cruise the Caribbean and return
across the Atlantic, all within one season, or for American-based yachts to
sail Atlantic the other way, then spend a cruising season in the Mediterranean
before rejoining the rally to re-cross the Atlantic. This is strictly a
cruising rally and not a race.