Crossing Oceans in Company

From Yacht Club Cruising to Ocean Crossings

By Daria Blackwell

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 to like? 

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.

So 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. Longer. Bolder.

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.

World ARC

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.

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.

Salty Dawg
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 destinations.

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.

Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)

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.

Atlantic Odyssey
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 event.

Blue Planet Odyssey (BPO)

Round the World Sailing Event 2014-17
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.

ARC Europe

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).

Atlantic Cup

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.

North American Rally to the Caribbean (NARC)
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

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 Forums.

The Nereid’s Rally

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 way.

Stokey Woodall Atlantic Circuit (SWAC)

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.


  1. Caught me off guard on this one! Started out sounding to me like you were about to expound on all the reasons one should never cross an ocean unless part of a formal rally - then 1/3 of the way through you said you don't care for 'em!
    Which is where We are. Rallys seem like "cheating" in a way: If one doesn't have the courage and confidence to go alone, should one be out there at all? Well, cheat is to strong a word, but crossing an ocean in a group (herd? Pod?) should be recognized differently than doing so , seems to me. And if we ever go, I hope it's just our boat and the sea. Anything else would be cheapened.

  2. We've met quite a few people who probably should not have crossed oceans but did so with a rally, just to tick off a bucket list item. Every year, a few abandon perfectly good vessels that could have been sailed to the destination with a little ingenuity and seamanship. I'm not against rallies per se, but I am against enabling people who are not properly prepared to take part in an inherently risky endeavor. There are those who prefer company that being alone out there, but I ask them, "Why cross oceans then?"

    Our best crossing was our first where the only other boat we were aware of in the entire North Atlantic was Ault, sailed single handed by Matt Rutherford in his first major offshore venture. We spoke to him and our weather router and were aware of no one else the entire time. In fact, the markets crashed (2008) while we were at sea and we had no clue until we arrived at the other end. All we had was our SSB radio. That was pure bliss. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I hope you get to do the same Sionna!


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