The 23rd running of the Caribbean 1500 cruising rally began with a hurricane.
“Storms can be so disrespectful!” joked the crew of T’ai Chi, one of the ARC Bahamas fleet yachts this year.
“Hurricane Sandy is extremely inconvenient (not to mention dangerous). We were so happy to reach Hampton two days ahead of schedule, so we could do a lot of preparation for our offshore leg to the Bahamas,” they wrote in their online log. “Instead, we have been focusing much of our effort on hunkering down for the hurricane.”
Indeed much of the Caribbean 1500 fleet would have agreed with them. Fall on the U.S. East Coast is a challenging time to plan an offshore passage to points south. Weather windows are tight It can be difficult finding weather windows between late-season hurricanes and early-season nor’easters, and when those windows close, it can be dangerously quick with devastating results.
Everyone was happy to be in port, despite the rising tide that flooded the docks. The fleet weathered the storm just fine (though several boats only appeared in Hampton on the Friday before the start, having been stranded north on the Chesapeake to ride out Sandy).
The 2012 event marked the fourth consecutive year that a fleet sailed to the Bahamas, and this year they got their own name: the ARC Bahamas fleet. It formed in 2009 as a separate-but-equal grouping of boats that would join the festivities with the BVI fleet in Hampton, start at the same time, but break away and sail instead for the Abacos.
It offers the same benefits of joining the rally, while providing a quicker alternative for bigger boats to avoid navigating the low bridges of the ICW with the added support of a professionally run organization behind it.
Boats in the ARC Bahamas fleet can sail for the Abacos in less than five days. Compare that to a trip down the ICW – a minimum two-week affair – and the islands seem suddenly closer.
The 2012 event was also unique in that it’s the first time in the 23-year history of the 1500 that it left a day earlier than planned.
“After an early and rushed start, with a last-minute change of route and strategy, T’ai Chi left Hampton at 1700,” wrote Steve and Liz in their log. The “change of route and strategy” came thanks to a brewing nor’easter near Texas that was forecast to form directly over the fleet as they headed south. While both fleets set out simultaneously, the Bahamas fleet was advised to call at Beaufort, N.C., and wait for the passing of the low.
An offshore passage to the Bahamas is arguably more challenging than one headed for the BVI, as the fleet must cross the Gulf Stream and then head S-SW to aim for the Abacos, sailing back in the direction from which the weather comes. The BVI fleet, on the other hand, can make some easting to distance themselves from the coastal weather systems.
In the end, two boats – Susie Q and Mariannina – took a gamble and sailed direct for Green Turtle Cay, while T’ai Chi, Irish Rover and Turbo’s Tub rendezvoused in Beaufort before continuing south a few days later. All of the ARC Bahamas fleet boats arrived before their BVI counterparts. All made it safely.
In the end, what makes the Caribbean 1500 such a special event is the people that partake in it. They come from various walks of life and sail on various types of boats, but they all share the common element of chasing a dream.
“We pulled into the Abacos on Tuesday morning at 0930,” wrote the crew of Turbo’s Tub. “There was adventure, adversity, fellowship, camaraderie, laughter and victory over significant odds. We are just four guys seeking adventure and wanting to fulfill a dream. Those things were accomplished, and a story was written.”
Read all of the yacht logs, plus news and feature stories from this year’s Caribbean 1500 and ARC Bahamas at worldcruising.com/carib1500.
Andy Schell and his wife Maria Karlsson are the event managers of the Caribbean 1500. They have sailed over 30,000 ocean miles delivery yachts and aboard their own 35-foot yawl Arcturus, which is currently in Sweden. Follow them online at andyandmia.net.