The oldest and largest offshore cruising rally in America is celebrating its twenty-year anniversary this month as it takes off from Hampton, Virginia on November 2 and heads for Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The Caribbean 1500 has had over 1300 yachts and 5000 sailors participate in the rally since it began in 1990, bringing a welcome wave of seasonal cruisers to the Caribbean each year. The regatta is split into two classes, cruising and rally, and participants come from all over the world and include seasoned sailing veterans as well as families and first-time cruisers.
This year is no exception, as 50 to 60 boats are scheduled to take part in the rally, arriving at Nanny Cay Marina in Tortola between the 8th and the 13th of November. There will be parties and social events happening every night to greet the arriving sailors, culminating in a banquet on the 13th.
Of course the resulting parties at the end of a successful regatta are something everyone looks forward to, but it is the journey and the preparation that make this regatta unique. The Cruising Rally Association, which puts on this event and several other rallies, holds Ocean Sailing Seminars throughout the year to help people prepare for offshore voyages. “With planning, practice, and a bit of ingenuity, offshore passages can be a time of camaraderie and adventure for all aboard, independent of your personal budget,” said Steve Black, the Cruising Rally Association’s Founder and President.
Safety and preparation are big factors in the rally, and each boat is required to have certain equipment onboard as well as one experienced offshore sailor, but the fun of the regatta is the learning experience and the friendships formed. Over 200 of the sailors who take part in the rally each year are volunteers, catching a ride and helping out as crew for those who need it. And every October at the Annapolis Boat Show there is a reunion barbeque that draws close to 200 past participants, proving what great friendships are formed over the course of the trip.
Friends, family and all who are interested can follow the progress of the fleet online, as each boat is equipped with a tracking device that updates the boat’s location every four hours. It is estimated that 10,000 people per day will visit the regatta website, www.carib1500.com, to see the real-time locations of the boats as they make their way to Nanny Cay in Tortola.
This is the first year that the rally will be held at Nanny Cay, and the marina is gearing up to prepare for the boats’ arrivals. They’ve renovated Peg Leg’s restaurant, expanded their chandlery, and have negotiated with docks across the bay in order to accommodate the participants. They’re also making room both on the dock and in the boatyard for the boats that plan on staying the season. “It is our first year hosting the regatta, so there is a slight unknown, but we’re looking forward to it,” said Miles Southerland-Pilch, the marina manager. “The tracking devices will help us to coordinate the arrival of each boat, so we can have someone there to greet them no matter the time of day or night.”
With a warm welcome and a week’s worth of celebration, the Caribbean 1500 is sure to offer a great start to the Caribbean cruising season for all who participate. According to Steve Black, most of the ralliers will stay in and around the Virgin Islands, but as many as one quarter will continue on as far as Trinidad or Grenada. Four of the boats are even entered in the World ARC, which leaves the Caribbean in January 2010 on a 14-month circumnavigation of the globe.