The combination of tried and true and something new has been the formula for success for the World Cruising Club’s (WCC) Caribbean 1500 Rally. This year, 40 to 50 yachts will depart November 4th from Hampton, Virginia, some headed for the customary destination of Nanny Cay Marina in the British Virgin Islands and others bound for Bluff House Marina on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas, on the newly-named ARC Bahamas, an event that’s forecast to become a small stand-alone rally in itself.
“Over the last 23-years,” explains Rachel Hibberd, WCC’s communications executive, “the rally has developed and evolved into an event that attracts first-time passage makers, rally veterans and the odd professionally crewed race boat heading south. The fact that it attracts a wide range of boats and people makes it really interesting.”
The 2012 fleet and crew are indeed an intriguing mix. Five catamarans are registered, which is fairly usual, however the ‘average’ boat size is slightly smaller at 44’6”. The smallest boat is a Morgan 35 and the largest is a Tayana 55. In terms of age, a Valiant 40 built in 1976 is the oldest boat and the newest is an Antares 44 catamaran, which was sailed to the U.S. in the Atlantic Cup in May as part of her maiden voyage from Argentina. Nationality wise, the fleet includes one Australian-flagged boat, five Canadians and Americans from across the U.S. As for crew, there’s the usual range of ages from school kids to grandparents.
To get a first-hand insight, Ian Winterborn, who sailed several Caribbean 1500s aboard his Gozzard 41, Reberth, offers, “Taking part in the 1500 is the ideal way to get all the support needed to make the passage south. From the time of signing up, to the arrival in the BVI, the experienced team are there to help and give advice.”
Winterborn adds, “The 1500 provides the opportunity to meet other first timers and those who are more experienced passage makers. Some of our best cruising friends participated with us in the 2004 rally and we still meet up with them around the islands. The introduction of transponders for every participant makes the event far more exciting for friends and families as they can watch the progress of the boats on their adventure via Internet.”
One feature that makes the Caribbean 1500 unique is that the average cruising boat can join in a fun competition without having to get racing certificates or special insurance. Most of the fleet’s boats opt to join the Cruising Division, and as such they receive a handicap based on boat dimensions, which allows different types of boats to be accurately compared. Even motoring time is factored-in.
Following pre-start activities in Hampton that include ‘meet and greet’ parties, a safety demo with life raft launch, weather briefings and farewell dinner, the fleet enjoys nightly ‘chats’ while en route. On arrival, the island vibe starts immediately. Boats are met with a welcoming rum punch, and then there are a number of informal parties ashore leading up to the awards ceremony. This ceremony takes place at Bluff House Marina on November 10th and at Nanny Cay Marina on November 16th. Prizes will be awarded for the competitive cruise class, while all participants receive a commemorative plaque.
“Anyone considering making a big offshore passage for the first time should test themselves and their boat beforehand by sailing non-stop for a couple of days and nights,” explains Hibberd. “We require the boat and core crew to make a 250 nautical mile non-stop passage. This is a good way to check that the boat is set-up for offshore sailing – workable galley, lee cloths, safe cockpit etc., and that the crew actually like passage-making!”
Recommended also is that crews take a sea safety course such as those offered by US Sailing. This is a great way to learn about the correct way to use safety equipment such as flares, life rafts and fire extinguishers, and how to manage emergencies of all kinds.”
To anyone still thinking about whether or not they should join the Caribbean 1500, Jennifer McNamara who sailed last year aboard the Carolina 470, Lady, says, “Do it! The fee includes a lot of dockage, social activities and parties, and you will make a lot of very good friends, who will be your cruising buddies from now on.”
For information, visit www.worldcruising.com/carib1500
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.