In this edition, we take a look at sailing cruising rallies. They continue to grow in popularity and it’s a wonderful way to go blue water cruising, especially for the first time.
I have never been part of an organized rally but have sailed in a flung-together fleet of unique offshore cruisers.
The first group had no name (if you discount ‘The Drunks’). The second was called the ‘Rat Pack’ and more about them later.
Group one came together as we sailed south down the coast of Spain and Portugal towards Gibraltar. The group started out with a couple of boats and picked up more followers in harbors along the way. We had a lot of fun that summer and, as always in a group, we had an interesting mix of characters; some pleasant, some dodgy and some downright dangerous.
The self-appointed group leader was a brawling, wife-beating ex-stevedore with a lovely family, which was the only nice thing about him. He kept offering to fight me. Another guy who attached himself to the group refused to talk to anyone. One day at the yacht club in Seville, Spain, he spotted someone filming on the dock and the camera happened to swing his way. That man did not want to be filmed; he covered his face with his hands, lowered his head and charged the hapless photographer like a demented bull. The next day, he disappeared.
Then there was the single-hander who made a cardboard cutout of himself and left it in the living room of his home and wondered how long it would take before his wife and children realized he was gone. We had the inevitable lothario—around whom no wife or girlfriend was safe—and a wonderful classical guitarist who would only perform in total silence. The moment anyone coughed or, heaven forbid, spoke, he would rant and rave and take his guitar back to the boat.
Our second experience of group sailing was with the Rat Pack. This group picked up strays along the Thorny Path, from George Town in the Bahamas to Puerto Rico. Again, there was a self-appointed leader. The sailing, however, wasn’t as intense with this group as with the gang on the far side of the pond, mainly because on the Thorny Path you are too busy waiting for a weather window to go sailing. Some of our group had been waiting a year. We had some wonderful times with this group. We socialized mightily and there was always someone willing to organize an excursion or pot luck dinner.
Yes, sailing in this group was fun but it didn’t always end well as we found out on the Caicos Bank.
Crossing the Bank can be tricky for a slow boat with a deep draft because you can run out of daylight and into a coral head. I had made this passage several times but never as part of a group.
Our gang had navigated the Bank and was waiting for sunrise before upping anchor and motoring away from the cays near South Caicos and out through the reefs into the open sea. This was tricky. Everyone was waiting for someone to go first and when one boat left, most of the others quickly hauled anchor and followed. The problem was the lead boat; it had a very shallow draft. Three quarters of the way out of the anchorage, it ran into a field of coral heads around which the skipper deftly maneuvered. Behind him pandemonium reigned. Engines on the deep-drafted vessels went full astern, two boats collided bow to stern and one hit a coral head. The lead boat sailed on oblivious to the mayhem he had caused and the cussing on channel 16.
It cured me of sailing in company…