The North American Rally for Cruisers (NARC) has for the past decade been the fun way to deliver a boat from New England to the Caribbean. The first leg of the regatta leaves Newport, Rhode Island around October 31, weather permitting, and travels the 1500 miles to Bermuda, while the second leg is an optional run from Bermuda to St. Maarten at the next available weather window.
The participants are a mix of professional captains making deliveries and amateur owners and cruisers who want to go south for the winter. There are no awards or prizes and organizers say it’s just a great way to get from point A to point B, and a great way to meet people who share a passion for sailing.
Offshore Passage Opportunities, the company that organizes the rally, has a proverb: “It is easier to make new friends who sail than it is to teach your friends how to sail.” The NARC offers the chance to do just that. At each stop there are social events to keep the sailors entertained during the WOW (waiting on weather) period, and before the boats leave Newport, each professional skipper adopts an amateur and helps the sailor ready the boat for sailing offshore.
Now in its tenth year, the 2009 rally is offering something a little bit different: free entry for all who want to participate. Schmitt explained that almost every year there are those who ask to sail with the fleet even though they haven’t registered, and he’s always said yes. So this year, they’re extending that benefit to everyone who wants to make the transit with the fleet. The only thing required is a small fee of $125 per crew to cover social events. “Call it our own way of dealing with the economic times. We really want to get 20 or 30 boats this year and bring them to the Caribbean. While over half will end up in St. Maarten as usual, some will be going to the Virgin Islands, and one is even sailing to Antigua,” said Schmitt.
The rally started in the fall of 2000 when Hank Schmitt, founder of Offshore Passage Opportunities, organized the delivery of a fleet of Swans from Newport to Bermuda. As he explains, “With the fleet as our base, we decided to offer an invitation to anyone else that would like to join us and depart in the same weather window. The first year we had several boats join our weather briefings and our social functions. Oddly enough most of them were other delivery skippers and crews looking to join a fun group to sail south with. With such a good response, we have made it an annual event.”
The benefits of taking part in the rally are not only social, but financial as well. Aside from the free entry, participants every year are offered many other deals along the way. The Newport Yachting Center, where the Newport Boat Show is held each year, is the jumping off point, and for the entire week leading up to the scheduled departure the docking fee is only $1.00 per foot, compared to their normal fee of $4.50 per foot. NARC provides the Weather Routing Service, and on arrival in Bermuda, the per head entry tax is waived to rally participants. During the four-day stopover in Bermuda, the rally organizes for fuel tanks to be delivered at duty free prices, and two of the dinners are covered by the initial crew fees.
There’s also the added benefit of a radio net to keep in contact with everyone on the way down. As far as offshore passages go, it seems almost irresponsible not to join the 2009 NARC if you’re making your way down from Newport to the Caribbean.