Of all the Atlantic rallies perhaps the most informal is the North American Rally to the Caribbean (NARC). They even chose the name knowing the anagram would poke mild fun at their older cousins, the ARC. Informal and fun it may be, but the NARC insists on meticulous preparation for what can be a rather daunting voyage from the colder climes of North America to the sunny shores of the Caribbean.
Rally participants begin arriving in Newport around October 24, and take advantage of the discount dockage offered by the Newport Yachting Center. Departure date for Bermuda and beyond is October 31, although this is subject to change depending on the weather.
In 2008 the organizers decided entry to the rally should be free, preferring instead to charge a small head fee to defray the costs of the socials and to cover general overheads. This increased the numbers and helped promote Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO), the company behind the rally.
"The main goal is not to make money, as strange as that may seem," says OPO Managing Director Hank Schmitt, organizer and founder of the NARC. "The rally helps my crew networking company. We look for, create, and find people that need crew and pass on that information to our members. By increasing the number of boats in the rally, we increase the number of boats looking for crew. This makes more opportunity for our members and helps that part of the business."
From its beginning in 1999 the NARC fulfilled the organizer's aims by bringing together crews of professional delivery skippers and private boat owners. Sailing in company with highly experienced skippers, who are more than willing to share their knowledge, has helped many less confident crews complete their first offshore passage successfully.
The weather and Gulf Stream are major considerations, especially in the early stages, so the rally's departure date is not cast in stone.
"What I do is lay out the general weather pattern," says Susan Genett, whose company Real Weather has been conducting pre-rally weather and routing briefings for past 11 years. "The slower boats and the faster boats are going to sail in different weather after a day and beyond. It's all about trying to incorporate the different capabilities of the vessels that are participating into the briefing. They can then make decisions as to what departure plan works for them. Usually a majority will leave together the day of the briefing, or wait a few hours or even a day."
What awaits the sailors in Bermuda? Besides the thrill of making an offshore passage to a new land, participants enjoy the hospitality of the St. Georges Dinghy and Sports Club, where they receive discount dockage. Bacchanals follow, including a Gosling's Rum Party and a Fish Fry.
The next leg of the NARC is the big one – 900 miles south to the island of St. Maarten.
Yachts making an offshore passage risk running into bad weather and that's where the radio net support system kicks in.
"Between the radio net, the weather routing, and making sure that at least one person onboard has seen the rougher weather in the past, we've never had a problem with a boat not making it," says Schmitt. "This is not a race. When you race you tend to push things, break things, and hurt people. The idea is to get there safely and have a good time."
Not everyone will want to end their voyage in St. Maarten and many boats make the Virgin Islands their first port of call. This year participants are being encouraged to go the few extra miles.
"Simpson Bay Marina and Island Global Yachting have been kind enough to come onboard as a sponsor," says Schmitt. "They're organizing our party at the end and offering a couple of days' free dockage. It's not up to me to force people to go any place, but we are encouraging everyone to go to St. Maarten first. It's a great place to fly in and out of and they have great marine services down there."
For information about the NARC and other offshore passage opportunities visit: www.sailopo.com
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net