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Welcome Back West Marine’s Caribbean 1500 – Virginia to the BVI

The 17 th annual Caribbean 1500 plans to depart on Monday, November 6 from Hampton, Virginia for Village Cay Marina, Tortola, typically a passage of seven to 12 days.

Where does the time go? This is the 15th year that I have been writing about Steve Black’s celebrated Caribbean 1500 Rally from the United States to the Virgin Islands, sponsored by West Marine. Celebrating 17 years in 2006, the rally began in October when northern yachts gathered in Newport, Rhode Island and sailed in tandem to Hampton, Virginia for registration at the Bluewater Yachting Center. There, southern boats joined in for several days of briefings and final preparations leading up to the start—hopefully on Monday, November 6—to Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Organizer Steve Black says, “This year’s Caribbean 1500 is the largest ever. More than 60 boats are expected to take part in our 17th annual running of the rally. Each year more Americans and Canadians have made the passage south and each year the size of the boats and number of crew members has also grown. The average boat is now over 48 feet with a crew of four to six sailors.

“Our Atlantic Cup rally from the Caribbean in May and our Bermuda Cup rally in June have helped to prepare many of the boats and crews for the more challenging passage south in November,” notes Black. “Over half of the skippers have participated in one of our earlier rallies and nearly all have at least one crew member who has done the trip before. This will do a lot to insure the smoothest possible trip.”

Having entered this event on the winning yacht, a 54’ Alden named Jessie, in 1993, I can speak first hand as to what an exciting gathering this is for sailors living in the United States who want to winter in the Caribbean. To date, some 750 vessels have chosen to make the Caribbean 1500 their way of reaching the islands for cruising.

The great thing about the West Marine Rally is that everyone gets to know each other, therefore establishing warm camaraderie before the sailing even begins. Pre-event workshops are offered involving problems and solutions as well as privately arranged weather forecasts. Skippers are required to take Inspection Briefings, Medical Topics, a Communications Briefing (procedures, schedules and frequencies), Sailing Instructions and Navigation & Landfall Review as well as Weather Briefings and Gulf Stream Analysis. The crew is not left out as there are also Women’s Roundtables, Offshore Fishing Techniques, Life Raft Demonstrations and Distress Signal Workshops, Sail Repair Workshops, and Diesel Engine Troubleshooting Workshops. There are also social gatherings in the evenings for all participants, whether captain or crew.

“Another benefit of our growing backlog of veterans is the large group of people who have volunteered to help put on each year’s events,” Black says. “Our staff and volunteers will total 28 this November. They will do everything from inspecting boats to organizing and putting on the parties. They will man an information table, help with registration, and run the event store. It takes a big staff to look after nearly 300 sailors and we are fortunate to have them.”

The camaraderie is reinforced during the rally by sharing positions and information twice daily during scheduled chat hours. Once the fleet arrives at Tortola, nightly awards parties will bring all together to swap experiences and exchange cruising plans.

Black spreads around the credit for the event’s success. “Additional help will come from the two exceptional marinas that are hosting the event. They are both gearing up for the large group. Bluewater Yachting Center in Hampton is managed by Ian Bates who is a legendary hands-on, can-do person, and Paul Carrell does a great job of managing Village Cay Marina in Tortola, BVI.  I would not want to overlook the one hundred or more crew volunteers and our great sponsors for their contributions. Together, I think, we put on a pretty exceptional event and I am delighted to see the large number of people who keep coming back to do it again.”

I join the staff of All At Sea in wishing these sailors a wonderful experience during their rally to our islands. We know they will enjoy spending their winter cruising our warm and beautiful waters. Congratulations West Marine, on sponsoring one of the best yachting events of the year.

Caribbean 1500’s web site: www.carib1500.com

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