The 21st running of the Caribbean 1500 Cruising Rally marks the end of an era and the start of a new age. As rally founder, organizer and veteran sailor, Steve Black, says, "I've hogged the helm long enough."
Black is far from retiring. After building the Caribbean 1500 and subsequent rally's under the Cruising Rally Association's (CRA) umbrella into major events that have made it easier for sailors to explore new horizons, Black will merge his events with those of the UK-based World Cruising Club (think Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), continue working in a joint effort with the WCC's Jeremy Wyatt and Andrew Bishop and look forward to new-found free time to sail to destinations on his 'always dreamed of visiting' list.
CARIBBEAN 1500 – PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Thirty-something boats sailed from Newport, Rhode Island, to Virgin Gorda, in the first Caribbean 1500 in 1990. This year, by mid-September, 75 entries were ready to cast off from Hampton, Virginia, to the British Virgin Island of Tortola.
"This increase over last year's 56, which we attribute to the economy, is because of pent up demand," says Black. "The average age of Caribbean 1500 cruisers is 65. These are people who might wait a year or two, but they're not going to postpone a trip like this indefinitely."
Last year's rally saw a record 24 kids participate and this year the number is back down to the average 3 to 4.
"I can't explain the difference, but the kids do thrive on sailing," he says. "They seem worldlier than their peers after making a passage."
Yet, many of today's ralliers didn't grow up sailing.
"These are the folks whose first boat is a full size cruising yacht like an Oyster 60," says Black. "They hire instructors to accelerate their learning curve. After cruising for ten years or so, they want to go to the next level and cross an ocean. I'm impressed with how thoughtful they are in preparation and choosing crew for expertise and in their ability and willingness to figure out new things and face new frontiers."
Free pre-rally seminars, a hallmark of the Caribbean 1500, haven't changed much.
"We teach what it takes to get coastal sailors over the hurdle of crossing an ocean," says Black. "That means dealing with seasickness and crossing the Gulf Stream, for example."
The rally added a Bahamas Class in 2009 and will do so again this year.
"They'll sail with us until we have enough boats for a separate rally," says Black. "We had two boats go to Marsh Harbor last year and ten already signed-up this year. As word gets out, I expect to have 15 to 20 next year."
He adds, "Cuba will eventually open up, and a rally to the Bahamas that adds Cuba may become its own event. This, however, may draw some boats away from the Caribbean."
New this year, there will be no crew fees for food and drinks. This means the financial load for pre-event parties will not be all on the skipper, as it has been in the past, but on each individual person. However, the skipper will still provision for the passage.
"We had a skipper of a Taswell 58 pay $1700 versus the $900 basic entry fee to cover the bar tab and food for their crew before the start," says Black. "Now, it's fairer."
Two new additions are a full-time shore-side office person during the rally and a full-time race committee on-station for the rally's end. The shore office is responsible for taking calls from family, tracking the fleet, updating the event website and sending out weather reports to those who can receive Email. Meanwhile, the race committee will be moored at the entrance to Soper's Hole, Tortola, to help ralliers on arrival.
Like the ARC, this year's Caribbean 1500 will add an Invitational Class for performance boats.
"This way, the 100-foot swing keels and 60-foot BOC boats can participate in their own class and the cruisers can still have their rally," says Black. "So far, we have a Pacer 42 and 48 – and 62-foot gunboats signed up."
This, along with advertising each other's events, is just one way in which the two rally organizations have already worked together, making the merger a natural.
Looking forward, he says, "Over the years we've picked up boats from the Netherlands, UK, Ireland and Germany, who were cruising in the U.S. and wanted to go to the Caribbean. So, this merger is a nice tie-in for our European participants."
Black concludes, "Jeremy (Wyatt) and Andrew (Bishop) have done such good things with the ARC over the years and they have great ideas for the future. It's definitely the right time for us to bring in new life, new blood and new ideas."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based
marine writer and registered dietitian.