The prospect of palm trees and piña coladas is enough for anyone to want to jump ship for warmer climes come fall. Casting off on a first-time multi-day blue-water cruise can be both a frightening and exciting venture. However, there’s no need to go it alone, cruising rallies like the ARC Caribbean 1500 offer camaraderie and much more.
“There are three viable choices you have to take a boat from the east coast of the US to the Caribbean: Sail the boat yourself, hire a delivery captain and have them do it, or sail yourself, but part of an organized rally,” explains Barrie North, who will be taking part for the first time in the ARC Caribbean 1500 en route from Portsmouth, Virginia, to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands aboard his 1974-built Tartan 41, Alchemy. “The sans-training-wheels option is to sail yourself and is great if you have the experience of several offshore passages. I don’t. Perhaps the ‘safest’ option is to hire a delivery captain. Rates can vary from $250 to $450 a day, plus food and routing. One challenge with this option is the question of finding the right captain. Without personally knowing someone, you could end up with Captain Ron or Captain Phillips. The interesting choice is to take part in a rally. The amount of built in support from organizers varies from rally to rally with the ARC Caribbean 1500 offering the most because it’s designed for first-timers.”
The split for this year’s ARC Caribbean 1500, which will depart on November 2nd dependent on weather, is approximately one-third repeaters and two-thirds newcomers. The best part of this rally is that newcomers mix with the old-hands to create a very educational and enjoyable experience for everyone.
“The 1500 is a ‘launch’ event for many cruisers,” explains Jeremy Wyatt, director of the UK-based World Cruising Club that runs the rally. “We often see them back in another rally the following year or two. Often this is the ARC USA heading north again, or they have their appetites whetted by the 1500 and want to do more ocean cruising, so we are starting to see more previous 1500 participants sailing with our ARC Europe rally from BVI to Europe, then back again in the fall with the ARC from Las Palmas to Saint Lucia.”
The first step for many would-be ralliers is making the commitment to actually go offshore.
“The rally does two things for us that would not normally occur: it puts us on a schedule (confirming that in fact we ARE going) and it puts us in a mind-set of preparing to meet the rally requirements before the actual trip,” explains Gary Wells, who, with wife Robin will sail their 1998-built ketch-rigged Amel Super Maramu, Adagio, on their first cruise to the Caribbean. “The funny thing about the calendar date was that it changed our thinking from ‘someday we’re going to go’, to: oh my gosh, we’re going to do this and we’ve got to get ready! Making the decision and putting a ‘when’ on it gave us permission to change the dream to a goal.”
The year marks the milestone 25th anniversary of the ARC Caribbean 1500. There are new happenings that will make this year extra special.
First, explains event manager Andy Schell, “We’ve reintroduced the ARC Bahamas route, which will see a fleet of boats take part in the pre-departure program in Portsmouth alongside the 1500, start simultaneously with them, and then head south towards Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos. The route is popular with folks looking to challenge themselves by going outside the Intracoastal Waterway, while doing so in an organized event.”
Secondly, this marks the second year the 1500 will be hosted by Ocean Marine Yacht Center and the City of Portsmouth. The City is hosting a Welcome Reception at Griff’s Restaurant & Sports Lounge, plus the seminar program and Farewell Dinner Party will move downtown to the conference area at Roger Brown’s Restaurant & Sports Bar. The latter is a laid-back space with food and drinks available and is a closer walk to the marina. Long-time ARC Caribbean 1500 supporter Davis Murray and his ‘Barefoot Davis’ band will headline the entertainment at the Farewell Dinner, an event that will also celebrate the life of the late 1500 rally founder Steve Black.
“At sea, it’ll be the same high-quality event we always strive for – a proper racing-style start, handicapped fleets who can compete on time (and run their engines, which is all part of the fun), radio nets, communications with myself and Rally Control ashore via sat phone and email, and of course the obligatory rum drink on arrival in Tortola and Green Turtle Cay,” says Schell. “Now we hope the weather cooperates this year!”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.