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HomeCruiseBeyond the Horizon: How Caribbean Rallies Enhance Your Cruising Experience

Beyond the Horizon: How Caribbean Rallies Enhance Your Cruising Experience

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Mocka Jumbies and Rum...

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Simon and Gemma McMahon may have missed seeing Martinique. They didn’t. The UK couple, who sailed in the World Cruising Club’s ARC+ in 2022 aboard their Moody 46, Evangeline, had family commitments at home after they arrived in Grenada and couldn’t get back until April. “As time was short, it was invaluable to have up-to-date advice on what others in the rally had enjoyed,” says Simon. This proved especially true when newfound cruising rally friends recommended a stop in Martinique. “It was not only for its delightful mix of French and Caribbean style and food but also for an excellent chandlery resource for parts that we’d not been able to find since our arrival. We had broken a winch and as we were still in St Vincent our friend found and reserved the necessary parts for us, so they were ready for our arrival several weeks later,” he says.

Like birds fly south for the winter, so do hundreds of boats cast off from colder climates in the fall en route to the warm sunny Caribbean. Caribbean cruising rallies, starting with the UK’s World Cruising Club’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in 1986 followed by the USA’s Caribbean 1500 Cruising Rally in 1990, were first conceived as a way for sailors to travel offshore ‘in company’. As Hank Schmitt, founder and organizer of the North American Rally to the Caribbean, is fond of saying, “Like the caravans of old where travelers were tethered by strings of camels traveling between oases, offshore rallies today tether their boats by AIS, e-mail and satellite trackers.” However, what has been increasingly evident for many participants is that the rally, and benefits of rallying, don’t end once the boat hits its tropical slip. Indeed, it’s not just the journey, it’s the destination, and being a rally member can enhance an entire season’s cruising experience.

Arthur Daniel - Activities to learn about the Caribbean. Courtesy WCC
Arthur Daniel – Activities to learn about the Caribbean. Courtesy WCC

Firsthand Briefings

Participants join ARC+ and ARC to explore the Caribbean for the season, or multiple seasons and the November departures from Europe enable crews to enjoy the festive period in the islands and benefit from several months to explore, according to Sarah Collins, communications manager at the World Cruising Club, headquartered in Cowes, UK. “Before the rally departures, representatives from the Tourism Authorities of Grenada and Saint Lucia deliver seminars for participants, highlighting what they can expect on arrival, suggested activities, and highlights of the local cruising grounds.”

Similarly, says Carlota Texeira Saavedra, one of the organizers of the Viking Explorers Rally, “Before taking part in the rally, pre-departure information in the form of Newsletters and the Rally Handbook is packed with advice not just for the crossing, but also advice to preparations for comfortable living for the Caribbean season. Through our seminars, we also prepare the participants as to what to expect on the other side. We go through all the items from shopping, anchoring, pests, festivities, what to do, and what not to do. All destinations are well exposed at our new edited 108-page interactive Crossing Guide.”

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Bahamas Raft Up. Courtesy Salty Dawg Sailing Association
Bahamas Raft Up. Courtesy Salty Dawg Sailing Association


It’s the camaraderie of being a part of a group that has been a long-lasting benefit to Michael and Marita Lysaght, who sailed their Australian-flagged Fontaine Pajot Elba 45, Let’s Dance, in the 2023 Viking Explorers Rally. “Being involved in the rally was a positive experience for so many reasons.  Sailing into Grenada after crossing the Atlantic Ocean was made easy knowing that the organizers had everything pre-arranged for our arrival at the marina. Rum punches for breakfast were a pleasant shock to our systems and an apt way to celebrate our arrival in the Caribbean. Since then, our rally group has continued to stay in touch sharing favorite locations, restaurant recommendations, tours, information about Customs formalities, anchorages to visit, and Hurricane plans.” 

Without the friendship and camaraderie offered by fellow Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA) Fall Rally sailors, Diane and Don Mackenzie who’ve sailed the event several times on their 46’ Hylas, Hylander, would have missed so many harbors that they now call our favorites, says Diane. “Sundowners on the beach, Dinghy floats, a rum tasting on a friend’s boat, sharing a special anchorage, a Greek restaurant on a cliff, a great hike complete with a fantastic SDSA guide, exploring a hidden snorkeling gem – all of these experiences included our SDSA Caribbean Rally buddy boats and friends.”

Nelson Dockyard. Courtesy Salty Dawg Sailing Association
Nelson Dockyard. Courtesy Salty Dawg Sailing Association

A Menu of Opportunities

New for this upcoming season, the SDSA will expand and formalize its opportunities for sailors to meet and explore post-rally.

“Rally participants have long met up informally as they’ve cruised the Caribbean. Our SDSA flag has become well known, so even cruisers from past rallies will find that common connection. This year, though, we’ve decided to formalize this with several planned rendezvous,” says Bob Osborn, SDSA president. “No rally boat has to attend any or all. We’ve planned it so that there will be meet-ups for those boats that are heading south or north.

SDSA’s 2024 Northbound Rendezvous includes Dominica (February 8-14), BVI at Nanny Cay Marina (March 5-12), Dominican Republic, Puerto Bahia Marina (April 8-12), and Exumas/Bahamas. The SDSA’s 2024 Southbound Rendezvous includes Martinique Carnival (February 16-22), Bequia Easter Regatta (March 29-April 2), and Carriacou (April/May TBA).

“We call it a menu of opportunities,” says Kathy Kubic, who sailed the Leopard 45, Island Time, in the 2022 SDSA Fall Rally to the Caribbean. “Cruisers are fiercely independent, so there is no requirement to do any or all. But the opportunities are there to meet up, share experiences and recommendations, and enjoy the island destination.”

Let’s Dance arrives in Grenada. Courtesy Viking Explorers
Let’s Dance arrives in Grenada. Courtesy Viking Explorers


NARC Rally 2023 – North American Rally to the Caribbean

October 28, 2023: Newport, RI
Bermuda – St. Maarten – Antigua  |  25 Boats

The biggest news about this twenty-plus-year rally is that this year will be the last. Hank Schmitt, NARC founder and organizer and the chief executive officer of Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO), based in Halesite, NY, is introducing the Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA) to his contacts in Newport, Bermuda, and St. Maarten and offering his rally participants the option to continue to Antigua by Nov 15th if they wish to meet up with the Dawgs. “I organized the rally to make more passage opportunities for my OPO members and to make it more fun for the people who paid to be on one of the Swans in our fleet where I charged crew to join us,” says Schmitt, who will continue to run OPO. www.sailopo.com.  

Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA) Caribbean Rally

Start October 28, 2023: From Newport, RI
Start November 1, 2023: From Hampton, VA
Destination: Antigua  |  90-plus boats

This year marks the 13th that the SDSA has rallied to the Caribbean in the Fall. Half the boats are multihulls, a big increase over a couple of years ago when monohulls ruled. A new mentoring component is helping first-time ralliers feel more comfortable about casting off, while the widespread installation of Starlink among cruisers today means rallying to the Caribbean isn’t just for retirees. Most of the fleet is U.S. based, although UK and European sailors who have summered in New England often join in the sail south. The bulk of the fleet heads directly to Antigua, but some choose to make landfall in the Abacos, Bahamas. Post-rally activities run from November 10 through U.S. Thanksgiving in and around Nelson’s Dockyard. 

Viking Explorers

Start January 2024
Destination: Grenada  |  25 boats

The 7th annual rally is full of 25 boats, 17 monohulls, 6 catamarans, and for the first time two Nordhavn motor yachts. The fleet casts off from Gran Canaria, with a stop in Cape Verde, before finishing in Grenada. The Viking Explorers have signed new contracts with the main sponsors for up to 5 years, until 2029. Also, new sponsors such as Mount Cinnamon Resort and Sevenstar Yacht Transport are now supporting the rally.

ARC – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers

Start November 19: From Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Destination: St. Lucia  |  162 Boats

The 38th ARC fleet sails 2,700 nm directly to IGY’s Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia. Most of the fleet is set to arrive between December 7-12, with prizegiving December 16. What’s new is this year’s fleet statistics. The smallest boat is the Italian-flagged Grand Soleil 34 Lady Eleonora at 34.7’, and 8% of the fleet is under 40’. The largest boat is Irelanda a Hoek-designed, Alloy Yachts built 104’.  Over 50 different boat brands/builders are represented, with boats sailing under the flags of 30 nations. Family boats include 19 children under the age of 16.

ARC+ – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers Plus

Start November 5: From Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Cape Verde
Start November 17: From Cape Verde
Destination: Grenada  |  96 boats

Now in its 11th year, the ARC+ features a 4-6 day stopover in Mindelo, Cape Verde, before restarting with its final destination of Camper & Nicholson’s Port Louis Marina in St George’s, Grenada. What’s new is the ever-changing mix of boats and sailors that participate. This year, the smallest boat is the French-flagged Beneteau First 31.7 Freebooter at 31.7’ and 10% percent of the fleet is under 40’. The largest boat is MRS. G, an Amel 60 at 60’. Over 40 different boat brands/builders are represented. Boats are sailing under the flags of 24 nations. Sailors include families with 45 children under age 16.  

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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