The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) covers about 1000 nautical miles between the Chesapeake Bay and Miami, where snowbirds make the leap across the Gulf Stream, 60 miles or so to the Bahamas. In November we faced the same challenge—the Chesapeake to the Bahamas, 1000 miles—and sailed it in only five days.
Enter Steve Black, the Cruising Rally Association and the Caribbean 1500. The Cruising Rally Association celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Caribbean 1500 this year, and has seen hundreds of boats and thousands of sailors head offshore. The event has been so successful that expansion was inevitable.
This fall Steve Black created an offshoot of the 1500, the inaugural Bahamas Cruising Rally, and invited me to be the event leader. We departed with the Caribbean 1500 fleet from Hampton, VA, and made a right turn once clear of the Gulf Stream. The rally included all of the extras that are part of the 1500: safety seminars in Hampton, boat inspections, roundtable discussions, weather and Gulf Stream briefings, satellite trackers on the boats, and en route weather routing and radio scheds, not to mention the excellent social events held in the evenings.
We departed under dreary skies with a brisk north wind. Sweetest Thing, a Fountaine Pajot 48’ cat joined us on this first-year trip. For Clay and Chad Jones, the father and son who own the Mason 44 Corrina Corrina, this was a first, as it is for many rally participants. Their excitement was contagious.
We entered the Gulf Stream late that first evening, crossing where it was only 50 miles wide (thanks to the Stream briefings before the rally), and soon found ourselves in the Atlantic Ocean proper, stripping off the layers and enjoying warm sunshine and a full moon in the evenings.
It was downwind for five days – the routers at Commanders’ Weather nailed it, and we found ourselves in the midst of a big high-pressure system, enjoying pleasant breezes and fair skies day and night. Next year’s event will arrive in Marsh Harbor, Abacos, where sailors will enjoy an awards dinner and cruising advice from one of the local marinas.
Over 15,000 website visitors from 59 countries monitored the progress of the boats in the Caribbean 1500 and the Bahamas Cruising Rally. With wireless transponders on each yacht, positions were broadcast via satellite six times each day, every four hours. Each boat’s track was displayed on the Caribbean 1500 website (www.carib1500.com) using software customized to incorporate features from Google Earth. The transponder program is sponsored by Davenport & Company, LLC.
Cruising rallies provide an enjoyable level of excitement and camaraderie while setting out across a big chunk of ocean with like-minded cruisers. The atmosphere in Hampton was buzzing. It was the staging area for what really was a major expedition, “one of the last great adventures for us ‘normal’ folk,” as Steve Black puts it. Go for the sense of security, go for the camaraderie, go for the excitement or go for the parties, but one thing is abundantly clear to me—if you’re considering going south from the US, the only way to go is offshore.
The 2010 Bahamas Cruising Rally will leave from Hampton VA along with the Caribbean 1500 on November 1. For full information on future rallies and seminars, visit www.carib1500.com.