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Christmas Caribbean Rally: The Modern Caribbean Dream

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Six girls and two guys onboard the First 40 Southern Child. Photo by Louay Habib
Six girls and two guys onboard the First 40 Southern Child. Photo by Louay Habib

More than 2000 yachts cross the Atlantic Ocean every year with the vast majority of sailors looking for the adventure of a lifetime. Since the 1980s organized rallies have become very popular, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers is the biggest, with nearly 300 yachts taking part each year but the biggest is not necessarily the best! The first ever Christmas Caribbean Rally (CCR) was very different. The CCR is conceived to give a personal experience, a ‘boutique event’ designed to suit modern day life.

“After taking part in the ARC in 2011, I just thought it could be done a different way.” commented John Simpson, Managing Director of Sailing Rallies. “Life is not the same as it was 30 years ago and we wanted to reflect those changes in a well-organized Atlantic rally. We also felt that it was very important to make sure the sailors found the experience magical. Crossing an ocean is many sailors’ life-long ambition and it should be very special, a unique and personal event.”

Family Affair – Nikolay Zakharevich and crew aboard Frizzanta, a Beneteau Oceanis 41. Photo by Louay Habib
Family Affair – Nikolay Zakharevich and crew aboard Frizzanta, a Beneteau Oceanis 41. Photo by Louay Habib

The rally started on December 16th, much later than the ARC. This was chosen to allow sailors to sail across the Atlantic during the festive holiday season. Meaning less time off work and away from study and by mid-December the trade winds are usually well established.

Alex Merzlecko and his son Konstantin from Russia were on board the Humphreys 77, Ocean Phoenix, which completed the crossing in 13 days. Alex spoke about the event before the start. “It will be a great experience to cross the Atlantic with my son. The timing of the rally means that Konstantin will not miss any school time during the crossing and we intend to spend a week exploring the Caribbean when we arrive, before we fly back to a snow-covered Moscow. This will not be my first trip to the Caribbean but to sail across the ocean to get there will be a first for me with my son. I am sure it will be a memory we will both treasure for years to come.”

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The CCR was extremely well organized. All of the yachts were scrutinized for safety before the start and were all fitted with satellite trackers for the crossing. Prior to that start, sailors were given expert advice in all manner of useful seminars, including a weather and routing master class from renowned meteorological expert Mike Broughton who has crossed the Atlantic on 16 occasions. In Lanzarote, the coastguard staged a safety seminar and life-raft demonstration, where crews got the opportunity to practice boarding a life-raft in the water. On the social side, crews took part in a wine tasting and honed their culinary skills with cooking at sea advice and a tapas masterclass. Rally organizers John Simpson and Mikaela Meik are accomplished musicians and many of the social events revolved around jamming sessions with sailors performing together.

“Music is something that many sailors enjoy at sea and it is a great way to break down the barriers and get everybody together for an evening. We had a great party atmosphere in Lanzarote and Antigua with everybody joining in. The sailors really got to know each other before the crossing and that was evident,” commented Meik.

The rally started from Marina Rubicon, Lanzarote and finished in Jolly Harbour, Antigua on December 30. All of the yachts were at sea on Christmas Day and celebrated with presents, decorations and even a mini-Christmas tree—all provided by the organisers. The fastest yachts completed the crossing in just less than two weeks and the slowest, a Beneteau Oceanis 41 sailed by Russian Nikolay Zakharevich, took nearly three weeks.

“Although some of the yachts did have a friendly competition, the event is a rally not a race.” said Simpson. “Making sure the yachts and the crew are well prepared for the crossing is far more important than speed, and a rally should be fun. The later departure provided good winds right from the start and the yachts sailed all the way without having to use their engines. Traditionally, people would avoid spending Christmas at sea but I think that has now changed. If you leave in November it’s a busy time for businesses and it’s not in the school holidays. It was interesting to see that the rally attracted students and people in work and the timing meant they were using a time when they would be away from work or study anyway.

Mikaela Meik of Sailing Rallies. Photo by Louay Habib
Mikaela Meik of Sailing Rallies. Photo by Louay Habib

“Marina Rubicon in Lanzarote has been so supportive and the marina had everything any yacht needs to prepare for the crossing, from well stocked supermarkets to comprehensive boat maintenance facilities.”

As the yachts finished the Sailing Rallies team were on hand in Jolly Harbour to welcome them home, organizing a prize giving and a full schedule of entertainment including a New Year’s Eve party, rum tasting and seminars on sailing in the Caribbean islands.

Sailing Rallies next event will be the Baltic 4 Nation Rally this summer. The second Christmas Caribbean Rally will leave Lanzarote on December 14. For more information, visit: www.sailingrallies.com

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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