If you want to sail your swift mono or multihull yacht from Newport to St. Maarten in the company of professional crew and experienced skippers, then the North Atlantic Rally to the Caribbean (NARC) is right for you. The NARC, now in its 15th year, was founded and organized by Hank Schmitt, a long-time offshore delivery captain and chief executive officer of the Huntington, NY-based nearly 2,000-member strong crew networking service, Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO). Schmitt plans to depart the Newport Yachting Center on November 1st or the best weather window around that date, make a stopover in Bermuda at the St. Georges Dinghy & Sports Club, and continue on to IGY’s Simpson Bay Marina in St. Maarten.
“There are several differences between the NARC and other fall rallies to the Caribbean,” explains Schmitt. “In addition to restricting entries to larger professionally sailed boats as well as experienced private boat owners and crews capable of arriving in Bermuda in four days, there is no entry free to join. There is free weather routing and a radio net, discounts on dockage in all three ports, fuel discounts; no head tax in Bermuda and socials in Newport, Bermuda and St. Maarten where everyone pays for their own meal ticket. Sint Maarten as an end destination is great. Direct flights to the U.S. and other places, it’s duty-free to bring in parts, and all the marine services are there.”
Schmitt got his first taste of the rally concept back in 1992 when he took part in the Jimmy Cornell-organized America 500 Columbus Anniversary Transatlantic Rally from Spain to the Bahamas. Six years later he set sail on Steve Black’s Caribbean 1500 cruising Rally. Then he helped to move the Swan charter fleet to the Caribbean each fall, invited other boats to participate in 1999 and the NARC was born.
“The main feature that first attracted me to the NARC rally was the camaraderie, and the chance to discuss the upcoming passage with other more experienced sailors,” explains Peter Bourke, of Newport, Rhode Island, who has sailed the NARC twice, once as crew on a Swan 48 and the second time as captain of his Outbound 44, Rubicon. “A fall sailing trip to the Caribbean is a serious enterprise as you try to pick a good weather window, and thread the needle between the end of hurricane season and the beginning of winter storm season. The opportunity to meet other sailors and to enjoy the parties in Newport, Bermuda and St. Maarten make the rally very appealing.”
Similarly, and this is a recurrent theme among NARC participants, Tom Leonard of Andover, Massachusetts, joined Schmitt’s OPO to venture beyond the day sailing he and his wife enjoyed on their Catalina 35 to get offshore sailing experience. Leonard started with three-to-five day trips and progressed to longer deliveries on other people’s boats before he bought a Lagoon 40 catamaran with the intention of cruising the Caribbean.
“I was planning at first to sail down the intercostal waterway to Florida then cross over to the Bahamas for the winter,” Leonard explains. “But Hank reminded us it can still get cold in the Bahamas, so I signed up for the NARC. I hired a captain and Hank found me two experienced crew. The trip down was great. I liked being offshore with like-minded sailors and I liked the watches and checking the weather. One of the top three experiences, aside from marrying my wife and the birth of our children, happened on that trip. We had left Newport and the wind had died down from a front that blew through but the seas were still huge. All of a sudden we saw a huge pod of dolphins jump out of the sides of the waves. It was just awesome, a spectacular show.”
Leonard realized on a shorter offshore sail from Portland, Maine to Huntington, New York in advance of the NARC that this type of sailing was for him but not for his wife who was prone to seasickness. The experience paid off. She flew down to St. Maarten to meet Leonard and his crew and they happily enjoyed six months of cruising around St. Maarten and later island-hopping northward from St. Lucia to St. Maarten.
“I would recommend for someone bringing their boat to the Caribbean for the first time to sail your boat as much as possible. For example, short excursions out to Block Island or Martha’s Vineyard are fun and great shakedown cruises,” says Bourke. “I would also recommend joining the NARC. Keeping your boat at the Newport Yachting Center for a few days or a week before the event (they only charge $1/foot per night for NARC participants) provides a good opportunity to give your boat a final inspection, top off the tanks and compare notes with other skippers. Finally, remember to have fun. It will all seem worth it when you get to the other side of the Gulf Stream and start peeling off the heavy clothing.”
For more information on the 2014 NARC, visit: www.sailopo.com
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.