Why do a rally and why the Caribbean 1500? I was recently asked this by the website All At Sea Southeast magazine (www.allatsea.net). Here is what I came up with!
1. How did you get interested in sailing as part of a rally? And, in sailing with kids?
You have a boat, and are making plans to take your family cruising the Caribbean. But there are two hurdles in the way of sipping Painkillers on a tropical beach while your kids play in the surf. First, is slight disillusionment. The scenario is more likely you are putting Jack in time out in the dinghy while Jane complains of being sunburnt because she didn’t put on sunscreen like you told her to. Second, is getting the boat down there from the US.
Really, 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.
- Sail yourself, but part of an organized rally.
The sans-training-wheels option is to sail yourself. If you have the experience of several offshore passages (I don’t) and a well found boat, this might be for you. The only additional costs over the other options might be the purchase of a weather routing service.
Perhaps the “safest” option is to hire a delivery captain. Rates can vary between $250 to $450 a day, plus food and routing. For a 10 day trip (e.g. Norfolk to BVI) this amounts to about $3000-$5000. 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. This are organized (to varying degrees) “races” where fellow travellers gather together to make the passage at more or less the same time. The amount of built in support from the organizers varies from not that much, like the Salty Dawg Rally, to much more, like the Carib 1500. The Salty Dawg Rally is designed for experienced passage-makers, while the Carib 1500 is designed for first-timers.
The interesting part of being in a rally is perhaps the psychological factor. On the surface, they seem like a safer option that going it alone. Recent problems shows us otherwise. In 2012 several boats needed rescue after bad weather hit the Salty Dawg Rally. In 2011 a woman died while competing in the North American Rally to the Caribbean [NARC], similar to the Carib 1500. John of morganscloud.com goes as far as to say “ stay away from these rallies in the fall. In my opinion, they confer an illusion of safety in numbers, that encourages the unprepared and inexperienced to go to sea when they shouldn’t.”
We have decided to enter the Carib 1500 with our eyes wide open. After researching all these options, it seems to have the highest level of built-in “luck”, because ultimately, a 10+ day offshore passage is about luck. But also the idea that the more prepared you are, the luckier you can be.
One decision we made to make the trip easier is that my kids will actually be flying out to meet us in the BVI. I’ll be taking on a crew to make the passage and will not have the additional complications of young children on board (maybe next time).
2. What make, length and name of boat will you be sailing on this year?
There is an old adage about boats, they have three main traits:
- safety at sea
For us, this has meant a 70′s 39-43′ boat that was a compromise between these characteristics, and not excelling at any, been recently refitted, preferably with a rebuilt engine. After much research on “the best boat for sailing with kids” we specifically bought our boat, Alchemy, for the passage and year in the Caribbean. It’s a 1974 Tartan 41. The Tartan has a great cabin layout with big pilot berths and an open twin aft berth area. Its speed, safety and comfort are a good balance for us and our plans.
3. How would you describe the opportunity you see in a rally that enables East Coast family sailors to visit new places?
The Carib 1500 Rally (or probably any rally) is a means to an end. Once at your destination, in this case, the British Virgin Islands, you have a whole sailing experience opened up. Like all sailing activities though, even this initial passage is part of the destination. Having an opportunity to be hundreds of miles offshore is a unique one in itself.
5. Could you tell a little of your family’s sailing background on the East Coast?
One challenge for us in this trip has been our lack of experience. Although we have been sailing in Vermont’s “Great Lake” for six years, we have very little coastal experience. You often get 20+ knot winds, but don’t get the swell.
To increase our experience, in the previous two years we chartered twice in the BVI and I delivered Alchemy from Annapolis to Lake Champlain. I also recently crewed on a delivery from Bermuda to NYC which was a significant offshore trip.
6. In your experience (and for readers are less experienced) how do you suggest best preparing for the rally –
a) getting your boat ready?
When we were shopping for boats, we deliberately were looking for one that had been recently outfitted. I am far from an expert on boat-work, so it was key to find one where much had already been done! Even so, our todo list has sometimes seemed overwhelming and we have found it important to occasionally take some deep breaths and prioritize. Safety gear, new sails and more ventilation and solar panels were high on the list. We have also made sure to get a good mechanic to go over our engine with a fine toothcomb.
It’s been important I think to keep in mind the boys as we have got the boat ready. They each have curtains to close off their bunk, and will have space for toy storage. Two popular modifications have been the conversion of the aft cabin floor to a 2’ x 4’ lego area and the installation of a crow’s nest.
b) getting the kids ready and prepared?
With our smaller boat on Lake Champlain, we made sure we did a couple of weeks a year aboard. The lake is rich with islands, and we wanted to get the boys used to spending time aboard. As I just mentioned, we also did a couple of charters to expose them to “real sailing”, and the stickiness of a hot cabin. We also have brought the trip up more and more frequently in conversation, expanding on “cool” things we’ll be doing when “we’re on our trip.”
Currently we are just under one month away from casting off. Our provisioning thus far has been limited to gear and toiletries!
d) safety or boating courses or boating experience to have under your belt?
Both my wife and I took a two day ASA Keel Boat course a couple of years ago. We both recently completed the one day Safety at Sea Seminar as required by the Newport to Bermuda race. My wife plans to take a first aid course. We have spaced these courses over a couple of years, but I’d think that they are very worthwhile to do.
e) taking time off work?
We have been fortunate with timing, if you want to call it that! My wife is an attorney and is making the move from firm to private practice. She is using this year as a break between the two careers. I work in a Graduate School of Education, and am able to take a sabbatical. Neither of us have a guarantee of a job on our return, but we think the risk is worth it. Eight years ago I left gainful employment to start my own business. I suppose I am comfortable with the uncertainty.
6) What advice would you give others?
I think the best advice is to start early. We made the decision to take a year off about two years ago. We started with finding the right boat, and then getting everything ready on it, and at home. This all takes time!
Oh, and have fun and make funny faces. They help!
And bring legos.
An ice cream.