The Caribbean Caravan
Does the annual Caribbean 1500 cruising rally make sailing south safer or just more fun? This veteran cruiser-and rally newbie-signed up to find out. A feature from our September 2009 issue
As the boats trickle into Tortola and dry out at the Village Cay docks, I worry that I may have miscalculated the buoyancy of cruisers. I wonder, for example, how Chris and Christine Ellsay, on their first-ever ocean passage, had the energy to stand three-hours-on/three- hours-off watches while managing their three under-10 kids on Stray Kitty, a PDQ 42 catamaran. "Normally, we allow the kids only one video a week," Christine offers by way of explanation, "but for this passage we loaded up-Disney, DreamWorks, you name it-and the kids watched videos nonstop. They even learned to put themselves to bed."
And how would newlyweds Seth and Elizabeth Hynes on Honeymoon, a Lagoon 380 cat, come out of this bruising passage? After all, it was their first time offshore, and they'd snapped the mainsail headboard car and been squall-slapped aplenty. Before they set off, Elizabeth had vowed that they'd continue cruising if they had a good passage. "I didn't think I'd ever see land again!" Elizabeth hooted, clad in bikini and sailing gloves, as Honeymoon pulled in. Then Elizabeth delivers the verdict: "Now that we've survived this, the best is yet to come! We're going cruising!"
And while I'm convinced that even brand-new cruisers quickly pick up an unsinkable gene, I wonder if anyone actually enjoyed this blowy, wet, bumpy trip. Then I meet Jorge Zlatar and Isabel Cumsille, Chileans on Excalibur, a ketch-rigged Amel 53. Jorge had taken Excalibur east-way east, 100 miles past the longitude of Bermuda-and when the time came to head for Tortola-Excalibur sailed a whopping 1,700 miles in total-the wind was blessedly further aft and far less squally than for the rest of us. "We read, we drank wine, we talked, we did needlepoint," says Jorge. "We had a wonderful passage!"
Maybe that's the secret to sailing in a rally, to riding with the herd. Sure, it's great to share information and make new friends, and it's a buzz to collect a pickle dish by beating some other boats to the finish line. But the most important thing to remember is: Once you cast off, you choose your own path.
After a winter spent in the Caribbean, Tom and Harriet Linskey sailed back up the U.S. East Coast and spent the summer aboard Hands Across the Sea in Newport, Rhode Island, and Camden, Maine. They'll return to the Caribbean in November with lots of books for the local children.