A Cruising Sailor's Guide to Rallies

A guide to cruising rallies for those looking to cruise in company. A special feature from our September 2009 issue

Courtesy of Steve Black| |The Caribbean 1500 provides access to safety seminars and cool route tracking (above).CRUISING RALLIES bring like-minded sailors together; most provide some friendly competition as well.|

I know from firsthand experience that participating in a cruising rally won't necessarily make a passage any safer, but several years back, when our rudder sheered off one night when we were 600 miles offshore, being part of the Caribbean 1500 Rally sure made that potentially dangerous situation easier to handle. Thanks to Caribbean 1500 veteran Davis Murray (and others) who gave us critical information over the Caribbean 1500 radio net about how to rig a drogue, we were able, eventually, to sail ourselves out of trouble. If you're looking to beef up your offshore experience, meet fellow snowbirds, participate in a little friendly competition, or simply appreciate the piece of mind that comes from knowing you're not alone, give a rally a try. There's a bunch to choose from, including these better-known ones.

Caribbean 1500: Steve Black's Cruising Rally Association has been running the Caribbean 1500 Cruising Rally (www.carib1500.com) since 1990. The 1500 stands for the 1,500 miles (or so) between Hampton, Virginia, and Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, and it's no wonder why sailing this well-worn route across the Gulf Stream is the way lots of cruisers make their first long-distance, offshore passage.

Atlantic Cup: Have you spent the winter in the Caribbean and find yourself now looking for a rally that's coming back to the States? The Cruising Rally Association's Atlantic Cup (www.carib1500.com) is just such an event. It leaves from Nanny Cay, on Tortola, and offers all the stuff you'd expect from a rally, with a little flexibility built in. The official route is from the British Virgin Islands to Bermuda, then on to destinations on the U.S. East Coast and Europe, but rally boats can also choose to head directly on to the States, skipping Bermuda, while still having access to the rally radio net.

Atlantic Rally for Cruisers: Every year, 200 or so cruising boats from all over Europe descend upon Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to gather for the annual pilgrimage across the Atlantic known as the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, or ARC (www.worldcruising.com). They come to make the 2,800-mile trade-wind passage to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, with like-minded sailors as well as for the safety seminars, the radio net, and the friendly racing. The sheer number of entrants every year shows that there must be something to this rally stuff.

ARC Europe: There's also a way to rally back from the Caribbean or southern United States to Europe. With ARC-supported starting points in St. Augustine, Florida, and Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, the ARC Europe (www.worldcruising.com) can enhance your voyage across the Pond. The fleet gathers in Bermuda, continues on to the Azores, then reaches Lagos, Portugal, where the boats disperse and Europe awaits.

World ARC: If you're really into the benefits of rally involvement, you can literally rally around the world. Flush with the success of the inaugural World ARC (www.worldcruising.com), the World Cruising Club is already taking applications for the 2010-2011 cruise, and the destinations that the World ARC plans to visit read like a cruising sailor's greatest-hits list.

North American Rally to the Caribbean: Every fall for the last 10 years, the NARC (www.sailopo.com) has departed from Newport, Rhode Island, stopped in Bermuda, then continued down to Sint Maarten. The route hasn't changed, but this year there's no entry fee. Now anyone can get the benefits of the skippers meeting and NARC radio net, but you'll be asked to pay $125 per crewmember if you want to take part in the parties.

Baja Ha-Ha: U.S. West Coast cruisers have been laughing all the way to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, every fall since 1994. The Ha-Ha (www.baja-haha.com) is a bit looser than it's U.S. East Coast counterparts, and while there are no mandatory safety checks (every skipper is responsible for the safety of his or her own boat), that hardly means it's less safe. Two rest stops at Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria are scheduled on the 750-mile run south from San Diego, and the idea is to have fun (beach parties in port), make friends, and enjoy some spectacular sailing.

Bermuda Cruising Rally: Most rallies leave in either the fall or the spring, but the Bermuda Cruising Rally (www.bermudacruisingrally.com) is different. The fleet sails in June from Greenport, New York, to Bermuda. The weather will probably be a bit more placid than it is in the fall, and Tania Aebi, a record-breaking circumnavigator and the author of Maiden Voyage, is part of the team organizing the event.

Bill Springer