The fleet left knowing a cold front was to pass but it was supposed to pass fast and then good conditions, Instead it stalled and the fleet was stuck in the stream with 20-25. The problems came in the squalls with 30-40 against the stream.
Maybe I am not understanding what you say and please if it is the case correct me:
Do you mean that on that particularly difficult stretch of sea they sailed out knowing that they would get 20/25K winds, even if not for much time?
If so call me an armchair sailor even if I do between 2 to 3000nm a year but I don't sail out for a passage if the weather report gives 25K on my pass unless I have a very special boat. I have been surprised many times by F6 that turned in F8 and once by a F7 that turned in a F9/10 besides the winds reported by a weather service regards medium sustained winds, not gusts that normally blow 10k more and sometimes 15K more regarding a sustained 25K. Not that my boat cannot take it but it, or I cannot do it, but is not agreeable and it involves risks that I prefer not to take.
Sure with my friend's boat, an heavy Steel 60ft ketch we used to sail on f9 winds without any problem and I would have no doubt in sailing out with that weather report but those were not the average type of boats on the rally.
Rallies, precisely the ones that will not assume any responsibility regarding departure date or security conditions, can induce false safety feelings to less experienced sailors that can be very dangerous.
If someone not very experienced, that probably alone would not risk 25k winds, sees everybody sailing out in boats similar to the ones we own, will tend to think that so many cannot be mistaken and if it is safe for them, it will be safe for me. Nobody likes to be left behind.
On a side note, more two Catalina with rudder problems: one lost it and the other loss steering. Obviously Catalinas, or at least some vintage, have a problem with rudders. That does not mean that Catalinas cannot sail safely but that they have to do a lot more rudder maintenance than other boats. I would liked very much to know if those two Catalina had their rudder system conveniently checked before doing this passage and when was the systems completed dismounted for a thoroughly inspection.