While we would not take part in a Rally, trust anyone else's interpretation of the weather or follow a 'herd instinct' to go to sea I think that Rallies are probably beneficial providing the crew and boat are capable of being caught out by a North Atlantic gale.
However, many sailors I meet in the Caribbean who successfully sailed from the US to the Caribbean really did not have the boat or the skills to handle the worst conditions they might have met.
Basically you "pays your money and you takes your chances" but it should be done on personal ability and not on what you are told!
This is in the November edition of UK sailing magazine Yachting Monthly
A sailor learns to trust herself and her boat
My husband Phil and I were visiting New York on our Tayana 55, Moon Dancer, a moderately heavy blue water cruiser that we had sailed thousands of miles along the USA’s Eastern seaboard.
As we departed, the weather report was benign, 15-20 knots of offshore wind from the west. The New Jersey coast is a dangerous, 100-mile lee shore, so we weren’t taking any chances.
We left New York's 79th St marina after lunch, catching the ebb tide, under genoa and mainsail in 10 knots of wind. At dusk the wind was gusting 25 knots so we put in the second reef and changed from reefed genoa to staysail as we watched the lights of New York recede. We jogged along at 5-6 knots. As the evening progressed the wind continued to build and by 22:00 we were down to the third reef and staysail, with the washboards bolted in place, in 35-40 knots of wind and 10-15ft seas. The continuously broadcast US Weather Service told us we were in 20-25 knots and did so all night. I went to get some sleep, leaving Phil alone on deck. In my dreamlike state I was aware that the weather was worsening.
Phil woke me at 02:00 for my watch with the statement: ‘I am running her out to sea with the wind on the starboard quarter and we need the fourth reef.’ We’d specified a fourth reef with our new mainsail as it’d be easier to rig than a storm trisail.
The instruments were showing a solid 45 knots with gusts in the fifties. Once the fourth reef was in and the staysail reefed to the size of a T-shirt, we were still making six knots under autopilot. Phil went off to bed and I knew he would sleep soundly. Having spent 25 years in very high risk paediatric medicine, when it is his turn to sleep, he’s able to drop off no matter what is happening!
The autopilot was easily holding our course and I realised that it was because we had a big boat, reefed correctly, with a long, eight-ton keel. Moon Dancer rose easily on the 20ft quartering waves and I alternated between watching the radar at the chart table and sticking my head out to look visually for traffic and checking the sails.
Slowly I realised that Moon Dancer would take care of me. Since the companionway is a prime spot from which to be washed overboard, I was tethered to an internal strong point and could move easily from cockpit to chart table without unclipping. And having read of previous tragic accidents at sea, we insist on using tethers with a quick release.
As I waited for dawn to break, the weather conditions worsened. Twice, while sitting at the chart table, I became airborne and landed on my bottom on the cabin sole, but not flying far because of my tether. I’ve spent a lot of time on the water but these were the worst conditions I’d seen in a yacht. Occasionally a big wave would break over the boat and I would look up and see green water above my head through the hatches. Phil, as usual, slept the sleep of the innocent. I did a longer watch than usual and finally woke Phil with coffee at 0700 as the storm was lessening. We hardened up and headed for the inlet at Cape May, our original destination.
I was elated! I had done a single-handed watch in a F9, gusting F10, alone and without incident. The only downside were the bruises, in places a lady really should not be bruised! I also realised that Moon Dancer and I were capable of handling far more than this.
Nell Kellett is a 58 yr-old retired airline executive who cruises full-time with her husband Phil, a retired doctor, aboard their 1984 Tayana 55. Nell, of Florida, is also a US Coastguard Licensed Captain. She has been sailing for 30 years. In the last five years she and Phil have sailed 25,000 miles from Puerto Rico to Nova Scotia and back, and twice around the Caribbean. They plan to cross the Pacific in 2014
The bottom line is that you have to predict the worst and prepare for those conditions...Hoping for the best just does not work out in blue water.
Still need crew... Pacific Crossing