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Cruising via Rally

One of the best aspects of participating in a cruising rally is that you can share the experience with other vessels and their crews.
A rally? Who? Us?

Sorry, we've sailed on our own too long to give up control.

Friends who had recently participated in the New England 600 Rally to Maine insisted the upcoming Snowbird Rally offered by the same group would be the perfect way for Gil and me to kick off our fall trip to Florida. And that, my friends, is how we came to be at Block Island, doing something as frivolous as readying for an offshore cruise to the Chesapeake area.

In a grand escape from the dreadful world news regarding escalating tensions in the Middle East, our rally group representing six boats—others had been forced to drop out—gathered for breakfast registration to enjoy mounds of leftovers—golden rally sweatshirts, canvas welcome bags, and untouched platters of Danish pastries, fresh fruits, and French toast; all sore reminders of friends we might've met.

Our pre-departure days were plump with seminars, weather and landfall briefings, what-if course options (New York harbor is closed!), VHF and SSB tests, and safety and rigging inspections. But it was the cocktail hour chats, shared meals, random island explorations, cockpit advice sessions, inside jokes, and blatant fun that lifted the burden of the times and turned this rally from a paid-for event into a friendship cruise.

The author (at right) and her crew await better weather for their departure.

The sparkling fall days belied the news our hired weather routing service predicted, a storm system fraught with tumultuous seas and angry winds. If we had stuck to our original itinerary, we would have hit that bad weather head on. We scrutinized reports—each skipper signed off on them—and made a communal decision to wait the extra day for the promised pleasant weather window. Lightning cracked around us, and rain tumbled in buckets from the sky on the morning of our departure, but by noon the last weather cell had passed though. Lisa and Ron, our remaining crew, arrived by ferry, bedraggled and wet, attesting that the seas were so unfriendly they had been forced to fortify themselves with Bloody Marys. The winds were abating and the waters were relaxing as Falcon, Lady Daphne, Early Out, and Joy For All Seasons tossed off their dock lines and set a southerly course, tailed by staff vessels Mahina Aka and Entre Nous.

Our group was content to sail and tack at a leisurely pace, but aboard Joy For All Seasons, we prefered to hold course and motorsail. Two US F-16 fighter planes roared overhead, as sinister-looking as Darth Vader, reminding us that the US was at war. Many of us trailed fishing lines and attempted to win the Fishing Award. Of course there was much radio banter about "the ones that got away." By the end of our journey, Lisa and Ron had filleted, and iced-down several fine Bonita Tunas.

We slapped each other on the back for being hours ahead of the other boats, but paid the price of speed in the wee hours of the morning as we crossed the New York shipping lanes. It's amazing how a simple dot of light on the horizon can so quickly become a fast-moving ship illuminated like a Christmas tree when it draws near. Our friends comfortably navigated this danger zone at first light. "Ambrose pilot, Ambrose pilot…" A foreign ship continuously hailed for help as it was denied port entry. Our timing was just as bad the following evening as we approached Cape May. The shipping channels there were less distinct than New York's, and at 0300 we found ourselves dodging one monster tug-towing barge after another. So we sought safe haven on a sand bar until dawn.

The almost instant camaraderie among rally participants is just one of the many benefits of opting to travel en masse. Here, the sailors celebrate before departing Block Island. 
When our rally friends caught up, our boats fell into line like a row of ducklings followed by doting parents, and proceeded up the Delaware River to Schaefer's Marina in the CD canal, where we berthed for the night. We hugged each other, as if we'd been apart for months instead of a couple of days, and shared cocktails and experiences over an outrageous sunset while the more industrious among us gathered goodies for an impromptu potluck supper. Our contribution was grilled tuna, of course.

With one short leg remaining to our first rally, a storm was brewing. Our parade set off like a fleet of ghost ships in the early morning fog, racing the rains to the Chesapeake. Twin navy seal boats zoomed eerily past us as we cleared the CD canal. We split off to protected harbors, and all made landfall without incident. We later learned that across the bay, a tornado lifted and killed two teenage girls driving home. The following evening, at Nautech's Arrival Party in Annapolis, Early Out brought a computer show of their northward trip, which had included a stopover in New York Harbor. The sight of the twin towers standing tall and glistening was, perhaps, the only sobering moment of this celebratory evening.

The fruits of the sea can always enliven any passage.

I suppose if we had experienced a storm at sea or a life-threatening adventure, I'd have a more fascinating tale to tell. I remember apologizing to our new friends that a non-eventful trip means no story. Nonetheless, due to the foresight and careful planning of the rally organizers, this whole excursion was pleasurable. Had we stuck with our original plan, we would've been tossed about in the wrath of severe thunderstorms. Without giving up control, Gil and I had the comfort of knowing folks who cared were within hailing distance. The social events were grand fun. Joy For all Seasons won the fishing award—one of those singing Billy Bass plaques—and we've made friends for life. Those things alone are reason enough to sign up for a rally. And we've always talked about sailing to Nova Scotia, so, maybe we'll do it again.


A rally can provide education, hard information, and resources that would otherwise take weeks to assemble on one's own; and traveling with a knowledgeable group can be an on-the water safety net for assistance with mechanical or medical problems.

Understand, however, that when you are out there, you are on your own. In the larger, more expansive rallies one can travel for days without seeing a sail on the horizon. The ultimate responsibility for the boat and crew lies with the skipper, not the rally organizers.
All rallies aren't created equal. Choose one that will be well tolerated by your boat, your crew, your boss, and your bank account. Talk to former rally participants and follow chats on rally web pages, and you will quickly realize that some rallies are geared to coastal cruisers who want to try offshore sailing, and others are intended to satisfy the thirst for challenge common to intermediate and veteran sailors. While we'd all like to think of ourselves as up to the challenge of any cruising task, that's not the reality. Have you embarked on an overnight sail? Ever been out of sight of land without freaking? We suggest you learn to "walk" by doing short offshore passages that won't take you into known turbulent waters or hundreds of miles offshore, before "running" on longer, more involved passages. And keep the following items in mind:

  • Who are your crew? Experienced sailors looking for adventure? Your spouse? Children?
  • Will they be able to tolerate the rigors of an offshore adventure?
  • What are your goals? Do you want a challenge, a learning experience, or a fun family vacation?
  • How much time can you spend away? One week? Two Years?
  • Where do you want to go? Can you travel part way with a rally?
  • Will transportation to and from the rally start and finish locations presents a problem for you or potential crewmembers?

After you've resolved all of that, here's a list of prospective rallies to get you started:

Blue Water Rallies Limited
This company, an offshoot of the Trade Winds Round the World Cruising Rally 1995 –97, was formed by its directors and participants. Contact Peter Seymour at
   Blue Water Round the World Cruising Rally—leaves every two years from Gibraltar to cruise along the trade wind's equatorial route.
   Rally Antigua—leaves Gibraltar annually, sails via Tenerife en route to Antigua and the Caribbean for Christmas.
   Oz Med Rally—departs from Darwin in Australia each October and travels from the pacific and down under to the Mediterranean.
   Biscay Triangle—annual cruising rally in the Bay of Biscay.

Blue Water Sailing School
This Ft. Lauderdale, FL-based organization offers ASA (American Sailing Association) offshore passage-making classes and opportunities for on-the water experience. Contact Ted Wheeler at 954-763-8464.
   Ft. Lauderdale to Bermuda—10 days, May 4 -13, 2002.
   Bermuda to Ft. Lauderdale—(Return trip) May 17 -26, 2002.

Nautech Enterprises
Small, but growing in popularity, this organization stresses a good weather window and participant involvement and uses seminars, workshops, and cruising videos. Contact Jim and Marjie Favors at
   The Round Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia)   400 Cruising Rally—governed by the ORC (Ocean Racing Council). Takes place each spring between end of May and beginning of June.
   The New England 600 Rally—From Annapolis, MD to Camden, ME with an intermediate stop in Newport, RI. Takes place from mid-June to early July each year.
   Snowbird Rally—from Block Island, RI to the Chesapeake Bay, this event is run annually in late September. (Can connect from this to Caribbean 1500).
   Nova Scotia Adventure Cruising Rally—A new event from Camden, ME to Nova Scotia, it departs July 8, 2002.
   Bahamas 500—Another new event that heads out from Beaufort, NC to the Abacos; departs Nov 10, 2002.

Offshore Passage Opportunities
Hank Schmidt coordinates rallies and crews. Contact him at 
   North American Rally to the Caribbean—Newport, RI to St. Martin; departed Oct. 28, 2001. Stopover in Bermuda.
   St. Martin to Newport, RI—with two fleets (May 12-24, 2002 and May 26-June 8, 2002). Transatlantic passages twice a year to southern France.
   Mother Duck Cruise—Long Island, NY to Cape Cod, MA and back; usually in August.

West Marine Rallies
Two popular rallies organized by Steve Black and Hal Sufphen, which include passage maker seminars and a large volunteer crew list and many amenities. Contact
   Caribbean 1500—From Hampton, VA to Virgin Gorda, BVI; about 50 boats. Uses a gun start and cruisers have option to race.
   Bermuda Cruising Rally—From Hampton, VA to St. George's, Bermuda and return. Combines ocean passage making with a week's relaxed cruising. June 16-July 1.

World Cruising Club
From the originators of the rally concept, these events are for yachts on a worldwide basis. Contact 
   Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)—follows trade wind route from Canary Islands to St Lucia every year. 150-plus boats is the usual turnout.
   ARC Europe—starts in St. Augustine, FL; also, from Antigua in the West Indies.
   BT Challenge—a 10-month race around the world. US West Coast departure scheduled for late 2002.

Trade Winds Rallies
Royal Air Force Yacht Club holds rallies for cruising yachts. Amateur, non-commercial event sailed on a club-to-club basis. No racing. Takes one to two years; seminars and rendezvous included. Contact
   USA 2001—Open to RAFYC members or members of clubs supporting the event. Departed from Europe fall 2001 to spend the winter in the Caribbean and visit Cuba, cruise eastern US seaboard, and return to UK via Bermuda and the Azores.


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