24th ARC Caribbean 1500 Heads Offshore
The saying goes, 'Never waste a fair wind,' and for the second year running rally organisers World Cruising Club took the decision for the ARC Caribbean 1500 fleet to start their offshore sail to the British Virgin Islands a day ahead of schedule. On Saturday November 2, the rally left Portsmouth Virginia and the Chesapeake on a light northwesterly wind, broad-reaching into the Atlantic with several yachts flying spinnakers as they sailed on into the clear evening.
The decision to depart early
By Thursday evening, with the pre-departure social programme in full swing for ralliers, the organisers started creating a contingency plan for an early departure. The forecast indicated a tight weather window in which to get the fleet safely across the Gulf Stream in reasonable conditions and after consulting with Weather Routing Inc, a revised start time was proposed. An impromptu weather briefing was held at Ocean Marine Yacht Center to keep the fleet informed and by 0800 Saturday morning, the decision became official - the 2013 1500 start line would take place at 3:00pm off Hampton Flats.
"It was unprecedented last year," said Miles Poor of Karina, the Tayana 55 who is a perennially entry in the 1500. "And for it to happen again, only a year later? Twice in 24 years? That's remarkable."
The organizers were able to make a starting line for the Cruising Division thanks to marina residents at Ocean Marine who generously offered to use their Sea Ray 32 Cloud Nine as committee boat. The starting gun fired at 3:10pm local time and the fleet was off under clear skies and a light northerly wind. 18 yachts competed for the starting line of the competitive Cruising Division, with nearly a dozen other yachts following as part of the Open Division.
The true value of a professionally organised rally was demonstrated when several yachts listed as participating in the Salty Dawg Rally also left with the ARC Caribbean 1500 fleet, against their organizers decision to delay their own start until Wednesday or Thursday, when they are likely to experience light contrary winds.
While 2012 saw an early departure due to late-season Hurricane Sandy and an early season winter gale, 2013 followed a more classic weather pattern on the east coast in November. Traditional sailing directions state to head offshore following the passage of a cold front, riding the northwesterly wind across the Gulf Stream and taking advantage of the fair weather produced by the high pressure that typically follows the front.
The weather forecast indicated the swift passage of the front on Saturday morning, following by brisk north-northwesterly winds that would quickly shift northeast in a couple of days and strengthen, as high pressure ridging takes hold offshore. Organizers deemed it imperative to get the fleet offshore immediately following that frontal passage to give the maximum amount of time to get offshore before the NE windshift.
For the first time in the rally's 24-year history, the ARC Caribbean 1500 pre-departure program took place in Portsmouth, Virginia. The finishing port of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, the historic city is well accustomed to hosting sailors. Early-arrival happy hours were held at Skipjack Nautical Wares on the waterfront, sponsored by Colligo Synthetic Rigging Systems and featuring food and beer from the local Bier Garden German restaurant. The 1940s-era Commodore Theatre hosted the Welcome Reception, which included a free screening of Captain Phillips at the renovated dinner theatre, while the seminar program was held at the Renaissance Hotel. Over 100 crewmembers, friends and family turned out for the Bon Voyage Party on Friday night, despite the last-minute preparations for an early departure.
Only one yacht was unable to take the start. Lady Jane, a Wauquiez Centurion 43, remains in Deltaville, Virginia undergoing repairs to the transmission, and expects to head to sea sometime later in the week. Slow Dancing, an Island Packet, was forced to turn back 12 hours after the start after a crewmember became ill. They have returned to Ocean Marine Yacht Center and plan on meeting up and departing with Lady Jane.
Following the rally
Each boat in the ARC Caribbean 1500 is fitted with a satellite tracker, with positions updated twice daily and displayed on the rally website (www.worldcruising.com/carib1500/viewer), enabling friends and family at home to follow the boats. Cruisers can also send blogs and pictures direct to the website, and the rally team will post news from the fleet every day on the website and Facebook pagewww.facebook.com/carib1500.
Every boat receives a plaque as a memento of their voyage, and prizes are given to the first arrivals and fastest boats on handicap, the best boat blog, biggest fish, plus special awards for acts of seamanship and the spirit of the rally. Weems & Plath has signed on to sponsor a new 'Navigator's Award' that will be given to the best-kept traditional captain's log. ARC Caribbean 1500 participants will again support 'Moustache November,' or 'Movember,' an initiative to bring awareness to men's health issues. Nanny Cay Marina is a big supporter.