First sailing event into post-hurricane Tortola made the Caribbean 1500 special for both the sailors and island hosts

Another year, another ARC Caribbean 1500, the Fall migration south to the warm climate, blue seas and sandy beaches of the British Virgin Islands. But this year’s ARC Caribbean 1500 turned out to be much more of an adventure that many of the participating sailors could have imaged back in the summer as they made their plans and prepared their boats.

The big story on everyone’s lips this year, and what has made this no ordinary sailing rally, was Hurricane Irma, the category 5 storm that struck the British Virgin Islands on September 6.

For the Caribbean 1500, the prospects for running the rally initially looked poor.

And yet, even as they world’s spotlight was still on the devastation, the message from the community in Tortola was loud and clear – we want you back!

As Cameron McColl of Nanny Cay Marina and Resort explained some eight weeks before the rally was due to sail: “Nanny Cay took a major hit from Hurricane Irma, but within 7 days our team has restored power, water, septic systems, and the Beach Bar is already open serving cold beer! We have plenty of brand new docks in the new outer marina and we expect to be open for business again within the next two weeks. We look forward to welcoming the Caribbean 1500 and to running a full series of yachting events throughout the upcoming winter season. The BVI is going to look pretty spartan for a few months; there will be fewer fleet charter boats on the waters and the beach bars will probably remind you of the BVI of twenty years ago – but maybe that’s just fine!”

After the end of the hurricane season, the November 5 departure of the Caribbean 1500 saw beautiful winds and seas, at least for the first half of the route. Eleven days of great sailing then saw the wind turn southerly, a very unseasonal direction for the last arrivals to contend with.

For the quicker yachts like Merlin, a J42, and Blue Pearl, a Hylas 54, the trip couldn’t have been better and they were docked in Tortola before the weather turned.

However, for the slower boats, the southerlies were an unwelcome arrival, forcing them to beat to windward to reach Tortola.

“In the years that I have been involved with the Caribbean 1500, I have never seen sustained winds from the South for this long,” said veteran ‘1500 sailor, Miles Poor of Karina.

However, despite contrary winds and unplanned refuelling, all the participating yachts, bar one that diverted to Beaufort NC with technical problems, conquered the winds and arrived safely at Nanny Cay Marina.

On arrival, the Carib 1500 sailors found a marina indeed battered and bruised from the encounter with Irma. And yet, the crews were impressed and happy with the services that Nanny Cay marina provided.

From out of the disaster a functioning marina had emerged ready to welcome visitors again. Every day, there were parties and socials including pizza happy hours, a beach BBQ, and a final prizegiving at Genaker Café.

On top of this, every one of the rally boats had their own slip with water and power, WiFi available throughout the marina, and excellent facilities to take a hot shower after the long passage. At all of the socials, the beer was flowing and the crews were exuberant, all excited to greet the next yacht to arrive in true rally spirit.

Keen to give help out with more than just tourist cash, highlights from the program included a Volunteer Day, and a Hurricane Irma “Relief Tour” – a chance to spend money with small businesses on other part of the Island and enjoy the unseasonally quite beaches along the way. On the volunteer day crews pulled together to help clean up and reopen the historic ‘Her Majesty’s Prison’ – a museum attraction in Road Town.

The annual rally prizegiving was relocated to Genaker Café, where Luis, the manager of storm-damaged Peg Legs Restaurant, organized a delicious array of food and rum punches to make it a memorable night. Highlights from the night include awards for family boats, Merlin and Numada, Movember Award for Dave on Cotinga, and the Navigators award to Taiko.

Due to a saildrive failure, Taiko was unable to put their engine into the forward gear, only reverse. After sailing close to Nanny Cay, Nigel and Suan dropped their sails, proceeded into the marina, and docked their boat without the assistance of a tow… in reverse and without the ability to go forward!

The more competitive awards included Galileo winning first place for Multihulls, Merlin taking 1st for Class B, and Avanti taking first place for Class A and the Steve Black trophy for the overall best finishing time.

The prizegiving marked the end of the 2017 Caribbean 1500, a bittersweet moment for many in the fleet, and indeed the organizers.

“This is my first year as Event Manager” said Jake Albano. “It is always great to see the evolution of the group as a whole. In the beginning event, crews are unfamiliar with one another, but by the end in Nanny Cay, they are like one big family!”

Many sailors decided to go home for Thanksgiving and the holidays before returning to spend the winter cruising the Caribbean. Others, like Ruud Bosman on Blue Pearl and Dave Higgins on Air Power, are headed to Saint Lucia for the start of World ARC in January.

They will be joined by 40 other boats who are embarking on the adventure of a lifetime sailing around the world.