For the third time in six years, the ARC Caribbean 1500 got off a day ahead of schedule (November 5) to take advantage of a promising weather window to get the fleet south. Once offshore, it was a fast, downwind passage for the majority of the fleet, with a classic late-fall weather pattern in place, and no activity in the tropics.

Yachts began arriving into Nanny Cay just over 7 days later, on Saturday November 12, with the Amel 54 Phantom first to finish. They were closely followed by the Dufour 56 Pure Elegance, and the Nordhavn 57 motor yacht Jura. Each night as yachts continued to arrive events were held on the beach at Nanny Cay, including several cocktail hours, a pizza party and a couple beach barbecues hosted by Peg Legs. Horizon Yacht Charters held a popular and informative seminar on cruising the BVI.

Amel 54 Phantom first to finish

Amel 54 Phantom first to finish

The program of events in Nanny Cay also included a 4-hour round-the-island tour with BVI 360, with stops at the famous Bomba’s Shack, Cane Garden Bay and a birds-eye view atop the island. The bus was fully packed this year, and the tour proved very popular. So popular, in fact, that the crews were heard singing as they made their return into Nanny Cay marina in the open-air taxi.

The annual ARC Caribbean 1500 prizegiving at Nanny Cay wrapped up the festivities on Friday, November 18th, closing yet another successful rally.  The ARC Caribbean 1500 is unique in that prizes are not only awarded for the first three places in each class of the Cruising Division, based on corrected time, but also for fun and inventive prizes like Best Salsa, Best Logs, Best Fishing Story, Youngest Skipper and more. In short, the prizegiving recognizes everything that makes an ocean passage so special.   Each boat also received a custom engraved rocks glass from Weems & Plath for participating in the rally, and was recognized on stage for finishing the event.

Starblazer, who only recently completed a circumnavigation with World ARC won the prize for ‘Best Dressed,’ for their enthusiasm in hoisting their code flags in Portsmouth and Nanny Cay. And Joyce had hand-sewn them during their circumnavigation to boot! Yankee Lady‘s crew took home the Family Boat Award – Ed, the boat’s skipper, is an 8th generation boat builder in New England, and will be cruising the Caribbean with his entire family all winter. Other special prizes included the Endurance Award, the Galley Slave Award, the Best Bruise Award, Female Skipper Award and the Overcoming Adversity Award.

The Tempest Trophy, Navigator’s Award and the Hal Sutphen Seamanship Award, mark the highest honors. The Navigator’s Award, sponsored by Weems & Plath, was awarded tongue-in-cheek to Passion Place. The last yacht to arrive, only on the morning of the prizegiving itself, Passion Place sailed the most miles in the fleet, heading far to the east only to divert back to the west to avoid some heavy weather. “We are thoroughly enjoying the Caribbean 1700”! the crew joked in an email to Rally Control the day before their arrival, when they appeared as if they’d make landfall in Puerto Rico. “We’re still coming to Nanny Cay though, and will see you soon!”

The Seamanship Award went to the crew on Lexington for their wonderful preparations, including passing the safety equipment checks in Portsmouth with flying colors. Lexington ought to be prepared, as they are heading to St. Lucia to take the start of World ARC in January and begin their circumnavigation.

The Tempest Trophy was presented to the yacht that best displayed the ‘Spirit of the Rally,’ and was ironically awarded to the Oyster 575 Spirit, for their immediate and professional response to a yacht who had suffered rudder damage some 300 miles offshore.

 “We were only a few miles northeast of their position,” said skipper Leah Sweet, who at only 26 years old is also the youngest skipper in the fleet, “and diverted right away after a quick briefing with the crew. The seas were as big as they were the whole trip, so I’m not sure what help we’d have actually been, but it was good moral support anyway.”

Spirit stood by the stricken yacht for over an hour while they enacted their own repairs and thankfully were able to continue on their way safely. Leah has a family history of helping other boaters – her parents are the legendary proprietors of Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services (aka MAYS) in Horta in the Azores, and Leah grew up watching them help yachts transiting the North Atlantic year after year.

“I never actually got to sail much as a kid though,” she joked. “My parents were so busy around boats that we took our vacations camping in New England in an old VW bus!”

The Tempest Trophy was given each year since 1990 to the yacht that best combined seamanship, enthusiasm, and helping others, and fittingly was first given to a boat who also assisted another with a rudder problem.

The big winner in the Cruising Division was the big Little Harbor 63 Corsair, who took Class A & the Steve Black Trophy for Overall Winner. They also were distinguished as having the fewest motoring hours in the fleet, with a mere six. Aventyr, skippered by Jamie McColl, took the honors in Class B. Jamie’s father Cameron also participated in the rally on the first-ever motorboat to be featured in the event, steaming south in a Nordhavn 57 called Jura. Cameron and Jamie were one of several father/son and father/daughter pairs to participate.

Several crews are just getting started, with over a half-dozen having used the 1500 as a way to get south for the start of World ARC. Altair, Forget-Me-Not and Lexington after a brief respite, will sail south to St. Lucia to start their circumnavigations.

Jura, first motor yacht to take part in Caribbean 1500

Jura, first motor yacht to take part in Caribbean 1500

On the way down…

Unlike last year, when late-season Hurricane Kate delayed the fleet by three days, this year’s weather was a more typical late-fall pattern, though an active one. As a cold front swept across the mid-Atlantic, the fleet departed on the heels of it, in a building northwesterly breeze. Once offshore, the cold front spawned a full gale north and east of Bermuda, with strong northerly winds generating a big swell and fast downwind conditions for the fleet. The long swell topped 15-feet, though it was a ‘friendly’ one, and winds remained in the high twenties for three full days.

 “We’re so thankful we learned how to rig proper preventers and understand how useful poling out the genoa can be!” exclaimed the skipper of Ambition, a Hylas participating in the rally for the first time. “We had more downwind sailing than not, it was awesome!”

 A second gale formed on another cold front a few days later, giving higher winds and seas to the fleet towards the back of the pack, with a few boats reporting gusts in the squalls ahead of the front in the high 40-knot range.

 “We didn’t see any lightning at all this time around,” said one veteran of the event, “so that made the windy conditions a lot less scary.”

 Tellingly, there was little damage in the fleet, and all boats made it successfully to Tortola or Marsh Harbor, a sign that boats who join the rally take their preparation seriously.

 “My first try at this thing was back in 2006,” said skipper Rich Trout of Geronimo. “I guess the 4th times the charm!” he joked. After several false starts and failed attempts at making the passage south, Rich and crew finally succeeded this year and took home the Overcoming Adversity Award for their perseverance. “After almost making it last year and having to turn around after a few days offshore, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be here!” he exclaimed.

Yachts in the ARC Bahamas fleet started with the main Caribbean 1500 fleet after the week-long pre-departure program in Portsmouth, then diverted south and west once across the Gulf Stream bound for Marsh Harbor in the Abacos and the finish port at Harbourview Marina.  The Bahamas fleet enjoyed great sailing as well, reaching fast down to the islands. Desiderata took the First Prize in the Bahamas fleet. The group met for dinner at Snappa’s bar and grill to celebrate their arrival.