Worldwide there are scores of sailing rallies, cruises in copany and owners’ events to get cruising people together. Here Elaine Bunting hunts out the main ocean cruising events
As the popularity of bluewater cruising has grown, rallies have boomed. Worldwide, there are scores of sailing rallies, cruises in company and musters, not to mention owners’ association and club events. Making friends and having fun, helping each other out and sharing resources is a central feature of liveaboard cruising and many more sailors look to join a ready-made group.
The advantages of rallies go beyond the social, however; even beyond those of safety in numbers. Events provide a framework and timescale, putting a deadline on long-held ambitions. On long events such as round the world rallies, people taking part have often told me that it provided the impetus, or that they might not have carried on to the finish without the discipline of a rally.
How each event is organised and run varies enormously. Some are cruising only, others offer competitive classes. Some are very informal, with staff levels low and safety left to a skipper’s discretion. Others, most notably those of World Cruising Club, which dominates the cruising rally business, are more structured.
Detractors of rallies often complain about the cost, but my impression over the last decade is that price has become less of an issue than level of service. I’m sure this is why the ARC, for example, is so oversubscribed every year despite the €1,500 (£1,250) or more it costs to enter.
But whatever the type of event, those who take part usually speak highly of them. Above all, it’s the participants who make them. This list highlights the best-known rallies. We’ve concentrated on those that go across oceans or between countries rather than home waters events. These are the sailing rallies that take you from home to a new destination or back home afterwards.
A flying start
Rallies to get you going from Europe and the US
**Note: costs were correct at time of writing in November 2013
Starting in Plymouth, this annual event takes cruisers acrosss the Bay of Biscay towards the Mediterranean and is the first long offshore passage for some participants. The route makes landfall at Bayona, sails south to Povoa de Varzim, then coast-hops on daysails to Gaia, Figueira da Foz, Peniche, Oerias, Sines and Lagos, with a programme of activities in every port.
There are usually around 20 boats in the rally, making it one of the smaller and more intimate World Cruising Club events.
**Cost: from £625-£825 plus £275 per crewmember
Also owned and run by World Cruising Club, organisers of the ARC Portugal and other popular rallies, the Caribbean 1500 is the longest-running rally in North America. It has two routes: the traditional one from Chesapeake Bay, US, to Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and ARC Bahamas, heading from the Chesapeake to Green Turtle Bay in the Abacos.
**Cost: US$1,200 (£754) plus $125 (£79) per crewmember
Start: end of October
The friendly and popular Baja Ha Ha runs every year, taking crews in company on the mainly downwind 750 miles between San Diego (California) to Cabo San Lucas (Mexico). It’s an established part of the calendar that has been running for over 20 years, shepherding cruisers on a migration south to warmer winter weather. There are often more than 100 entries to the event.
A rally that caters for all levels, the Ha Ha includes racing classes as well as accommodating out-and-out cruisers who might want to anchor overnight along the way or use their engine.
**Cost: US$375 (£236) per boat, but $325 (£204) for boats under 35ft
Another US west coast option, the Ho Ho leaves Puget Sound and goes down the coast of Oregon and northern California to San Francisco before going on to San Diego, in time to dovetail with the start of the Baja Ha Ha.
A small event that only began in 2012, it generally attracts 10-12 entries.
Cost: US$225 (£141) per boat and crewmember
The Pacific Puddle Jump is a ‘rally’ only in the loosest sense of the word, as there is no committee boat, there are no daily roll calls, and boats from many nations leave from various points on the west coast of the USA and Mexico, bound for French Polynesia. anytime between February and June.
Because the fleet does not depart from the Americas on a single date, yachts arrive in French Polynesia any time in April, May or June, many meeting for first time in the islands.
The big plus, apart from the esprit de corps, is a bond exemption and duty-free fuel in French Polynesia.
This is one of several events by cruising magazine Latitude 38.
Beyond the Mediterranean
A four-day rally to Morocco with a reputation for friendliness, this ‘long weekend’ cruise in company has been running for 13 years and goes between Gibraltar and Marina Smir, Morocco. The passage is followed by dockside Olympics and a barbecue.
Details: New potential participants should contact Boatshed Gibraltar or ‘like’ Facebook.com/boatshedgib
The EMYR is the biggest and most successful rally in the Mediterranean. It has been going for 25 years and is run on a non-profit basis by a committee of British sailors headed by Kath and David Gerrard, and Gönül and Hasan Kaçmaz. This has kept costs very low for what is a comprehensive two-month event.
The cruising fleet is usually diverse, with up to 50 yachts from a dozen or more countries. The route usually follows 1,600 miles of sailing, from Istanbul to Syria, Lebanon, Israel and finishes in Egypt. For obvious reasons this is subject to change. Syria is off the agenda this summer and Kaçmaz says: “We will monitor the changes for politics in the region and decide if we are able to go Lebanon and Egypt.”
The planned route is a mixture of daysails and longer legs, with a lot of stops along the way in Turkey, together with sightseeing tours from some of the ports to the ancient sites en route and social get-togethers for crews.
Safety equipment requirements are minimal, but the rally is split into groups – each group is accompanied by a lead boat and crews are asked to report progress at regular intervals.
**Cost: €450 (£378) per person, but €350 (£294) per person if route is shortened owing to political unrest
Cruising the Baltic
Billed as ‘six capitals in six weeks’, this new rally is modelled loosely on the World Cruising Club’s home waters Scottish Malts Cruise, with a mixture of mostly easy day-sailing, cultural and social activities, and a lead boat and crew to take overall charge.
Another rally by the pre-eminent rally organisers, the 1,500-mile event begins in Kiel in mid-July and visits Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Mariehamn and Stockholm before it finally comes to an end in Copenhagen at the end of August.
A much-shorter scale two-week cruise into the Baltic, this has also recently been taken over by World Cruising. It starts from Copenhagen and covers 370 miles, going along the Danish coast and crossing to the north German coast before contiuing east to Poland then returning via southern Sweden.
Cost: £1,195 plus £95 per crewmember
Across the Atlantic
After more than two decades as the prinicipal east-west transatlantic cruising rally, the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers – see our reports and surveys here) now has competition from a number of rivals that have this launched year. These are smaller and some are also cheaper.
So, that means we sailors have greater choice than ever before about how to cross. What are you waiting for?
The transatlantic rally runs 2,700 miles from the Canary Islands to Saint Lucia and is incontestably the daddy of all cruising events – the biggest and most successful transocean event in the world. It is a huge participation sports event by any standards and has run every year since it was founded in 1986.
Under present managing director Andrew Bishop, World Cruising Club has expanded its portfolio, but the ARC remains its flagship event and has gone from strength to strength. Slicker than ever, it is now a professionally-run event with a business-case entry fee and service to match.
As such, it attracts charterers and big yachts with paid crew, but Bishop, a sailor himself, strives to preserve a family atmosphere for the majority of crews and always impresses us by his efforts to improve the ARC.
It sets a standard in terms of parties, seminars, safety inspections and online fleet tracking. For some sailors it may be too large or too costly, but it clearly fits the bill for many – the rally has been full to capacity every year for over a decade despite an entry list of around 225.
**Cost: £800-£1,250 plus £95 per crewmember
An additional rally to the ARC, starting from Gran Canaria and visiting the Cape Verde Islands en route to Saint Lucia. This follows a surplus of demand for ARC places, but has proved so popular it generally tops out at around 50 entries. Interestingly, World Cruising foresee the possiblity of equilibrium in future years as this rally grows and numbers in the ARC ebb.
**Cost: £800-£1,250 plus £95 per crewmember
Start: November and January
Two rallies are run either side of Christmas by ARC founder Jimmy Cornell, who says his aim is to ‘return to the original spirit of the ARC – that of a non-commercial, non-competitive event for cruising sailors’. Atlantic Odyssey I sails from Lanzarote to Martinique in November; and Atlantic Odyssey II goes from La Palma to Grenada in January.
Entry fees are low by rally standards and to encourage families – they will be free to crews with children under 16.
Price: €500 (£420) per boat
Les Îles du Soleil crosses the Atlantic from La Rochelle to Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verdes to Salvador in Brazil, then does a loop into the River Amazon. It has been popular among French crews for some years and its organisers aim to attract a much more international mix.
**Cost: €10,000 (£8,400) for 40-45ft yacht
Getting you home again
As hurricane season approaches, this annual event from World Cruising Club takes crews back home to the US East Coast from the Caribbean, departing from Nanny Cay on Tortola and the British Virgin Islands and going to Portsmouth, Virginia, via Bermuda.
The stop in St George’s, Bermuda, allows it to act as a feeder for ARC Europe (see below).
**Cost: US$1,000 (£626) plus $100 (£63) per crewmember
Start: May and June
This event offers two routes – from Chesapeake Bay in the US or from Tortola, British Virgin Islands – to take a fleet to Bermuda, then on the more testing route across the Atlantic from west to east via the Azores before continuing to Europe.
A much smaller rally than the ARC it is nevertheless popular among family crews returning home after a Caribbean season.
Cost: £600 plus £250 per crewmember
Setouchi International Yacht Rally
Very few foreign yachts visit Japan – the numbers are estimated at less than ten every year – so, to help promote the country, the first Setouchi International Yacht Rally was organised by Japanese sailors between September and October.
It runs from Hiroshima to Ashiya Marina on the Seto-Naikai inland sea and the route is designed to introduce visiting crews to Japanese culture, hospitality and food. Entry is limited to only ten boats because some of the anchorages are quite tight. Help will be given to any crews that intend to overwinter in Japan.
It ran in 2014 and 2015 and there is a Facebook page – in Japanese
Cost: 70,000-100,000 Japanese Yen per person (£443-633)
A rival to the above, this started in 2014 and runs from the north Queensland coast of Australia (with a feeder leg from Auckland). Yachts muster in early July in the Torres Strait before sailing on though Indonesia to Singapore.
**Cost: AU$550 (£322) for boat and two crew plus AU$75 (£44) per extra person
Round the world
Until a few years ago, there were two competitor round the world rallies, run by World Cruising Club and Blue Water Rallies. But the risks of the Red Sea route did for the latter, leaving the World ARC as the only game in town. The Oyster World Rally has been launched since then, but it is only open to owners of the company’s yachts.
Camaraderie aside, the advantage of these are their firm timetables to keep things on track and the support with formalities and paperwork, especially through the Panama Canal. The World ARC has the advantage of running annually, so crews can (and do) drop out for a season in New Zealand or Australia and pick up the rest of the circumnavigation the following year.
Start: January from Saint Lucia; September from Australia
The 26,000-mile round the world rally begins from Saint Lucia, following the ARC, then goes through the Panama Canal into the Pacific to Australia and across the Indian Ocean to South Africa before heading to Brazil to finish back in the Caribbean.
In 2015 there was an attractive new twist to the event, with a branch rally that crosses the Atlantic to Brazil before heading south to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, before it links up with the traditional route in the Pacific.
**Cost: £14,000-£16,000 plus £1,500 per crewmember
An own-brand rally for owners of Oyster yachts, this started in Antigua in 2013 and followed a tradewinds route round the world with the assistance of Oyster’s in-house team. The company is holding the next event in 2017-19 with a longer timeframe and more flexibility on routes.