24th ARC Caribbean 1500 Fleet is Headed to Sea

For the second time in as many years, the Caribbean 1500 fleet is bound for Tortola day ahead of schedule. Around noon local time today in Portsmouth, Virginia, skipper’s and their crews finished stowing last minute gear, rigged their jacklines and took off from the dock at Ocean Marine Yacht Center for a scheduled 1500 start time off Hampton Flats just north of Norfolk. 

“It was unprecedented last year,” commented Miles Poor, “and to do it again, only the second time in 24 years of the event, is remarkable.”

At 1510 local time, after a ten-minute postponement to allow for the repositioning of the committee vessel, the starting gun sounded and the fleet was off. Ralliers crossed the line in a light northerly breeze on port tack, with the Hallberg-Rassey Starburst leading the way east, closely edging out Altria and Tara who were a close second and third over the line. 

“See you in Tortola!” shouted the crew of Starburst as they ghosted past Cloud Nine the committee boat that was generously offered from local slipholders at Ocean Marine. 

Andromeda got recognition for the first boat to launch their spinnaker, setting the big colorful sail just moments after crossing the starting line. The rest of the fleet quickly followed, and soon there was a bastion of colors on the sunlit horizon as the yachts headed out towards the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean beyond. 

The start was moved up a day early due to a tight weather window in which to get the fleet safely across the Gulf Stream in reasonable conditions. As a strong cold front passed over Portsmouth around midday today, with clearing skies and falling temperatures, a ridge of high pressure behind it is expected to bring strong northeasterly winds through the area over the next couple of days. Rally organizers and Weather Routing Inc. consulted on the starting time and decided to follow in the wake of the frontal passage to take advantage of the lighter northwesterly winds that are now taking hold and should get the fleet well offshore before the windshift. In essence, the fleet has been given a 20-hour head-start on the originally scheduled departure time to take full advantage of the excellent conditions.

For the second year the decision to depart early highlights the challenges of a fall passage from the US East Coast. The weather windows are few, and when they are right, you’ve got to be flexible enough to take advantage of them.

“We’re are all sailors,” said Caribbean 1500 event manager Andy Schell at an impromptu weather briefing on Friday afternoon, when it appeared that a Saturday start was looming. “We’re at the mercy of the weather. We’re not going to make a decision based around convenience. It’s got to be based on seamanship.”

By Saturday morning’s weather briefing with WRI, it was obvious that Saturday was the day, and the fleet rallied around the decision that became official at the 0900 Skipper’s Briefing. The Briefing itself had been moved up from noon in anticipation of the possible change in plans, and skipper’s and crew took it all in stride and seemed very supportive of the process.

Following the majority of the fleet, Topaz, Sojourner and Windquest took the starting line about 30 minutes later, crossing within meters of one another. Keep It Simple remains at Ocean Marine and will depart at 0600 Sunday morning after picking up their last crewmember. None of the late-starting yachts will be penalized due to the start having been moved up. Instead they’ll take their own times as the cross the line and their elapsed time will be adjusted accordingly. 

As the fleet heads offshore, follow their progress and read their logs on www.worldcruising.com/carib1500.