The weather at Ocean Marine has been downright summery. Temperatures touched 80º both yesterday and today. Despite some mid-afternoon clouds and the threat of rain, it’s cleared again this evening and the setting sun is casting a golden glow over the rally fleet.
“What a cool sight!” exclaimed onlookers walking by the docks and admiring the code flags on the boat’s that are ‘fully dressed’ in the marina. The atmosphere is certainly festive for the new arrivals. At least three boats checked in today, bringing the grand total to 31 of the 41 boats set to depart on Sunday. Despite the preparations, time is running out!
So what goes on during the hectic week leading up to the start of a long offshore voyage? Lyall Burgess and Pete Burch have been focusing on completing the safety inspections as efficiently as possible for those boats that have arrived early. This got off to a great start on Saturday, with Lone Star, the veteran ARC Rally participant, having the honor of the first safety check to get completed on the first try.
“While you can’t really ‘fail’ a safety check, oftentimes getting signed off requires a second or third visit to the boat,” said Peter Burch, longtime head inspector for the 1500 and experienced ocean sailor himself. “The first visit takes the longest. This is where we go over all the required safety equipment with the skipper and ensure everything is in order. We’ll also talk about how they might handle different emergency situations offshore. Many times we’ll come up with things people haven’t ever thought of.”
One example, and it’s a big one, is the liferaft requirement. In the past, we’ve had multihull owners insist that they didn’t need to carry a raft, as their foam-cored boats were ‘unsinkable.’ “That’s an easy one,” says Pete. “I just ask them what they’d do if they boat caught on fire 300 miles offshore and they were unable to put it out? That usually gets a big ‘Oh. I see.’ And the issue is solved.”
Most times, the re-checks take only a few minutes, as the items are usually small ones. Rigging jacklines, for example, or sticking retro-reflective tape on the MOB equipment.
The safety checks are central to the Caribbean 1500, and skippers are made aware of the required equipment well in advance. “It’s nothing that a properly outfitted ocean-going boat wouldn’t want to have onboard anyway,” continued Pete. “We’ve seen a lot of successful first and second-time checks this year, with very little major items missing, which is a sign that people are arriving prepared.”
But while most boats have arrived properly prepared, time is indeed running out as we pass the halfway point in the pre-departure program. The focus now shifts from outfitting the boat to provisioning food, refilling propane tanks, doing the last few loads of laundry, that sort of thing.
Tensions are certainly rising around the docks as well, and there’s a definite spring in most people’s steps as they hurry around Portsmouth working down their every increasing checklists. It’s a classic axiom that a sailing boat is never truly ready to leave the dock, so the priority lists are getting re-arranged and the things not at the top, and not critical to the safety of the boat, simply won’t make the cut.
For some, life this week has been easy and stress free. Tom, Colin and crew aboard Corsair were looking mighty mellow, even as early as Monday afternoon.
“You guys look way too relaxed!” I remarked when I visited the gorgeous Bristol 57 on B dock that afternoon. The crew was lounging in the cockpit listening to orchestral music and reading, cool drinks not far from their reach. Corsair’s code flags were flying, the decks were sparkling and the crew was smiling.
“We’ve been ready for a week!” Tom said. “All we’ve got to do is load up some food, do some laundry and leave the dock! It’s a nice feeling.”
Corsair, as it were, indeed was as ready as they felt, passing their safety inspection on the first go just like Lone Star, their neighbor on B dock.
Corsair had spent nearly a month at Ocean Marine prior to this week’s pre-departure program getting some teak deck work done and finishing up any last major projects. Having the boat already in town certainly saved them some added stress of making the long passage down from New England, or the overnight sail down the Bay, as some other boats have had to contend with this week.
On the fun side of things, the events program has been a big hit, and a definite improvement on 2013, our first year in Portsmouth. The City hosted the Welcome Reception on Monday night at Griff’s on High Street. Nearly every participant that could have made the event was there, filling the room with laughter and storytelling while the beer and wine flowed from the bar. David Schulte, head of the City of Portmouth’s tourism department, hosted the event, alongside Jim Bento of Ocean Marine.
Colonel Crawford, the ‘founder of Portsmouth,’ was along to greet folks through the door in full 18th century regalia, and introduced the 8-year-old Colin, who played a few numbers on his fiddle. Colin is a true prodigy. He got the crowd going with his version of the classic ‘Drunken Sailor’ chanty, then continued with a few bluegrass numbers and some traditional Scottish music, making the kilt he was wearing even more appropriate.
Wednesday was an off day on the program. Tomorrow Mike Meer of Port Annapolis Marina kicks off the day with his ‘Offshore Riggging’ seminar, followed by Davis Murray’s classic fishing talk. The evening will wind up with Davis and his steel-pan band playing a tribute night to Carib1500 founder Steve Black at Roger Brown’s.
Don't forget to follow the hourly action at the 1500 on facebook.com/carib1500.