Tough first leg for the ARC DelMarVa Rally

The inaugural ARC DelMarVa Rally – 450 Miles around the DelMarVa Peninsula – got underway in Annapolis on Sunday, with 21 yachts taking the starting line off Back Creek (with two more joining in Portsmouth). And if it weren’t for the rough, tiring conditions over the next 36 hours, we’d have had a news story up on the website much sooner!

It didn’t look like it was going to turn out this way. As of 1700 on Saturday evening, Mia and I were lamenting the lack of breeze at the Skipper’s Briefing, held at J/World Annapolis in Eastport – complete with a keg of local Fordham Copperhead Ale. The forecast was for light southerlies, if anything, and we advised everyone to fill up on fuel. We should have advised them to fill up on Dramamine instead!

The start itself was calm, with just enough breeze to see Kayode, a Tanton 44, take the lead across the line, closely edging out the much racier J/105 Diffugere Nives. The rest of the fleet followed, tacking out the Severn River on a foul before rounding Tolly Point and entering the Chesapeake Bay proper. Mia, my dad, Marcia and I followed suit on Sojourner, which we used as the committee vessel. They say boats are never quite ‘ready’ for sea, but in our case that was an understatement. We still had to hoist the newly repaired genoa after setting the start line, but finally got underway and followed the fleet down the Bay.

“For a while there it was one of the best days sailing we’ve ever had,” said John on Diffugere Nives, the J/105. “We were tacking back and forth across the Bay, making runs in excess of 8 knots. It was gorgeous!”

The calm conditions did not persist. The south breeze filled in quite nicely at first, but then never stopped. By late afternoon it was blowing over 20 knots, and never relented. Aboard Sojourner, we weren’t expecting the conditions and had in fact de-rigged our solent stay and stowed the small jib, rigging instead the big genoa in anticipation of the light winds. So up to the foredeck we went, re-rigging the stay and hanking on the small jib, the sail which my dad had gotten so much use out of on the 1500 last fall when the fleet set out offshore into 30 knot northerlies.

By nightfall, the wind was a steady 18-20, with higher gusts, and the ugly ‘Chesapeake Chop’ had kicked in. Smartly, most boats – including us on Sojourner – gave up the tacking duel and started motorsailing by nightfall, if nothing else to let the crew get some rest. Tacking every few miles is exhausting work, and requires two people in the cockpit. Motorsailing takes only one, and the rest of the crew can sleep. The noise of the engine, for me anyway, is the best sleep aid there is.

All night the south wind never relented, and by morning – when we should have been approaching Hampton Roads – we were only near Solomon’s, barely halfway down the Bay. Yesterday Sojourner, Diff Nives and Sea Quinn stopped for fuel in Deltaville. We had used a whopping 23 gallons! While the other two boats wisely chose to stay the night, we pushed on aboard Sojourner and spent another long evening at sea.

We finally arrived off Hampton Roads around 10pm last night, and as we headed west into the river, set the genoa again and had a beautiful sail into the Norfolk area, finally cutting the engine and enjoying what we’d set out to do in the first place. Sail, that is.

As of noon today, Tuesday, most of the fleet had arrived into Ocean Marine Yacht Center in Portsmouth, happy to be there and enjoy some needed rest. Three boats - Andante, Island Gal and Adamantine - have elected to leave the rally and cruise the Bay. They plan to join us in Annapolis for the final party back in Annapolis.

“I never had to cook a meal in those conditions before!” said Jon Cohen from the Pacific Seacraft 34 Ruach.

Aboard Seabee, one crewmember was so seasick that when some spray knocked the crackers from his hand and onto his shirt, he simply left them there. “It’s not what it looks like!” he promised.

With Leg 1 complete, the fleet is now 1/3 of the way to completing what for many will be the biggest challenge of their sailing careers (though hopefully not the last!). And with the tough conditions on the Bay, combined with the navigational challenges of sailing in a confined space at night, plus the shipping traffic, crews should be very proud to have made it to Portsmouth. In fact, in the dozens of times I've sailed the length of the Bay nonstop, this has easily been the longest. Leg 2 is set to depart tomorrow morning, with a (knock on wood) better weather forecast, so here’s to hoping that the hardest part is in the books.

Follow the fleet at