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Hyde Sails 2021 - Basic LEADERBOARD

2021 North American Rally to the Caribbean delivered safety and fun in numbers

by Barby MacGowan 10 Dec 2021 22:58 UTC
Clockwise from top left: NARC Organizer Hank Schmitt; fleet at St. George's inner Harbor; Captain Murray Jacob (center in red) with his crew at White Horse Tavern in Bermuda; sunset as the NARC fleet enters the Trade Winds on the way to St. Maarten. © David Lyman

The 21st North American Rally to the Caribbean (NARC) had a superb weather window for departing from Newport, R.I. on October 31.

The fleet of 21 sailboats - 17 starting from Newport and four starting from Chesapeake Bay - participated in the NARC for free and reached Bermuda with no problems, save for two days of light air. Once in Bermuda, the fleet waited out a gale and left a day later than scheduled for the NARC's second and final leg from Bermuda to St. Maarten. (A handful of boats did not plan to make landfall in St. Maarten: three sailed directly to the Virgin Islands, and one sailed to Martinique.)

"This was the first year that I had to use fuel jugs sailing from Newport to Bermuda, as we had over two days of motoring," said NARC organizer Hank Schmitt, who also is the CEO of Offshore Passage Opportunities (a crew network service) and participates in each year's Rally, skippering the St. Maarten-based Swan 48 Avocation as part of the OPO Swan Program. "That small inconvenience was balanced nicely, however, with a good reaching breeze for most of the second leg. Overall, it was an easy year."

The 1500-mile NARC brings together boats on their annual pilgrimage from the U.S. East Coast to the Caribbean Islands. While there is no fee required to join the fleet, there is a modest $100/person fee to participate in socials ashore in Newport, Bermuda, and St. Maarten; various discounts from sponsors and hosts; and shared weather routing. As explained by Schmitt, the strategic design of the NARC's Newport start - breaking up the passage into two manageable parts and starting 200 miles farther east than a Chesapeake Bay departure - provides a much better wind angle from Bermuda on to the Caribbean. "Many participants have their own plans once they reach the islands but enjoy the discounts and camaraderie of traveling with other like-minded sailors in the NARC," said Schmitt.

A commitment to value

Schmitt, whose relationship with the marine industry runs deep, has made it his personal promise to integrate discounts, freebies and fun into every NARC Rally. Prior to the 2021 Rally's start In Newport, he organized a surf and turf sit-down meal at Rally Headquarters Benjamin's Restaurant after the Skippers' Briefing by Weather Routing, Inc. held at the Seaman's Church Institute. Team One's local retail outlet held an open house, offering discounts for offshore gear and accessories.

In Bermuda, Bermuda Yacht Services organized discounts at the White Horse Pub & Restaurant for the entire layover (November 5-12) and a free fish fry dinner on the first Sunday night. Bermuda waived the cruising permit fee and provided a free walking tour of the town. Public Remembrance Day festivities, scheduled for November 11, were cancelled due to Covid-19 protocols, which also cut short the Rally's full week of planned activities.

"St. Maarten ended its mandatory pre-arrival Covid-19 testing just before we arrived, so a full week of activities went uninterrupted there," said Schmitt, adding that the socials there included free drinks and tapas at an early-arrival party hosted by IGY Marina and - after the last boat arrived on November 20 - a full local-fare dinner and free drinks at the Soggy Dollar Bar. The socials continued with a free tour of Topper's Rhum Distillery followed by a discounted dinner at the facility's new restaurant; a double-decker bus tour of the island with a prize going to the sailor best dressed as a cruise ship passenger; a beer tour of the local brewery; an Open House at Tropical Sail Loft; a Trivia Night at the St. Maarten Yacht Club, home of the Heineken Regatta; and a discounted shopping spree at Divico Cash & Carry to refill lockers for the coming season. Finally, for those who were still in St. Maarten on November 25, the NARC ended with a Thanksgiving dinner gathering at Pineapple Pete's.

"This was the first year we were hosting a week of festivities both in Bermuda and St. Maarten,: said Schmitt. "We plan to do this again next year and up the fun factor as things turn back to normal."

IGY Marina sponsored two free days of dockage and a further 10% discount for as long as anyone stayed if they needed work on their boats or were going home for the holidays. Tropical Sail Loft, Budget Marine, SXM Marine Diesel Services, FKG, Bobby's Mega-Yard and Island Water World all offered discounts on gear and services to Rally participants.

Plans for next year

The 22nd NARC will depart from Newport, R.I. on Saturday October 29 (or the best weather window after that).

"I'm hoping that to help grow the fleet for next year, this year's participants will tell others," said Schmitt. "It's only for experienced skippers or owners who listen to advice from the professionals and have seaworthy boats, as we do not want to talk anyone into going offshore who may not be ready."

Sailors who do not have a ride and wish to participate can contact Schmitt and sign aboard a Swan in the OPO Offshore Swan Program to become a full working crew in the rally, sailing with a professional captain. OPO members get information about how to crew for free with NARC Rally skippers who need experienced crew to help safely make the passage south.

The 1500-mile NARC started in 2000 when Schmitt organized 10 skippers and crew from his Offshore Passage Opportunities program to move a fleet of Swans from Newport, R.I. to the French side of St. Maarten in the Caribbean. With a departure date set for Newport in the Fall, he decided to invite other boats to join in an organized rally and has organized the annual passage ever since.

For more information on the 22nd NARC or opportunities through Offshore Passage Opportunities, contact Hank Schmitt, 1-800-4-PASSAGe, +1 631-423-4988 or email or visit sailopo.com

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