Rallies, pro & con

I participated in three outstanding ocean sailing rallies over the past fifteen years. The latest, my “Endless Summer,” was a circumnavigation heralding the 21st century. Jimmy Cornell conceived and directed this around the world rally.

What makes sailors love or hate rallies? Many cruisers put safety-in-numbers high on the list of benefits. Offshore sailing is riskier than a walk in the park. Having a number of boats in the vicinity lessens the risk. This is true even for daredevil singlehanders. There have been dramatic rescues by fellow solo-circumnavigation racers. The sense of safety comes not only from nearby boats but also from rigidly adhered to schedules for radio roll calls and boat position reports.

A measure of safety also arises from adherence to rally entry rules regarding safety equipment and procedures that must be aboard each yacht. This is reinforced by safety inspections prior to departure for such items as liferafts, EPIRBs, harnesses, jacklines, abandon-ship emergency bags, and so forth.

Safety in numbers, however, has a flip side. Many offshore sailors pride themselves on independence and self-sufficiency. They consider the number of boats in a rally a false sense of security. It might tend to make sailors less rigorous in their preparations because help is assumed to be nearby.

The feeling of community, safety aside, is probably the second most positive aspect of a rally. This is in part due to loneliness felt at sea, cut off from most social contacts and from shared hardships in a hostile environment. On the other hand, non-rally enthusiasts feel that sailing the open ocean is one of the highest expressions of solitude. To them, voyaging with a crowd detracts from the rewards of sailing.

The most apparent and measurable benefit gained from a rally organization is in the hundreds of small arrangements made by the staff in ports along the route. Among other things, they provide useful information for best route to the anchorage or marina, laundry facilities, the whereabouts of cyber cafés, best prices for fuel and water, land tours, restaurants, and speedier customs and immigration procedures. However, non-rally types look forward to the contacts and challenges of making their own arrangements.

Many more of my pro and con rally observations are found in “Dreaming of Columbus” and “Endless Summer,” travelogs of the quincentenary celebration of Columbus’ epic voyage and a circumnavigation celebrating the new millennium. Another travelogue, “Cruising the Gulags,” of a Dutch sailing rally celebrating Peter the Great and a three-hundred year Russian shipbuilding history is now out of print but can be read online free of charge courtesy of the Google books library.

By Ocean Navigator