Monday, November 25, 2013

Cruising Rallies... what is it that leads some boats to succeed and others to fail?



The Salty Dawg Rally has caused a maelstrom of discussion on the cruising forums.  It's easy to second guess the decisions made when you weren't there making them. We like to give the benefit of doubt, but we are most certainly not proponents of organized rallies.

None of us can cross oceans with any guarantees. But the choices we make can have a big impact on the results. In our cruising experience, we have noted that people who were on a schedule were often the ones who encountered problems. Schedules make you compromise. Schedules can make you do things you might not have otherwise done, like rushing to get off before you are ready or before that storm system passes by. It applies equally to sailors who have to meet crew at specific times in different places and to those who cruise in company on a schedule. 


We had been in the Canaries when the ARC fleet was preparing to cross the Atlantic.  Aside from the many parties and briefings and events organized for the participants, which is just a bit more organized than we like, the participants often took courses and went to seminars. But the actual on water experience of the participants ranged from having sailed all their lives to having just bought the boat and took a crash course. That year, the ARC had several disasters, as they do most years. Often, people are evacuated from their boats when things get tough and their boats go on to sail themselves to some destination of their own choosing. We have found that people panic, know there is backup, and choose to get off rather than test their seamanship. The destination ports are littered with boats that arrived and were abandoned with all their flags still flying from years gone by.

Unfortunately, the allure of crossing oceans seems to have caught some by storm. There are the yachties who have to tick off crossing an ocean for bragging rights. There are the dreamers who suddenly realize they can sail away from their woes. Then there are the real salts who were born with sea water in their veins and feel compelled to set off for distant shores. The first group, I find tends to be cavalier about going to sea and the sea straightens them out. The second group is divided in two, with one half learning they were made for a life at sea and the second group realizing that the dream doesn't match reality. And the third group tends to keep going. Sometimes we hear about their exploits but often we never hear about them again.



What makes Salty Dawg a little different is that  they are more loosely organized than most rallies. They still have a scheduled departure date but there is no race and everyone makes their own decisions about when to leave. We'll be looking forward to hearing the analysis when available about what went wrong and could have been done differently. It is after all a learning experience from which we can all benefit.

And that's actually what we like about crossing oceans in company.  We crossed our first time with only once-daily SSB communication with Herb Hilgenberg and a single handed sailor aboard the s/v Ault by the name of Matt Rutherford. Yep, that's him.  Now a well-known adventurer, that was Matt's first ocean crossing.  It was a big lonely ocean out there, especially sailing through six gales. It was nice knowing that someone was listening and keeping track.

On our second crossing, we joined a loose flotilla of boats, the Madlantic Net, which left on their own schedules over the period of months and were strung clear across from one side of the ocean to the other, connected only by daily radio contact.  That was great fun. Not only was it great to alleviate boredom at times and to hear what everyone was catching, but also it was great to have people standing by when we lost our steering and had to steer by balancing the sails for about 24 hours until we got it sorted.

The third time, we crossed with great friends we'd made along the way and stayed so close together that we could talk by VHF and actually rafted up one calm day, smack in the middle of the Atlantic to celebrate my birthday. What an experience that was.

Each ocean crossing has its own set of challenges. We happen to like those challenges which teach us so much about self-reliance. We don't like to rely on someone else's judgement.  Yes, we had apprehension about our first crossing; it is natural (and good for you) to have a healthy dose of fear of the unknown. We got over the fear, and replaced it with humility and respect. For it is bravado that will kill you long before the sea does.

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