Caribbean 1500

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, December 4, 2006

26 -- Our 2nd Caribbean winter

We took part in the Caribbean 1500 Rally from Hampton, Virginia to Road Town, Tortola -- approximately 1500 miles. Duh. Rather than participate as a racer, we chose to do the "cruiser" option. Close to 75 boats signed up and gathered up at a marina in Hampton to do final outfitting and provisioning. In order to participate in the rally, each boat was inspected for safety. We passed, but had to do more retrofitting since we were last checked out in Turkey. We needed to be US Coast Guard approved for this trip. We had to have our fire extinguishers checked and relabeled approved USCG; we had to buy USCG life vests and have the emergency life raft re-inspected. We were able to secure two crew members to help out with the passage and the Rally had evening entertainment up to the departure.

It was quite chilly in Hampton at the beginning of November and we purchased two extra comforters for our crew as well as a fleece-lined jacket for me. We were anxious to get south and to the warm again.

We left Virginia in a heavy blanket of fog - so heavy, in fact, that we could barely see any of the 75 boats at the start line.
We could hear them and see them on the radar, as well as the huge tankers making their way up the Chesapeake as we were exiting.

The first hours until we hit the Gulf Stream were foggy and calm. When we got to the Stream, the fog had dispersed and the wind and seas grew. Of our two previous encounters with the Gulf Stream, the first was flat calm and the second was a galloping romp with wind, current and waves all in the same direction. This crossing was going to be different.

In order to maximize the time that we would have a good weather window, the organizers of the Carib 1500 started the event only a few hours after the passage of a very strong cold front. The plan was that the cold front would race out in front of us to the northeast and we hoped to follow in the good weather behind. However, Mother Nature had a different plan. The front stalled just east of the Gulf Stream which created strong northwesterly winds pushing against the strong southeasterly Gulf Stream current. The winds rapidly built to the mid-20s range with the wind-created seas reached 12-15 ft height. At the point of our crossing, the Gulf Stream was about 50 miles wide. For those 12 hours, we slogged through the choppy Gulf Stream thankful for Quest's comfortable pilot house. Our volunteer crew were truly impressed with Quest's sea-keeping ability.

After leaving the Gulf Stream, the winds and the seas calmed down. The wind shifted to the southeast and we didn't see breezes above 10 knots for the next two weeks. The boats who arrived first in Tortola quickly gave up trying to sail and essential motored the entire distance. On Quest, we thought there might be a chance to catch the trade winds just south of Bermuda and we headed to a point about 100 miles south of that island before we headed more directly to Tortola. Unfortunately the trades never appeared. We had a very calm, frustrating motorboat ride AFTER leaving the Gulf Stream.

George, one of our crew, took over cooking detail for the entire trip. It was a heavenly passage for me not to worry about what to prepare for four hungry people and we ate like royalty the entire trip. We caught two mahi-mahi and ate them within an hour of landing. What could be better?

We made landfall at the back of the pack - partly because of the weight of our boat and all the water and fuel we carry and partly because of our reluctance to burn the fuel. There was a twice-daily radio check and towards the end of the voyage, boats were reporting how much fuel they had left - down to under 10 gallons for some of the boats. We carry 315 gallons of fuel and still had about 135 gallons left over when we were hours out. During our last evening radio check, we told the boats behind us that we would be willing to share some for any that needed. Instead of going into the marina in the dark, we headed back out to sea for the evening. In the morning we did a double check with the remaining boats who all said, thank you, but they thought they would be OK. Two of these boats didn't get in until three days later. We got in the morning of the Awards Dinner and thoroughly enjoyed the meal and company of other 1500 travelers.

We have gotten to know the haircut guy - Phil and look forward to meeting up with others along our travels.

George's wife, June flew down to meet him after the passage and joined us aboard Quest for another week of island hopping in the British Virgin Islands. George and June have spent time on Tortola and Jost Van Dyke and introduced us to several locals. We enjoyed a totally unique experience on Thanksgiving with George, June, Phil and his crew, John at Foxy's - a famous classic island beach bar - with pounding reggae, incredible turkey dinner and voracious sand fleas. Barefooted Foxy wanders the tin-roofed, open-air walled building chatting with guests and posing for cameras. Foxy's age is estimated at somewhere between 39 and 80 - I'd guess closer to 65. His wife runs the restaurant and he fishes and dances or chats with the customers with his ever present glass of red wine.

This fellow spent much of the evening dancing with a building support. Every once in a while, he would do a deep backward limbo bend while holding a bottle of beer in his mouth. Interesting technique.

We know we are in the Caribbean when we can hear the goats bleating on the hillside. The water's warm, the air warmer and once again we offer lodging for anyone wanting to flee the chill of winter for a time. Communication is not very reliable; so long range planning by email is probably the best bet. We will reply as soon as we can find an internet connection.
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