On June 23rd, 12 boats in this year’s ARC DelMarVa fleet assembled in Annapolis for the Rally Skipper’s Briefing and social Happy Hour held at the Chesapeake Sailmakers loft. Participants from eight states were amongst the crews, many familiar with sailing the protective waters of the Chesapeake Bay, but excited at the prospect of an offshore leg sailing outside the peninsular from Portsmouth, VA to Cape May, NJ.
This year’s rally would see the fleet cover a 450nm ‘loop’ from Annapolis to Annapolis, counter-clockwise around the DelMarVa Peninsula over the course of a week. Divided into three legs, each passage has its own distinct pleasures and challenges, and stopovers en route gave time to explore the historic ports of Annapolis, Portsmouth and Cape May. A preparation seminar, held in April, meant crews had already met each other and that their boats were well prepared for the start, familiar with safety practices, and the routing, helping make for a relaxed build up to start day.
Breezy north-easterly conditions greeted the fleet on the morning of June 24, as they set out for the 10am start off Back Creek. They were led over the line by Yunus Sevimli’s Pearson 33 Evening Star
, the smallest boat sailing with ARC DelMarVa in 2017. “The first 8 hours were fantastic!
” Capt. Paul wrote in his daily blog from on board Meritage. “We hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker (for the first time!), a bright red, blue and green colored sail that carried us for hours at 6-7 knots in very light air. Amazing! We spotted dolphins, stingray and a pelican the followed us for a while, as we set into a good watch pattern for the 24 hour sail down the Bay
One of the aims of the ARC DelMarVa rally is to challenge cruisers to push their sailing boundaries, and the route intentionally includes night sailing and coastal pilotage. All aspects that are covered in depth at the pre-rally seminar.
In the early hours of June 25, the rally team and staff of Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth welcomed the first arrivals at the end of leg one. After a long day and night, many crews took the opportunity to get their heads down for a couple of hours once they had greeted their fellow ralliers. By early afternoon, crews headed to Roger Brown’s Sports Bar to follow the progress of the America’s Cup, and compare notes on Leg 1. Discussions soon turned to the weather forecast for the offshore leg to Cape May, scheduled for the following day, which looked largely favourable for the fleet’s departure. This was confirmed at the Skippers Briefing, with the official forecast predicting calm, light wind conditions giving a gentle coastal passage to the north.
Early-risers in the fleet started to slip their lines from 0600 to head out of the Elizabeth River. There was no formal start line, so boats set out over the course of two hours, passing by the enormous naval and commercial vessels lining the banks. Lighter southerlies meant more motoring than crews had expected, although there were a very enjoyable 10 hours of “champagne sailing” from late afternoon thru to midnight. The crew of Social Security Statement summed up their sail on Leg 2, “We had a great sail coming out of Norfolk while narrowly missing a nuclear submarine! We took a heading to about 20 miles offshore hoping for wind and found the doldrums. The sea state was calm and we continued motoring towards Cape May. During the night shift we encountered an UBO (unidentified boating object) that beamed a spot light on us for about 45 minutes, then disappeared into the night. Entering Cape May we encountered a pod of about 100 dolphins! Great ending to the sail!” Crews agreed their confidence had been boosted by their time offshore, even if some felt they ‘got away with’ less challenging conditions that they had anticipated; but that’s the nature of sailing!
The Canyon Club Marina in the New Jersey fishing port of Cape May hosted the rendezvous for the arrival of the newly minted Atlantic voyagers, and unsurprisingly the order of the day was plenty of fresh seafood to celebrate their arrival once lines were made fast ashore! The Lobster House restaurant happily obliged with a wonderful crew dinner once all the boats were alongside safely on June 27. With the rally programme on track, and a lay-day scheduled for the following day, crews let their hair down for a fun evening enjoying the delicious fare. “Bill, Paul, Craig and I gorged on our fish dinners like we had just returned from sea...oh wait!” joked Capt. Paul.
Light winds on the offshore leg meant few breakages were sustained by boats in the fleet, allowing crews to enjoy a relaxing lay-day by the marina pool and to explore the town of Cape May. In the early evening, they gathered together for a Skippers Briefing and weather forecast for the final homeward bound leg. After experiencing the open Atlantic, the Delaware River and the C&D Canal represented a different kind of challenge on the homeward leg. This year, the weather forecast would present an additional challenge, with wind of 15-20kts up the Delaware River, followed by sustained S/SW winds for the next 24 hours. Excellent sailing up river, meant most boats we able to transit the Canal and anchor of the night once into the Bay, avoiding the strongest headwinds for the final passage back to Annapolis.
After getting safely back to Annapolis or their close-by home docks, it was time for a final party to wrap up this year’s rally. Every boat crew were call-up for a celebration photo, and several special awards. Cayenne
, the only catamaran this year, won an ice bucket and a drinks shaker, along with a bottle of rum, as the rally’s “party boat”. Evening Star
won a bottle of rum and each of their crew received a $1 scratch off ticket for being the luckiest boat in the rally, finding a much needed spare impellor, just when needed, right in the middle of the C&D Canal!
Once again, ARC DelMarVa has brought together Bay sailors to make new friends, push boundaries of navigation and seamanship and encouraged crews to get out beyond the Bay Bridge-Tunnel. After a week together, they can proudly call themselves Atlantic sailors.