Mike Harker 's Report of 
the 2008
Caribbean 1500
in his
Hunter 49 - Wanderlust 3

I've been involved in only two organized sailing events, one prior to my singlehanded circumnavigation, and one after it. The first was the '00 Ha-Ha aboard my new-to-me Hunter 34 Wanderlust. I didn't know how to sail, and my two German friends mentored me on the way down to Cabo. The Ha-Ha was a perfect first organized event for me, as the Poobah keeps things loosely organized. I would then sail a new Hunter 46 36,000 miles across the Atlantic to the Med, back across the Atlantic , to the South Pacific, Hawaii and California . I then did my circumnavigation with my Hunter 49 Wanderlust 3. So I'd learned a few things between the Ha-Ha and this November's Caribbean 1500, my second organized sailing event.

The two cruising rallies have some similarities, but are really completely different ball games. The Ha-Ha is like two families getting together for a Fourth of July softball game in the park. Some players know what they are doing, but others, such as myself in '00, don't know all that much. The Ha-Ha is only three innings long, and you take 'lunch breaks' between innings, one at Turtle Bay and a second at Bahia Santa Maria. The fleet rarely gets more than 50 miles offshore, the times are taken by the entries, and everybody wins pretty much the same 'prize' at the end because "everybody who finishes is a winner".

The Caribbean 1500, on the other hand, is like the major leagues, with teams in uniforms, umpires, rules and required equipment. That it covers 1,500 offshore miles between Hampton , Virginia , and Tortola in the British Virgins means it's a full nine-inning game. The smallest Caribbean 1500 entry must be at least 40 feet, and it must be deemed 'bluewater' capable. Each boat is required to have a certified liferaft, a Solas Type-1 PFD for each crew member, a Solas MOB pole and second throwable device, 12 or more Solas flares including parachutes, Solas orange smoke cannisters, and some other things on a long list. I only had a Solas 8-person Viking Rescue-You liferaft, so I was required to go to West Marine and buy all the rest before passing inspection.

The Caribbean 1500 inspectors are professional surveyors who take their volunteer jobs seriously. If some things weren't right on your boat, they'd come back later to make sure you got them right. They made sure that each entry was equipped with an SSB radio and an EPIRB, and that you carried a satellite positioning transponder provided by the organizers. Indeed, there were over three pages of required equipment, including a harness and a tether for everyone.

These guys were serious! And they have to be, because the Caribbean 1500 course is much more challenging than the Ha-Ha course. The 1500 starts off the Navy base at Norfolk , Virginia , and takes the fleet southeast toward Tortola . While the rhumbline distance is 1,280 miles, most boats end up sailing 1,400 to 1,500 miles. Unlike the Ha-Ha, which is always off the wind, most of the 1500 was on the wind.

After doing the Baja Bash back to Southern California in '01, I swore that I would never sail to windward again. This may surprise some of you, but when I did my 28,000-mile circumnavigation, it was mostly all downwind, and I never had wind forward of the beam. But it would be all forward of the beam in the 1500!

The 1500 start had to be delayed three days this year because Hurricane Paloma was nailing Cuba with 120 knots. Another difference between the Ha-Ha and the Caribbean 1500 is that it's not unusual for the 1500 to have to be delayed because of bad weather or for hurricanes to be a big concern. In fact, two 1500 boats were abandoned one year when the remnants of Hurricane Mitch, which had started way the heck over in the western reaches of the Caribbean, came through the fleet in the Atlantic!

I had a crew of two for the 1500, Dennis and John, two guys who own boats on the East Coast and who wanted to get some offshore experience. I met them only the day before the three-day delayed start. Anyway, after the start I waited 15 minutes because I'd never done a line start before I set a course east and a first waypoint 150 miles south of Bermuda which is often a bailout point or shelter for 1500 boats if the weather turns bad. We had three days of 15-18 knots on the starboard beam, with each of us doing three hours on and six hours off. With position reports every six hours over SSB, we knew that we were in the middle group of the 48-boat fleet. The big Racing Fleet boats had all taken a more southerly course, and were pulling ahead. I was part of the Cruising Fleet, and simply wanted to make enough easting into the southeast trades before tacking over to port.

When we got to 65 degrees longitude, just 200 miles south of Bermuda , I flopped over to port tack, which meant we had to point as high as we could. It was blowing 25-28 knots with 8 to 12-ft seas, so we were down to a third reef in the main and just a staysail. We were heeled over 20 degrees, and there was spray everywhere. And that's the way it was for the next four days for a guy who had promised himself that he would never sail to weather again!

One of the crew became terribly sick for 12 hours, so the other crew and I had to do two hours on and two hours off for a day. Our third crew member was able to resume duties for the final day before we crossed the finish line.

So how did we do? We finished in eight days and one hour, and we were the seventh boat to cross the finish line. Four of the seven boats had left early, however, one of them a whole day early. All the boats that finished ahead of us were in the Racing Fleet and were all over 50 feet in length. We were the first cruising boat to finish.

The four racing boats that started on time and finished ahead of us were a Santa Cruz 52, a Hallberg-Rassy 62, a Hallberg-Rassy 49 ketch, and a Swan 58. Some of the race boats that finished the course after us were a MacGregor 65, Catana 50 catamaran, Beneteau 57, Jeanneau 57, Farr 50, Tayana 58, Taswell 58, and a Hinckley 51. The Cruising Fleet didn't record official times because, for insurance purposes, these boats aren't racing. But we also finished ahead of a Hylas 54, two Amel 54s, a Tayana 55, a Passport 515, a Jeanneau 54 DS, and many others.

Most of the sailors in the event were impressed with the Hunter 49 as being a "very bluewater boat".

mike 11/20/08