Entries for sailing rallies are booming like never before – we discover the allure of cruising in company. Plus our essential listing of organised rallies to take you anywhere in the world
There is a pent up enthusiasm for experiences right now. After nearly two years of limitations, many of us are hankering for wider horizons, to escape the Zoom meetings, look beyond the box-set, and sense freedom once again. But international travel is still not straightforward: entry regulations and health checks vary frequently, and simply keeping on top of the ever-changing rules is time-consuming and stressful.
So it’s no surprise that organised rallies are seeing a resurgence. Already the default option for many cruising sailors planning to take on a first transocean passage, many rallies are gathering bumper entries for 2022 and beyond after cruisers postponed their 2020/21 plans.
But there are also growing numbers of sailors prompted by the pandemic to make the leap to long-term cruising, and for whom the safety net of an organiser on call, who’ll keep on top of the health protocols and even catch your lines on arrival, was the deciding factor.
Jeremy Wyatt of the World Cruising Club, organisers of the ARC transatlantic rally among other events, is seeing a trend: “We are definitely getting some interest from sailors because of the extra administration that Covid is causing them as a cruiser.
“But I would also say there’s been a definite mindset of people reviewing their lives, looking at what their priorities are and saying ‘No, we need to go and do what we talked about doing’. So in terms of numbers of enquiries and how it’s looking for next year, it’s really gone crazy.”
Wyatt has noticed that an increasing proportion of enquiries come from the younger families. “The 40-something families are the ones deciding, ‘Let’s go and do it. Why are we sitting in the rat race?’”
With up to four or five years from first enquiry to first rally entry for many ARC crews, Wyatt is expecting participation numbers to stay high for years to come.
Allie Smith, head of group events at Oyster Yachts and organiser of the Oyster World Rally, has noticed similar: “We’ve got experienced owners that are on maybe their third or fourth Oyster that have taken the plunge. And we’ve got people that wanted to seize the day, and just said: ‘This is what I want to do. I’m going to buy an Oyster – whether new or brokerage – to just do it.’
“The vast majority of [owners] now confirmed as taking part are the type that will think, ‘Right, we’re just going to go for it.’ We know things may not be as we would like them to be in certain places. We have to do a bit of compromising, but they’re all quite gung-ho that they’re going, which is fantastic.”
Where it all began
A rally can be anything from a loose group of friends who choose to sail in approximately the same direction at the same time, to a commercially run, strictly organised series of stopovers with a full maintenance, service and social programme, and range from free to join, to tens of thousands of pounds.
Over the past decade several small rallies have been absorbed by the larger, more professionally-run events, while others in less popular seas have been cancelled. However, social media now enables sailors to connect, share information, and liaise to cruise in company in a more informal set up.
Jimmy Cornell is widely regarded as having created the first organised cruising rally when he formed the World Cruising Club to run the inaugural Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in 1986. “The ARC was certainly the first properly organised transocean sailing event,” Cornell explains.
“I happened to be in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria in November 1985 and a group of French cruising boats had been brought together by a Frenchman, Guy Plantier, for an Atlantic crossing named Le Transat des Alisées. People arrived when they felt like it, and it all looked like the proverbial attempt at herding cats.
But I could see the potential of organising a proper sailing event with its own structure, rules and regulations, and an absolute stress on safety. That format was applied the following year, when 209 boats took the start of the first ARC,” Cornell recalls.
“Before the start all boats had been inspected for their seaworthiness and all essential safety equipment was checked. That structure, which I’d laid down in those early days, has been followed to this very day in the ARC, and has been adopted by countless other rallies.
“I spoke to Dick Johnson [Yachting World editor of the time]. He embraced the idea wholeheartedly and the ARC has been closely associated with the magazine ever since.
“I am convinced that the rally concept will continue to attract participants for the same reasons, especially the safety aspect in today’s uncertain world, as it is even more important to be part of an event where the organisers are in a position to liaise with the hosting authorities.”
Full circle sailing rallies
Grand Large Yachting World Odyssey
Start: Cherbourg and La Grande-Motte, France; Seville, Spain; Key West, USA.
Route: This three-year epic has two routes, including one through the Panama Canal, an option of going around Cape Horn, and several start options from France and Key West from autumn 2021-January 2022. The two routes, one along the tropical tradewind route, and one around Patagonia, will come together in Tahiti.
About: Created to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of the globe by Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastian Elcano, it was originally only open to Grand Large Yachting models but later opened to a limited number of other yachts. The first edition has 32 participants, the second is planned to start in 2025.
Oyster World Rally
Start: Antigua, January 2022.
Route: Headed west through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, past Vanuatu and north Australia, Cape Town, up the coast of Brazil and back to Antigua: a 27,000-mile circumnavigation.
About: Fully booked for 2022. The fleet is made up of a wide range of Oyster models, ranging from 56ft-70ft plus. Registration for 2024/25 is now open, with a waiting list already filling up. Prestart seminars and training included, while Oyster service team will assist with repairs, sourcing parts etc at stopover ports.
Cost: From £40,000-£70,000 according to length of boat.
Start: Saint Lucia and Australia, 2023.
Route: A 26,000-mile tradewind circumnavigation, which starts from St Lucia, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to Australia. Crews can opt to end their voyage, or rejoin after some time out, in Australia. The return leg from Australia visits Cocos Keeling, Mauritius, Reunion, South Africa, Namibia, St Helena, then on to Salvador, Brazil. It finishes with a cruise of the Windward Isles to return to St Lucia.
About: The World Cruising Club has postponed the scheduled 2022 World ARC, with the next start not before January 2023. “Responsible sailors would rightly be hesitant to leave port with an extended unfavourable forecast, and as it stands there is no clear path on exactly how the borders will be opened to whom, under what conditions and over what time frame,” the organisers explained.
Cost: £21,000 per 45ft yacht, £2,500 per adult.
Transatlantic sailing rallies
Start: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, November.
Route: Canaries to St Lucia.
About: The original transatlantic rally, run by the World Cruising Club. Justly renowned for its thorough safety checks, pre-start briefings and seminars, and detailed organisation, the ARC is now in its 36th year. Thousands of sailors have begun their bluewater cruising adventure after being guided through the process by the WCC’s famous yellow shirted staff.
The ARC includes a racing division with logged engine hours and a handicap applied, while the bulk of the fleet cruise across the Atlantic
Cost: £1,500 per 45ft yacht, £150 per adult.
Start: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, November.
Route: Canaries to Grenada, via the Cape Verdes.
About: Originally launched in response to the ever growing popularity of the ARC, this more southerly route with an additional stopover attracts many family crews, setting off a week before the ARC. New for this year is a finish in Grenada, placing crews within easy reach of one of the world’s best cruising grounds around the Grenadines. More than 70 boats set off this year.
Cost: £1,800 per 45ft yacht, £225 per adult.
Rallye des Iles du Soleil
Start: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, November.
Route: La Palma, Canaries to Cape Verde, finishing in Marie-Galante, Guadaloupe.
About: A French-run transatlantic rally open to boats over 10m LOA with a minimum of two crew.
Start: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, January.
Route: To Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia.
About: New for 2022 is a January option to cross the Atlantic, intended to give crews more flexibility around Christmas/New Year, as well as to pick up on the more stable tradewinds later in
Cost: £1,400 per 45ft yacht, £150 per adult.
Viking Explorers Rally
Start: Gran Canaria, January 2022.
Route: Canaries to Grenada with an option to stop in Cape Verdes.
About: This rally is limited to 25 boats to create a smaller, more intimate fleet, which means participants can expect to get to know their fellow sailors well. Vaccinations are required.
Cost: €55 per metre.
Start: BVI or Chesapeake, May 2022.
Route: Eastbound from the BVIs or Chesapeake Bay, USA, to Bermuda, then to Azores, finishing in Lagos, Portugal.
About: The WCC’s eastbound Atlantic crossing with teams at every stop to help you plan, repair or socialise. A great way to return home or start a European adventure, with the reassurance of weather briefings and radio safety nets along this often challenging west-to-east route.
Cost: £1,000 per 45ft yacht, £425 per adult.
Sailing rallies in the Americas
Start: Amazon Delta, October.
Route: Around the Amazon Delta and then up the Amazon River itself.
About: Runs over 20 days covering 500 miles into the Amazon River. Starts at Marajó Island, the largest marine river island in the world, at the mouth of the Amazon and navigates river channels upriver to tropical Alter do Chão. First run in 2021 but more are planned.
Cost: $2,500, discounts for early sign up
Start: Newport, Rhode Island, October.
Route: USA to Caribbean.
About: The NARC Rally began in 2000 as an informal group of skippers delivering Swan yachts from Newport, Rhode Island, to French St Maarten in the Caribbean before developing into an organised rally. For 2021 it has reverted to a looser format, with boats invited to join the fleet sailing to St Maarten via a planned stop in Bemuda, but organisers have made it clear they are not responsible if countries close due to Covid restrictions.
Cost: Free to join, but a $100 fee per person for socials.
Start: California, USA, November.
Route: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Jamaica, Roatan Bay of Islands, Rio Dulce, Belize, Yucatan peninsula, Cuba and Key West.
About: The Panama Posse claims to be the biggest rally in the world, with 300 boats expected for the sixth edition. It has no set schedule or route, boats join from many different locations and it runs both east-west and west-east. The fleet usually grows as it travels down the west coast from California but most join from Mexico before heading through the Panama Canal. Entry includes a Panama Canal agent. Time frame is determined by the start and finish of the hurricane season. Boats range in size from 30-footers upwards, with the average age of a participants 45-65 and plenty of families taking part.
Participants choose their own route, stopping in discounted marinas or verified anchorages, liaising via chat groups and radio nets. There is a strong emphasis on exploration and the environment. Organisers do not insist on vaccination for participants but strongly encourage it. Many locations on the route have mandatory vaccination policies or are high risk for Covid.
Salty Dawg Caribbean Rally
Start: Hampton, Virginia USA, November.
Route: Chesapeake to Antigua, or the Abacos in the Bahamas.
About: Claims to be the largest rally leaving the US East Coast each autumn. Caters to a slightly older crowd but with plenty of families also taking part.
The Baja Ha-Ha
Start: San Diego, November.
Route: San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, California.
About: A 750-mile rally down the western coast of California with stops, delivering yachts to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. The Ha-Ha was cancelled last year but it’s back for its 27th running in 2021 (organisers say over 10,000 sailors have cruised with the Ha-Ha over the years). Crews are a mixed age range, with a family vibe and many retirees.
Cost: $495 per boat.
ARC Caribbean 1500
Start: Chesapeake Bay, November.
Route: Chesapeake to Tortola, BVIs.
About: North America’s longest running sailing rally. The rally is open to yachts 35ft upwards, and is designed to offer a safe passage from the US east coast to the Caribbean between late summer hurricane season and before early winter gales begin. Plenty of ARC weather forecasting support.
Cost: $800 plus crew fee of $125 per person.
Salty Dawg East Coast Rally
Start: US Virgin Islands, May.
Route: Virginia, USA.
About: Official destination is Hampton, Virginia, but boats sail directly to various ports on the US east coast and Canada. Usually attracts 25-35 boats. Similar focus on fun and friends as with other Salty Dawg rallies.
Salty Dwg Delmarva Rally
Start: Hampton, Virginia, June.
Route: Counter-clockwise around the DelMarVa Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia).
About: A good starting point for cruisers keen to experience overnight sailing without being far from shore, this covers some 450 miles with shoreside support.
Salty Dawg Bermuda Rally
Start: Chesapeake, June.
Route: Virginia, USA to Bermuda.
About: Pre-rally preparations, seminars, and socials events normally take four days to complete before the fleet heads offshore into the Atlantic, for the 650-mile passage to St George’s, Bermuda.
Cost: TBC for 2022.
Salty Dawg Downeast Rally
Start: Chesapeake, July.
Route: Chesapeake to Newport to Maine.
About: Another Salty Dawg rally aimed at building experience on longer passages. Timed to avoid the worst of Maine fog.
Salty Dawg Maritime Rally
Start: Maine and Massachusetts, July.
Route: Maine or Massachusetts to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.
About: Cancelled for 2021, next event should take place in 2022 if travel restrictions allow. Offers incredible scenery and the chance to sail on Bras d’Or Lake. Some skippers sail on to Newfoundland.
Coho Ho Ho
Start: Puget Sound, August 2022.
Route: Seattle to San Diego.
About: A small fleet rally, which ties in nicely with the Baja Ha-Ha on the west coast of the States. Organisers describe it as ‘a sail down the world’s longest lee shore’, with seminars and online resources offered.
Start: Vancouver, September 2022. Route: A week-long cruise around the Gulf Islands, Vancouver, Canada.
About: Jointly run by the Royal Vancouver YC and British Royal Thames YC, this explores a beautiful area of wildlife and almost untouched landscapes.
Cost: Free to RTYC members.
Tropics & Asia rallies
Savaadheeththa Dhathuru Maldives Yacht Rally
Start: Haa Alif Atoll, February 2022.
Route: Around the Maldives, ending at Baa Atoll.
About: A new 20-day cruise of the Maldives, exploring 15 different islands. The rally looks to highlight the Maldives’ history and its well preserved natural habitats.
Sail Malaysia Passage to the East Yacht Rally
Start: Langkawi, Malaysia, March 2022.
Route: Around Malaysia, with stops in Indonesia and Bruni. Ends in Tawau.
About: Until recently much of south-east Asia has been closed to travel but the team at Sail Malaysia are confident this year’s rally will go ahead. The route coincides with several local festivals.
Setouchi International Yacht rally
Start: Setouchi, Japan, May 2022.
Route: Around the Seto inland sea.
About: Created by two Japanese sailors who’d enjoyed rallying abroad and hope to bring the concept back home. This small rally (around 10 yachts) has been cancelled for two years but offers sailors an opportunity to experience guided tours and traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
Cost: £130 per boat and £230 per person.
Sail 2 Indonesia Yacht Rally
Start: Australia/New Zealand, date TBC.
About: This annual event takes yachts from Australia and New Zealand to Indonesia, but was paused due to the pandemic. The next edition has no firm start date, but organisers are accepting expressions of interest and hope to have more news in early 2022.
Pacific sailing rallies
Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation Cruise
Start: Hobart, Australia, February 2022.
Route: Around Tasmania.
About: Organised by the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania this is a challenging 800-mile cruise around the island. Gaining in popularity, and with the Antipodes beginning to open up after lockdown, this could be a sell-out event. Fleet is limited to just 45 yachts (minimum 9m LOA). Run every two years.
OZ to NZ Rally
Start: Queensland, Australia, February 2022.
Route: Gold Coast or Coffs Harbour to Opua, New Zealand.
About: A new rally for 2022 planned by Down Under Rallies in conjunction with Island Cruising New Zealand. The 1,200-mile leg may stop over at Lord Howe Island, subject to weather. Subject to travel restrictions, or as organisers put it, plans are ‘written in the sand at low tide’. Other events scheduled for 2022 include Go East, from Queensland to New Caledonia; New Caledonia to Vanuatu; the return from Fiji/Vanuatu back to New Caledonia; a new Mystery Island Rally, and the Go West rally, from the south west Pacific to Bundaberg, Australia.
Cost: From AUS$595.
Pacific Puddle Jump
Start: US west coast, March 2022.
Route: Various start points, across the Pacific to French Polynesia.
About: Despite French Polynesia still being closed to travel the Pacific Puddle Jump has received special dispensation to hold its informal rally again for 2022, having run for 25-plus years previously. Puddle Jump crews set sail independently, sharing information on weather routing and island destinations via radio nets and online. Yachts arrive in French Polynesia from April to June, meeting in the islands.
Cost: $75 to join.
Beyond the Barrier Rally
Start: Queensland, Australia, June 2022.
Route: A voyage beyond the Barrier Reef into the Coral Sea Marine Park.
About: Created during lockdown to give Australian yacht owners an offshore cruising adventure during Covid, with 36 yachts exploring reefs, islets and cays of the Coral Sea Marine Park. Anchorages are 200-400 miles offshore and the fleet is at sea for 18-21 days.
South Island Rally
Start: North Island, New Zealand, December 2022
Route: A cruise between New Zealand’s North and South islands, returning in March.
About: Island Cruising New Zealand has six rallies planned for 2022, in the hope that border restrictions will be relaxed sufficiently to allow a Pacific circuit. Besides the South Island rally and Oz to NZ (see left), there are also plans to run rallies to New Caledonia, Fiji and French Polynesia. The circuit finishes with a Pacific to New Zealand rally in October, with international cruisers welcome to sail the return leg to New Zealand (entry restrictions permitting).
Cost: NZL$60o (South Island Rally).
Sailing rallies in Europe
Start: Ellös, Sweden, June 2022.
Route: A loop around Swedish islands.
About: Starts and finishes at Hallberg-Rassy HQ, and usually attracts around 40 boats from 24ft upwards. A short weekend rally that is a fun starting point for people new to cruising in company. The rally has no time keeper but every boat taking part wins a prize, for categories such as friendliest crew to oldest boat.
Cost: £65 per boat and £60 per person.
Start: Plymouth, UK, June 2022.
Route: Crossing the Bay of Biscay from Plymouth to Bayona, then sailing the coast of Portugal to Marina de Lagos.
About: A 550-mile Biscay crossing followed by three weeks of day/overnight cruising in company, with onshore excursions and socials.
Cost: £850 per 45ft yacht, £525 per adult.
Start: Rostock, Germany, July 2022.
Route: Includes Gotland, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Mariehamn and the Swedish archipelago.
About: A six-week, 1,800-mile cruise around Europe’s historic eastern seas and cities. Some overnight sailing and challenging navigation to be expected, fleet numbers are kept small.
Cost: £1,980 per 45ft yacht, £975 per adult.
Start: Piraeus (Athens), July 2022.
Route: To be confirmed.
About: The longest running rally in our guide, first run in 1964. The Aegean Rally route varies each year but takes in many of the most beautiful cruising waters in the Aegean and allows you to see some of the lesser known areas of Greece. Typical route is 350-500 miles long, and there’s a racing option.
Cost: Joining fee €60.
Start: Kos, Greece, September 2022.
Route: From Kos, around the Dodecanese Islands.
About: A two-week rally exploring Leros, Patmos, Symi, and many of the area’s lesser known anchorages and ports, with an optional crossing to Turkey. One- and two-week itineraries.
Cost: Free to RTYC members.
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