This is Part IV in a series of articles on acquiring offshore sailing experience. Here we discuss and link to ways to find and evaluate offshore races and rallies from the comfort of your desk at home. Enjoy:
Offshore races and rallies provide great opportunities for sailors new to offshore sailing to get out there. Rallies and races bring a bunch of boats to one place that often require more than their usual crew complement. If you’re brand new to offshore sailing a fully crewed offshore race boat provides a unique safety margin that you can’t find anywhere else.
Finding a Race or Rally
First you need to find a race or rally to take part in. Fortunately the presence of a governing body for these activities makes this easier than other opportunities:
- Offshore Racing Rule (ORR) Calendar: This USA focused calendar doesn’t have descriptive links for but a quick google search can lead you to the race’s website once you know what to look for
- Wikipedia Offshore Race List: Is a handy list of major races with brief, helpful descriptions
- RegattaDates.com: Is a very powerful aggregator of races. If you limit your search to “ORC”, “Portsmouth” and “ORR” you will see most offshore races. “PHRF” also has some offshore races as well but they have a lot of other shorter and round the buoys races you’ll have to sort through.
- World Cruising Club: These guys seem to have cornered much of the market on rallies, fortunately they have a multitude of rallies to choose from throughout the year.
- Noonsite’s list of Rallies: Is mostly a list of World Cruising Club rallies but it does have a handful organized by other groups. If I had to guess I’d say one organization purchased the other.
- Salty Dawg Rallies: Five rallies per year up and down the US Atlantic coast and Caribbean. Submit your resume via email and it will be forwarded to skippers of boats participating in the rallies.
- Pacific Puddle Jump: A popular (almost 200 boats) free rally from the West Coast of the Americas (major departures from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and Balboa, Panama) to French Polynesia. Get on the Latitude 38 crew list to try and find opportunities.
Of course, all of the races have deliveries associated with getting to the start line and back home from the finish line; most races have the race and delivery for you to potentially crew.
Look for a race or rally where there are good odds you’ll find a local boat. Skippers of races and rallies love to lament all of the time they put into preparations but this preparation is a golden opportunity for sailors new to offshore to learn about offshore safety and the boat they’ll be adventuring aboard. If you can get aboard to help out with preparation you should absolutely do it!
A Seller’s Market
Once you’ve found a race or rally you’re interested in find their “Crew Wanted/Boat Wanted” message board; it will be some kind or forum, email list, Facebook group, etc and is the best, nay only, place to try to find a ride. You often have to dig to to find it but it’s there. Unlike other kinds of offshore opportunities where the onus is on the crew to seek out and make first contact with a potential skipper, in races and rallies it’s usually the skipper that reaches out to the crew. You really need a stand out sailing resume and a good post advertising your skills to be competitive. I also suggest you include some other way for the skippers to contact you than via the forums; in my experience the forums can be flaky for correspondence (make sure your initial post even shows up).
Your post is basically an advertisement of your skills and experience to skippers. You want to try to make it stand out yet short enough to read quickly. Lead with your strongest qualification: if you’re new to offshore sailing you’re “enthusiastic”. If you’ve been offshore you’re experienced. Include the top three to five highlights of your sailing resume in your post. Skippers can look at your sailing resume if they want more details.
If you don’t have a lot of experience you can stand out by helping the skipper meet a requirement. Races and rallies usually require some percentage of crew have safety at sea, first aid, CPR or other credentials. Peruse the Notice of Race and the Safety Requirements for statements like:
Safety at Sea Training: At least 30% of those aboard the boat, but not fewer than two members of the crew, including the person in charge, shall have attended a one-day or two-day US Sailing Safety at Sea Seminar within the last 5 years, or other courses as accepted by US Sailing.
CPR and First Aid: It is recommended that at least two crew members have current CPR and First Aid certifications.
Then get that credential and make a note of it in your boat wanted post. You’re instantly more attractive to skippers.
The absolute best thing you can do to make your post stand out is send an email to some friends you’ve sailed with and ask them to comment on your post. They don’t have to embellish they can say something along the lines of:
Raced to Bermuda and back with Joe in 2015 and 2016 and had a great time. All of the above statements are factual. Especially the “mechanically inclined” and “super easy going” part!
I wrote that on a friend’s “boat wanted” post and had a text from him the next day thanking me for finding him a ride. This works so well it’s almost cheating!
Make sure you respond promptly to skippers inquiries; often they’ll reach out to a handful of suitable crew and the first one to respond gets first dibs on the spot. This is another advantage of using a contact me method that notifies you immediately: you want dibs!!
Respond to specific crew wanted posts if you find them. For the most part skippers looking for crew just pick from their favorite boat wanted posts; this is unique to race or rally specific resources so this isn’t required but it can help.
Continuing the Conversation
One a skipper reaches out to you it’s your spot to lose; make sure your respond promptly so somebody doesn’t snatch the spot out from under you. Answer the skippers questions honestly; being forthcoming with information at this stage reduces the chances of having a miserable passage later.
Considering the Adventure
Once you’re in the running you have another job to do: figure out if the passage is right for you. Your first consideration is making sure this is a safe passage for you to undertake. This is difficult topic and I suggest you read my offshore safety post from top to bottom and implement it’s advice every time you’re evaluating any offshore opportunity. If you have any hesitation stop and think! Ask somebody you trust! Trust your gut. Trust your preparation. When it doubt stay on the dock.
Races and rallies have the additional safety net of an organizing body that provides safety requirements and inspections. Appreciate this safety net but don’t rely on it; do your own assessment and provide as much of your own safety as you can. If you managed to find a local boat and your can dedicate some weekends to it volunteer to be the safety officer (or assist the safety officer). This is a great way to become familiar with the boat, offshore safety gear, the race requirements and offshore safety procedures. I’ve done this for both of my offshore races and it has turbocharged my offshore knowledge!
Finally, if you’re considering a race also consider the race return delivery.
If you’ve read through the entire series you deserve a round of applause and you’ve got a huge bag of tricks for getting offshore experience. If not, or if there is something you’d like to review:
Hopefully you can put the advice here to work for you and promptly and have a great offshore adventure! There is safety in numbers: there are a ton of opportunities out there and we’ve given you the tools to find them so you don’t have to commit to a passage that you’re not entirely comfortable with. Now that you know how and where to look you can consider a plethora of offshore passages and choose the one that’s ideal for you!!
See you out there!