Another frequent question: are you happy with the decision to sail in a Rally? Isn’t it too quick/too expensive/following the wrong route/providing not enough support/and so on…
Our decision to join a Rally was mainly due to two reasons:
1) we were not willing to stay away from home for too much time, and
2) we did not feel our Mediterranean experience to be enough to tackle such an adventure on our own (today we would, but that’s 30000 miles later…).
THE DURATION: the Rally takes about 20 months, which is the minimum to complete a circumnavigation in a medium-small sailing vessel, taking into account a realistic average speed, the need to avoid the hurricane seasons and, obviously, leaving enough time for sight-seeing.
In fact, if it would have been possible to leave the Rally somewhere and join the next one, extending the voyage to 3 years, we would have considered it, but the Rallies are bi-annual and therefore this option was not available; in fact, what could be done would be to leave the Rally somewhere in the Pacific (e.g. in Polinesia) and then sail leisurely to Australia via New Zealand (possibly returning home for few months) and then the following year join “Rally Indonesia” with the objective of reaching Malaysia or Thailand around year-end to then cruise the area while waiting for next year’s Rally to sail back home via the tricky Gulf of Aden. 4 years in total, which may become 5 by anticipating the Atlantic crossing to the year before, possibly with the Rally Antigua or the ARC.
THE SUPPORT: there are 3 or 4 places during the voyage, where being in a Rally really does make a difference, most notably the Panama and Suez Canals
and the Gulf of Aden. Having said that, the support provided in many other places and which boils down to ensuring a berth in crowded spaces, organising a few trips inland and – most useful – hand-carrying stuff from Europe, turn out to be far from essential and by halfway through the voyage all crews tend to be self-sufficient.
CAMARADERIE: sailing in company is one of the reasons for sailing in a Rally, although it is quite common to befriend other crews met in the various ports and anchorages and it would be perfectly possible to find boats to sail together for at least a portion of the voyage.
Obviously, also in the Rally after some time smaller groups will form, by tastes, cruising interests, boat performance, or just plain sympathy.
The majority of the crews come from english-speaking countries, so fluency in english is essential (or, a very high degree of socialising skills…) in order to really be part of the group.
BWR or ARC? At the moment, two world-girdling Rallies are available (talking of amateur events, not counting the races), namely the Blue Water Rally, now in its 8th iteration, and the new-born World-ARC, which just completed its first round. Both events are bi-annual, and sadly they take place in the same years, instead of being 1 year apart. This brings some inconveniences to the crews, expecially when two fleets, each strong of more than 30 boats, happen to be in the same location. The crews obviously don’t care and make friends, but the inconvenience is real.
The routes and dates of the two Rallies are very similar until they reach Indonesia, where the World-ARC diverts towards South-Africa to then cross the south Atlantic by way of a brief stop in St.Helens and then proceed to Brasil and the Carribbean. This last part of the Rally is very fast and challenging, making the World-ARC better suited to big, fully-crewed yachts as opposed to the typical retired couples that make up almost the totality of the BWR crews.
As a conclusions, if you have the time to do a leisurely voyage (or your job allows you to sail a few months and then go back to work and so on for several years) definitely go on your own and take your time, but if you can devote to the voyage only a limited amount of time, then joining a Rally will increase your chances of making the most out of the experience. There are formulas good for all tastes, from the fast, 2-years non-stop Rally to slower voyages, possibly allowing for periods of work at home: JUST LEAVE AND DO IT!!