There is a controversy flying around about the Salty Dawg rally departures. Thursday night a number of boats sent out distress calls and two were abandoned as the coast guard rescued their crews.
We left on Tuesday the 5th to follow one cold front and get south before being overtaken by another. That decision led to a few bumpy days, but turned out well for us. Many boats left Wednesday. While I haven’t had a full download from them, it appears that they had a rougher ride since the cold front overtook them when it was stronger.
At the time everyone was making these decisions, the forecaster for the rally was recommending Wednesday, but also said he “didn’t see any reason why Tuesday wouldn’t also work”. In fact, the knock against Tuesday was that it would have more motoring.
There is a competing rally, the Caribbean 1500, that advanced their planned departure from Sunday to Saturday the 2nd to get ahead of the first front. The forecasts we received made the Saturday departure look particular unattractive.
Now it seems that there is quite a lot of second-guessing the Salty Dawg decision from many corners including an editor for SAIL magazine (see http://www.sailfeed.com/2013/11/weather-window-roulette-races-and-rallies-and-rolling-the-dice/). There is always a lot of second guessing from desk-bound folks that aren’t making real decisions that impact their own safety and the safety of their families and friends, but SAIL should do better.
The unfounded and inaccurate rant from the SAIL editor really got me. It will poorly serve and mislead others looking to make similar decisions. So I wrote the following response:
Charles: This post does a significant injustice to the Salty Dawg Rally and, at least with respect to any lessons learned from this year’s East Coast Fall departures, does a disservice to your readers. The Salty Dawg rally this year was not an example of “Weather Window Roulette” or “Rolling the dice.”
You criticize rallies that sail to a schedule and, despite acknowledging that the Salty Dawg Rally doesn’t sail to a schedule, criticize the supposed “group decision” not to leave when the Caribbean 1500 left. You say “setting a fixed departure date is mostly delusional. What you want is more of a departure zone, and you should be willing to go early or late as conditions dictate. Which brings us to Exhibit B: the Salty Dawg Rally.”
We can agree on this first part of that statement, but using the Salty Dawg Rally as a bad example is misinformed. I participated in the Salty Dawg rally. There was no group decision to leave or not to leave on any day at any Salty Dawg meeting I attended or any Salty Dawg communication I received. A little research from the Salty Dawg website suggests that boats left from 2 November to 8 November. This is a “departure zone” if there ever was one. Suggesting that the Salty Dawg rally fits your mold of a bad example is absurd.
Further, the decision to leave on Saturday the 2nd was far from clear and your purported “promising weather window” was seriously questioned by Chris Parker at the time. Whether you personally like his services, he is a well-respected and widely-followed professional forecaster. Late Friday evening, his forecast called the conditions for a Saturday departure “stiff” and reported “you’ll have 3 days, possibly 4 days, of roughly 30g38k winds and seas building from 10’/7sec to 13’/11sec”. I do not personally know how the conditions turned out for boats leaving Saturday, but that is far from the “promising weather window” you suggest.
In fact, a number of boats signed up for the Salty Dawg Rally did leave Saturday. Yet, however the conditions actually developed, not leaving Saturday was hardly the result of “somehow manag[ing] to miss the weather window that Andy took advantage of” or of not being part of a “group that enjoys some adult supervision.” Those are outrageous misstatements.
Chris Parker gave a significantly better forecast for boats leaving on Tuesday and Wednesday. Along with at least a dozen or so other boats, we left Tuesday the 5th also missing the “promising weather window” and had 2.5 days upwind in 10-30kts with gusts in a few squalls in the 30s. It was lumpy, but the waves weren’t especially large and the conditions weren’t extreme. Knowing what I know now, I would leave again on Tuesday rather than Saturday with the Caribbean 1500.
We made our own informed decision on when to leave. The Salty Dawg organizers through Chris Parker made a lot of weather information available. It informed our decision, but my crew and I alone own the decision on when to leave. That is how it should be. I would have to overcome significant misgivings before joining any rally that wanted to make that decision for me by setting the date and time for departure. Far from “loosey goosey”, the Salty Dawgs tried to run a rally as you described you wished for. I’d sign up again.
You and I agree that folks should make informed decisions about departure dates and not sail to tight schedules. If you want to criticize the Salty Dawg rally, take the time to research the facts about what happened and the specifics of the boats that had problems and then provide some reality-based commentaries. It was a rough passage for many and a number of boats beyond those you cite apparently suffered damage. There might be real lessons to learn. I realize that one of Sailfeed’s contributors runs the US rallies for the World Cruising Club, but please take the time to correct this post.
Note that other than my participation in the rally, I am in no way affiliated with the Salty Dawg rally.