Sailing to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean 1500

Starting Out (continued)

Southern Branch, the race committee boat, at anchor near Thimble Shoal Channel. This boat marks one end of the starting line for the Caribbean 1500, the other end of the line is nearby buoy "Green 17". Southern Branch is a style of boat known as a Chesapeake Bay workboat, but that doesn't mean it's actually used as a workboat—it could be used just for fun.   Thimble Shoal Light, located in the southwest corner of Chesapeake Bay where the waters of Hampton Roads enter the bay. The present structure of cast iron and concrete was erected in 1914, though there were earlier lighthouses on the site.

Click on the picture to display a chart for the starting line by Thimble Shoal Light, excerpted from NOAA Chart 12222 - Chesapeake Bay Cape Charles to Norfolk Harbor. (180 kb) Use your browser's "back" command to return here.  
The Starting Line

The official starting line for the Caribbean 1500 was an imaginary line between buoy "Green 17" (across from Thimble Shoal Light) and the anchored committee boat, a Chesapeake Bay workboat named Southern Branch. We reached the starting line way early, and had at least a couple of hours to kill until noon. Since Night Heron was in the cruising class, we were not required to start at 12:00 noon and in fact could leave at any time, even two hours early. But Jeff wanted to leave with the other boats, so we slowly motorsailed back and forth, and little by little other boats began to work their way out of the Hampton River and arrive on the scene.

Unlike other sailboat races, even the racing boats were allowed to use their engines to maneuver, including after crossing the starting line if desired. This rule recognized the need to motor through calms to reach Tortola without delay, and the organizers estimated that most boats would motor a quarter to a third of the time.

As noon drew near, a large container ship came in from the ocean and proceeded up Thimble Shoal Channel right next to the fleet. Finally, rally organizer Steve Black came on the VHF working channel, counted down the last few seconds, and we were off! The fleet of nearly 70 boats began working their way eastward across the bottom of Chesapeake Bay in light wind. Unfortunately, the wind soon began to falter, and being a big heavy cruising boat, Night Heron had to start motorsailing.

All the boats followed Thimble Shoal Channel through the half-mile gap in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, then we all slowly arced around the point at Cape Henry and exited Chesapeake Bay, heading out into unprotected waters and unfamiliar territory. During the rest of the day, we slowly pulled away from the coast, so that by sunset the shoreline was a distant smudge. Meanwhile, the line of boats quickly became strung out and segregated by speed, and soon the race leaders were fading into the distance ahead of us.

The next two pages have more pictures of the start of our voyage.

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