Homeward Bound Flotilla


In January the Cruising Club of America (CCA) presented the Salty Dawg Sailing Association with a Special Recognition Award recognizing the exceptional effort in the organization of the Homeward Bound Flotilla in the spring of 2020.  The CCA presents three major sailing awards each year, in select years they also designate a Special Recognition Award presented to someone who has made an exceptional contribution to the sailing community.  Their board of directors determined that the work we did with the Flotilla was such a contribution.  

Our Homeward Bound Flotilla brought 284 boats, 473 sailors (from multiple countries), through 3 tropical storms and 200,000 boat miles.  The volunteers of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association spent 11 weeks planning, plotting, texting, tracking, and rescuing from afar to ensure that cruisers made it to shore safely.  

With hundreds of cruisers “stuck” in the Caribbean as hurricane season approached the SDSA offered a flotilla to help get sailors home.  Dawgs and Non-Dawgs alike were quick to sign up for their assistance.  With about a month to set up and implement weather planning, boat tracking, and safety-net assistance the Dawg board and volunteers drew on years of rally planning to create a system to help the short-handed cruisers safely home.  

The boats left in fleets of “manageable sizes” between April 12 and May 20.  In keeping with Salty Dawg practice, each captain was free to set the vessel departure date according to weather, crew comfort, and readiness.  

Each boat that participated was asked to “check in” at least twice a day.  Their position was collected by PredictWind and displayed on the Flotilla Tracking Map.  Meanwhile, the Shoreside Coordinators kept track of the map.  If a vessel didn’t report in for 36 hours, the team would try to contact the boat to locate them.  There was a plan in place for assistance from the U. S. Coast Guard if shoreside efforts were unsuccessful.  

There was also a three member Emergency Response Team made up of exceptional and experienced blue water sailors.  Any situation that came to the Shoreside Coordinators that seems “exceptional” or an “emergency” was referred to them.  During the flotilla this team managed five such situations including broken shrouds, engine loss, steering loss, and communication issues.  

The largest hurdle for the support team was the shear size of the participation.  With rallies typically running at 80 - 100 boats, having 284 was a challenge.  The rapidly changing situations of national borders and regulations was an additional factor to deal with, including coming into the USA; which ports were open, what marinas had space, what was the process for checking in.  These things changed as the boats were making their way to safety.  With borders closed to all incoming traffic, the SDSA explained what was happening, and the unexpected tropical storms that were coming, 155 exceptions were approved for safe passage through the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, including fuel and anchoring for rest and shelter.   

Hats off to the 473 sailors and the 24 volunteers who made it safe for them. 

“Congratulations on your award from the CCA. Your association's efforts on behalf of other cruisers set a shining example for sailors everywhere.” 

John Burnham, CCA