Written by Sandy Gray, Odyssey

After having completed three consecutive Caribbean Rallies with the SDSA I very much embrace and show pride in being a “Salty Dawg.” Being one of a very few sole women owner / captains in these rallies I’m constantly reminded that sailing is still a sport very much male dominated.  While many of the amazing women I’ve met are incredibly accomplished sailors, others identified as “First Mate” or “Admiral.” I met a lot of women in Hampton, VA who demurred and under-sold their skillset ~ and it was incredibly exciting to see these reluctant and unsure women arrive in Antigua 1500NM later beaming with new confidence and pride in their accomplishments.

As a member of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, I’ve come to appreciate the organization’s focus on being an educational and inspiring group of sailors who truly want to help other sailors “realize their long-distance cruising dreams.” After my third year with this group I have first-hand experience and a deep appreciation for the guidance and encouragement I have received from the “Ole Salts.”

While heading South has a relatively predictable timeframe, heading home, North is far less restricted. My timing has never synced with the Homeward Bound Rallies, and this year was no different. Up until my trip north this Spring, I’d always had exceptionally competent, world-class sailors as primary crew. All men. Unable to secure my “A-Team” crew mates to get me home, the idea (and challenge) of putting together an all-woman team began to take shape.

I posted my crew needs to OPO (Offshore Passage Opportunities), the Salty Dawg Forum and directly to my Facebook page. I was inundated with interest in helping me get my 1996 Passport 470 home. I filled my primary spots quickly as two of my friends stepped up and expressed interest. They’d each had offshore experience but what’s more, one held a national championship title in the J24 class and the other was an extremely active sailor in Snipes and Etchels who’d successfully competed internationally garnering podium wins. The point was: they could sail. For me, it’s one of my very TOP criteria for offshore crew ~ I need them to know how to handle a boat under sail when things go wrong. After having just single-handed Odyssey from Grenada to USVI, I was confident in being able to handle everything else so when I was approached by a third crew member who had minimal offshore experience I was comfortable bringing her along. She and her husband own the same model boat and in keeping with the mission statement of the SDSA, I was thrilled to give her the opportunity.

I’d begun watching weather patterns weeks before. Most sailors consider May 1st a bit early for the trip, but the delivery captains I’d worked with in previous years taught me to be ready to leave May 1st and be prepared to wait as long as it takes to leave. My original plan was to get to Bermuda then head up to NYC from there but the weather systems kept rolling off the coast either forming intense Lows or quasi Bermuda Highs with southerly headwinds at 64’W making it an impossible go. I subscribe to Chris Parker, so with his blessing, off we went headed up the North side of the Bahamas towards the gulf stream. We were aware of a possible system rolling off the D.R. in three days time but it seemed we’d have plenty of options to ditch if needed.

Lucky enough to have an incredibly knowledgeable buddy boat, Starlink and Chris Parker’s input, we tried to slow our progress in the gusty 25 knots of breeze and 10 foot swells just aft the beam but “slow” became 7 knots. Long story short, we ended up cracking off 40 degrees to the SW to let the cells pass, but they formed into a low right above us. We had to avoid the 20NM of Silver Bank’s rocks-awash lee shore so we went bare poles and motored at 2400 RPM’s making less than three knots just to keep 10NM off the bank.

As a crew of women, we rocked this trip. My racers were voracious trimmers, we cooked amazing meals, we basked in 4 days of champagne sailing making 8 knots in flat water and 18 knots of breeze on the beam and we chilled. We scootched under a cell rounding Hatteras and headed home.

The hardest part of the trip was the last 5 miles. Either I was an hour late or the front an hour early but arriving into NY Harbor and the convergence zones at 0330 the winds piped up to nearly 30 knots, I was over canvassed and being swept ~ it was definitely a “bone in her teeth” challenge, but in the end we got to safe anchorage and slept.

There were aspects of this passage that were immensely challenging. We’d wrapped an old, flotsam pot rig around my prop while under sail and we freed it without diving. Ingenuity won. There were other challenges (mostly weather) but in the end, it was the most incredibly affirming passage I’ve ever made. 1571 NM in 9 days and 16 hours.

I’m proud of the women who sailed with me and I will always try to lift up and encourage my “sisters” to keep learning ~ we can do this!