Our First Rally & 2 Years Later


Written by Stephanie and Jim Seal

"What's that Honey? You want to go Cruising on Hero in the Caribbean in 5  years? 
Can I quit my job?  Sure, I'll go..."

Skip ahead 5 years, it is October 28, 2021, Jim heads off to get a haircut, and I’m standing in the produce
section of the Hampton Food Lion with a man who has agreed to crew for us, who I just met in person the
day before. We are provisioning for our 1500 mile passage from Hampton to Antigua. Our start day has
been moved up by two days due to weather and I can’t decide if it’s better to buy one head of iceberg
lettuce or three heads of Romaine. It’s then that I burst into tears. What have I done? What am I about to
do? Our crew starts juggling heads of iceberg. He’s about to trust us and our boat out in the deep blue sea
for two weeks and now he’s working like hell to cheer me up and assure me that everything is going to be

That was the beginning of our first long passage.

Up until this point, we had been coastal cruisers, sailing our Catalina 22, our Catalina 30 and now Hero,
our Pacific Seacraft 37 from Hull, MA. Always within sight of land, every night in a lovely anchorage.
We had done overnights but nothing longer than 15-20 hours straight. Hero is stout, solid, reliable, and
slow. Once the decision to cruise was made the prep started in earnest. We took 5 years to get Hero into
cruising shape. One note, when I say “we” I mean Jim. All upgrades to Hero were done by Jim or
supervised and managed by Jim. He’s incredibly pragmatic and thorough and I trust him implicitly. (I
became very good at sanding and refinishing teak, sewing the vinyl headliner, and snaking my skinny
arms through small spaces to thread wires from bow to stern.) I wondered if we would have money left in
the bank to actually cruise once the prep was all done and paid for. And so it went for 5 years. The
Defender boxes showed up on a weekly and sometimes daily basis and Hero was transformed from a
coastal cruiser to a blue water passage-maker. Water maker, water heater, refrigerator/freezer, shower and
shower bilge pump, wind generator, solar panels, AIS, auto pilot, Inreach, 27” smart tv, new standing
rigging, new bimini, new galley countertops, updated cushions above and below decks, bells and whistles
all installed. According to Jim there were at least 30 more upgrades, but listing them all would make for
boring reading. As of June of 2021 Hero was ready!

A major part of our prep was listening to podcasts and reading blogs. Many cold New England nights
were spent cuddled in bed watching videos of cruisers making their way through exotic harbors and
realizing their dreams. We (Jim) researched rally associations, and thought ARC might be the group for
us, until he saw the seminar content that the Salty Dawgs had in their library. We became Salty Dawgs
and plowed through the library from the warmth and comfort of our home. We were hooked. The
thoroughness and breadth of the seminar subject matter impressed us.

We joined the 2021 Downeast Rally in Newport, RI for the trip north to Rockland, ME. We were asked to
do this Rally to prove our overnight mettle before taking on the Caribbean Rally in November. One night,
piece of cake. We spent the next 4 months cruising the east coast, slowly making our way to Hampton,
VA for the Caribbean Rally.

I mentioned earlier that Hero is many things, slow being one of them. It took us 2 weeks to travel the
1540 miles from Hampton, VA to English Harbor, Antigua. We made it. Nelson’s Dockyard, English
Harbor provided us with many incredible experiences. First, if you’ve never Med-moored, why not cut
your teeth at this historical site crammed in alongside fellow Dawgs, with everyone watching? Second,
Nelson’s Dockyard is a beautiful UNESCO site, steeped in maritime history and we loved having the
beautiful grounds right at our stern. Lastly, most of the Salty Dawgs were moored here and almost all of
the events started or took place within steps of our boat. There were always Dawgs milling about, stopping to say hello and chat. Hero was one of three boats under 40’. I dubbed us the rally runts and became very good friends with our fellow runts.

The rest of November and all of December was spent sailing around Antigua and Barbuda. There were
Dawg boats in every harbor, which usually led to a sundowner or sightseeing invite. We settled into
cruising life and figured out the best way to do laundry on the boat, where to get the best provisions,
which anchorages were calm and which were rolly, and we became more social. We had invitations to go
swimming, dining, snorkeling, rum distillery hopping, sightseeing, drinking, dinghy-drifting, shopping,
playing dominoes, buddy boating, the list of activities was endless. We (I) loved it. There was always
something to do and someone to do it with. On the less social and more maintenance side of things, if
there was a mechanical issue that was beyond our (Jim’s) purview, one word on the morning net and help
came flowing in. The sailing community is amazing in this way. It is truly a supportive community.
From Antigua we sailed south to Trinidad & Tobago, visiting as many islands as we could along the way.
In each anchorage we looked for the Salty Dawg burgee flying from nearby boats. Cruising takes a certain
person, a certain personality, and when you meet other cruisers, especially other Salty Dawgs you are
bound to share similar stories, have a good laugh, maybe even have a good cry. These are good people.
Friends for life.

If you are wondering, I chose the Romaine, the refrigerator stopped working halfway to Antigua, the stern
rail started to come loose, and we discovered an annoying creak down below when in a heavy swell. But,
I have no regrets, I loved every minute of the trip though some days I swore I was catching the next flight
back home. It was the community that kept me going, the people that saw me through, the friends I made
along the way that propped me up on the bad days. That, and the fact that Jim never anchored close to an

At this very moment, Jim and I are crew for friends, sitting in St. Martin, enjoying the Caribbean from
someone else’s boat. We were asked to crew by Don and Diane Mackenzie on SV Hylander. We brought
her from Hampton, VA to Bermuda, then on to St. Martin. A testament to how wonderfully small and
tight the sailing community is, we were finally relaxing in St. George, Bermuda, after 4 days of battling
the Gulf Stream, when a dinghy came zipping by Hylander and there in the front of the dinghy was Ross
DeGraw, our juggling, super-crew from our first blue water passage. The screams of delight could be
heard all the way to Hamilton! This community is the best, bar none!



Deep (Water) thoughts from SV Hero

The Hampton to Antigua passage was not a cake walk
There’s no shame in taking on crew
Pop Tarts crumble
Do the things, rent the car, see the sights, taste the food
Things will break
Don’t panic
Compression Zones can be awful
The Bahamas are shallow
Meet locals
Talk to people