New York Yacht Club Commodore’s Rally 2019

May 14, 2019

This year’s NYYC Commodore’s Rally was scheduled for the Exumas, a district of the Bahamas consisting of more than 365 islands also know cays. The water is breathtakingly beautiful here, but also very shallow and filled with reefs. 

When the destination for the Rally was first announced, I looked at the charts and sadly concluded that Aphrodite, our newly acquired Swan, had too deep a draft to be on the Rally. So Shaun and I were delighted when Matt and Pam invited us to join them and NYYC Commodore Bill Ketcham aboard Serena, their 74-foot Riva Caravelle Feadship, just out of a winter refit in Fort Lauderdale.

Anchored out, Serena shines on a bright day.

 As we approached the North Eleuthera airfield (a combination of grass and asphalt) we were happy to see the weather was good, with the usual puffy Caribbean clouds and crystal clear water below. Once through immigration and customs, we got into a taxi van and headed to the government dock where Justin and Colin met us in the tender to take us to Harbour Island, where Serena was docked. 

While we had seen Serena in August at the 2018 Annual Cruise, we really had not had an opportunity to understand what an amazing and historic vessel it is and to comprehend the tremendous work that had gone into her in the Feadship yard in Holland about 8 years prior, something like 43,000 man hours! And it showed. Every aspect of Serena is like viewing a historic masterpiece of sorts. Everything perfect, everything historically correct, and everything functional for 6 guests plus crew.

Bill Ketcham enjoys a morning swim.

 That first night was part of the Final Four tournament and the University of Virginia, Commodore Ketcham’s alma mater, was playing Auburn. Virginia won, sending it to the championship game against Texas Tech two days later. This was a great start to the Rally for Bill!  

Sunday April 7- Highbourne Cay 

Sunday was a travel day of about 6 hours that started with navigating a tricky reef section. We actually had two pilot boats, one switching off to the other. It was a little unnerving doing lots of zig zagging around the dark reef forms visible just below the surface. Serena draws about 5 feet but some of the coral heads are close to the surface and navigation is very dicey. I’m not sure how any boat could navigate these waters without GPS. There were times when we were just a stone’s throw from breakers on the beach, where more than a few hulls were visible, victims of the coral heads. 

When we arrived at Highbourne Cay we anchored and Matt hoisted the Union Jack flag on the bow. The Union Jack was the first style of the U.S. Naval flag, displayed only in port and only on Sundays and Holidays. Most private yachts do not have a Union Jack flag, including ours, but it was gratifying to see the attention Matt pays to traditions like this.

The Union Jack, flown only in port and on Sundays and holidays
The Union Jack, flown only in port and on Sundays and holidays.

Highbourne Cay was the first official gathering point for the Rally, with a cocktail party on the beach where Dani Burton handed out sailcloth totes filled with swag. The buffet had a sumptuous selection of conch fritters, prawns, chicken and meatballs. Some swimming was also in order and the photos taken of Shawn, Pam and Bill in the water show off the magical colors of the Bahamian waters. Truly fantastic.  

Monday April 8 - Warderick Wells

The next stop on the Rally was Warderick Wells. The morning announcements and the familiar “on this day in history” were made at 0900 to give us any needed information for the day. The plan at Warderick Wells included a Bahamian BBQ lunch ashore. Again the weather was wonderful and the dining on the beach is always a welcome treat, with many party-goers cooling their heels in the shallows. 

We had most dinners aboard Serena and Colin did a magnificent job, worthy of the Guide de Michelin. The presentations were awesome and equally impressive was his command of describing each repast. We dined primarily on seafood and greens of all kinds with fruit and some delicious desserts. The handmade sushi and sashimi was especially fabulous. It is hard to overstate how wonderful dining aboard Serena was.

A sushi feast aboard Serena with Colin and Shaun
A sushi feast aboard Serena with Colin and Shaun

In the evening, we had a nice cocktail party aboard Serena, and Matt talked a little bit about the NYYC Foundation of which he is chair and president, and I am secretary. The Foundation has really kicked into high gear with a very active Board, and Matt and I spent considerable time during transits fine-tuning some of the Foundation’s publications including the 2018 Annual Report. 

Later that night the crew made a herculean effort to get the NCAA Championship game streaming on the TV… and it worked. We got to see Virginia become national champions! And of course the Commodore was very happy with that to say the least!

Staniel Cay Yacht Club
Outside Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Tuesday April 9 - Staniel Cay 

The next day we headed to Staniel Cay, one of the main stopovers of the Cruise. Again great weather. The Staniel Cay Yacht Club was there, and we had a nice round of cocktails there, followed by another cocktail party aboard Serena. Many NYYC Foundation pins were handed out as part of the Foundation’s efforts this year to build broader participation with the 175th Anniversary Society.  

Wednesday April 10 - Staniel Cay

Today was play-with-the-pigs day on the beach. These domesticated pigs appear to depend completely on the tourists who go to the beach with food. The pigs swim out to the launches and are sometimes overly friendly, trying to climb up onto the boats.

Swimming pig at Staniel Cay
Swimming pig at Staniel Cay

In the evening, we had a nice visit with Commodore Bob James and his wife Anne aboard Misty, their 94-foot power yacht. Commodore James and Anne are so warm and outgoing and love to share their floating home with others and are frequently at the Annual Cruise hosting friends.

And then it was off to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for an all-cruise dinner, white linens all around. A really excellent meal for everyone. As we left the skies opened up and gave us all a good drenching, and we gave Nick and Diane Brown a very wet ride back to their boat on our way back to Serena

Thursday April 11 - Shroud Cay 

The Commodore left to represent NYYC at the American Yacht Club commissioning ceremonies, while we continued on with the cruise, including an afternoon of snorkeling and swimming with sharks, followed by cocktails aboard Lady Victoria, a 120- foot Feadship with Dierdre and Chris Culver as our hosts. A wonderful party!

Sharks feeding at Shroud Cay
Sharks feeding at Shroud Cay

We were invited that night by Howard Meyers to dine aboard Ingot, a beautiful 153-foot Burger. A special time. Surrounded by beautiful paintings, sculptures and impeccable woodwork, it was a night to remember. We also learned we had a few friends in common. Thank you Howard! 

Friday April 12- Highbourn Cay

There was a farewell cocktail party aboard M4 with Mark and Valerie Mashburn as our hosts. M4 is a truly spectacular 132-foot Trident. A beautiful place to enjoy the sunset and watch sharks feeding off the dock. Then back to Serena for another great feast.  

Saturday April 13- Harbour Island

It was time to make tracks back to Harbour Island and then fly out on Sunday. At this point, the fleet began to split up; many were returning to Nassau and some, staying on for more cruising. 

We had been listening all week to Matt’s plan for getting a small Riva runabout to hang off the davits of Serena. The problem is that of the 40 small runabouts built, only one is known to still exist. After some research and assessing the weight issues, Matt and Pam are looking at other alternatives but the plan is to have a historically correct dinghy hanging from the davits. We will see how all that turns out.

We went on Facebook to a Riva fan group to get some feedback which came immediately. There is a lot of passion out there for all things Riva! As we discussed the options, we came to understand a bit more about Carlo Riva and his company, which actually dates back to 1842. It is worth taking a look on the web to read about the amazing story of the Riva yachts. It helps put the magic of Serena in perspective.

Serena and the rest of the fleet, at sunset.
Serena at Sunset

Sunday April 14 - Time to head home. 

This will be a hard trip to top so thank goodness we have some photos and video to refresh our memory banks when we are in our Adirondack chairs, thinking back on the NYYC Commodore’s Rally 2019. Farewell for now and fair winds to Serena, her crew Colin, Justin, Hannah and her loving owners, Matt and Pam.