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|ARC 2012 A Tale of Two Starts|
Low pressure forces a delay to the start of this year’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, as 227 boats prepare to set sail from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to St Lucia.
Every November since 1986 more than 200 yachts of all shapes and sizes, crewed by 1200 people from babies to grandparents, set sail from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria heading 2700NM across the Atlantic to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) is the granddaddy of sailing rallies, and a bucket list item for many sailors. In the last 27 years the winds have favoured the ARC, sending the yachts westwards along the classic tradewind route. This year was a little different. For only the second time in its history, the ARC start was postponed, with only the RORC race boats setting out on 25 November as scheduled.
A tricky low pressure system north of the islands promised strong winds for the first night at sea, and with many of the 227 ARC boats crewed by family, including 43 children, the organisers decided to delay for two days. This decision was met by spontaneous applause, as strong headwinds and 6m seas were not the introduction to ocean cruising most crews were looking for.
The cruising boats set sail on 27 November, with a dramatic start inside Las Palmas harbour. In 15-20 knots northeasterly, boats ranging from 32 to 80 feet were quickly speeding south towards warmer latitudes.
The ARC is a race within a rally, with 30 boats sailing under IRC handicaps in the RORC racing division. For these crews, many of whom are professionals, the target is breaking the 2006 ARC crossing record set at 11 days, 5 hours and 32 minutes by Italian maxi Capricorno. Rather than ‘heading south till the butter melts’ like the cruisers, these skippers actively seek the stronger winds to the north, a tactic pushed by Open 40 Vaquita (AUT) which reached almost 30 degrees north before chasing the winds back towards Saint Lucia.
By the time All at Sea hits the newstands, the first boats will have arrived. Any one of five boats could take line honours and the record, from 40ft Vaquita to mighty Swan 80 Berenice (ITA). For the cruisers, a target crossing is more likely to be 18 to 21 days, with safety and comfort rather than speed being the watchwords.
Taking part in the ARC isn’t just about sailing across an ocean, it’s the social activities ashore at the start and finish that cement friendships and make the event so special. The programme in Las Palmas kicked off on 12 November, a full two weeks before the scheduled start. With parties every night, sociable suppers and a series of seminars on cruising topics, there was plenty to keep the crews amused. Meeting fellow cruisers is a great way to relax and manage the stress of what can be a fearful prospect for any sailor; being self-sufficient for three weeks on a big ocean.
As the boats left the marina to begin their voyage, there were calls of farewell on the VHF and waves to new friends. They will chat on the SSB radio net and send blogs to the ARC website, but the next time they meet will be in Rodney Bay Saint Lucia, where to the sounds of a steel pan and the taste of a rum punch, they can finally savour their achievement. 2700 NM in a small boat across a big ocean.