So you want to make an ocean passage on a sailboat but the thought of preparing, organizing and heading into the sunset seems too daunting? Try doing it in a rally like the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) that just finished up its 32nd year in the Caribbean.
History and Participation
Founded in 1986 by the renowned Jimmy Cornell, this annual rally draws crews from all over the world. This year, 174 boats carrying 983 sailors started in Gran Canaria in mid-November and after an average sailing time of about 19 days, happy faces arrived in Rodney Bay where the marina and the ARC support staff were on hand to welcome them no matter what time of day or night they crossed the finish line. Over 30 nationalities were represented with participants aged 18 months to 82 years. Top nationalities represented included the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden but numerous US-flagged vessels also participated with one American catamaran sailing this route as the last leg of their 10-year circumnavigation.
The average vessel age was 12 years but the German boat Peter von Seestermuhe got top honors for legacy since it was launched in 1936. Boats ranged in size too from 30 to 128 feet. This year, a record-setting 35 multihulls participated in the nearly 3,000-mile “race”. Some skippers pushed their boats hard to make good time while others set a more leisurely pace while enjoying whale sightings and nighttime skies.
The ARC has a sister rally in the form of the ARC+. The latter also starts in Gran Canaria but makes a stop in Cape Verdes before heading to the Caribbean. This year, there were also two finish lines primarily due to the popularity of the event and the need for an overflow destination. The traditional finish is on the beautiful island of St. Lucia but 15 ARC+ boats sailed into the Blue Lagoon on St. Vincent, an island just to the south.
In the ARC, 15 boats carried children. About 20% of the participants were women, with one boat that dubbed itself the “Finland Females” having an all-girl crew. Headed by a skipper now in her 70s, the six women were in good spirits and always boisterous having finally realized a dream that took them two years to plan and execute.
Planning and preparation were among the top reasons given when asked why sailors chose to cross with the ARC, which is one of twelve events created and managed by the World Cruising Club now headed by Andrew Bishop. With seminars, checklists and advice from professional staff, the ARC helps many first-time ocean crossers prepare their boats and themselves for this undertaking. ARC staff also helps with administrative issues like country check-in/out processes and assists in finding in-country resources to help with mechanical or medical issues.
Why Join the ARC
Most people site safety in numbers as a top reason to join a rally. The feeling of another boat being able to render assistance in case something goes wrong lends great comfort. One boat, Garuda, lost its mast 600 miles from the finish. Two vessels came to her aid with jugs of fuel so the Russian/Ukrainian/Spanish Garuda crew could finish safely.
However, perhaps the most important element to most of the cruisers was the camaraderie of the event. One young American couple with two teenagers onboard their 40-foot catamaran described the ARC as a small village where everyone knows one another. They never worry when their kids take off in the dinghy to have fun with other ARC kids on either side of the Atlantic. Not seeing them for the better part of the day seems perfectly natural – something they would never have allowed back home.
Although there were dozens of boat builders represented, French-built Beneteaus and Lagoons were top models. A few sailors opted for British Oysters and Moodys while Hallberg Rassy and Hanse hulls also made a good showing.
The final prize-giving for the ARC was held on December 22 with numerous awards for the various classes. The “Spirit of the ARC” award went to the four-man crew of Seren that stood by a vessel that had struck a whale and damaged its rudder. Although the disabled boat was not a part of the ARC, the crew of Seren chose to sail with them for eleven days to ensure their safety. The award recognizes the spirit of goodwill and enthusiasm that was most certainly embodied by the sailors on Seren.
The accomplishment of crossing an ocean on a small boat made for a joyous atmosphere in St. Lucia and it was catching. It made one want to sign up for next year’s rally or go on with the organization to the World ARC that continues around the globe, completing a circumnavigation in just two years.
If you’re contemplating an ocean voyage but are put off by the prospect of all the details involved, consider joining the ARC in 2019. You may sign up for safety but you’ll likely walk away with lifelong friends that shared the adventure of a lifetime.
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