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Diverse boats and diverse crews

True to form, this year’s ARC has a real mix of boats (and crews), with everything from classic boats from the 70s and 80s, to mid-range family cruisers; to fast performance multihulls and monohulls; along with every type of boat in between. Those sailing on board are equally varied; from 20 somethings on a budget, to retirees on an extended bluewater cruise, to those joining charter boats as individuals or with a group of friends, to others taking a career break or sabbatical. The smallest boat is the French-flagged Vancouver 28 ‘Oberoi’ at 8.35m and she is one of 14 boats less than 40’. The largest is the Oyster 885 'Karibu', a luxury 27 metre superyacht sailing the ARC with 9 crew on board. This year 29% of the fleet are 15.3m (50’) to 18.3m (60’) and 12% are larger than 18.3m (60’).

World Cruising Club’s Jeremy Wyatt explains about the diversity of the fleet about to head off to Saint Lucia: “As usual, we have a broad spectrum of boats across the ARC fleet; from 70s and 80s cruisers, like the 1972 S&S Swan Montana (1972), and those that were once used as race boats, like Prime Evil, a Sigma 400 offshore one design." At the smaller end of the fleet are the Westerly Konsort Katy and Vancouver 28 Oberoi: “Although we don’t see as many of them these days - because the larger boats are more comfortable to live and sail on - they are great little boats and definitely the ones that people used to go offshore sailing on.

The choice of boats out there is huge and this is reflected in the fleet. We see a lot of family cruisers on mid-range monohulls around 40ft, and the newer boats are tending to get bigger because there are more boat builders making larger boats,” Jeremy continues. “We are also seeing a huge number of catamarans in the fleet. Over 60% of the new boats this year are multihulls and they are getting more impressive, like the carbon-rigged Outremer 55’s Catarsis and Chilli Pepper. These are very different from the catamarans people were sailing 15 years ago. There are still the more traditional family cruising catamarans like the Lagoon’s (of which there are 10) and Fountaine Pajot’s taking part in big numbers as they are they are very comfortable to live on.

The monohull fleet is quite a broad church as well, with boats like the Swan 60 Emma which is really a racer-cruiser. The crew are approaching it as a fun event; they’ve got their old sails on and taken the bowsprit off, so have de-powered their boat for cruising across the Atlantic, but it really is a quite impressive, fast boat. Then there’s more unusual boats like the ICE 52 Zelma, which is again a high-performance kevlar boat.

The traditional family cruising monohulls are still popular among the ARC fleet and it’s good to see boats like the Hallberg Rassy 46 Kathryn Del Fuego, which haven’t been in production for more than 20 years. These solid boats give a lot of value for money; the hulls are sound if you invest the effort into prepping the boat before you go, and they are very comfortable to live on. That’s the reason we see some of these older bluewater boats like the Oyster 56 Lilli Mae, come round again and again.

There’s something for everyone in the ARC and the crews come from diverse backgrounds, from retired professionals, to young sailors on a tight budget; adventurers on an extended bluewater cruise, to families on a career break; all united in a common ambition to sail across the Atlantic to the Caribbean,” concludes Jeremy speaking of the 800+ participants sailing on boats from 35 different countries.

We caught up with just a few of the sailors from across the fleet as they prepare for the start of their Atlantic adventure in Las Palmas:-

Classic monohull making her ocean debut
The 1988 Grand Soleil 46 Avventura will be making her offshore debut in the ARC; something its Italian owner Marco Versari has been preparing for over the last couple of years. Sailing on the boat bought by his father over 20 years ago, the much-loved and well-travelled family cruiser will also be crewed by his brother Matteo and three old friends. “It felt like the right time to do this,” says Marco who is Head of Development, Swiss Sailing National Performance Centre based at the University of Lausanne. “I knew the boat inside out, of course, having sailed on her for many years with my family, but we avidly studied and used all the information in the ARC Rally Handbook as a very good guide to making sure what we were doing was right, as we prepared the boat.

The team, all in their thirties and forties, also made sure they sought good advice from some of their contacts who are experts in their field, such as ARC weather and routeing guru, Chris Tibbs, who Marco met when they worked together in the Rio Olympics. “Chris did some training with us; which was similar to what he does for the ARC participants at the seminars, but with more Q&A’s and tailored for our team. We also got some valuable help from a well-known Italian sailor who took part in the ARC some years ago. He checked out the boat and confirmed that it was OK for us to do it in our ‘old’ boat. It was very good to have an outside opinion, because I know too much about my boat to not be biased. I think the big upgrades, refit and all the work we did on Aventura, plus the help we got from the experts was the key to making this whole project run smoothly,” explained Marco, who says just getting to Las Palmas and sailing as a crew for the first time (five of their six ARC team were on board) was a huge relief emotionally after all the hard work and months of planning and preparation. The team will be fostering the ‘Leave no one behind’ message which they feel is something that is hard to dispute in the current environment.

Exploring the world on their family cruiser
The Beaudry family from Montreal, Canada (Sylvain, Sounda, Maël (13) and Lohan (10) have a passion for the sea, They bought their Beneteau Sense 50 Jayana 10 years ago as a way to travel and explore the world. The retired computer programmer and self-confessed ‘nerd’ was an avid windsurfer who got the sailing bug whilst on a week’s break from his very hectic job. He’d never thought about sailing as a way of travelling, but in 2003 he bought his first boat, a Beneteau First 35 which was kept on the freshwater Lake Champlain in Canada. He learnt to sail and did quite a lot of racing on the her to try to understand how it all worked. He also used the internet forums (there was no YouTube then) to find ways of fixing things on board and to be able to make repairs and improvements himself. “I soon learnt all about the boat, but by 2012, I had two young children and decided to sell it to buy a roomy catamaran. However, we ended up with a Beneteau Sense 50 monohull, bought in Florida as it better suited our plan to sail in the Med, and was easier to get into busy harbours in the summer months.

Having enjoyed two seasons in the Bahamas it was then time to go further afield, so they signed up to the ARC in 2016 and spent 2 ½ years cruising with their children, sailing all the way to Greece and back to Florida, whilst home schooling the boys (aged 2 and 5 at that time). The next season she was sailed back to their familiar lake in Montreal, but soon found that they longed for offshore horizons and longer passages. So, they set off again and sailed to the Azores. This time their sailing plans were cut short because of Covid. Once restrictions had been lifted, they returned to the boat to find that a lot of work needed to be done. After much work and an abundance of help, they set sail with the focus on getting to Las Palmas for the 2022 ARC. However, three hours of leaving port there was a problem. The engine stopped working and it was discovered that there had been no oil in the transmission! They were told it would take four months to get hold of the specific saildrive they needed! Their dreams were shattered.

The ‘sailing family’ unites to help get the boat to the ARC
I wrote to the ARC organisers saying we are not going to make it and the whole family were so upset,” says Sylvain. However, just when things looked doubtful, they received a call to say that their helpers at the French boatyard were all so moved by the fact that the family’s dream was tumbling apart and they wanted to help. The story ended well, as luckily, the right Yanmar saildrive was found in Marseille, only 200km from the boat and as a surprise, the yard had already removed the old saildrive and replaced it with the new one. “One week later I was watching my boat being hauled back into the water, so that was amazing. We just had time to throw a big party to thank everyone for their amazing help and support before we set off for Gran Canaria,” said Sylvain who was overwhelmed by the amount of support they received to get them back on track. With only the help of his younger son, the two of them sailed direct to Las Palmas from France in 9 days; arriving in time to celebrate Sylvain’s 50th birthday the following day.

During their time in Gran Canaria, the fishing-mad boys were really happy to meet up with so many other children in the ARC and their father has held several fishing workshops on board Jayana, much to the delight of other crew and their new-found young friends. The crew of four for the ARC crossing will include Sylvain’s 13-year-old son Maël and his wife and younger son will meet them in Saint Lucia to cruise between the islands. This family looks set on continuing their sailing adventures and have their sights set on the Pacific too – probably on a catamaran next time.

Size is no problem for doublehanders
Even though his Westerly Konsort Katy is only 26 feet long and one of the smallest in the rally, owner Gary O’Grady says of the boat he bought five years ago for £10,000 via the Westerly Owners website: “She’s proved to be absolutely perfect. I had a slightly smaller Westerly Centaur, but as we’d just had a baby, our little boat was getting a bit cramped for our family sailing adventures which took us from Chichester Harbour to Ireland and France. Our children are 8 and 5 now and they love sailing on Katy. We sail to France and the Channel Islands together and have our holidays on her in the summer, so it’s a real family boat."

Gary, who is a keen singlehanded sailor, left in June with ARC Portugal, which he says was: “Fantastic, absolutely brilliant, I loved every minute of it.” With his ARC crew mate Larry and another friend, they then sailed from Lagos to Lanzarote and stayed in Rubicon Marina for three months before he went back to work at his freight forwarding company. “I’ve always been interested in long distance sailing, but had never actually done any. I would have done the ARC solo, but that’s not allowed. Covid put the brakes on me taking part in the ARC last year, but it gave us a year to do stuff and to brush up on our training.”

Gary has done a lot of work on the boat over the years and made many modifications to enable her to sail singlehanded, as well as for family cruising. “I’ve added solar panels and a bit more power generation for the ARC and over the winter I stripped everything off the boat - literally everything came off that was moveable and then as I only put back on stuff that was specific to this trip that was going to be useful. I also weighed everything before putting it back on. If we go above 1,400KG we get a really serious performance drop so I had to keep below that.

The doublehanders are aiming to do the crossing in 25 days, “I think we’ll get nearer to the average of 5.5 to 6 knots out of her, because we’ll have nice steady winds (hopefully) and if I do it less than that, we’ve done well.”

“Provisioning for the two of us it’s very easy; it’s not like a crew of 7. We’ve got everything in tin cans and rice and pasta. We’ve got no freezer so all those decisions are taken away from me, so it’s very easy. I’m going to get some salami and cured meats, plus some fresh foods too, but I provisioned in Chichester Marina before I left and all the food has been on board since I left Plymouth! We’ll take 300 litres of water, 140 in main tank on board, then I’ll have 160 litres in bottled water, so 5 litres a day. We’ll be cooking everything in a pressure cooker and that takes such little water and cooks it so quickly so it saves on the gas as well.

“The ARC Handbook was fantastic. I always set myself at least 20 minutes a day for the last two years, just to read through the stuff so it’s always fresh in my head, but the information is great. There’s just no wasted text and it’s all good stuff to read, with some really good tips,
” says Gary who went to the World Cruising Club seminar at the Southampton Boat show in 2019 with a seed of an idea to do the ARC. “I realised I had a lot to learn, so I just set to the task of reading everything about the Atlantic crossing, and the more I prepared for it in my head, the easier it became. When I say to people, I’m crossing the Atlantic on my boat, they say are ‘you mad’, but if you do it at the right time and prepare the boat well, like I have for the ARC, it’ll be absolutely fine. I don’t think there’s any other sport though where you buy so much that hope you’ll never use!

Serial ARC-ers with multinational charter boat
Bones and Anna Black have had over 400 people join their popular charter boat since they purchased Emily Morgan in 2011 and have sailed some 90,000 miles on their trusty Bowman 57. This year is their 7th ARC and 15th Atlantic crossing, having also circumnavigated with World ARC in 2018/19. They are renowned for making their guests’ experiences memorable, and are some of the most popular faces on the dock in Las Palmas as they share their decades of experience with their fellow ARC ralliers. They were recognised in 2020 for their support of fellow ralliers by being presented with the Spirit of the ARC Award.

We have a multinational, varied team as always. A German family, a father, brother and daughter and a British sailor who has a lot of experience, an Irishman, and an Australian lady who lives in New York. Even after all these crossings, we are still not complacent and are still as anxious and cautious as we were with the very first one. It’s not a race, it’s a rally and will aim to go south as we want to get there without breaking the boat, or the crew. We will cruise and have a normal season in the Caribbean but we’ve also added some mile builders whilst there this year. We are always busy and then will sail back home with a whole boat charter via Bermuda and the Azores in May. It's so nice to have the social events back this year. We always come down to Las Palmas 4-5 weeks early to catch up with the jobs and to be able to do things like varnishing etc in nice warm conditions. There’s a really nice regatta feel this now that the crews have arrived and we have a few days ago. It’s that regatta feel.