Cruisers, racers, and multihulls; sleek ocean racing machines alongside comfortable family cruisers; superyachts with professional crews, and excited friends living the dream - these were the boats and sailors departing Las Palmas de Gran Canaria today to start the 36th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). With crew representing 38 different nationalities, the ocean crossing community has filled the docks of Las Palmas Marina for the past two weeks and today’s start sees 141 yachts and almost 900 participants now on their way to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. Spreading across the horizon the fleet of white sails made an impressive sight as the crews waved goodbye to Gran Canaria for a great adventure on the ocean.
The sun beamed down on the marina this morning as crews made their final preparations to set sail. From Waterford, Ireland, David Kelly, owner of Hallberg-Rassy 50 Viente (IRL), was loading on a few last minute provisions (beers for their arrival in Saint Lucia) and on the morning of departure said: “We are all set and our crew of six have been preparing for this day for what seems like forever. It all boils down to fantastic excitement and we just want to crack on with it now and look forward to seeing everyone over the other side.” It was an incredible farewell atmosphere as the harbour gradually emptied leaving bare pontoons for another year. The Tourist Board of Gran Canaria, the Port Authority of Las Palmas and the Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, have been wonderful hosts to ARC participants for the past two weeks.
Out in the starting area, the wind was a steady 12-15 knots blowing from the South-East as the fleet prepared for an untypical upwind ARC start. The first start, at 12:30 local time, was for the Multihulls and Open Divisions, with Outremer 51 Moxie (USA) leading the charge. In recent years, it has been the dashing multihulls that have claimed Line Honours in Rodney Bay, and previous victors Banzaï (FRA), Guyader Saveol (FRA), and Minimole (ITA) all returned to the ARC this year to battle to reach the rum punch first. A total of 31 catamarans and trimarans are sailing in the ARC, with the with the non-competitive Open Division sailing featuring the 38m traditional schooner Helena (FIN), owned by the Finnish Sail Training.
Next it was the turn of the Racing Division to get into position for their starting sequence. The wind eased slightly to 10-12 knots as the signal sounded at 12:45 and the 19 yachts headed over the start with sails tuned. The Racing Division lines up the pros against the amateurs, with a great opportunity to all compete on the same ocean course. French sailing legend JP Dick is back for his fourth ARC crossing on JP54 The Kid for Ville de Nice (FRA) and will be facing a new monohull race challenge from 12 Nacira 69 (ITA), an Italian crewed carbon flyer, and Cookson 50 Furiosa (EST). But it was performance cruiser RM 1270 Grace LR (GBR) that made the best start today, with skipper Chris Lewns positioning well on the line to lead the racing fleet away, and The Kid for Ville de Nice crossing just after. Each year there are yachts in the Racing Division who offer the chance for less experienced individuals to join a charter boat, sailed under the watchful eye of a professional skipper, with many regular entrants sailing the ARC as part of an annual race programme. Harmony 52 Sao Jorge (GBR), skippered by David Pritchard and one of two charter boats entered by UK based Sail Racing Academy, crossed the start line just after The Kid for Ville de Nice.
Finally, the largest fleet, the Cruising Division, came into the fray with 92 yachts beginning their adventure. Onboard the Committee Vessel, ARC Rally Control began the final start sequence and the horn sounded to signify the start at 13:00. First to cross the line was Montana (DEU), a Swan 48 S&S sailed by German skipper Markus Bocks taking part in the ARC for a third time. The procession then continued with boats of all shapes and sizes leaving Las Palmas in their wake. The horizon soon punctuated with white and black sails that could be viewed from the Avenida Maritima by the locals of Las Palmas enjoying a pleasant afternoon stroll in the sunshine.
The sailors have a calm introduction to their Atlantic crossing, and the wind is going to stay quite light and variable for the first few days before the boats that take a more southerly route start to pick up the trade winds. At the Skippers Briefing, meteorologist and ocean sailor Chris Tibbs advised for the boats to head south following the African coast to the latitude of the Cape Verde before pointing their bows westwards to Saint Lucia.
The departure of the ARC fleet sailing directly to Saint Lucia today means a combined total of 208 yachts are crossing the Atlantic under the ARC banner in November 2021. ARC+ fleet of 67 yachts departed Mindelo, Cape Verde for their second leg of their crossing last Friday, bound for Grenada. A further 60 yachts will join the first edition of ARC January, setting sail in the new year in a third Atlantic crossing rally organised by World Cruising Club sailing from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia.
Prior to today’s departure, crews undertook the necessary PCR test to ensure they were going to sea Covid free and complying with the health protocols for their arrival in Saint Lucia. All ARC boats are fitted with YB Tracking satellite trackers, allowing family and friends to follow the fleet from the comfort of home. Click here for the online Fleet Viewer
The majority of boats will take 18-21 days to make the 2700 nautical mile Atlantic crossing, arriving in Rodney Bay Marina, Saint Lucia. Whatever time they make landfall, every boat will be met at the dock by Saint Lucia Tourism Authority and World Cruising Club staff bearing a welcome rum punch and cold drinks. Skipper Brad Gangardine is from Soufriere, Saint Lucia and will be sailing home on Into the Mystic. “I’m feeling awesome this morning,” he said with a big smile just before leaving the dock. “I am looking forward to heading back home and I’m about to achieve an amazing dream. I’m hoping to get the amazing welcome that all ARC sailors will get when they finish and I am sure I will feel good about what I’ve done.” There is a full schedule of events in Rodney Bay for all ARC crews culminating in the ARC prize giving on 17 December.