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Well prepped for the Atlantic crossing

Ahead of this year’s ARC, two boats taking part shared a few valuable tips and passed on some of their knowledge gleaned along the way to help others prepare for a future rally, or for those thinking of a long ocean passage.

Simon and Michelle on the British Najad 511, Maalu IV are first time rally goers who bought their 2004 boat in Sweden in October 2019, managing to sail her back to the UK before the Covid-19 lockdown after retiring from their jobs in technology and as a consultant paediatrician. They have sailed together for over 30 years, but have never done an ocean crossing before. Like many ARC participants, they thought about doing the rally some time ago after attending a World Cruising Club weekend seminar almost five years ago. They had also begun to think about what type of boat they should buy for their forthcoming cruising adventures. They will be sailing across with their two adult children, aged 23 and 26.

“We attended the in-person seminar weekend with World Cruising Club about four years ago and that proved to be invaluable as we learnt so much from both the lecturers and by talking to others who had either done the ARC or were planning to. They all had so much knowledge and it really consolidated our planning for this trip and we realised, ‘yes we can do it’,” said Michelle.

“We had a Grand Soleil 43 which we knew wasn’t the right boat for the trip we had planned, so we drew up a shortlist of what we thought we needed and then started looking. The boat needed to be suitable for us to live aboard and for us to sail for as long as we want and perhaps on into the Pacific. We had no set plans or return date.”

“We knew the type of boat we were looking for, we knew roughly the length and the budget. It was either a Najad, an Oyster or a Contest. We ended up buying Maalu IV, a Najad. We haven’t had her a very long time, but spent a lot of time going through everything during lockdown so that we knew what we’d got, we knew what would need replacing and we knew what would need refurbishing etc. One thing to factor in, it’s not just buying the boat, there’s a lot of time needed to get it ready for a long offshore passage such as the ARC. Advice - if you are very hands on, it’s worth going for an older boat, but if you are not, then don’t. One thing, don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to do jobs generally. Factor in plenty of time.”

“We tried to prepare as much as possible in the UK before we left, but it was difficult with Covid and the lockdowns as we had difficulty getting to the boat, living in London and with the boat in Suffolk. So, we didn’t do as much as we had hoped and there were some projects that we had to do when we got to Las Palmas. Coming down to Las Palmas we allowed ourselves two weeks in each marina that had got a big chandlery and boat yard, so we factored in time in Lagos and A Coruna, so we were doing jobs as we went along.

“Tip – give yourself plenty of time to get down to Las Palmas and take time to enjoy it. There’s some beautiful places and also you never know what the weather is going to do so you need to leave yourself enough time so that that you can stay in port if needs be.

“One of the biggest problems was not being able to get spares and we couldn’t get them from the UK and so it was much harder than usual. In northern Spain and much of the west coast of Portugal (apart from Lagos where there is an enormous chandlery with amazing spares, you can get anything you wanted there) and that’s why we factored two weeks there.

“We had gone through the rally handbook for all the safety stuff and we got all the safety equipment before we left the UK because we weren’t sure what you could buy elsewhere and we were familiar with the brands etc like Ocean Safety etc. Plus, we knew we’d got the Bay of Biscay to cross and we’d be going to Madeira, so that was already ticked off right from the word go. The safety equipment on our boat when we bought her needed to be replaced or upgraded and everything we took off got recycled into the marine community or we sold it on EBay. It’s a good source for boat pieces. Another good tip is to have a decent, good quality set of tools on board so that you can actually use these if you need to.”

“We had our online safety equipment check whilst we were in Lagos with Roger Seymour of the WCC safety team has now done the visual safety check and it was good for us. It was very reassuring to have him with all his expertise. It’s not just a tick list, it’s much more an interactive and sensible discussion and with the pros and cons of different essential items and ways of doing things.”

“The big thing to prepare ahead of the start now is the food,” says Michelle. “But what we’ve also done on the way down is worked out how we want to cook and have taken on some advice and tips from other boats we’ve met. We are using more and more electricity for cooking so we I’ve got a grill that is not great for on passage, but is great in port and I’ve just bought a pressure cooker that is an electric multi cooker so that we will use on passage. So that’s the other thing, working out how we want to eat and what we want to eat so that when I am doing the big shop here in Las Palmas, I know that I am buying stuff that we can easily cook on board and that we will enjoy eating on board.”

John and Susie Simpson on their Discovery 55 Casamara are seasoned rally-goers with thousands of sea miles under their belts, having competed in the 2011 ARC, ARC Europe and a World ARC. John has some tips for preparing for the rally and that includes planning and preparing for the big adventure well ahead of time. They have taken on two young university sailors from Ocean Cruising Club for the crossing who will be on their first offshore passage.

“We put together the plan to do the ARC some time ago. We’ve been working towards this for five years and we bought Casamara in 2016 with a view to taking part. My first advice is it takes a long time to get everything together, particularly if people are working. From buying the boat to sailing off into the sunset, everything takes longer to prepare than you think. It’s also important to have a deadline to work towards, so this is where the ARC with its start date is really good. We are both highly organised people but it all takes much longer to plan and prepare for such a crossing than you think.”

John also agrees with the Simon on Maalu IV that it is good to leave plenty of time to get to the start of the ARC and to make the most of the trip along the way, and to take time to enjoy it. Having logged many sea miles, they feel that this is the only only way to see what works and what doesn’t on your boat. “We sailed back from Norway on Casamara and that was to see what was right and what was wrong with little things. There were still things that we wanted to change. We’ve done a lot more on the power supply and we also put the new wind generator on too.”

John also suggests that it is important to choose your crew carefully and that it is important to prepare them for the crossing. They found their two young crew using an online crew search and have sailed with them over a weekend back in the UK to make sure that they all got on together. Whilst in Las Palmas they will go out sailing too to ensure they are both familiar with the procedures and to get used to the boat before departure.

One tip from John is that it’s important to look at the basic things on board, check that everything is working and to know how it works. “You are doing 3,000 miles in three weeks and a boat sailing offshore wears in different ways than you’d think and very differently from coastal sailing. All the prepping of the safety equipment and the advice from World Cruising Club and rally requirements is invaluable, even if like us, you have sailed several rallies before and done thousands of miles. Remember, just getting to the start of the ARC is a big achievement. It’s also good to think about what comes next, what’s after the ARC and what will you need for the Caribbean and forward planning. The social aspect of the rally are really great and being able to talk to other sailors, learn about what that they are doing, where they are going and where they have come from. I’ve really enjoyed that, and meeting lots of different people,” says John who says they will be hosting a small gathering on board for Cruising Association members before the start. I am sure they will be playing some of their many musical instruments that they have on board: two trumpets, violins, two guitars, a piano, plus a selection of maracas and two kazoos.