Welcome Back! Skippers of the first ARC return for 30th edition

20 November 2015

As participants from 20 nations are busy preparing to set off on their Atlantic adventure, the 30th edition will include four very special sailors who were on the start line for the very first ARC in 1986. They probably didn’t realise it at the time, but they were making history as the rally went into the Guinness Book of Records for the largest trans-ocean sailing rally in the world!

Manfred Kerstan, at 79 is one of the oldest skippers in the 30th edition and he will be celebrating his 20th ARC with a brand new Oyster 825, Albatros (GER); Meteorologist and weather router, Chris Tibbs and wife Helen will be joined by World Cruising Club’s Communications Director, Jeremy Wyatt on their Wauquiez Centurion 40, Taistealai and Tim Aitken is back for his third ARC with his beautiful wooden Truly Classic 75, Braveheart of Sark. The fourth skipper who joined Jimmy Cornell’s original rally is Swedish sailor Pekka Karlsson who is currently en route to Saint Lucia with ARC+ in Corona Aq, the very same Laurin 32 that they left Las Palmas on in the first edition of the ARC in 1986.

Fast forward 30 years and all these skippers are very nostalgic about their first World Cruising Club event, but it’s the camaraderie of the ARC and their own spirit of adventure that keeps them coming back. Here they share a few thoughts with us about the early days:

“I read about the first ARC in Yachting World. It was a small article but it made me curious,” remembers Manfred,nicknamed Mr. ARC by the German press. “After the circumnavigation it seemed a good way to return to the Caribbean again. The rally was a lot bigger than expected and at that time it was Jimmy and Gwenda Cornell handling the whole business. Now the ARC employs many people to look after the sailors. Originally the rally went to Barbados where it was very dirty and ramshackle, but it was a lot of fun and I built up friendships with fantastic people. That’s why I returned so many times to the ARC.”

Manfred continues: “Of course the dimensions and the equipment of the boats have changed. They are bigger and are full of electronics now. Imagine that in 1986 we still used the sextant for navigation and had no means to get to know anything about the other boats en route. So it was a big surprise when we heard we came in second in the rally. We had the best wind conditions I’ve ever experienced on an Atlantic crossing (he’s done 35!), but we didn’t realise how fast we really were, although we clocked more than 250 nm in 24 hours several times.

“It is now my 20th ARC, and I still like it. It’s just a lot of fun every year and a great personal experience for me, plus my doctor told me I should go sailing as long as I could to keep me healthy. So I will follow his instructions and go on!”

“The first ARC in 1986 had such an extraordinary atmosphere. It was quite an adventure!” says Tim Aitken who sailed his 47ft Wauquiez Centurion, Airwave. He will be participating with his son in his third ARC; this year with his magnificent Hoek-designed Truly Classic 75, Braveheart of Sark.

“It’s really special seeing all the boats here in Las Palmas this year. I walked across to the northern breakwater where there’s such a diversity of boats now. The rally has changed dramatically; the size of the boats, the size of the crew and there’s obviously a lot of ‘pro’ crews, but when I walked over onto the other pontoons, it felt like I was back again in the days of the first ARC. That’s where the nostalgic ARC lives, not in the large production yachts on the main wall.”

“I remember we took it fairly seriously on Airwave. The biggest boat that year was a Deerfoot 62ft and the smallest was 16ft! The youngest participant was 6 months and the oldest 71! Now I’m at the other end of the scale! It had an extraordinary atmosphere and there were a lot of characters taking part. The 16ft boat got all kinds of safety equipment from bigger boats. It didn’t have anything and of course we didn’t have GPS in those days. One lady decided to sail solo with her pet Labrador after persuading her husband to join another boat for the crossing. She was applauded for it when she got to Barbados. There were also a lot more liveaboards and families taking part.

“The first ARC was full on, we had 35 knots from behind and we were dragging the boom in the water at one stage, so it was not an easy run. We carried a spinnaker for 12 days and 12 nights and we were full on and leading the fleet. There were times when the boat didn’t go under 10 knots so we were travelling. It was quite an adventure. We had a wonky Satnav on our boat which didn’t work all of the time and that was it, you had to navigate.

“The Deerfoot 62 finally put their foot on the pedal beating us into Barbados, with Manfred Kirstan and his partner who were two handed on a 60ft yacht taking second place. It had an extraordinary atmosphere because everybody was rafted up together as there were no facilities there but we had a great time.”

One of the early ARC sailors who has since become closely involved with the rally is ocean weather router Chris Tibbs, who sailed on the very first ARC in 1986 on board Moody 38, Meanmy, owned by Geoff Pitcher. Chris has over 250,000 sailing miles under his belt and didn’t know anything about the rally because he was racing round the world with the Whitbread Race. Even though it was meant to only be a delivery trip, he ended up skippering Meanmy across in the ARC and by now he was a well-known professional sailor. Instead of the boat getting an ARC rating for ‘five fellas on a 38 footer’, they were handicapped for having a Whitbread pro on board.

“All the boats were given an ARC rating rated based on the boat as well as the crew, so a two handed boat or a family boat got a much better rating than the five of us.

“I turned up in Las Palmas and there’s over 200 boats in the marina for the rally. There was still so much work to do on the boat though and I only had about three or four days to do it, so I just got onto the boat and worked. I don’t remember much else about it to be honest apart from the start. After the first afternoon we ended up beating down to the south of the island in very light winds and all the night we heard boats motoring around us. However, we were determined to sail the whole way. One day we only did 23 miles in 24 hours. We all went in for a swim as it was absolutely Harry flatters. For the rest of the crossing we had a stunning sail and I think we took about 18 days to Barbados. Not bad in a Moody 38.”