Nearly 400 people have joined Anna and Bones Black’s popular charter boat since they purchased Emily Morgan in 2011 and have sailed 83,000 miles on their trusty Bowman 57. This year is their 5th ARC and 11th Atlantic crossing, having also circumnavigated with World ARC in 2018/19. The highly experienced bluewater sailors discuss the changes they’ve made due to the pandemic, and outline the protocols they’ve put in place in order to join the rally in what is a very different year.
To do or not to do the ARC this year? “2020 is all about being super flexible, sensible and planning ahead,” says Anna. “The first thing we had to think about was ‘are we going to do the ARC or not this year - if it goes ahead?’ We considered the idea for quite a while and decided that, being a charter boat, we had zero chance of work in the UK in winter; that we’d be better off in the Caribbean for the winter; the climate is much nicer and we would not be paying hundreds of pounds a month for marina fees because we can anchor for nothing. Also, we felt we are safer in the Caribbean where we can be at anchor and isolate more easily. So, the answer was ‘yes, let’s go’. Even if we didn’t have charter guests, ours is an easy boat to sail doublehanded so we made the decision to still go across.”
Will anyone commit? World Cruising Club confirmed in June that ARC 2020 would go ahead, following continual assessment of the practicalities of delivering the rally for eager participants during the global pandemic. “Our next consideration was then, who is going to come with us and who is going to commit. Normally we ask for 25% to secure a booking, but we decided on just a completed booking form and keeping a list of those wanting to sign up. It was on a ‘first come, first served’ basis and our crew has changed several times, but we are now full for the ARC and have six crew on board.”
Flexible planning: “The pandemic caused us to change our passage plans down to Las Palmas because normally we have guests for the trip. This year we didn’t have anyone, it was just Anna and I, but they have all postponed until next year,” said Bones. “We also usually come down to Las Palmas about five weeks before the start, for various reasons: to miss the bad weather coming through Biscay, to get into the marina, it’s a nicer climate in the Canary Islands and we have a lot of family and friends visiting. However, this year, nobody was travelling, so we’ve been able to work on more major jobs on the boat. If you keep up with the maintenance, then she looks after you. She’s a fantastic boat.”
Protocols in place: “Whatever you decide to put in place has got to be workable. We said to all the crew that everyone has to have a PCR test before they leave home; for their own sake really. It was a debate about that versus a health questionnaire. We also had a test too. There will be no visitors on board for 72 hrs before guests arrive and Emily Morgan will be deep-cleaned before anyone arrives (which we do anyway). That’s usual for us. We are trying to keep it all as normal as possible and now that our crew have arrived in Las Palmas, we will absolutely minimise what contact we have with other boats and try to be sensible and in our crew ‘bubble’.
Get ahead of the game: “You should make sure that you are doing the right things and are one step ahead of the game. We made a Covid policy, issued it to all our guests and told them this is how we are working it this year. There’s been a few changes since, so we have adopted what World Cruising Club is advising because that’s the recommendation. The policy that we have put together is working.”
Arm yourself with the latest information: Anna and Bones sailed back from Antigua shorthanded in May/June and headed straight to Portishead in the UK, which became their base for several months. They made sure to keep up-to-date with all the latest advice and information for the countries they were likely to visit en route down to Las Palmas for the ARC start.
“We looked at what information was out there. What World Cruising Club and the Ocean Cruising Club were publishing, and in particular, the up-to-date guidance for each country on the Government websites. We signed up to all the Foreign Office advisories and also looked at Noonsite.com and Facebook. However, there’s a lot of misinformation out there so you have to be careful. It’s best to get the latest advice as things change quickly and regularly at the moment. Once in the Caribbean, it’s worth checking the ABMA (Antigua and Barbuda Marine Association) and MAYAG (Marine & Yachting Association of Grenada) sites. Plus, IGY Rodney Bay Bay Marina in Saint Lucia has been posting lots of useful information for visiting yachtsmen." (NB: for Saint Lucian Covid19 latest news go to: https://www.stlucia.org/en/covid-19/).
Provision early: “We are always quite well stocked with food on board because I like cooking and always buy too much, so we always have plenty,” says Anna. “This year however, because of the uncertainty, we really tried to stock up on lots of things much earlier than usual as when we left the UK, we thought we might run into somewhere where we have to do a week’s quarantine that we weren’t expecting. It’s better to be well prepared.”
Be careful and considerate: “This year we are going to spend Christmas in Saint Lucia because if we go anywhere else we are going to have to isolate. Also, we thought we would stay on as all the other ARC people will be there and it will be nice. It’s the first time ever in seven years that we haven’t had a Christmas charter. It’s good to remember that it is strange times and I think we just have to be careful and considerate to the islands and people we are visiting, because at the end of the day it’s their islands and we are the visitors. Earlier this year we ended up being in Antigua for the best part of two months due to the lockdowns. We were in Jolly Harbour and mostly anchored in Five Islands Bay and the Antiguans were amazing, said ‘Bones’. They really looked after us and made us part of the community.”
Other changes: “We expected the event to be very different this year, but the fact that everything is online is a positive as our guests have all the information beforehand and they’ve been watching the seminars. The other thing that’s changed is that as part of our fee we run a training weekend in the Solent so all the crew can come together, but we couldn’t do that this time. We will therefore go out for a sail now everyone is here in Las Palmas, and will do our man overboard practice and a day’s sailing so they can get to know the boat and procedures. There’s also more time to do a lot more drills as normally there’s not enough time in the schedule, but there will be this year.”
“I do feel a little bit for our guests though as with far fewer boats and sailors, they are missing out on the usual buzz around the marina, plus making friends at the ARC sundowners and talking to other crews at the social events. However, when we arrive in Saint Lucia we will definitely enjoy a glass of rum or two and hopefully be able to party a little after our 17 or so days at sea!”
Further reading: Bones and Anna shared their top tips in the 2019 ARC insider’s guide: https://bit.ly/35DlhIT