Distraction - Cruise or Race...?

The sharper ones amongst you will have spotted that we have once again turned our bows towards the West horizons. Yes, we are finally at sea after seemingly months of lazing around in Lanzarote and galavanting all over Gran Canaria. That last bit isn’t entirely true for although we saw some wonderful parts of GC (eg Agaete in the North) we have largely spent the last month preparing for the ARC rally across the Atlantic.

I should have known better when I saw that the Organisers had used the word ‘rally’ in their PR material along side ‘for cruisers’….. You might be excused for thinking that any event designated suitable for cruisers might be a laid back affair where each of the boats meander casually out of the marina at their leisure and like a pretty row of ducks make their way quietly south along the coast of Africa to the charming islands of Cape Verde. Furthermore, you might also imagine the skipper of each vessel sitting comfortably behind the wheel of his ship, with his pipe safely secured in the corner of his mouth gently puffing away seemingly without a care in the world. His crew busying themselves around the boat, making cups of tea or simply taking in the view.


Given that it is often quoted ‘any two ships sailing in roughly the same direction constitutes a race’ you can only begin to imagine what happens when you have over 90 boats sailing in the same direction! And so it was that the false sense of security offered by the daily sundowners, where owners and crew mingled with one another to talk about provisioning or minor problems on their boats was really just a charade. Skippers would send their spies amongst the crowds to determine the racing appetite of each boat. Half way through an explanation of how to perform a meridian pass you might be faced with a left field question ‘how many A sails do you have?’

But these were all clues, as were the issue of handicaps to each boat, giving notice to the skipper of the time he must give (or take) from the other boats in the fleet. And oddly, for a so called cruising fleet, the determination of handicaps appeared to merely rest upon the each vessel’s waterline length and sail wardrobe. And yet no consideration was given to what some may consider the fundamentals of cruising. For example, ‘how many roast chickens do you plan to cook on the way?’ ‘When taking afternoon tea, will you be supplying Battenberg cake?’ Or ‘are you carrying a candelabra, and when will you light it?’

And so it was becoming abundantly clear that the anticipated casual procession of sailing boats meandering their way down to Cape Verde was, in fact, a full on race. Sailing instructions were issued, starting sequences described, horns, hooters, and flags. The whole nine yards. Boats jockeyed for position, halyard were tweaked and sheets trimmed. At the gun the A sails were hoisted and every ounce of speed sought from the vessel as the skippers keen eye never left the performance of his ship.

Meanwhile, on the good ship Distraction, at the very moment the gun went the crew were still busy putting away fenders and ensuring the egg sandwiches were properly seasoned to the skippers liking. And as we drifted over the start line, yet to raise a sail, the crew dutifully touched their forelocks and nodded towards the committee before returning to the more mundane tasks of getting the ship moving under its own steam.

The race was on.