Life on board an ARC Portugal boat

19 June 2017

As a staff member of World Cruising Club its import to understand our Rally’s from all perspectives. On this year’s ARC Portugal, Charlie Pierce crewed the leg from Falmouth to Bayona on Paul and Dee’s Hallberg Rassy 48, Blonde Moment. Here he shares his experiences crossing the Bay of Biscay with the fleet.

After a delayed start to the Rally caused by two low pressure systems the fleet were eager to depart and the weather window was set for a departure on the morning of Sunday the 11th. A relaxed start was set and all yachts departed in their own time with most choosing to leave between 6 am and 11 am. Those who departed later helped other yachts in leaving their berths and waved them off, safe in the knowledge that they would be in contact over VHF or SSB later on in the day.

We decided to leave Falmouth at approximately 10 am, Dave and the crew from Mischief had just finished their morning pasty run and returned in time to wave us off and provide a few words of encouragement asking Paul “ Do you know which way to go ?” After slipping lines with Jubilate Mare who were berthed alongside us we headed out of Falmouth to begin our crossing.

The first day was particularly lumpy with 4 metre swell and wind on the nose which gave us all a good chance to get our sea legs. After being greeted by a basking shark and dolphins 10 minutes after leaving Falmouth we were excited about what sea life encounters the rest of the sail would bring. The fleet were visible as far as the eye could see. Dee somehow managed to prepare lunch and hot drinks which were very much appreciated given the 4 metre swell that rocked the boat from side to side.

Part of the Rally’s appeal is being able to sail as a fleet and keeping in regular contact during each leg. During the skippers briefing Andrew appointed three yachts to be in charge of monitoring the radio net, Grey Goose, Blonde Moment, and Mischief. The day ran as followed 10:15 am to 10am Radio silence, 10:20-10:30 am positional, weather, and other information, 19:00-19:05 pm radio silence. The broadcasts were done on SSB and VHF, for yachts not equipped with SSB a VHF train was set up and positions were relayed back to the appointed yachts. The radio net is also used for general chat and provides a great morale boost and feeling of security.

The first radio net took place as planned at 10:20 am, with most boats in close contact it was easy to do over VHF. The yachts that had departed provided their current position and checked up upon one another to ensure everything was going smoothly.

The wind dropped dramatically over night but the sea state still remained at 3-4 metre. During the day we were greeted by pilot wales, and dolphins. Yachts started to communicate on channel 77 discussing their night watches and sail plans for the day, all yachts reported sightings of wildlife with dolphins and wales being the hot topic of conversation. The day soon passed by and it was time for the high of everyone’s day….. dinner! Dee managed once again in the rolling sea to cook a curry complete with rice and naan bread. Hoping to make the rest of the fleet jealous we decided to mention this on the radio however it seemed everyone was enjoying their own food such as spaghetti bolognese and risotto.

As we came into the third day the fleet started to spread out with only the occasional ship passing by. The daily communication over VHF and SSB was welcomed, although a lot of boats without SSB were out of VHF reach, their information passed on down the line and yachts were communicating among each other to ensure no one was left out.

Wednesday started off slow with light winds that picked up in the afternoon. This would be the last full day for a lot of the yachts and spirits were high. After the usual reporting of positions a debate was had about the optimum time to put your beers in the fridge so that they would be cold upon arrival. Once we had reached Cape Finisterre we reported the current wind conditions so the rest of the fleet had an idea of what to expect.

After a night of dodging fishing boats, we arrived in to Bayona in the early hours of Thursday morning. Once moored up, Paul and Dee stayed up chatting to the yachts as they arrived. An amazing few days at sea that were enjoyed by everyone. Special thanks goes to Paul and Dee for allowing me to join their passage from Falmouth to Bayona.