With strong headwinds and big seas forecast, most ARC yachts are waiting for a second start on Tuesday

Only 34 yachts in the ARC started the transatlantic event as normal yesterday after organisers offered the option of a second start on Tuesday to avoid bad weather forecast on Sunday and Monday. Some 194 yachts and crews still in Las Palmas sitting it out for the later start.

“For only the second time in the ARC’s history we have made the difficult decision to revise the start,” explains Andrew Bishop, managing director of World Cruising Club.

“We decided that there will be a start on Tuesday for the open cruising and multihull divisions. All divisions had a start on [Sunday 25th] for those wishing to take the start, such as those racing, and any others that felt like they might like to start then.”

The decision to have two separate starts was taken after watching an area of low pressure forming within a trough to the north of the Canary Islands. Forecasts predicted that this will bring strong headwinds and big seas for 36 hours and would have given family crews an unpleasant battering.

“It was not an easy decision and we respect the decision of each skipper as to which start they would like to take,” says Bishop. “But we were talking about strong winds as night falls on the first night with heavy rain and we believed it is right not to send the cruising division out into those sort of conditions.”

By Tuesday the low should have moved away and filled, and been replaced by favourable north-easterlies.

The news of the option to start 48 hours later was greeted with a long and loud round of applause from the 230 skippers at the briefing today, a measure of their relief at being given an opt-out.

World Cruising Club says it will will calculate different sets of results for both start days and reclassify fleets accordingly.

ARC weather forecaster Chris Tibbs explains: “There will probably be south or south-west 20-25 knots to the south of the island with the cold front due to come through on Sunday night. There could well be heavy squalls and the wave models are showing significant wave heights of 6m to the west, which is an indication of some of the power of this low.

“An additional factor is the heavy rain forecast after dark on what would be most crew’s first night. We would have 230 boats all in the same area in poor visibility. A lot of people would be feeling seasick. It’s being realistic about the conditions – if you didn’t have to go, why would you?”

The RORC racing division began as normal, with 27 yachts setting off. These crews are not being offered an alternative start time. RORC racing manager Nick Elliott explains: “They have entered an offshore even of Category 1, we’d expect them to prepare for a transatlantic race and these are not conditions that we would consider too difficult.”

He adds that a second start for the two racing divisions was never considered: “It would skew the results. The later boats would overall be faster because they would be spending more time downwind, while any boat going early would be disadvantaged by leaving [on Sunday].

“Everyone has the option to start and come back to their berth or go and anchor somewhere, but they can’t restock, plug into shore power or go and have dinner ashore.”