The ARC rally is bursting with 230 yachts - and a quarter of them are new. It’s a case of 'have money, will go'

Races may be struggling, but amateur participation certainly is not. The bosses are going sailing.

There has been a building air of excitement this week in Las Palmas as 230 yachts – 1,249 crew – prepare to leave this weekend on the 2,700-mile voyage to Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. Economic woes and Eurozone uncertainties have done nothing to constrict the flow of sailors – and money – into this buoyant event.

All the signs are people’s attitude is: have money, will go. And in style. Over 25 per cent of the fleet this year are boats launched within the last 12 months, most of them over 45ft.

ARC boats steadily keep on getting bigger and fancier. To give you an idea of the extent of this at the upper end, here’s another interesting statistic: there are 24 Oysters taking part, so more than one in ten of the fleet is from the luxury builder. Of those, 15 are 53ft or over and in the ‘tycoon class’ are a clutch of three €6 million-ish Oyster 82s.

“Perhaps even more amazing is that we already have over 140 entries for 2013 although we only opened the entry list in September,” says Andrew Bishop, managing director of organisers World Cruising Club.

But if you look at this rally only in terms of economics, you really would miss the big picture. Regardless of boat size and value this is still a family event where people on boats of all sizes help each other out and most skippers are realising a lifetime dream.

Many skippers have taken time off work to go sailing for a year or two with their kids; there are 43 children under the age of 16 sailing across the Atlantic in the fleet.

Anyone who has taken part in the rally before, and there are around 30,000 sailors who have done the ARC during its 27 year history, will recognise these scenes as people prepare for the crossing. The two-week programme of events in Las Palmas before the start includes a programme of seminars, safety demos and parties.

The fleet assembled in the marina at Las Palmas

Volunteers take part in a demonstration of safety equipment

Queuing up to have a go at getting into an inflated liferaft. Many of the crews have already done sea survival courses, but for those who haven’t seeing how difficult it can be to right a capsized liferaft, board one and how cramped it is inside is an eye-opener

The safety demo morning includes a chance to experience firing a flare.
Crews can bring along flares up to a year out of date to try out

A demonstration of a hi-line rescue by the Gran Canaria search and rescue helicopter, watched by hundreds of ARC crews

The World Cruising Club team of ‘cats’ at the annual fancy dress party. The theme this year: masked ball

Over the rainbow…

Thanks to Kieran Higgs for these photos.