A shortage of tradewinds has meant slow transatlantic times - and lots of motoring

It has been a very slow year for the ARC transatlantic rally – for exactly the same reason it’s been so cold in Nothern Europe.

The jet stream looped south, displacing the Azores High, and where that usually sits there was a low pressure system. So the pressure gradient that normally forms the tradewinds between this and the Doldrums was weak – the trades were there, but a very long way south and quite light.

As a result, crossing times this year have been three or four days longer than normal. That’s not abnormal, by any means, but it’s at the more extreme end of the range even for this early in the Atlantic crossing season.

What the rally’s finish times don’t reveal, however, is the amount of engine hours most people have logged. The largest amount to date (excepting the first boat to arrive, Steve and Linda Dashew’s motorboat Wind Horse, which naturally motored the whole way), is 170 hours – that’s over a week under power.

It’s been something of a fossil fuel ARC. A fair number of boats have notched up over 100 engine hours on this crossing. Put the light winds and motoring together and you’ve got some quite lengthy crossings – yesterday a 50- footer finished after 21 days at sea, having motored for six-and-a-half days’ worth of those. That’s slow.

I shudder to think how many gallons of diesel were consumed in this ARC to clock up those times, a majority I imagine to be sure of making crew flights home.

For all that, though, the crews I’m meeting at Rodney Bay Marina seem content. And if the ARC this year will be remembered for rather leisurely crossing times, for me the best aspect is that the rally suffered no serious incidents or dramas. There have been no dismastings, no serious breakages or injuries, no rescues nor abandonments.

On the contrary. From the evidence of the crews I’ve been speaking to, this ARC has been a good year for self-sufficiency. There have been some great examples of crews coping with problems, or helping others.

One yacht successfully transferred spare oil to another nearby yacht with generator problems while both were under sail.

Another was able to transfer a generator part. A crew that suffered a rudder cable break two days from Saint Lucia fixed it in a five-and-a-half hour repair using a length of replaced guardwire they’d kept spare.

It helps that the welcome and atmosphere in Saint Lucia this year feels special. The relatively new marina has a more completed feeling than before and there’s a real buzz about the place. And really, if you can’t enjoy being here devoting yourself to a spot of limin’ when it’s so cold and dark at home, what’s what was the point of it all?

 ARC 2010

 A yacht arrives at Rodney Bay, just about to cross the finish line yesterday