Things have changed in the bluewater cruising world, as Elaine Bunting discovered meeting crews who who just took on an Atlantic crossing in Saint Lucia

“The moon is waxing and rising later now, so there are magnificent star-spotting opportunities,” the crew of Adina blogged. “The Plough, Orion’s Belt and Venus have been joined by the Crux, Mitaxa and Hyades.”

“The sky at night is epic,” reported another crew from the ARC rally. “We saw shooting stars and a meteorite that streaked orange across the sky one night last week.”

Seeing a night sky teeming with stars, or the moon lighting your path across the sea, are some of the most unforgettable sights of ocean sailing. Like landing a pelagic fish, enjoying a sundowner at dusk, or encountering your first tradewinds squall, these are timeless experiences that come with every Atlantic crossing.

How people sail their boats and live on board does change, however, and the 2023 ARC transatlantic rally was a year in which some significant technological and social trends converged. The expression I kept hearing from crews and organisers alike was ‘a gamechanger’.

Bigger boats, younger crews, much better batteries and more power, revolutionary communications – all have come together in a step change for the ARC rally, just as the organiser company itself (World Cruising Club) has changed hands and looks to the future.

Sailing under moonlight remains a timeless attraction of ocean cruising. Photo: SY Sea Drop/WCC

The ARC rallies continue to grow, with numbers split between the main event direct from Las Palmas to Saint Lucia and the slightly earlier ARC+ to Grenada via the Cape Verde Islands. Although record numbers in the ARC have been higher than the 2023 event’s 152 starters, there are many more catamarans, which occupy more marina space. That’s a trend that doesn’t look like changing and will continue to be felt globally in marina capacity.

While the ARC+ rally, with 95 starters this year, increases every year the facilities in Mindelo in the Cape Verdes also continue to develop. It tends to be the rally of choice for family crews with children and people with more time to explore, and is already almost full in advance for 2024.

The Cape Verde route takes boats down towards more established tradewinds, while the original ARC route can see quite varied conditions and present some interesting routing decisions.

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Variable Atlantic crossing

The first yacht to finish the 2023 ARC in December was Italian sailor Marco Rodolfi’s Swan 90 Berenice Cube. Packed with world class racers, she crossed the finish line in 12 days, 13 hours, having followed a longer, southerly route. It was Rodolfi’s second win; he also took line hours in 2010 in his previous Swan 80. While conditions were lighter this year than back then, the bigger and more powerful boat, more efficient sails and better technology probably all played their part in a crossing time that was two days faster.

Overall, passage times weren’t fast and motoring hours high. A couple of impatient crews clocked up over 180 hours, motoring for almost half their crossing. Most crews completed the crossing between 14 and 22 days.

The most significant change across the fleet this year was the arrival of Starlink. Elon Musk’s low earth orbiting satcom system has landed in sailing in a major way; perhaps as many as 25-30% of the ARC yachts had it on board. The hardware is inexpensive and easily installed, the system is plug and play (immediately if on 240V), and crews told me it produced solid broadband connections and speeds right across the Atlantic.

Paul and Suzana Tetlow run World Cruising Club. Photo: James Mitchell/WCC

There are cons as well as pros to being so connected to shore but the advantages greatly outweigh them. Starlink, and the competitors racing to catch up, such as Amazon’s Project Kuiper and China’s Geespace, is a historically significant leap, posits Paul Tetlow, the new managing director of organisers World Cruising Club.

“The way I see it, if we look at ocean crossing and the technology that changed it, this is like the availability of GPS or electronic charting. It’s a step change in overall equipment and how people live life on board and what their expectations are,” he comments.

This year Starlink allowed the organisers to set up a WhatsApp group for the fleet to share information and photos, a modern version of the position reporting and social role that its SSB radio net previously played. On board boats, it has immediately transformed the ways crews are living and operating.

Fiore, a Garcia Exploration 60, rendezvous with the X46 Ipanema mid-Atlantic on day 13 of the ARC. Photo:Harmen Geerts/SY Fiore

Digital nomads

Jérémie Dubois-Lacoste and his partner, Deanna, set off from La Rochelle in their new build Amel 60 Entropie in June. The couple are self-confessed digital nomads. Deanna is from Canada but was working in Copenhagen when they met. Jérémie is from France but lives in Thailand. They both work in software and IT industries and own their own companies; Deanna in the shipping industry and Jérémie is a specialist in bitcoin and blockchain. They both continue to work on board, although Jérémie says they have “taken a step back from full-time”.

“Sailing is quite new to us; I have been sailing for a year-and-a-half,” he says. “I had a smaller 36ft boat, pretty old and did some coastal sailing but with Deanna we wanted to do something radically different. Sailing is a means to move around.”

They planned to sail Entropie in the Mediterranean, but soon decided to sail across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. “It is a leap, but we felt that staying in the Med didn’t do justice to this boat and an ARC would fully exploit the Amel 60. At first, it was quite a lesson in humility, a responsibility to take care of – the maintenance and admin was very heavy – but we took things step by step with hops down the coast of France and Portugal and by the time we reached Las Palmas we were confident we knew the boat.”

Starlink allows streaming of movies and just about every other benefit of internet connectivity. Photo: David Dias/SV Nuvem Magica/WCC

The couple are part of the Young Cruisers’ Association collective, a digital group formed online and on Instagram linking sailing couples and families. (The qualification for being ‘young’ is any age prior to retirement.) The YCA’s luscious photos of beautiful people living their best life at sea have attracted a new and enthusiastic generation to sailing, such as Jérémie and Deanna.

The couple made the crossing with three friends, finishing in 11 days and 19 hours. After weak and unstable winds in the first week, they entered the Trades and found the sailing “very, very easy. It was much less daunting than I was expecting, with 15-17 knots and a few squalls in the last 48 hours. We sailed with a poled-out genoa and mainsail at night.

“Sailing into the sunset was magnificent. We had wonderful night skies with the moon going from half to full. We had dolphins a few times, we saw birds every day and we caught two wahoo and two mahi mahi,” he says.

Starlink was a huge boon. “We got it three days before we left and I installed it myself,” says Jérémie. “We already had KVH VSAT but the bandwidth was more limited and we had only 1GB a month. Starlink gives us fast 200mbps speeds and we paid €1,100 to have 1TB a month.

Latest generation Starlink satellite dish weighs less than 3kg and is easily mountable on a boat. Photo: J Ramsden/Sofa So Good

“It’s so radically different. I worked all the time; I kept myself updated in business and could take part in important discussions. We could join Amel forum discussions, send photos, video call family as much as we wanted, stream movies and listen to podcasts. We live as we usually do at home, and it’s worth it.

“I would not want to do without it if we had a medical problem, or a technical failure, because you can video call and send photos.”

“I think everyone had mixed feelings about it. It is nice to be connected to family and chat by WhatsApp to other boats but it’s difficult to resist checking your phone and I instituted some policies. We had two hours of internet in the morning and two in the evening. It was nice to switch off, and I would do the same again,” says Jérémie.

Jérémie Dubois-Lacoste and his partner Deanna originally planned to live and work on board in the Mediterranean, but soon decided to stretch the legs of their Amel 60 Entropie by sailing across the Atlantic. Photo: Photos: Entropie

Home from home

John Ramsden has sailed all his life. He is a former Navy submariner and his father was once chairman of the Royal Yachting Association so his background is steeped in yachting and seafaring. He and his wife, Sharon Ee, have owned their Elan Impression 434 Sofa So Good since 2005.

The couple bought their boat in Singapore and moved it to the UK in 2009. After John’s parents and sister died, “We said ‘Why don’t we sail back to Singapore?’ So we have done ARC Portugal, we are doing the ARC and we’ll do half of the World ARC to end up in Lombok.”

Despite all their experience and familiarity with their boat, they asked consultant Will Spence of White Dot Sailing in Hamble to help with their preparations, “to do an inspection, and rip to bits and compare the lists I had,” explains John. “We spent 18 months preparing before we set off.”

Capturing the motion aboard the Beneteau First 435 Algol mid-Atlantic. Photo: Tom-Oliver Hedvall/WCC

They bought a new mainsail, new genoa and ultralight Code 5 and Hydrovane self-steering gear. Power generation comes from a variety of sources: a Watt & Sea hydrogenerator; a wind generator; a small WhisperPower Piccolo genset, and some solar panels. “We have spread our bets,” he says. They also switched to LifePO4 lithium batteries, took the gas stove off the boat and converted to an all-electric hob and oven.

The power system has changed the way they cook on board. At sea, they make “nearly everything”, in an electric Instant Pot, either sautéing, using it as a pressure cooker, slow cooker or steamer. You can’t grill or brown but you can do everything else. We even make yoghurt and cakes in it,” Sharon says.


The couple fitted Starlink before the ARC – they saw a €299 special offer for the ‘residential’ system and snapped it up (the residential version is 50W whereas the dedicated marine system is 100W). “I plugged in the router, plugged in the 240V power cable and it worked in less than five minutes,” John says. “I don’t need to change that as I have a 3.5kW inverter and I put it on for just a few hours a day.” He recommends the Facebook page ‘Starlink on Boats’ for more information.

“Other boats were very jealous. We got full weather data, emails, WhatsApp messages, we were chatting to other competitors, and we had the confidence it would work. It’s a new world, a revolution. I think in two or three years’ time broadband at sea will be a requirement [of sailing events].”

Real-time navigation lessons for the family crew aboard Nautitech 44 June. Photo: SV June

But, like Jérémie Dubois-Lacoste, Ramsden feels that always-on connectivity poses conundrums for skippers.

“It is all new and there are so many discussions on the dock. There are scenarios where you might not want onboard comms, news you might not want to get from shore. There are dilemmas and, as a skipper, you need to be more conservative, as you may have crew who might want to push the boat more than you, or whose mind is not on the job. But soon there will be phones that can talk directly to Starlink, so we aren’t going to be able to stop it.”

On the Atlantic crossing, Sofa So Good’s crew kept it simple, running downwind with the genoa poled out and a second genoa set on the same foil sheeted outboard to a block on the boom and aft to a turning block. The boom was set with a preventer. “Sometimes the breeze was too strong and we ran with one genoa only and even furled it to a Laser-sail size at one point when we had 30 knots across the deck,” he says, adding: “The Hydrovane was absolutely amazing and handles downwind very well.”

A preventer error

The power of large downwind headsails under dynamic load is easy to underestimate. Several boats had bow attachment points that were not up to the task. The stemhead fitting of two Hanse 505s were bent up, as was the bow plate on Sofa So Good. For John Worthington and his crew on Hanse 505 Mojo, however, their biggest problem was a broken boom.

Worthington had bought his boat in Italy in 2020 with a transatlantic crossing in mind and had spent over £60,000 on upgrading equipment, including a new North TradeWind dual purpose downwind twin sail/reacher. He was 10 days out of Las Palmas and sailing, as planned, with two headsails on the same furler when the bow fitting “peeled up”.

John Ramsden and Sharon Fe are sailing their Elan Impression 434 Sofa So Good from Europe to Singapore via the ARC Portugal, ARC and finally half a World ARC. Photo: Sofa So Good

The crew hoisted the mainsail and ran with that alone, but they rigged a preventer direct from the midpoint of the boom to the midships cleat and back to the cockpit, rather than in the advised way from the boom end to the bow and back. When the boat did an accidental gybe around 190 miles from Saint Lucia, the boom snapped in half. “It was hanging down at 90° and flogging, with lots of sharp bits of metal,” Worthington recalls.

He and his crew managed to lower the mainsail and wrestle the broken part of the boom down on deck, but not before it had punched a hole through the sprayhood.

The cost of a replacement boom (minus fittings but including packing and shipping from the US) was over $4,000. “It was an expensive mistake,” he admits.

For anyone planning to do the ARC, the organisers run a series of seminars during the year and prior to the start in Las Palmas, one of which includes how to deal with other major breakages such as rudder failure and dismasting, with details of jury rigs that have been successful over the years.

Night shift on Oyster 565 Larimar. Photo: Magnus Harjak

New leads

A generational change has come to the ARC itself in another way. In 2023, World Cruising changed hands as Andrew Bishop and his colleague Jeremy Wyatt sold the company to new owners Paul and Suzana Tetlow. The Tetlows have been involved in all the events and have run two World ARCs over the last decade.

They have their own vision for evolving the rallies. They recognise the effect the growth of multihulls is having, and the influx of millennial sailors influenced by online content.

“That’s very exciting for our events. It gives another dimension, and we can help people in that shorter journey to help with preparation,” Paul Tetlow says. He is looking at developing an event platform and building up cruising events online and in person with a virtual clubhouse. “We really want to build this up as a club.”

Andrew Pickersgill, the ARC event manager and longtime cruising sailor himself, also thinks this is a new era. “The effect of Covid was to make working anywhere in the world acceptable, and that has come together with the revolution of lithium batteries, which are much better than AGM, quicker to charge and store far more power.

Rich Chetwynd, Nicole Fougere and family are spending time in the Caribbean before deciding what to do next. Photo: Uno

“Solar is also moving on a lot and improving. Any of the catamarans here with ‘table tennis’ arrays are generating phenomenal amounts of power. Many boats can run everything all night and, if it’s sunny, be fully charged by 1100 the next morning.

“Hydro has come along too, and not just with Watt & Sea,” adds Pickersgill.

“Electric outboards are so much lighter, easy to charge and store, and you don’t need petrol. There are more multihulls, more younger people.”

Grand Soleil 34 Lady Eleonora. Photo: Leonardo Pazzaglia/WCC

Where the wind blows

Perhaps because they can increasingly easily work on board and stay in touch, and have moved into sailing as a lifestyle choice more than a lifelong dream, another growing trend evident is how many people’s plans are fluid, with cruisers happy to make it up as they go.

Rich Chetwynd and Nicole Fougere from New Zealand, sailing with their children Gisele (13) and Jacques (11) on their Fountaine Pajot Helia 44, Uno, decided not to go through the Panama Canal because water shortages there have made transit slots uncertain. Instead they are going “to slow down and spend the season in the Caribbean. Or we might lay up and go home, or even sell up. We have no fixed plan,” Rich explained.

Jérémie and Deanna on Entropie were similarly relaxed. “We’ll sail in the Caribbean until May or June, then go back to Europe, or we might stay here. Or maybe we will sell, or do six months on board and six months on land. We don’t know.”

Crews are living as they would at home: they are streaming movies, running Zoom and Teams video meetings at sea and part-time working, chilling with aircon and daily showers – twice a day on Entropie. They have galleys with induction hobs, coffee makers, waffle grills, wine chillers and ice cream makers. Amenities that were the preserve of the biggest yachts only a few years ago can be found on cruising boats of every size and age.

Sailing across the Atlantic is still an epic adventure but it is becoming an ever-less alien experience, and a more comforting existence.

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