Anyone who thinks crossing the Atlantic in the ARC is easy should think again. Elaine Bunting reports from the end of ARC 2015, where some boats got more than they had bargained for


Expect the best, prepare for the worst

Rick and Roz Smith had chartered yachts, but never owned one until they bought Raya 18 months ago. Rick worked for nine months alongside boatbuilders, mechanics and electricians in the yard, to be sure he knew how everything worked.

They took an ‘expect the best and prepare for the worst’ approach. With their ARC crew they went on a sea safety survival course. Roz took sailing courses and a medical course on which, she says, “the best bit was the realisation of how difficult an emergency would be at sea”. They read everything they could.

Fixing glasses aboard Raya

Fixing glasses aboard Raya

“We’re here in Saint Lucia,” smiles Rick, “and we are really pleased with ourselves. The decision to do this was 50:50 and that equality in partnership was what really made the difference in how we approached this.”

He adds: “We found it quite straightforward. Even the fishing. We got a rod in Las Palmas and 12 hours later we caught the biggest dorado you can imagine. At times it was quite spiritual. The ocean is so big, sea and sky everywhere, to be so far from everywhere.”

Annie Gardner and Eric Witte from California are racing sailors who have lately discovered cruising – Gardner is a two-times Olympic Silver medallist in windsurfing and was part of the 1995 America3 Women’s America’s Cup team. Their Catana 472, El Gato, “is our first [cruising] boat. We’ve come from racing in small high-performance catamarans,” she says. They joined the ARC+ rally.

“We liked the route and got to stop and share fun and stories part way. We liked the smaller numbers.”

Joy of the adventure

Last summer they bought the boat and have been cruising in the Med before doing the ARC+. They are a good advertisement for the joy of the adventure.

“The tradewinds were awesome. We loved it. It was rough out of the box, and we lost our autopilot on day three and hand steered over 1,500 miles. But we totally loved it. It was strategic and navigational and you’re playing everything,” Gardner enthuses.

“Racing is pressure. Cruising we’re loving, but to be a successful cruiser you need a lot of preparation. It’s a full time job; you’re not on vacation all the time. You can’t just relax and let your guard down.”

A number of people I spoke to remarked how rolly it had been as the big following swell was confused by waves coming in from other directions. Chris Nicholson, the skipper of Team Vestas Wind in the last Volvo Ocean Race, was sailing with his partner, Megan Reeves, and two children, Tully (4) and Banjo (7). They picked up their new Beneteau Oceanis 45, Toothless, in the Mediterranean this summer and are cruising home to Australia.

Megan Reeves Chris Nicholson, Tully and Banjo

Megan Reeves Chris Nicholson, Tully and Banjo

Nicholson says: “When I finished I felt normal, whereas after a leg of the Volvo Race everyone was destroyed.” But he remarked how much more movement there was than on a Volvo boat, and their boat was veering around a lot under autopilot. “I felt more in danger of falling overboard on this boat than on the Volvo,” he declares.

Bumpy crossing

Reeves admits she is not an experienced sailor and had done only four days’ cruising before setting out on their voyage. She says she found the crossing very bumpy and difficult. But they will be continuing on through the Pacific, something Nicholson says he has dreamed about doing most of his life.

Spending that time together as a family will be a fantastic thing, and a major and worthwhile achievement; I take my hat off to any couple doing this double-handed with two small children.

The crew of Marisja, an X-562, wanted to tell me how much they had enjoyed this ARC, which was the second rally for some of the crew and more for others. This was their fastest crossing yet, and in many ways the least difficult. They sailed all but 80 hours under mainsail and poled-out headsail, sailed close to the rhumb line logging 2,933 miles and made just four gybes.

But they were quick, finishing in 13d 9h, with an average of 9.1 knots. Skipper Haico Endstra says: “We were not really aiming to race and not pushing or taking risks.” Yet they earned 1st overall out of 230 boats in the cruising divisions.

Anorak approaching the finish. Photo: Tim Wright

Anorak approaching the finish. Photo: Tim Wright

Stig Larsen and Ulla Jongarden-Larsen from Sweden had just made their first tradewinds ocean crossing. They are both experienced sailors, with 80,000 miles behind them, but it has mainly been in colder waters and in their Hallberg-Rassy 54, Anorak, they have explored Svalbard and the northern coast of Norway. They, too, reported great winds, 20-25 knots most of the way with a few squalls to 30 knots.

“We sail wing and wing with a working jib as well and that was perfect 99 per cent of the time,” says Larsen. “The waves were bigger than we expected and came from different ways so the boat was rolling a lot. You have to do everything carefully, step by step.”

Their most stressful time was when the rudder began to drop because the collar fixing it in place had loosened. Larsen made a tool with a band to fit round a metal ring, waited for a period with less wind and motion and succeeded in tightening it.

The crew of a catamaran ahead saw them with their sails down and called up on the radio to say they would stand by while the repair was being made. “That is the ARC family. Them being there was enough for us, and a great relief. After half an hour it was fixed.”

Troubles of a new yacht

Graham Ponsford wanted to talk about the problems he had had with his Dufour 560, Pure Elegance. This was his second ARC – he sailed a previous Dufour 45e across in 2011 – and a much more troublesome one. This new yacht was delivered rather late.

He left the UK at the end of August and had numerous problems on the crossing: a leak from the transom garage; the bilge pumps didn’t work; rivets came off the gooseneck plate at the mast; a fitting for the German mainsheet came off; and a charging problem meant they had to turn off the fridge and other electronics to preserve power the last 800 miles.

“We knew we would have some issues, but not what we had,” says Ponsford. “I was going to do the World ARC [in January] but now I will wait 12 months so I can sort out the boat. I would advise treating a new boat like you would a used one, possibly more so. Our assumption was that there would be fewer problems with a new boat, but that was wrong. This was a real shakedown.”

Panfilo Tarantelli was sailing aboard his Southern Winds 72, Far Out, with a professional skipper and friends, and used the voyage to raise over £40,000 for Into University, a scheme to help fund underprivileged young people in the UK.

“This was a unique experience. To be in the middle of nowhere, in a positive way, and be at sea for such a long period. We didn’t see another boat for ten days. I think the experience of 15 days in a confined space is an interesting one from a sailing and a human perspective.”

Ocean sailing was never, for Tarantelli, dull. “It is surprising, but there is always something to do. I didn’t read as much as I thought I would. We were fishing, trimming sails, checking, helming a lot. It was really a mental break. Your mind focused on the big issues rather than the trivial and the marginal.

“We blew up a genoa at night and we had a bit of a problem with a couple of sheets. It was a bit of a challenge, but there were funny stories and episodes on board, jokes, and you really get to talk to people. It was a typical dream of life on board.”

Rudder problems

The crew of Talanta, a Pogo 40S2, raced to the finish despite breaking both their rudders. Mikael Ryking, Mats Victorin, Karl Jungstedt and Emely Hagen were 800 miles from the start in Las Palmas in 13-16 knots when their windward rudder delaminated and split from the end of the stainless steel stock.

Talanta crew copy

They took the tiller off, put an M8 screw in the top of the stock with a line attached to it, then knocked the bolt out of the square rudder block, allowing the 30kg rudder to slide out of the hull. They recovered the rudder, then did the same thing with the good rudder before swapping over.

That worked until 200 miles from the finish when this rudder also delaminated, leaving a short stub and they had to make Saint Lucia undercanvassed under jib and a small corner of main.


The How to Cross the Atlantic section of our website has lots of information on planning and making an Atlantic crossing, from choosing a boat to provisioning.


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