Perfect conditions for the start of the transatlantic rally but this year the fleet needs to get south

A warm breeze and clear blue skies gave the 213 yachts sailing across the Atlantic in the ARC rally a gentle downwind start from Las Palmas today. The voyage from Gran Canaria to St Lucia in the Caribbean is about 2,700 miles and the 10-15-knot north-eastierlies gave crews an ideal first day to settle into a routine and begin to find their sea legs.

The racing division, just over a tenth of the fleet, started 20 minutes ahead of the majority in the cruising division. But they were no keener to cross the start line under spinnaker than the cruisers behind them, preferring a clean and safe start to what will be a long trip, taking most between two and three-and-a-half weeks.

The fleet is as international as ever, with 20 different nationalities represented. The largest yacht this year is a 112ft superyacht from Mexico, which started in the racing division where she absolutely dwarfed three former 72ft Challenge yachts.

At the other end of the scale is Madonna, a Bénéteau First 31 owned by Norwegian coastguard officer Pål Bratbak. Space is at a premium on board: Bratbak is sailing with his wife, brother-in-law, two young sons and the rally’s youngest competitor, his seven-month-old baby daughter Marina.

The forecast for the rally is unusually clear-cut this year. The event’s weather adviser, Chris Tibbs, used yesterday’s skippers’ briefing to steer crews strongly towards a southerly route. He forecasts that the rhumb line will be slower than the traditional southerly route on account of a trough of low pressure running through the North Atlantic. “It would be quick going in, but bad coming out,” he explains.

The tradewinds do not look particularly strong this year, probably not more than 20 knots. Coupled with the extra 300 miles that must sailed to follow the southerly route the odds are that this will not be an especially quick ARC.

That said, historically the most enjoyable ARC rallies and those with fewest breakages tend to be in years that are neither too windy nor too slow, so this could potentially be a vintage year. Another good sign according to the organisers is that this one of the best prepared they have seen.

Read more about the ARC in our January issue, due out next month.

Photo by Richard Langdon, Ocean Images.