With just under four weeks to go before the start of World Cruising Club-organised ARC2004 final preparations are being put in place on both sides of the Atlantic

With just under four weeks to go before the start of the World Cruising Club-organised ARC2004 final preparations are being put in place on both sides of the Atlantic.

The event starts on 21 November from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay Marina St Lucia and already over 80 yachts have arrived in Muelle Deportivo in Las Palmas.

The list of 205 entries gives a strong indication as to how international the ARC has remained over the years, with 24 nations represented in the fleet, not to mention the mixture of nationalities amongst crew members. Entries from the UK last year were over the halfway mark, however, this year 43 per cent of the fleet are from Britain, still the largest country entry. Germany is the next largest group with 14 per cent of the fleet and there is a strong presence from the Netherlands, America, Norway, Italy and France.

The average size of yacht in the ARC is now 47ft (14.50m), a slight increase on previous years, with 32 boats under 40ft (12m) taking part this year. The smallest yacht in the ARC at 9.09m is Glad, a Comfort 30 from Norway. At the opposite end of the scale are the two giants in this years ARC; Peter Harrison’s Sojana at 38.11metres and Leopard of London at 29.49m, both from the UK.

Heading up the smaller yachts in the Racing Division is ARC2003 winner on handicap, Murka, back to defend her trophy. Owner Mikhail Mouratov and his mostly Russian crew raced the Swan 48 hard last year and will no doubt be hoping to repeat their winning performance, although this year the competition will be very tough.

With a very different approach to the rally are many of the smaller cruising yachts, setting out on their first ocean voyage into the big blue.

Jason and Kirstie Pickering had to put their plans to take part in last year’s ARC on hold, owing to the imminent arrival of baby Rosie. Now 11 months old, she will celebrate her first birthday on the day of the ARC start this year and the Pickerings are looking forward to many years of worldwide cruising aboard their 1997 Moody 31 Ciao. There are 15 yachts taking part with children on board and a total of 27 children, with Rosie Pickering being the youngest.

A Father and son team with a difference this year is Brian Norton junior, who at 38 is the Skipper and Brian Norton senior, a crew member at 71 years of age. They sail aboard their Warrior 40, Four Freedoms. Newly weds Duncan and Inge Stewart are planning to make their first Atlantic crossing double handed, aboard their Westerly Oceanlord 48, Anam Cara, as part of their year long honeymoon cruise. Normally the ARC attracts around 20 yachts that undertake the crossing double handed, and a specially designed workshop is run for these crews in Las Palmas to bring them together and discuss safety issues, concerns and exchange ideas of best practice.

Norwegians Ole Schjerven and Trine Sjøvold are definitely living life to the maximum. Having recovered from a stroke last year, Ole persuaded his partner Trine that a cruise to the Caribbean would be the perfect recovery. Trine, who had never sailed before last year, is also on one of the smaller yachts in the ARC, Citrina a Gambling 34, and intends to use her skills as a laughter coach to keep up morale in the ARC fleet during their crossing.

Having worked in the IT Industry Lucy Marriott and Andy Williams are taking some time out from work to enjoy an extended cruise on their 1987 S&S42, Nimrod. Theirs is definitely a yacht with a proven cruising pedigree, having been sailed around Britain by her previous owner with the Round Britain rally, then a later sojourn in Scotland with the Classic Malts Cruise.

The ARC2004 Programme of Events in Las Palmas starts on 8 November and includes island tours, seminars, parties and dinners all aimed at helping participants get to know each other, as well as the city of Las Palmas and the beautiful island of Gran Canaria. Special emphasis is placed on the preparation seminars open to skippers and crew. These aim to share knowledge and best practice on topics including first-aid at sea; double-handed sailing, dealing with offshore emergencies, emergency navigation and weather.

Yachts will be docked in Muelle Deportivo de Las Palmas from 8 -21 November, with the celebrations for the start reaching a crescendo with a firework display over the harbour at midnight on Friday 19 November

The spectacular mass start takes place on a line just outside the harbour of Las Palmas, which is specially closed to shipping movements for the morning. The Avenida Maritima provides an excellent vantage point from which to watch the two starts; the first at 1240, for the smaller Racing Division, and then 1300 for the Cruising Divisions, that make up the majority of the fleet.