Equipmmet lessons learnt from this year's event

There are only five yachts yet to arrive in St. Lucia as the ARC Rally crossing draws near to its conclusion. Yesterday saw the all female crew of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ finally make it to Rodney Bay marina 3 weeks, 2 days and 12 hours after first setting sail from Las Palmas.

Early in the race the ladies had suffered steering gear failure and were forced to pull in to port. Gear failure is not uncommon on an Atlantic crossing and there have been many issues for crews to deal with on their way across- forexample, engine failure on ‘Kotari’ left the crew with no onboard power for the final 500 miles of their trip. On the ARC website today, Andy Schell has written an article highlighting some of the issues participants have had to face. Damage when downwind sailing is one of the key areas addressed;

‘Downwind sailing typifies the ARC from year to year. Of the yachts who reported breakages, 42 said they had at least one incident involving spinnakers, gennekers and downwind sailing gear like poles, preventers and bowsprits. Some were due to crew error, others to ‘expected’ wear and tear, some involved equipment failure and others just bad luck.

Halcyon of Hebe, an older Hylass 44 skippered by Robert Withers experienced several ‘sailing’ failures or breakages. “From the start we flew our really big A-sail,” Richard said. “It’s not really designed to go downwind – it’s more of a reaching sail – and we just sailed it at too deep an angle.”

The sail got wrapped between the headstay (on which the genoa was furled) and the removable solent stay, which was rigged. Richard admits that having the solent stay rigged when it was not in use was probably a mistake, and made the tangle far worse than it should have been.

“I think the A-sail breakage was down to crew error,” he admitted. “We sailed too far downwind and the solent stay shouldn’t have been rigged in those conditions.”

After reading Schell’s article, I thought about some of the skippers I had interviewed in St. Lucia. Whilst all were very complimentary of the ARC seminars provided in Las Palmas, some felt more attention could be given to lessons in flying their downwind sails.

Tom Carbaugh, skipper of ‘Glass Slipper’ said, “The seminar series I thought were pretty helpful. But when you’re talking about downwind sailing most of these boats are already configured for the ARC and they’re not going to run out and buy a new sail in Las Palmas. There are all kinds of other things they could have talked about with downwind sailing and the sails you already have.”

The next yacht due in to St. Lucia is French flagged ‘Pied-a-Mer’, who should arrive sometime on the 15th of December. For more ARC information and the Yellowbrick boat tracker, visit www.worldcruising.com