Light winds have led to some sizeable motoring hours at the ARC rally this year and there are suspicions that some crew have lied about it to try to win prizes


How far would you go to win the silverware?

Would you listen to the relentless thud of a diesel engine for days on end while pretending to everyone outside that you were sailing along in your own private breeze?

Would you expect your crew to lie with you about it?

This is an accusation that has raised its ugly form at the ARC this year. The full title of ‘Atlantic Rally for Cruisers’ might lead you to think this is exclusively a come-what-may sail across to the Caribbean.

There is a racing division, but the cruising divisions are also ranked for results and are full of competitive crews. The main difference between the cruising divisions and the outright racers is that the former are allowed to use their engines for propulsion.

This throws up two sets of problems. First, the cruising divisions take a penalty for motoring hours that varies each year depending on actual conditions and is not known until the finish, but it always strongly favours ‘strategic motoring’ through calm patches.

Secondly – and controversially this year – the records of engine hours and hence the overall results depend on skippers making an honest declaration.

Cheating in sailing is not novel, and certainly not confined to the ARC – in many offshore races certain yachts are known to sail faster at night. But with the very light winds experienced on the rally this year, motoring hours are higher and the temptation in a few cases, it seems, is to be somewhat economical with the truth.

Suspicions abound throughout the fleet. In the ARC+ rally a minor storm erupted over a crew who bagged line honours and a class win after declaring five engine hours. They were rumoured to have motored for 11 days –  ie, all the way from the Cape Verdes.

But nobody had protested.

“This [these rumours] is not a new thing,” says Andrew Bishop, managing director of rally organisers World Cruising. “It is very controversial. When we started hearing rumours we did indicate to people that we can’t do anything about it unless a protest was forthcoming. Nobody in the ARC+ put in a protest.”

Viewed from outside, motoring for days on end and pretending to have sailed seems absurd and self-defeating. But many crews motor quite legitimately for days to keep up a minimum speed and a few skippers have arrived in Saint Lucia this week declaring between 100 and 200 hours. For them, presumably, the ARC was part sailing, part delivery trip.

It raises some interesting questions about attitudes and approaches to lengthy ocean passages. Do people not have the patience for them any more? Does life feel too fast to slow down? Is downtime dead time?

Speaking for myself, I’m always amazed how many people plan, dream and prepare for this for years and then do all they can do bring it to the hastiest possible conclusion. They often spend so much on diesel that it would be cheaper to fly everyone to Saint Lucia business class – which would be a whole lot quicker. It seems crazy to me.

“I would agree with that,” says Andrew Bishop. “When we ran the ARC in the early Nineties we waited after the finish for 25-30 boats and then had another party for them. People were enjoying their sail across the Atlantic.

“This is the way sailing has gone. People are now more interested in getting to the destination than enjoying the journey. It’s the same with the World ARC. We make a rendezvous and boats arrive days early and then complain they haven’t had enough time at the previous place.

“People need to relax and enjoy the sailing.”

But even if you don’t want to relax completely, you could enjoy working out how to keep moving and learn to accept that frustration is part of the challenge. That’s the opinion of Knut Frostad, who won the ARC multihull division this year after racing under sail alone all the way in his Outremer 5X catamaran, Nemo.

The former Volvo Ocean Race CEO and round the world race skipper said it never occurred to him to do anything else but sail and in this interesting interview he nails some of the issues around motoring and a system that inadvertently encourages it.