Although it is a full week before the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers next Sunday, over 150 yachts are gathered at Las Palmas. The popularity of this crossing from the Canary Islands to St Lucia in the Caribbean just keeps growing and the 228 yachts entered this year will make another new record for the event.
Bad weather in Biscay has delayed some boats making their way from northern Europe or the UK, and the largest yacht entered for the rally, maxi Creighton’s Naturally, won’t make it at all. After her 18 crew, were airlifted from the boat off Finisterre last week the boat was salvaged and taken to a port in Spain.
Creightons was working to a charter timetable, but most private owners have been here since August or early September, specifically aiming to cross Biscay before the start of the winter gales, and are making their final preparations.
British yachts are again in the majority: over 100 taking part are from the UK. While this tips the scales heavily towards the English-speaking majority, it nevertheless continues to be have as international a flavour as ever; this year there are crews from 19 countries. Of those, two nationalities here in surprising numbers are Americans and Norwegians, each with 20 yachts.
Among the Americans are John and Rosemary Thorne, who are taking their Sundeer 60 Sea Fever back to South Carolina via the Caribbean and the Bahamas. This is their second round trip to Europe in Sea Fever since John bowed out of his mapping business and three years ago. He used to race Finns and a Flying Dutchman and says: “I never thought cruising would interest me; I thought it was too slow and boring, and I had always been an intense person in business, but this has given me a new interest. I’ve had to learn about plumbing, electrics and diesel maintenance. I learn something new every day.”
Thorne had just been learning the hard way, discovering that his new battery charger was not compatible with the supply in Las Palmas. He estimates that particular lesson will cost him US$1,000.
Nevertheless, John Thorne is typical of an increasing group of ARC sailors who are experienced ocean passagemakers, In fact, the number of ‘repeat customers’ or previous transatlantic sailors is well over nearly a fifth of the fleet. And the level of preparation is generally better this year than on any previous year, say organisers World Cruising Club, who carry out a safety inspection on every yacht taking part.
Both the size and the cost of yachts at the larger end of the rally continue to rise, as does the proportion of larger yachts in the fleet. Some of the more expensive makes of yacht have the sort of representation you normally only see at large international boat shows.
There are, for example, 21 Oysters, including two brand new 66s straight from the yard, 20 Swans (including four Swan 68s) and 15 Hallberg-Rassys. Added together, these three makes alone account for more than GBP50 million worth of yachts and equipment.
But while the big yachts along the wall at the Muelle Deportivo in Las Palmas are a yacht spotter’s beauty parade, the majority of the fleet berthed at pontoons is a truly catholic selection of the sort of bluewater cruisers people sail themselves with friends or family. A strong family atmosphere still prevails – not surprising considering that there are 27 junior sailors this year (not all on the same boat).
About 25 yachts will be sailing across in the racing division, but for most skippers it is, ironically, the hope of a smart crossing time that keeps them firmly in the cruising division. “One of reasons we don’t get more people racing is that people really do have quite tight programmes,” explains Andrew Bishop, general manager of World Cruising Club. “The crossing can take three weeks and people want to have the option to motor.”
Historically, crossing times vary enormously, both between similar sized boats and even the same designs. “I wouldn’