The ARC fleet is full again and is a fascinating example of how to diversify to beat the downturn

Recession? What recession?

Here is one very big clue that the credit crunch is navigable: the ARC fleet is full again in Las Palmas, with 214 yachts due to start the 2,700-mile Atlantic crossing to St Lucia this Sunday.

The ARC remains the biggest transoocean event in the world by a large margin. It is hugely influential on yacht and equipment buying decisions and is, for most sailors, a mainstream aspiration and one of yachting’s great challenges.

You might expect the financial crisis to have taken its toll on fleet numbers but that’s not the case. British yachts, invariably the most numerous, have declined from 45% last year to 34% this year, which is telling – but other nationalities have emerged to fill the gap.

The ARC is proof positive of the globalisation of affluence. Some 32 countries are represented in the fleet, including countries that never or rarely figured before, such as Malaysia, Ukraine, the Dominican Republic and Israel.

The sheer spread of the ARC’s influence and appeal is a reason to think it could be resilient against even quite widespread economic difficulties.

This is no accident. Throughout the last decade, World Cruising Club have assiduously supported and encouraged sailing media interest round the world. Set apart from the kudos, expense and specialism of high profile racing events they have plugged away at participation rallies that appeal to mainstream sailors and consumers and are reaping the rewards.

Their event management is second to none. This is particularly noticeable to me, having come straight from the Transat Jacques Vabre race in France, which created a stir among the highly sponsored and business-orientated skippers for perceived anti-English (or international) bias and a disinterest in overseas media.

Here, there is a team of 25 World Cruising Club staff who speak English, German, French, Spanish and Italian whose role is to help crews, business partners and the 15 international journalists who have come to Gran Canaria to cover the rally.

It is all immaculately organised, with no difference made between the crews of big boats of 100ft and over and those from the smallest of 29ft. Yet for all its efficiency it manages to preserve a fun and family-friendly feel.

It’s an interesting object lesson in the merits of keeping in touch with every section of yachting in all areas of the world and of carefully balancing a professional and international service with the dreams and spirit of the amateur.