The 21st Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) started in spectacular style yesterday 27/11/06

The 21st Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) started in spectacular style yesterday as 223 yachts from 27 different nations sailed across the start line off Las Palmas de Canaria headed for their final destination, 2.700 nautical miles away in Rodney Bay, St Lucia. Fine weather for the start meant sunshine and lots of spinnakers, and a wonderful sight for the thousands watching afloat and ashore.

There was an atmosphere of excitement throughout the marina in the morning morning, as crowds of spectators waved off the fleet. At Don Pedro’s Texaco station, the dock was full of well-wishers in carnival mode, waiving, cheering and dancing to the loud salsa music blaring out in celebration of the start. Two enthusiastic strolling brass bands provided by the Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas (City Hall) marched around the marina serenading every pontoon to add to the festival feel.

Boats had to identify themselves as they left the marina and headed through a ‘gate’ before making their way to the start line. To the delight of the spectators, several crews dressed up for their departure and got into the spirit of the event. The crew of Glucksburg were lined up on deck and performed a Mexican wave to the crowds and various types of hats were on show: Majic 2 wore Fezzes, the Swedes on Bluesette had horned Viking helmets and Lisme of Guernsey top hats! The Xpresso crew enjoyed dressing up in drag so much for the ARC Costume Party that they decided to head off for their Atlantic adventure in the same attire! Kealoha 8 were applauded as they played dramatic choral classical music as they went through the gate and one of the many family crews taking part, the Australian boat Mary Constance towed a rubber ring and duck!

Dominating the start line this year, was the ARMAS ship, Volcan de Timanfaya, whose normal job is to ferry passengers to the Island of Lanzarote. This 17,000 ton RO-RO ferry acted as committee ship and her aft sun decks provided a perfect spectator platform for the many friends and families watching the start. At the shore end of the line, it was equally crowded as thousands of Las Palmas residents and tourists vied for space along the Avenida Maritima, ready for the big spectacle.

By the time of the first start, at 1240 for the two IRC Racing Divisions, the breeze had increased to 10-15 knots from the NE, giving ideal conditions for the 25 yachts racing under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Swan 70 The Blue Pearl was early on the line and will have to take a time penalty, unlike the slick crew of Nick Haigh’s DK46 Dark & Steamy, who were spot on the line, hoisting their reaching spinnaker just as the gun sounded. Pressing them hard on the line, and second to cross was Brave (George Vassilopoulos), a Farr 520 from Greece. Also working his crew hard, was Irish yachtsman George Radley, who had his crew on Imp, a Ron Holland One Tonner, peel the spinnaker within five minutes of the start, a manoeuvre they carried out with speed and precision.

However, it is the mass of cruising yachts which creates the spectacle, and a few minutes before the scheduled 1300 start of the ARC 2006 Cruising Divisions, there were a forest of masts and sails surrounding the committee vessel. It was an impressive scene as the majority of the fleet sailed across the starting line and a wave of colourful spinnakers appeared. First over the line was French catamaran Sir Henri, an Outremer 45, whose owner Stephane Grimault is keen to repeat his class winning performance from ARC 2001. Sawsea Lady, a Bavaria 39, (David Moore GBR) was the first monohull to start, followed by the Sweden 42 Free Spirit (Peter Smith GBR) and Keesjan Baartmans’ Standfast 56, Splendid (NED).

The Oyster 56, Stealer VI, put on an impressive display as they powered through the fleet, flying their newly purchased Parasailor2 winged spinnaker, one of at least 20 such sails in the fleet this year. Boo-Tiger were keeping to their boat’s theme and flying a tiger striped gennaker, complete with paw print, whilst the animal motif was continued by Duckwall Pooley, proudly flying a Scottish Royal Lion on their spinnaker.

Some yachts were not in such a rush to leave; Spirit of Inyati, the St. Francis 50, was ambling along at the back of the fleet 30 minutes after the start, as some of the yachts in the racing division were disappearing over the horizon. Others even decided to actually watch the start themselves – the crew of Compromise, a Nicholson 32, decided to watch the start from the shore to take photos of the spectacle and have lunch before setting off!

Two other yachts, Creightons and Be-Bop-A-Lula, did not take the start as equipment and medical problems mean they are unlikely to set off for a few days.