Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass January 2008

ARC 2007: Challenges and Rewards

It's a well-worn old adage that "a smooth sea does not make a good sailor", so the more than a thousand yachtspeople from 28 nations who arrived in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia at the finish line of the 22nd Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) last month must now be even better sailors than before.

After the November 25th start, the early part of the crossing from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia offered some typical tradewind sailing. But for three days during the middle of the crossing, the core of the fleet sailed through an area of concentrated thunderstorm cells and squalls, with winds of over 40 knots pushing up big Atlantic waves. And as many yachts approached St. Lucia, another period of wet, squally weather, including feeder bands from the unseasonable Tropical Storm Olga, made the landfall and a snug berth in Rodney Bay Marina all the more welcome.

Although the majority of the 235-boat fleet made the 2,700-mile crossing in under three weeks and without undue drama, there were incidents.
Alla Byazina, crew on the Russian-chartered Croatian Volvo 60, AAG Big One, was evacuated onto the cargo ship Goodrich Bay on Day Four of the event, after being badly scalded in the galley during a gybe. Meanwhile, two other ARC yachts, Tallulah and If Only, were assisting with the rescue of West Africans who had been attempting to reach the Canary Islands illegally on an unseaworthy vessel.

On December 1st, Philip Wright's UK-based Swan 48, GiGi, picked up a Mayday call from the British Westerly Corsair Barbary Duck (not participating in the ARC), advising that the crew were in a liferaft only half a mile away. Barbary Duck's two crew were safely brought on board GiGi. The Westerly had suffered broken chain-plates and was in danger of dismasting. Without a functioning engine, the crew took the precaution of abandoning their yacht, which was left afloat with navigation lights burning. (Another yacht reported seeing Barbary Duck some time later, still under sail.)

On December 7th, skipper John Thompson, 54, from Northern Ireland, fell across the cockpit and struck his head on a genoa winch when his Oyster 41, Avocet, took a heavy roll while running downwind in boisterous conditions. The incident occurred 980 nautical miles east of St. Lucia and 1,090 nautical miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, well beyond the range of land-based assistance. Following contact with the Maritime Rescue Control Centre (MRCC) Falmouth, UK, and MRCC Fort de France, Martinique, a rendezvous with the Italian cruise ship Costa Mediterranea was arranged, and at first light the following morning, John and his son Dan were transferred to the ship. Taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados, John, an avid sailor and long-standing member of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, died on December 13th. A trust has since been set up in his name to facilitate organ donation in Barbados.

On December 8th, the Irish Bavaria 50 Navillus rescued three men from a non-ARC yacht. Former Royal Navy radio officer Peter Kyne, 48, of the Scilly Isles, was sailing the 31-foot catamaran Spam with his son Adam, 17, and Swedish crewmember Augustin, 33. He called for help after Spam lost its mast, was holed and started rapidly taking on water about 750 miles from the Caribbean. Coastguards contacted ARC race control who were able to broadcast to all their race yachts as well as making a distress relay broadcast into the area.

Navillus was only three or four miles away, but her mainsail was ripped and stuck in place in the in-mast furling system, which limited the boat's maneuverability in the Force 6 conditions. Nevertheless, the Spam crew safely transferred to Navillus via liferaft; the operation took about 20 minutes. The liferaft was slashed to sink it, and Spam is believed to have sunk.
Pete told Compass that Navillus's skipper, Brian O'Sullivan, and his crew "treated us like family." He noted that, to his initial surprise, Brian put him and Adam on night watch right away. "It was stressful at first, having responsibility for a strange boat," Pete said, "but soon I realized that it was a wise decision on the captain's part."
This year's ARC fleet was, as usual, diverse. While the average boat length was 49 feet, the smallest was Henry Adams' 25-foot Folkboat, Ariel; the largest was Rui de Soussa of Portugal's Ed Dubois one-design, Mariposa, at 95 feet. The oldest boat, the 1889 British gaff cutter Thalia, shared the ARC 2007 experience with 35 new builds. Sobiestaw Zasada, age 77, aboard the Polish Lagoon 570 Dada V, was the oldest skipper; the youngest skipper was Benjamin McGill, age 19, on the British Oyster 56 Cinderella III; and the youngest participant (among the 28 children under age 16) was Jørgen Heli-Hansen, age 7 months, aboard the Norwegian Bénéteau Oceanis 393 Sol.
The largest number of national entries (108) was from the United Kingdom, and, among makers, Bénéteau had the largest number of yachts in the fleet at 44. There were 25 multihulls, with Lagoon having the most at 13.

Before the start in Las Palmas, a full program of workshops and seminars offering practical and informative advice for the Atlantic crossing included topics such as rigging, power management, provisioning, routing and weather. Scotsman Graham Roxburgh of the Hylas 46 Solferino told Compass that his main impression in Las Palmas was "the enormous energy of a thousand yachtsmen - the adrenaline was almost visible."
Graham first saw Solferino at the 1997 London Boat Show, bought her seven years later, and has sailed her out of Portugal since then. In preparation for the Atlantic crossing, which is notoriously hard on rudders, Graham reinforced the arrangement for the restraint at the head of his yacht's rudder post with stainless plate. He also renewed much of Solferino's running rigging with super-strong Dyneema.

Graham, who did the ARC with three friends as crew, described conditions as sometimes "quite tricky", with very high winds and crossing wave trains in the middle of their rhumb-line course. "Winds were quite vicious in squalls," he reports, "varying ten or fifteen degrees either way." The conditions "would find any weakness": a shackle at the masthead failed, the jib went in the water and got run over in 30 to 40 knots. His crewmember Mac managed many onboard repairs and hand-steered for four hours when autopilot couldn't cope. After hearing of four other boats' broken booms, the Solferino crew rigged not one, not two, but three preventers, with rubber mooring-type snubbers incorporated to soften the shock loads.

They arrived December 12th: "What a welcome we've had from all the locals!" Among the services and shops available at Rodney Bay, Graham noted particular satisfaction with the well-stocked Island Water World chandlery, and repairs done at the Doyle sail loft - "all very impressive in one marina". His wife flew out to meet him and they stayed at the new Bay Gardens Beach Resort while partaking of all the post-arrival fun: "We like the social side of the ARC."
Like most ARC participants, Graham eagerly looks forward to sailing the Lesser Antilles. To plan his cruise, he referred to sources such as Jimmy Cornell and also asked experienced friends to list their favorite spots. One friend, for example, listed the Tobago Cays, the Pitons, Roseau, the Saintes, St. Barts and Road Bay (Anguilla). Another mentioned St. Barts, the Saintes, Bequia, Guadeloupe, Grenada, the Tobago Cays, the Virgin Islands, French St. Martin, Montserrat, Martinique and Nevis. Graham says, "The lists will be sorted, and then destinations cherry-picked subject to wind and tide!"

Brian O'Sullivan of Navillus (Sullivan spelled backwards) is also looking forward to cruising the islands, but for him it's a question of when. Soon after arrival in St. Lucia, he had to get back to Ireland, where he has a boatbuilding company in Tralee. Navillus - the four-cabin version of the Bavaria 50 - has been put into charter service at the TMM charter base in St. Vincent. She had previously been in charter in Cork, but with Ireland's short sailing season she was idle part of the year. So others will now enjoy sailing her in the Grenadines until Brian can return.

A couple dozen other ARC participants won't have time to see much more of the Eastern Caribbean than St. Lucia, either - they'll be starting a circumnavigation there with World ARC on January 23rd.
James Anderson of the British Contest 40 Cleone did the ARC in 2005, and will join other entrants in World ARC this month. But he decided it would be a shame to miss Barbados, which hosted the ARC finish from 1986 to '89, so he crossed the Atlantic independently this time and made his landfall there. In contrast to the hubbub in Rodney Bay, he found only half a dozen yachts in Carlisle Bay. "We had a great time," he told Compass, "there's lots to see and do, friendly people and a beautiful anchorage." He adds that the inner basin in Bridgetown would make an excellent yacht harbor.
James' 2005-2006 cruising season in the Windwards and Leewards, however, was typical of what many ARCers will experience this year, with highlights being Old Year's Night in Bequia ("fantastic party; we met friends and went from place to place along the waterfront. One of our sons came home late, the other at almost dawn!") and racing on a friend's boat in Antigua Sail Week. In 2006, Cleone returned eastward across the Atlantic with ARC Europe, which leaves annually in May from Jolly Harbour, Antigua.
Whether crews were winding down after their Atlantic crossing, gearing up for a circumnavigation, or slipping into island time for the foreseeable future, Rodney Bay was buzzing. Andrew Bishop, Managing Director of the ARC organizing body World Cruising Club, told Compass, "ARC 2007 participants have experienced a wide range of conditions and challenges during their Atlantic crossing and have arrived in St. Lucia in faster than usual overall times. All the boats are staying in St. Lucia longer than usual with the marina bursting at the seams, creating a fantastic atmosphere at the end of the event."

Martin Lucas of Island Global Yachting, which purchased Rodney Bay Marina last year, tells Compass that comprehensive rebuilding of the docks is planned, with the goal of being ready for the arrival of ARC 2008 in December. "Be patient - it's going to be worth it!"
Outside the marina, the whole area around Rodney Bay Lagoon was buzzing, too, as exemplified by Buzz restaurant's annual Monday night ARC cocktail party, a "seafood fiesta" at Spinnakers on Reduit Beach, the Fun Day dinghy races at St. Lucia Yacht Club, an ARC costume party on Pigeon Island, the marina manager's party, plus specially arranged shopping tours, lectures on local culture and Caribbean cruising, steelband entertainment and more, culminating in the gala ARC prizegiving ceremony. Stamina was required for more than the crossing!

This wasn't the easiest ARC ever, but perhaps that made the post-landfall activities in December 2007 especially exuberant. As Graham Roxburgh of Solferino summed it up: "Participants are enriched by the trip."

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