The traditional Atlantic sailing rally (the ARC) from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to Rodney Bay on the Caribbean Island of St Lucia, some 2800 nautical miles, has experienced near perfect sailing conditions as the first yachts arrive in Rodney Bay. Last year was dogged with unfavourable and light winds but this year the classic north east trades pushed the yachts in record times towards the finish line. December 2nd saw the arrival of the first yacht in the racing division. The twelve metre “Vaquita” ploughed its way across the Atlantic arriving in less than twelve days. The owner had engaged an experienced mixed gender crew to make the passage and it was completed five days earlier than in 2010.
ARC departure from Las Palmas, Canary Islands. November 2005
The crew reported that Vaquita attained speeds of 23 knots at times as she surfed down the backs of waves and she regularly marched along at speeds between 18 and 20 knots. The crew admitted that the fast speeds made living conditions down below somewhat uncomfortable as the sound of the water rushing by was at times phenomenal.
The ARC rally is not just the domain for racers and winners but the cruising division also includes at least twenty or more children under the age of sixteen who are not skippering, crewing or sailing solo but are part of family groups that make this transatlantic voyage every year, many of whom go on to complete a circumnavigation.
This years rally has attracted twenty one children from nine different nationalities. The ARC rally committee did not leave these children at limbo while in Las Palmas, but organized outings and social activities so that they could get to know each other. It seems they were all pretty smart at communicating with each other despite the language barriers.
The oldest sailor in the rally is 78 years old and is the owner of the Peruvian registered yacht “Nandina”. He is not only the oldest sailor but it is the first time there has been an entry from Peru. The 78 year old was so keen on taking part in the rally that he had Nandina shipped over the Atlantic especially for the event.
Meanwhile as at the time of writing this article the ARC rally events in St Lucia officially get under way commencing with a welcome beach cocktail party. Yachts are still arriving one by one into St. Lucia, even though the wind has died in the Caribbean for a while. Forty five yachts have officially crossed the finish line, with a further eight more expected to arrive today, and twenty one more have radioed to say they will arrive tomorrow. This is quite a contrast to last year’s ARC rally which was one of the slowest on record and only two boats made landfall in St. Lucia within sixteen days. The first was the motor yacht “Wind Horse”, which simply motored across the Atlantic in just over ten days. “Berenice”, a large Swan design, was the only sailing yacht last year to complete the passage in less than sixteen days.
December 8, 2011 | Alison Williams
This is the time of year for yachts of all nations to gather at the Rock of Gibraltar to make the Atlantic Crossing over to the Caribbean via the Canary Islands. Some yachts sail around the Atlantic coast to either Portugal or the Moroccan ports while others leave directly from Gibraltar. September is too early to arrive in the Caribbean as it is still in the middle of the hurricane season but they are itching to start their journey and with the large number of marinas in the various Canary Islands along with an assortment of good anchorages there is no better place to while away a few weeks waiting for a weather window to cross over to the romantic Caribbean.
Some of these yachtsmen and women will complete their journey under the watchful eye of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and spend months or even years basing their yachts in marinas or anchorages scattered through the island group flourishing in the clear, rich waters of the Caribbean while others will spend the season there then sail back to Europe via Bermuda and the Azores. However, it is those whose dreams are to complete the full global circle that will be making nail biting decisions as to what they should do next.
Recent reports from experts on circumnavigating and piracy are now stressing that the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and even parts of the Red Sea have turned into no go areas. Pirate attacks on yachts alone are now approaching disturbing proportions with a 1 in 20 chance of experiencing an attack in the danger zones. The pirates have no inhibitions and don’t discriminate on size of yacht or its seeming wealth value. The valuable cargo has become the crew themselves, with hefty ransoms being demanded for their release. It is often many months before incarcerated crew is released after much haggling over ransom demands.
Rope on sailing boat in the sea © Sebastian Duda - Fotolia.com
More alarming is that in the 2010 -2011 year, five yachts people have been killed in the Indian Ocean and a further ten have been kidnapped. This has amounted to five attacks on yachts, with four of them being successful.
However, commercial shipping has benefitted hugely by the presence of a fleet of coalition warships that have been operating a safe corridor between the Omani port of Salalah and the Bab El Mandeb (Gates of Sorrow), the entry to the Red Sea, and which appears to have significantly halted large scale piracy for the time being, in that area. Pirates are more elusive than that and have spread their wings to extensive parts of the Indian Ocean. They are roaming around areas that are too massive to successfully police and which leave commercial ships and yacht crews vulnerable.
Coupled with the problems of piracy there are other hurdles to consider in the Middle East. Political instability in Yemen, Sudan and Egypt has made transiting the coasts of those countries increasingly unpredictable and in the period between January and May 2011 there was great relief by yacht crews when they finally arrived safely in Port Said on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt.
Joining or organising a military style convoy of other yachts has been the recent way to deal with the uncertainty of piracy but this is now not a guarantee of safety and the coalition warships have set no priority on shadowing and protecting such convoys.
Sailing on the oceans of the world can be exhilarating, awe inspiring and challenging and, if well prepared, quite doable, but protecting oneself from a pirate attack is something different altogether.
September 23, 2011 | Alison Williams
It’s early days yet to cross the Atlantic as the hurricane season is in full swing in the Caribbean but yachts of all shapes and sizes are making the slow windward plod from their wintering spots in the Mediterranean over to Gibraltar to stock up, do any repairs and upgrade any equipment before commencing the first stage south westwards across to the Canary Islands, a distance offshore from the African coast some 800 miles. According to weather experts the best time to make this passage is in September and then there is the wait in the Canaries until November when the hurricane season in the Caribbean has blown itself out.
En route to the Canaries, some will make diversions to Madeira or ports on the Moroccan coast that breaks up the passage and gives them a chance to assess their equipment. Others will make the direct passage and spend time enjoying the marinas and anchorages that can be found amongst the collection of volcanic islands.
Once underway from Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, a popular departure point, again some yachts will make a beeline for the Leeward Island group in the Caribbean with the expectation of picking up the reliable, favourable north east trade winds which will ensure a fast passage is accomplished. The island of St Lucia is 2700 nautical miles in a straight line and it can from 14 to 30 days to reach. There are ways of breaking up the long slog by going closer to the African coast and making a scheduled stopover at the Cape Verde Islands, where sailors are welcomed with open arms to this little visited archipelago.
ARC departure from Las Palmas, Canary Islands. November 2005
Many yachts that are not in an organized rally like the ARC make this diversion with the aim of arriving in the Caribbean a bit later so as to avoid frequent wind and rain squalls that are more in evidence in the early part of December. Of course, they get to visit a new island group as well. There are other options for the cruisers that do not intend to rush across the Atlantic and that is a visit to the Gambia and Senegal, which would open up a new culture for many but the sail westwards still means time is pressing as the season for safe sailing in the Caribbean is dominated by the long hurricane season which can start as early as April.
These days with the increasing number of yachts making the Atlantic passage many choose to join the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).
Over 200 yachts from all over the globe will participate in this annual transatlantic rally, organised by the World Cruising Club. It departs at the normal spot on Gran Canaria in late November. It is designed to be a friendly race for cruising yachts and allows the Atlantic crossing to be both safer and more fun. In fact the ARC is the now a common way for cruising yachts to cross the Atlantic. The fastest mega yachts may only take about two weeks and the slower smaller yachts upwards of three weeks. One of the most useful points about joining an organised rally is that the organisers insist that all entrants are fully prepared, by offering workshops on safety and communications for those participants who have little or no offshore experience.
Throughout the rally there is a daily radio net scheduled so that yachts can keep in contact with the rally base and it ensures the safety of all participants. All boats’ positions are monitored by rally organisers using transponders attached to the masts. It’s not all serious stuff though as a series of entertainment events are organised at both ends of the rally as well.
August 2, 2011 | Alison Williams
Despite the current recession, the rally numbers for 2011 have some time ago reached their full quota of 200. The largest are the British flagged “Challenger Two” and “Challenger Three” that classify themselves as tall ships at 21.63 metres and are sponsored by Tall Ships Adventures. The smallest at 9.6 metres is the Norwegian flagged “Tur-bo.”
Round the world sailing is nothing new to the world’s adventurers. In fact, it was way back in the 15th century when Magellan and his crew completed the journey via the Capes. Sailing ships have since ventured to all parts of the globe, commanded by sea captains flying the flag of their respective countries. They sailed in search of wealth, find new lands for settlement and, at the same time, spread the word of Christianity. It wasn’t until many centuries later that the first solo circumnavigator took to the helm. The American Joshua Slocum, in his 12 metre engineless yacht “Spray”, achieved this feat in the 188o’s. A book followed documenting his adventures including how he warded off pirates in the Straits of Magellan by placing copper tacks upside down on his deck. Chartless and engineless he tacked through the Straits for days before being swept around Cape Horn backwards by a great storm and forced to transit the strait again in Magellan’s footsteps.
Today, it almost seems that everyone either has or wants to sail around the world. Girls in their teens such as Australian Jessica Watson in her 34 foot yacht “Pink Lady” go out to try and break a record. She had spent much of her life living aboard her parents’ yacht before succeeding in circling the tempestuous Southern Ocean. In reality, the ports, harbours and anchorages are brimming with yachts of all shapes and sizes as they and their crews slowly make their way around the world.
This fraternity has changed dramatically over the last twenty five years. Small yachts, barely larger than 10 metres, plied the trade wind routes in the 1970’s and 1980’s, unknown to the world, but happy on a small budget to achieve a dream. There were no fancy electronics on board and navigation with a sextant and the sun and stars was the norm. There were few lavish marinas to leave a yacht for inland sojourns and many of the yachts people who were in their late twenties or early thirties had no pressing family commitments to detract them from their challenge. A postcard or a quick telephone call from a port was enough to console parents and friends that all was well.
ARC departure from Las Palmas, Canary Islands. November 2005
Circumnavigating in the 21st Century is completely different. Novels, magazine articles and TV presentations about world sailing adventures have attracted a huge following. Every year couples in their 50’s and 60’s swallow their savings into buying yachts with all home comforts and with the intention of turning it into a long term lifestyle and not simply a challenge. A great impetus for this has been the proliferation of rallies that have been staged to cover part of the route. The annual ARC rally is composed of up to 200 yachts that depart the Canaries in November each year to cross the sometimes boisterous North Atlantic. Every conceivable comfort is piled onto the yachts. Electronic navigation aids such as GPS chart plotters, radar, AIS transponders, state of the art EPIRBS, electronic autopilots, desalinators and satellite telephones make navigation and communication somewhat less challenging than in Slocum’s era. All this enables minute by minute weather information; second by second telephone contact with family and a watchful eye by the organizers as the yachts make the 18 day trip. For some this is the start of their circumnavigation and for others simply a trip to the Caribbean and back.
The Blue Water Rally is another organized event that keeps a group of yachts together for two years as they do the run. This sort of rally is more for those taking a short career break whereas most circumnavigators have a five to ten year lifestyle plan and join rallies for shorter legs like the well renowned Sail Indonesia rally which, with a hundred yachts in tow, over three months, visits ports and villages in the Indonesian Archipelago engaging in social events along the way, culminating in Singapore.
Marinas in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, The Caribbean and The Mediterranean as well as South American countries provide refuge for yachts and their crews in storm and cyclone seasons. This is the time when the intrepid grandparents go back to their home countries to visit their families, deal with financial and health matters while leaving their lifestyle homes under watchful eyes in these refuges. For those that remain with their boats social events are set up often mimicking events back home such as quiz nights, Pilates, darts tournaments and, for the more physical, hiking trips into inland areas. Fitness centres and swimming pools are often on hand as well.
Sailing around the world has become a lifestyle choice rather than an adventure. You can choose your own yacht, your own itinerary, even your own beach! As a retirement option, it will never match Magellan or Slocum’s experiences and it’s hard to find new lands to settle in, but as one old timer, on his third trip from New Zealand up to Tonga once said “It sure beats the rocking chair.”
June 9, 2011 | Alison Williams