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Crossing the Atlantic with ARC 2017: Settling in to life at sea

By WCC — last modified Nov 27, 2017 10:19 AM
So far ARC 2017 has delivered a mix of weather, emotions and celebrations.

Published: 2017-11-27 00:00:00
Topics: Atlantic Crossing , Rallies
Countries: Canary Islands , St Lucia

Whisked away from Gran Canaria

Following the mass migration of the ARC fleet from Muelle Deportivo on Sunday, the first five days at sea have already delivered plenty of special moments bearing the hallmarks of a great ocean sail – highs and lows included. Following Sunday’s start, many flew spinnakers and cruising chutes to propel them away from Gran Canaria, notching up personal speed records and watching the miles to Saint Lucia finally fall away after so many preparations. “There’s mixed emotions on board at the moment.” Reflected Alex from on board No Stress on Sunday afternoon, “People have spent over 18 months preparing for this and now we’re on our way. There’s tiredness from the last few days of fevered preparations, and a sense of cautious optimism as we know we can enjoy it but are all respectful of the elements and hoping for a smooth crossing.”

On entering the acceleration zone off the south of the island, stronger winds greeted the fleet, and despite ARC Weatherman Chris Tibbs’ warning, a few were a little late to shorten. “We'd been warned all week that there is an 'acceleration zone' around the southern end of the island where the wind gets significantly stronger... And I think you can see where this is going.” Reported Nutcracker’s crew. “Big discussion about whether we should get the chute down, big gust of wind, big ripped sail. We. Never. Learn.”

What of the Weather?

The first dawn at sea is a special moment for any ocean sailor and on Monday morning the serene sunrise was accompanied by the forecasted drop in wind which continued to affect the fleet throughout the day. “The Atlantic is a millpond.” Reported the crew of Blonde Moment, “but it is fabulous for seeing the friendly dolphins and sea turtles who have already been to visit! The flat sea has enabled us to catch a very pretty Mahi Mahi (poor thing!) for dinner, so a few more days in the doldrums and we won't starve!” Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say.

Whilst the cruisers were content to top up the ships fridge, bring out the board games and enjoy a more comfortable start to their crossing, boats in the Racing Division have been a little more eager to hunt the wind. Weather so far on this year’s ARC has been far from typical. As predicted at the prestart weather briefing, a low pressure to the west of the Azores, and to the north of the rhumb line to Saint Lucia has affected the seasonal ENE winds in the central north Atlantic. By Friday, boats close to the rhumb line have encountered winds from the Low between NW-SW, and picking up the swell. Many of the boats that set off on the direct rhumb line have since altered course to the south, where winds are lighter. Those boats on the “south until the butter melts” route are faring better with light NE winds, giving a following breeze, if slower than they might prefer. In the squeeze zone between the two weather areas, there is currently little wind, so we expect some boats to opt for a refuelling pit-stop in Cape Verde. For those boats already down at the latitudes of Cape Verde, including all the ARC+ fleet, they are now enjoying typical easterly trade winds around 15+ knots.

Adverse winds have caused several boats on the northern route to retire with equipment failures and Rapido, NorXL and also Ecover of Skagen have turned around and are returning to the Canary Islands.

Celebration feasts

As millions of Americans celebrated Thanksgiving, ARC and ARC+ sailors also joined in. Mealtimes are usually the highlight of the day on board, so special celebrations are a nice way mark the occasion with a feast. On board North Starthey celebrated appropriately with a ‘grand turkey dinner with all the trimmings’…. Except… “We had to make a couple of substitutions since we didn't have any turkey…” the crew explained. As well as having limited ingredients, limited space on board also means crews have to be creative at mealtimes. “Grand meals which involve multiple cooks and a galley big enough for only one, the meal preparation is somewhat of a dance. At the right moment one cook steps aside and the other takes over, like a symphony everything builds to the finale with a crescendo as the meal is served. Rick and Henry's performance was brilliant! The "turkey" dinner was perfect!

The ARC+ fleet are continuing to make steady progress, with the faster boats reaching the half-way mark on the passage from Cape Verde to Saint Lucia. The crew of Hummingbird, were particularly upbeat to achieve the milestone, “We’re over halfway across the Atlantic! St Lucia is now closer than Cape Verde, less than 1000nm to go! The atmosphere on board Hummingbird is normally a solid mix of cockpit dancing/evening socials/night watch giggles anyway, but with this official crossing of the mid-Atlantic ridge being kind of a big deal we’ve upped our game to a grand two-day celebration.” And meanwhile the crew of Louanne marked the occasion with a special meal on board, even if it was in a slightly unconventional order! “Crossing the half-way point of 42 degrees west, 1050 nautical miles, was celebrated with cake and ice-cream, followed by a luxury dinner of sirloin steaks on the grill, asparagus and roast potatoes. Yum! (Time is upside down at sea so it was kind of appropriate to eat dessert first!)

You can track the boats, and read the Boat Blogs to follow the fleet's days at sea.

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Gran Canaria is a miniature continent
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The premier location for nautical activities
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Over 200 boats and 1200 people take part in the ARC every year
2700 NM across the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia
A rally for everyone; families, racers, couples, big boats and modest boats
Two weeks of pre-departure activities in Las Palmas
Welcomed in Saint Lucia with a rum punch and a chilled beer
Fantastic achievement - crossing an ocean on a small sailboat