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Americans in the ARC

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which runs each November from the Canary Islands to the West Indies, is the most successful cruising rally in the world, with over 200 boats participating every year. It is also primarily a European event, with most boats hailing from Great Britain, Germany and Scandinavia.

The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which runs each November from the Canary Islands to the West Indies, is the most successful cruising rally in the world, with over 200 boats participating every year. It is also primarily a European event, with most boats hailing from Great Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. The 2011 ARC, however, included an unusually large number of American entries—17 in all—making it the third largest national contingent after the Brits (84 boats) and Germans (26 boats).

Roaming the docks at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia at the conclusion of the event, I made a point of buttonholing Americans to get their perspective on things. Most, it turned out, had joined the rally as a way of delivering boats that had been purchased in Europe back across the Pond.

Among these were Bob and Cris Gerlach on Integrity, a Bavaria 37 that was one of the very last boats to cross the finish line. The Gerlachs had spent several years living and working in Jordan and purchased Integrity new in Slovenia. They kept her two years in Jordanian waters in the Gulf of Aqaba (“About the most boring place in the world to sail a boat,” Bob assured me) and three years in Greece. Bob was eager to sail Integrity home across the Atlantic, but Cris wasn’t so sure. Neither had crossed an ocean before, so the ARC was a critical component in their plans.

“I think of myself as a novice,” declared Bob. “I wanted the security of traveling in a herd. I especially appreciated all the seminars they gave before we left. We felt very safe, and we had a ton of fun.”

Another ex-pat bringing a boat home after a spell of living abroad was Bruce Jones, aboard Perservere, a Beneteau 57. Bruce and his wife, Pat, purchased their boat new in France in 2007 and spent two years cruising full-time in the Med after Bruce retired from working with European oil refiners. Bruce, like Bob, was a transatlantic virgin before he set off from the Canaries. “I joined the ARC for safety,” he told me. “And I would join again if I had to recross the ocean.”

Other boats I visited had only recently been purchased, and their owners were using the ARC to shake them down. One of these was Bandido, a brand new Oyster 625 headed to California by way of the Miami International Boat Show. According to her professional delivery skipper, Brian Walker, Bandido suffered a loss of steering just two days out and had to return to Gran Canaria, where a crack team from Oyster immediately flew in to make repairs. After restarting, she crossed to St. Lucia in 15 days.

Likewise, Sapphire II, a new Discovery 67, suffered a few teething pains during her passage. In addition to having her batteries overheat, her spinnaker halyards chafed through and were lost inside the mast, and there were problems with her furling mainsail. But owner John O’Connor, a naturalized American originally from Ireland, wasn’t daunted in the least and planned to join the World ARC, scheduled to depart St. Lucia in January, so that he could continue sailing on around the world aboard his new pride and joy.

James “Hubs” Hubbard and his partner, Diana Carida, who crewed aboard Brizo, a Beneteau 50, also had a few breakdowns to cope with. Brizo’s owner, Lew Wallner, purchased her used in Portugal last May and immediately started prepping her for a circumnavigation with his family in the World ARC. But during her transatlantic shakedown, Brizo suffered a major electrical fault, a fractured alternator bracket (which Hubs successfully lashed up with some Spectra line), a failed watermaker, and some rigging problems.

“I was skeptical of the ARC program when we joined this boat,” noted Hubs, an ex-Navy aviator turned delivery skipper. “But ultimately I was very impressed. The organization is fun and easy-going, they grease a lot of skids on both ends, and they throw great parties.”

The one U.S.-flagged boat I visited that wasn’t in delivery mode was Phaedo, a Gunboat 66 owned by Lloyd Thornburg. Lloyd’s ARC crossing was in fact his third transatlantic jaunt within a year. Since buying the boat in South Africa in November 2010, Lloyd had successfully raced her in the Caribbean in early 2011, in the Transatlantic Race in June, and then in the Fastnet Race in August.

The major reason he joined the ARC, Lloyd told me, was simply to slow down a bit. He wanted to use his engines when the wind got light, and he wanted to eat real food on passage instead of freeze-dried stuff.

“I had a great time,” he told me. “The ARC has been a lot of fun. It was a lot nicer than chasing a Volvo 70 around a race course.” 

Top image courtesy of World Cruising. All other photos by Charles J. Doane

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