In the curtain call of an Atlantic crossing that had proved frustratingly slow for many of the 186 participants in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), the 37ft classic wooden sloop Trimley Maid crossed the finish line in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, on Christmas morning, over a month after the start from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. The Hillyard 9-Tonner had been delayed more than a week by rigging problems and her doublehanded crew pushed the venerable vessel as hard as they dared. In the meantime, she had been voted Most Beautiful Yacht at the ARC prizegiving, a fine consolation prize.
For most of the other boats in the ARC and ARC+ (Las Palmas-Cape Verdes-St Lucia) fleets, arriving had been consolation enough. A low-pressure system camped on the rhumb line damaged several boats early on and made navigation something of a lottery, and those who headed south found that the expected northeast Trades took their sweet time in arriving.
The early lack of wind affected the British-flagged Malo 46 Shimna more than most; an engine bay fire in mid-Atlantic left them without any means of charging the batteries. “On the positive side, we have the satisfaction of knowing we sailed the Atlantic without burning any diesel, using electronic navigation equipment or an auto helm,” said the ship’s blog.
A glassy-calm Atlantic provided the perfect excuse for the crew of the Catana 62 Gust of Wind to break out the toys: “Six of the crew added their names to an extremely short (presumably) list of people who can say they’ve wake-boarded 1,300 nautical miles from the nearest landmass.”
But that’s ocean sailing for you. A half-dozen boats turned back early on with technical issues, in most cases to restart later, but the rest persevered, though more boats than ever resorted to engine power, as much for the psychological value of making progress in a calm as the actual mileage gained. Those who sailed the rhumb line had to contend with headwinds as the low pressure system built to the north, while those who went south had light winds for the first 700 miles. The first boat to finish was the performance cruising catamaran Guyader Gastromie, a TS42, whose French crew did everything just right to sail 2,900 miles in just 14 days.
For those who went south, the eventual arrival of the Trades on what was dubbed “Tradewind Tuesday” more than two weeks after the start was cause for celebration. After 10 largely windless days, the crew of the Oyster 47 Jubilate Mare, taking part in the ARC+ with a stopover in the Cape Verdes, exulted in the fresh breeze: “We are now wing-on-wing on a direct course to our destination. Average speed now in the high sixes and lots of sevens. After the initial excitement of our flying start, for the next 10 days, we were lucky to see threes!”
Among the American yachts taking part in this 32nd edition of the classic rally was the Shannon Pilothouse 38 North Star, out of Westerly, Rhode Island, with a crew of three septuagenarians. Skipper Ted Rice described a solid two weeks of sailing fast under main and poled-out genoa, with his Auto Helm trim-tab windvane steering “like a champ,” though plenty of engine hours were needed to push through the light air in the early stages. There were niggling problems with the charging system and freshwater pump; they were pooped once in following seas and a knockdown toward the end provided an unwelcome final dash of drama, but otherwise, it was an uneventful crossing.
The smallest—and arguably the oldest—boat in the fleet this year was the well-traveled 1966 Vanguard 32 Blue Mist, whose skipper David Nichols hails from San Francisco. He’s owned Blue Mist for 15 years, competing in the Pacific Cup to Hawaii several times before sailing her down the Pacific coast to the Panama Canal and across the Pond in the 2016 ARC Europe, from Portsmouth, Virginia to the Azores.
He and his pickup crew enjoyed a slow but relaxing passage, once they’d got through the early doldrums en route to Mindelo in the Cape Verdes. “We did a lot of motoring because of the lack of wind, and really enjoyed our stopover in the Cape Verdes,” he said. “Once we found the Trades we had some good sailing. We saw lots of other boats en route, traded tacks with one of them every day for two weeks!”
There were no major gear failures during the crossing, except for the rivets holding the gooseneck fitting to the mast working loose. Nichols soon cured that with an application of his Band-it tool (“every boat should carry one!”)—that, his Wichard Gyb’Easy boom brake and his AIS transponder were the most indispensable items on board. A rope around the prop, soon sorted, was the only other hiccup.
As always there was an air of restlessness among the fleet as the reality of their accomplishment set in and thoughts turned to the next adventure, with some boats staying in or near St Lucia for the start of the world ARC, others heading down the islands to the Grenadines, others making their way north slowly towards the Virgin Islands, Bahamas and Keys and still others awaiting haulout in the full-service yard next door for essential maintenance.
No one was in any particular hurry; World Cruising club had laid on plenty of events that made the most of St Lucia’s natural and manmade attractions, from the old Royal Navy fortifications on adjacent Pigeon Island to island tours and visits to the Soufriere volcano. The relaxed atmosphere around the Rodney Bay Marina had its own appeal too. It was not surprising to see so many boats sporting several ARC battleflags. It appears that for some sailors, one ARC is just not enough.
*For full results from the 2017 ARC, go to worldcruising.com
Photos by Peter Nielsen