Thirty-three years ago Jimmy Cornell launched a rally for boats crossing the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. The pitch was safety in numbers and resonated with sailors who were seeking adventure but also looking for a bit of a safety net. It was a monohull Mecca; cruising multihulls were few and far between in those days.
Three decades later, 11 ARC-related events take place around the globe but the original Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (and its cousin, the ARC+ that adds a stop at the Cape Verde Islands before launching across the pond) is still the big draw. This year, 261 boats took on the nearly 3,000-mile trek and a record 54 of them had more than one hull.
Boats from dozens of countries were represented, with the United Kingdom, Germany and the U.S. leading the pack. Lagoon took top honors for the most (12) catamarans from one builder. Some of the multihulls were brand new and on their shakedown cruise, while others were circumnavigators and multi-ARC veterans. When I caught up with them at the finish line in St. Lucia, some were well recovered from their journey while others had just tied up that morning. All of them looked like they had just had the adventure of a lifetime and they wanted to share their stories, which made my job easy.
I could hardly resist a boat named Chubby Bunny, a 2018 Lagoon 450S that crossed in 18 days, 2 hours. I was met by the Dutch captain, Andre, and his Chinese wife, Flora, who was folding laundry at the cockpit table. Their 22-month-old daughter was napping.
They had picked up their brand new boat in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, in March and took her to the Netherlands for outfitting. By August, they were cruising France, Spain and Portugal with their diapered baby in tow. Their couple’s banter was funny. Flora confessed that she’s not a water person and had to learn to swim in order to do this voyage—a good thing too because they were continuing on to the World ARC to circumnavigate the globe. Andre said he likes “incident management” so when their spinnaker broke in the middle of the night, they and their three hitchhiking crew had their hands full. Flora corrected him and added that he really likes “drama.”
One thing they agreed on: their daughter will be trilingual by the time they find themselves in the Caribbean again. When I asked about the boat name (which was accompanied by a large graphic on each bow) Flora added, “I just wanted to hear him say it on the radio.”
I found Frank and Joeri on another Lagoon 450, this time a flybridge version. These two Belgians had worked together 25 years ago and now were formulating plans to head up the East Coast of the U.S. to New York. An ex-sports coach, the captain was clearly very competitive and proudly announced that they had come in second in their division.
The boat was spotless. It must have been that lifetime of disciplined coaching that kept such good order aboard. Lots of redundancy was built into its systems, with numerous solar panels and two autopilots—just in case. Their average speed was 7 knots and they used their Parasailor spinnaker 95 percent of the time. My head swam with numbers as I stepped off the boat laughing at how far from a relaxed couple with a baby these two were.
The veteran multihull in the 2018 ARC was definitely the VPLP-designed Aikane 56, Sea Child. The ARC was the last leg of Eric and Tamara’s circumnavigation that had started in 2009. A decade and several thousand miles later, the couple had signed up for the rally not because they were intimidated by an ocean crossing, but because they were looking for camaraderie. Originally from Newport Beach, California, Eric still looked like a hip surfer although he talked about his grandkids coming down for some easy sailing around the Caribbean. He and Tamara sat at a table topped by a world map and traced their route. They could have talked for days and I’d have been glad to listen. When it was time to wrap up, I asked where they were headed next. “Not sure,” replied Eric. “The ocean is our highway.” Yup—that’s very California.
Helmut and Herman welcomed me aboard a neat and tidy 2005 Nautitech 40 catamaran. They had arrived only that morning. As a crew of only two, they were remarkably fresh and full of good humor after 18+ days at sea. Herman, the owner, was a three-time ARC veteran and retired software entrepreneur, while Helmut is a heart surgeon who doesn’t like swimming. “I like being on the water, not in the water,” he said. He was staying on with Herman to do the World ARC all the way to the Marquesas. I wondered what the chances were that he’d go for a swim at least once in the coming months.
Sailing doublehanded, they kept the pedal to the metal while surfing at up to 21.5 knots in 32 knots of wind with a Parasailor spinnaker. They weren’t roughing it and luxuriated in plenty of fresh water from their watermaker and home-baked bread from their bread maker, which, they said, was their favorite piece of equipment aboard. How very Austrian.
One of the sexier boats on the docks was a new Outremer 4x with the French Argoud family aboard. Appropriately named ASAP, the performance cat belonged to Valerie, Rudolphe and their young son, Romain. A born racer, Rudolphe pushed the boat hard, up to 19 knots at times, and they finished in just about two weeks. Their halyard, possibly cut by the rotating mast, broke in the middle of the night, and the spinnaker wound its way under the boat. The sail came up with 21 holes in it, which they taped together. They then radioed the factory in France to see what they could do to preclude this from happening again. Factory personnel advised them to cut the halyard every day to provide a clean end. “We would have run out of halyard before we arrived!” exclaimed Valerie. To keep an eye on their position in the fleet, they participated in a daily noon radio check, but the pace wore Valerie out and even several days after arrival, she needed time to recover. Her favorite part? “The finish line,” she said laughing. “And that Romain is learning English from his American friends on another cat named Field Trip.”
One of the most engaging boats on the docks was the well-named Field Trip, a 2012 Lagoon 400 with Mike, Andrea, Jake and Ryan Field aboard. They had bought the boat in Greece just six months earlier and now they were already true passagemakers. Although they had always wanted to cruise, they figured it was an unlikely proposition and called their ambition the “5% Dream.”
Then suddenly things changed and they found themselves renting their house in Southern California, packing and weighing their gear on a bathroom scale in their driveway. Mike and I had probably attended the same sailing classes two decades earlier in Newport Beach and here they were, with their kids (ages 11 and 13) running around with ASAP’s Romain and possibly learning French.
They had watched the volcano in Stromboli erupting, witnessed a lunar eclipse in Croatia and visited the beaches at Normandy. “It’s a great history lesson for the kids,” said Mike as he shoved aside four plastic water bottles filled with milky oil, a testimony to what seemed to be failed gaskets on their Saildrive transmissions.
They felt they had no other option but to go cruising when at the age of 9, Ryan came home from school with a drawing of the family aboard a catamaran cruising in the sunshine. They had the image put on T-shirts and now they were living that 100% Dream.
I heard there was a female in the bunch of multihull captains and found her on Bimble, a Catana 42 so new, she was just on her shakedown cruise. Britons Nina and Stephen had bought their boat in France and had discussed how to get it to their favorite cruising grounds in the Caribbean. He wanted to hire a captain; she wanted to be the captain.
Nina suggested she do the crossing with their adult daughter. Hearing that, Stephen relented and came along “to fix stuff.” Their relationship was about to change, since he had always been the skipper on their previous Island Packet 35. Per Nina, the key to being successfully in charge is to prepare a contingency plan for everything. She had imagined every scenario she could and had written down a plan of action for each, which was kept in a fat binder. One thing she hadn’t imagined was a loose filter on the genset that dumped eight gallons of diesel into the bilge at 0200.
It was clear how energized Nina was after her first command, and Stephen was just glad he didn’t have to be in charge. They had already decided to head to Anguilla next. The only question that remained was who was to be the skipper.
The crew of the Canadian-flagged Glory, a 2019 Lagoon 42, had clearly just arrived. Their fresh fruit basket and harnesses were under the cockpit table. Still, in mid-celebration of their arrival, they welcomed me aboard with a glass of Prosecco. They recounted their journey and described it as “madness” given that the Atlantic crossing was the new boat’s delivery from the French factory.
Like many other boats, they had lost their spinnaker halyard due to chafe and carried extra crew they had found on OceanCrewLink. The crew match must have been good since they were all in good spirits—or maybe that was due to the spirits.
Apparently, they had over-provisioned. “We could go all the way back with food we still have aboard,” said Glen, the captain from Toronto. Their favorite part? The Bailey’s in the coffee, of which there had clearly been enough.
Sailing Rallies Show how The World is Going to the Cats
Multihulls are enjoying a growth spurt and I see an increased number of cats everywhere, from the Med to the Caribbean and even down in the South Pacific. Rallies like the ARC are a great showcase for the popularity of these boats. Whether it’s families with kids, old salts wrapping up their circumnavigation, first timers, or old hands, more people are choosing multihulls to cross oceans. It must be true what they say, a monohull is just half a boat, so why not cruise in comfort on a whole boat?
MHS Summer 2019