Preparing for the Atlantic

John & Susan Simpson
Thu 11 Nov 2021 10:39
The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) is an annual transatlantic sailing event for cruising yachts held since 1986.  The event regularly attracts over 200 boats of many different sizes and types.  The route from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay, St Lucia takes between 8 and 31 days depending on boat size and weather conditions.  

John took part in the ARC in 2011 in our previous boat, Chiscos, and it has been his ambition since to do it again.  Although being in the rally doesn’t mean sailing the Atlantic in close company with other boats - last time John and his crew didn’t see another soul after the first day for the next 14 days - it does help to have a deadline to work towards and a community of people all preparing to do the same thing.  When we do the crossing we will have daily scheduled group radio calls with other boats, which is both a safety feature and a morale boost.

We have been in Las Palmas a few weeks now but the ARC event didn’t officially start until 8th November.  There is a programme of social events and preparation seminars over the next couple of weeks until all the boats leave Las Palmas on 21st November bound for the Caribbean.  There’s a real buzz along the pontoon with people comparing ideas and swapping tools to complete all the tasks on their to do lists.  Just under 100 ARC boats have arrived in the marina to date and the fleet should be complete by Saturday.  

We were joined on Monday by our two crew members, Noa Goovaerts and Laura Hampton, who are both 3rd year students at St Andrews University and sponsored by the Ocean Cruising Club under their youth scholarship scheme.  The aim of the scheme is to support young people to learn about ocean sailing so, as well as the practical experience of crossing the Atlantic with us, we have also committed to passing on our ocean sailing knowledge about preparing for the crossing.  They’ll have a busy fortnight because they’re also continuing their university tutorials and written work while they’re here!  Today’s boat learning was about the electrical systems on the boat as they helped John to wire in new solar panels.

Meanwhile I was wrestling vast amounts of stiff and unwieldy canvas to make a platform to fit across the davits on the back of the boat, the idea being that the new solar panels will clip on to the panel, keeping the solar panels out of the way and in full sun.

All around the marina there are boats from different nations and we hear many different languages spoken.  From where I’m sitting writing this I can see the Dutch flag, the US Stars and Stripes, and flags from Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway.  Scandinavians have been in abundance everywhere we’ve been since we left the UK, particularly Norwegians.  In one anchorage off Porto Santo there were 30 boats and 15 of them were Norwegian.  It seemed remarkable that a country with a population of 5.5 million accounted for 50% of the anchorage when there were also boats from the UK (67 million), Germany (83 million), Holland (17.5 million) and I tried to find out why so many Norwegians go to sea.  Apparently Norway has Europe’s longest coastline and depends on the sea for transport and resources.  At the start of the 20th century Norway had the fourth largest merchant fleet in the world, trailing only behind Great Britain, Germany and the US.  Around 6.6% of the sailing fleet and 3.6% of the steamship fleet were flying the Norwegian flag at that time.  So my theory about Viking DNA in the blood being the reason may not be quite correct! I must say a word about my favourite Norwegian sailor of the moment, Erik Aanderaa -  John and I have followed a number of Youtube channels as we’ve prepared for our trip and we think he’s one of the best.  We even bought a new sail based on one he’d had made for his boat.  He’s well worth a watch to see what ocean sailing in cold waters is like.  That’s where we differ, John and I are intent on heading south to warmer climes like many of Erik’s compatriots!