Almost three decades have passed since yachting journalist Jimmy Cornell arrived in the Canary Islands to write about the yachts waiting to set out across the Atlantic. Building on what he found while reporting the story for Yachting World magazine, Cornell pioneered a way for thousands of yachts to sail across oceans in the company of others.
From the beginning, Cornell was determined to offer something more than the usual Atlantic dash. Yes, it would be a race, but the focus would be on the fun of taking part and one that would increase safety and confidence, especially amongst those making their first long ocean passage.
Many cruisers go to sea to get away from the crowds preferring instead to create their own adventures. That said, Cornell's foray to the Canary Islands convinced him that many would come together in a well organized transatlantic event. It turned out he was right and ARC86, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers was born.
Immediately the rally was announced entries started rolling in from around the world and just a couple of months later the list of entries had to be closed and a waiting list started.
Cornell watched as on November 25, 1986, the starting cannon was fired from a Spanish Navy frigate and 204 yachts from 24 nations set sail on the inaugural ARC, leaving Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, on the largest trans-ocean race ever staged.
"I was certainly very impressed," says Cornell, "but I must admit, I never thought there would be a second one. I thought it was a one off. We never thought there should be another one, and then the letters started coming in from people who had missed the first ARC"
There was no entry fee for the first rally, so none of the organizers were paid.
"I was still working for the BBC, I had a very good job and had no plans of giving it up," says Cornell. "The second ARC came about because people insisted. They were blaming us for giving birth to such a good idea and then dropping it. That's when I realized there was something more in it than just a one-off event. I formed a company called World Cruising Ltd, later to be called World Cruising Club. Eventually I resigned from the BBC and the rest is history."
Bring together sailboats of any kind and like it or not you have got a race. In 1989, when some skippers said they would take part in the ARC if it was more competitive, Cornell introduced a racing division using the Channel Handicap System. Entries in this division, now run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, today form some 15 per cent of the fleet each year, whilst the majority has remained in the Cruising Division in which limited motoring is allowed.
Although he hasn't been involved with the ARC since 2000, Cornell says he is happy to see the original spirit of the event is still very much alive. "In the beginning I insisted it was an amateur event for amateur sailors, not a professional event. It was something I wanted cruising sailors like myself to take part in. Of course, pressures came along and we had boats taking paying guests and so on. So gradually the original concept was slightly, and I stress slightly, diluted, but never lost. It is still basically an event for cruising sailors."
Andrew Bishop has been involved in the ARC since1989, first as a competitor and then as part of the organizing team under Jimmy Cornell. Bishop continued to work for the rally when World Cruising Club became part of Chay Blyth's Challenge Business, and later was involved in a management buy-out. The honor of organizing the 25th ARC belongs to him and his partners.
"The main focus for the 25th edition is to recognize – especially in Las Palmas – all the people who have been involved in the event over the years and who have helped in making the event special," says Bishop.
In 1990, ARC switched the finish, choosing to end the rally in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, instead of Barbados. This was done so that the entire fleet could tie up together in one marina and thus increase camaraderie between yachts.
"We certainly have a great relationship with St. Lucia," says Bishop. The island provides a great destination for boats arriving in the Caribbean, and we enjoy St. Lucia being the home of the finish of the ARC."
A record-breaking 250 boats are taking part in this year's ARC, but what of the future?
"I do sincerely hope we will be celebrating a 50th anniversary," says Bishop. "The ARC is a great event. What makes it special is the fact that it's an international event. The people that take part are what the ARC is all about."
For more details or to take part in future events, visit: www.worldcruising.com
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net