It’s the granddaddy of all offshore rallies and judging by the fleet assembling in Las Palmas this November, it is growing stronger by the year. We are, of course, talking about the ARC – The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.
Now in its 26th year, the ARC was started by journalist Jimmy Cornell who, in the mid 1980s, was sent by a popular sailing magazine to cover the annual yacht migration from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, a migration much smaller than it is today.
What Cornell found inspired him and in 1986 the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers was born.
Why do so many sailors want to join this popular rally?
“Without doubt some ARC participants would have crossed the Atlantic without the rally, while others have done so because of the rally,” says Andrew Bishop, the man who now heads the World Cruising Club, the owners of the ARC. “The influence of the rally extends beyond the immediate start and finish though, and where we really help is in preparing people to go offshore cruising.”
Before taking part in the ARC, says Bishop, sailors often prepare for years, even going as far as contacting the World Cruising Club before they have even bought a boat. “They’ll come along to our seminars and forums to learn about the practicalities of life aboard and how to select gear and train crew. By the time they cross the line in Las Palmas they’re fully prepared; practically and mentally.”
By March this year, the ARC was already over subscribed and a waiting list was started. And with such high numbers, organizers expect 235 boats to start from Las Palmas.
There can be no doubt that when the ARC arrives in town it pumps a large amount of dollars into the local economy.
“We’ve done a lot of work in measuring the economic impact of the ARC in Gran Canaria, and in 2010 the boat crews spent over $2m in Las Palmas, not including flights and accommodation ashore,” says Bishop.Â He adds, “We would expect an equivalent level of spend in Saint Lucia, although more is likely to be spent on accommodation and tourism-related activities, and less on preparing the boat.”
A welcome surprise is the number of multihulls taking part, with 30 expected on the start line. This breaks another ARC record and makes it the biggest-ever transocean event for cruising catamarans. The increase has delighted the organizers who say they worked hard to increase the number of multihulls by making more space available in Las Palmas.
World Cruising Club increased the number of rallies they organize by taking over the Caribbean 1500. Also, thirteen boats from ARC 2011 and four previous ARC boats are going on to join the World ARC circumnavigation rally that starts in Saint Lucia in January 2012.
The ARC has always been about sailing and camaraderie. Many families will again be crossing the Atlantic and their crews will include everyone from toddlers to those in their senior years.
Although many old-hands will be joining the fleet, the ARC is there to help and encourage those making an ocean crossing for the first time. This is something that the ARC is rightly proud of and dates back to the original concept as laid down by founder Jimmy Cornell.
Stringent rules on safety help instill confidence in those making the voyage for the first time.
“Safety is our chief concern,” notes Bishop. “And our equipment requirements, at-sea weather forecasts, radio net and pre-departure skippers’ briefings are a deciding factor in joining the ARC for many people.”
Asked to sum-up this years rally, Bishop had this to offer those taking part: “You are going to undertake something amazing, crossing an ocean using the power of the wind, dependent on your own skills and abilities.Â Although you’ll be following in the wakes of thousands of sailors both ancient and modern, your adventure will be unique, and you’ll be able to count yourself a member of a special group of people.”
The 26th ARC leaves Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on November 20th.
For details or to enter ARC 2012, visit: www.worldcruising.com
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He is a presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: http://garyebrown.net