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Atlantic Rally for Cruisers 2012: The Fast and Furry

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After crossing the Atlantic, Chester and Sparkles receive a cuddle from Silka and Captain Rolf Oetter. Photo courtesy of onboardnextlife.blogspot.com
After crossing the Atlantic, Chester and Sparkles receive a cuddle from Silka and Captain Rolf Oetter. Photo courtesy of onboardnextlife.blogspot.com

For the 27th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers the talk on the dock at the Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia, was the weather, the speed and a golden retriever! Yes, you read right, a golden retriever.

From the official start on November 25th 2012, when the boats left Las Palmas de Grand Caneria, the weather played a major role causing the start of the cruising division to be delayed by two days. Since the first ARC in 1986, this is only the second time that ARC officials have delay the start, the last time was in 1989.

A total of 226 boats and 1269 people, the majority of them family cruisers, took part in the 2700 nautical mile rally that finished in Rodney Bay Marina, Saint Lucia.

Vaquita, a Class 40, competing in the RORC IRC Racing Division, was the first to cross the line in just over 12 days. This ARC was the team’s third consecutive year racing. Skippered by Christof Petter, Vaquita’s crew included Andreas Hanakamp, former Team Russia Volvo Ocean Race skipper and two times Olympic star. The 40ft yacht sailed a northerly route from Gran Canaria and reached speeds of up to 25 knots during the crossing.

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Speaking at the ARC Village, organizer Andrew Bishop, Managing Director of World Cruising Club, said: “Winds have been much stronger than usual and crossing times were much quicker and so a large number of cruising boats have arrived within 15 and 16 days, whereas normally it would take 17 and 18 days.”

The current ARC record is 11 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds, held by Italian maxi yacht Capricorno (Rinaldo Del Bono) and set during 2006.

This year’s marked increase in speed came at a price. A fast passage is also a tough passage and many crews said the weather took its toll and vessels suffered ripped sails, damaged spinnakers and broken booms.

Although sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in the ARC may be every sailors dream, apparently, it is every dog and cat’s dream too. Skippered by Rolf Oetter, the Canadian boat Next Life, a Lagoon 450 catamaran, took 15 days to arrive in St. Lucia with a crew of five, plus Sparkles the cat, and Chester, a golden retriever. Sparkles may go unnoticed except for when he is hungry, however, standing on the dock waiting to go on board I received a warm welcome from Chester who ran and leapt on me. By this, you can tell Chester was quite a handful to sail with.

Chester’s owner, Silke Sommerfeld, who does not consider herself a sailor, said: “I’m what you could call a nice weather and no waves cruiser. So, why am I crossing the Atlantic? Well, because of my dog, Chester. Somebody had to make sure he was going to be fine. Right? And flying didn’t come up as an option … at least not for the dog.”

While the damage to Next Life included an exploded spinnaker block and problems with the main sail, they found one of their biggest challenges was sailing with pets, or at least the bureaucracy and documentation involved for an agile dog like Chester who wanted to leave the boat to enjoy the sandy beaches. Sommerfield says she used Pettravel.com to source information on what was required by the various countries they intended to visit while travelling with their pets.

Next, Chester and his owners will be heading to The Bahamas and then Florida before flying home to Canada. This will mark one year since they last lived on land and Silke says she would not have been able to bear leaving Chester for the year.

The 27th ARC proves that crossing the Atlantic is no walk in the park for sailors and cruisers, but was exactly that for Chester the dog.

Christy Recaii is a journalist based in Saint Lucia who has a passion for sailing. She is a Hunter College graduate with a BA in Media Studies. You can find her either on the water or the docks seeking out the next marine scoop. Email: sailingonthebrain@gmail.com


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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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