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Countdown to the ARC start

One week to go!
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Sunday 15 November


With just one week to go until the start of the 35th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, almost all of the boats have arrived in Las Palmas and preparations continue in the final week before the start on Sunday 22 November.

Photo: WCC / Jésus de Leon

For the 300+ crews from 29 different countries who are sailing on board 60 boats in the ARC fleet, there’s never been a better time to go to sea and enjoy the freedom and remoteness that a 2,700nm passage across the ocean to Saint Lucia will give them. It’s certainly been a very different event so far with the Covid-secure protocols in place, but the atmosphere, camaraderie and rally support associated with the world’s largest transocean rally still ripple around the docks of Las Palmas Marina. 


World Cruising Club has worked closely with host ports and supporters in Gran Canaria, Cape Verdes (ARC+) and Saint Lucia to be able to offer an ARC experience for those determined to reach the Caribbean this winter. Representatives from the Turismo del Cabildo de Gran Canaria, Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and the Port Authority visited the marina on Friday to wish them ‘Bon Voyage’ and will wave off the crews next Sunday; meanwhile in Saint Lucia IGY Rodney Bay Marina, the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority and the Events Company of Saint Lucia are gearing up to welcome them on the other side.


Many of the crews this year have sailed in the ARC previously, including two rally veterans – Manfred Kerstan on Albatros, now on his 26th ARC and Christoph von Reibnitz on the oldest boat Peter Von Seestermuhe, built in 1936. There’s lots of first-timers too though and the support and safety network of the ARC rally is one of the main reasons for their participation; perhaps even more so in 2020. Several crews are also using the ARC to raise money and awareness for charities, giving an additional focus to their challenge, but for others it is a personal achievement to cross an ocean perhaps as a bucket-list dream, which will soon become a reality when they cast off their lines next Sunday. Whilst there are many motivations for navigating the Atlantic, this year’s sailors are certainly united in feeling they are doing something very special in 2020. 


The pre-departure programme in Gran Canaria has been adapted this year to see the popular ARC seminars move online covering a myriad of topics for cruising sailors to assist with their final preparations. Focusing on the safety of the crews, a live demonstration of an air-sea rescue was staged off the marina on Thursday. The ARC safety team have been busy around the docks, visiting every boat and running through the safety equipment and boat checks as part of the requirement for entering the rally. 


Away from the boat preparations, crews have enjoyed exploring Gran Canaria and several took the opportunity to see more of the island as volunteers on a trip to the mountains behind Las Palmas. They helped plant over 90 trees as part of the ARC Forest project. Now over 3,000 trees have been planted by ARC+ and ARC volunteers over the last 10 years in this reforestation project. Family participation is always high and 24 children ranging from 4-16 years old will be sailing across this year. Many have been having fun at the ARC Kids Club run in association with Federación Insular De Vela, allowing their parents more time to get on with the ever-ending list of jobs. 


Although the bulk of the fleet, including the 13 family boats, sail across in the cruising division which allows engines to be used and an element of fun competition, five boats will race over to Saint Lucia under IRC Ratings. These include the largest yacht in the fleet at 27m, Nordsee 88, Songbird of London. Competitive skippers, including JP Dick on The Kid and Péter Perényi on Cassiopeia 68, will be keeping the current record of 8 days 6 hours set by Rambler 88 in 2016, in mind. The multihulls have also come marching in the ARC 2020, with 18 catamarans lining up, half of which are new builds in 2020, putting their first ocean miles under their keels this year. Of the 60 boats taking part, the German Pogo 30 Yuna at 9.14m is the smallest.


The Sunday before the start is traditionally the ARC Opening Ceremony and whilst a parade around the marina is not possible this year, the international flavour of the ARC here in Las Palmas was celebrated with flags being raised around the marina to represent the nationalities of participants taking part in 2020. At midday as the event took place, the sound of boat horns, cheers and music were heard as the flags are raised to mark the final week before the international fleet head off on their adventure. 


To ensure the health and wellbeing of all crews, ARC participants will be confining their preparations to their crew ‘bubble’ this week as the start day approaches. Local suppliers from supermarkets to chandleries, to restaurants have all adapted to follow the protocols, and ARC participants have been well looked after during their time in Gran Canaria so far. On Sunday 22nd November, the fleet will wave goodbye to the docks of Las Palmas Marina, heading out to take the start at 12:45 for the Racing Division, followed by the Cruising and Multihull Divisions at 13:00.  


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