Since its inception in 1986, the ARC has become synonymous with ocean sailing and this annual 2700 nautical mile transatlantic rally, starting each November from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, has now become the most popular way to cross the Atlantic. The largest transocean sailing event in the world, every year the ARC brings together over 200 yachts from all over the world.
Conceived as a friendly race for cruising yachts to make the Atlantic crossing both safer and more enjoyable, participating yachts must carry a range of safety equipment including a liferaft, EPIRB and VHF radio. Daily radio nets contribute further to the safety of participants and the presence of experienced sailors is another incentive for those with little offshore experience.
Over successive years, Oyster yachts have continued to be one of the most prolific marques represented in the ARC fleet, with many owners using the rally as a stepping-stone to achieving their ambitions to set off on long distance cruising and circumnavigations.
By Jess Sweeney
The stunning Oyster 655 Roulette v.2 was our vessel for the 2007 ARC. Almost brand-new, with a carbon rig, there was much anticipation amongst the crew to see how she handled herself across the Atlantic. Roulette proved to be all we could hope for – a fast boat that sailed easily with very comfortable living accommodation. The stunning Oyster 655 Roulette v.2 was our vessel for the 2007 ARC. Almost brand-new, with a carbon rig, there was much anticipation amongst the crew to see how she handled herself across the Atlantic. Roulette proved to be all we could hope for – a fast boat that sailed easily with very comfortable living accommodation.
The run up to the ARC start is grey and blustery and our last day ashore is filled with final preparations. We are all itching to get going, but first have to work out how to string up all the apples from the ceiling! Yesterday involved washing all the fruit – in chlorine, vinegar and water – amid various avid discussions about the technicalities of mushroom survival. Roulette’s owner Trevor Silver gave a safety briefing that covered all the emergency plans, but hopefully we will have nothing more to worry about than how to beat Hazel, our resident chef, in the ‘cook of the day’ competition.
We have three reefs in the main, two in the jib, and it seems we are on a beam reach with beam-on swell – not quite the downwind cruising we expected but we had a great start. There was a last minute call to pole out the jib on starboard instead of port as the wind had swung left… but amid the scrambling to rerun the lines, an opening appeared on the line for Trevor, the start gun on the warship sounded, and we were off! Much of the fleet went left, but we stayed inshore and scooted away in the sunshine. A squall soon caught us, we put the jib away, and when we brought it out again later we were in the lead!
Trevor turned the ship’s clocks back an hour at noon today. This was disorientating, not only because lunch was late, but more significantly, so was Happy Hour. Trevor was counting down the minutes in the galley, with the gin poised to pour for 20 minutes or so, until finally the clock struck the new 5pm. With all this great speed along the rhumb line we are maintaining a good position. Hazel has been busy in the ‘war room’, calculating handicaps and plotting the paths of our fellow competitors. We keep an especially close eye on our direct rivals, the Oyster 72 Holo Kai. A few of us have friends onboard Holo Kai, and therefore dearly desire bragging rights in St. Lucia. The war room plans continue. For the moment, things look good, and we sit at 2nd in class on handicap.
We received many messages of support through the online log, the response is a bit overwhelming and we have had a good laugh at the paradox of being simultaneously isolated in the middle of the ocean and also having a multitude of fans tracking us from all corners of the world. We have received mail from Australia to San Francisco, Switzerland to Antigua, New Zealand to Derbyshire. Today was marked by a gybe. This was not any old gybe. We’ve been on starboard for five days now, so while most of us on the foredeck were keen for a change, those below weren’t ready. The gybe was smooth and there were smiles on deck. However, DISASTER below! Trevor had been preparing the gin and tonics for Happy Hour ... on the "gybe-ho" a whole bottle of gin and a whole bottle of tonic went everywhere. Despite this, we have much to celebrate today. We have officially cracked the 1000 mile mark, and jumped two spots in the placings. Furthermore, the wind has come back to us. We are on port, jib goosewinged, heading directly for St. Lucia.
I set another top speed record last night of 16.8 knots! This was mainly due to some blatant disobedience – when a severe squall appeared on the radar, and a big black line of cloud approached in the night, instead of furling away the jib as instructed by the captain Stuart… I let out a "yeee-ha, bring it on!" So a nice 35 knots squall hit and the boat surfed like it had never surfed before! It was awesome, until Stu woke up, cursed us for being over-canvassed and sent the jib packing.
Today started at midnight with the half-way party – 1350 miles to go! We cracked a bottle of pink champagne, toasted the mid-Atlantic and celebrated the milestone in style. Two crew members were a bit sleepy though, and did not make it up on deck. So we had another party! This time it was at Happy Hour. Caviar, foie gras, and more pink champagne. Trevor also decided this was a good time to set the clock back another hour, so as if by magic, Happy Hour occurred all over again, and we had some G&T to round off the afternoon.
During a routine celestial navigation exercise, Chris’s sextant has shown that the sun is in the wrong position! This is dramatic evidence of climate change and has the whole boat talking. Chris is going to write to the Prime Minister: it seems the Northern and Southern hemispheres have switched. This may also explain the abundance of Antipodean accents onboard.
Last night, as we motored along in the darkness, a bright light appeared to starboard. It was bright green, with a thin orange tail. It dived downwards for 2-3 seconds only a few miles away. Three of us saw it, and a debate ensued about what it could have been. A flare? A meteorite? A UFO? We were in the middle of nowhere, with nothing on the radar, nothing on the radio, black emptiness all around and many shooting stars… we decided it was most likely a meteorite, but the episode left us all a little shaken.
We managed to catch a fish today at last! It was a beauty. A big dorado that was rapidly changing colour during the dance of death. Trevor grabbed the cheap bottle of alcohol to pour under its gills. But the awkward angle meant that instead Trevor poured it down the poor fish’s mouth. Drunk, it died.
Later, we saw a boat with a kite up to port. It was Berenice, the Swan 62. They were on starboard, we were on port. We looked forward to a bit of a match race on the water and chatted to them on the VHF. They were gybing every 15 minutes on the wind shifts and were going to have roast beef for dinner. We told them we had a policy of only gybing every 1000 miles! Especially after the loss of gin last time. Hazel did a little VHF-flirting and as a result, all us girls were invited to dinner. We now have ready-made dates in St. Lucia if we want. With nine Italians onboard Berenice, that is three each!
Stu spotted land first – it was the green, green hills of Martinique. To Trevor’s dismay, as sunset approached Roulette was still miles off Martinique with St. Lucia nowhere in sight. The sailing was painful - we had little squalls of rain, but less and less wind. The call was made – let’s just get to St. Lucia. From there it was a chaotic chain of events! The spinnaker drop was perfect but just as we were putting all the sails away to begin motoring, we ran over a veritable minefield of fishing lines about five miles off the shore of Martinique. We dropped the sails to stop the boat, and sent Chris over the side and in one valiant move he cut the line. The boat took off like a rocket. Things were almost on track again when a huge rain squall hit, soaking us through. Trevor won the wet T-shirt competition in the ‘special’ white shirt he was saving for the photo finish. In the midst of the squall, a tanker appeared on AIS on a direct collision course. Finally, the island appeared in front of us, and we arrived to a perfect sunset finish. Relief all round.
Our reception in St. Lucia was fantastic. The six boats to arrive before us blew their horns and waved, the locals cheered and the ARC committee had the rum waiting. The crew from Berenice met us on the dock and gave us a bottle of Italian champagne to celebrate and the post reception parties kept us busy for a week. We each left Roulette a little sad but richer with new-found friends and happy memories. ARC 2007 was an adventure not to be forgotten.
By Robert Chelsom
When you do something as wonderful in life as crossing the Atlantic for the first time on an Oyster 45 called Josbarrola, which I did in the ARC 2000, you do worry whether you should repeat the adventure because it might never be as good again or might just become a list of comparisons between the two trips! Nothing could have been further from the truth for John Marshall and the crew of the Oyster 56 Rock Oyster in completing ARC 2007, crossing in 16 days, 10 hours, to be 71st boat over the line and coming third in class. The warm balmy night watches of 2000 gave way to the heaving seas and torrential rain of tropical storm Olga passing through the fleet for three or four days. Sleep was nearly impossible and moving around the boat was simply a case of crashing into the nearest piece of fine Landamore’s joinery!
However, sustained by a great crew with a brilliant collective sense of humour, food that you would expect from most five star restaurants and a very substantial wine supply, the crossing was an absolute joy. It was much tougher than 2000 because of the weather, but it was in other ways more relaxing because we had done it before and also because of the superb performance from the Oyster 56 Rock Oyster. Our 2000 experience had taught us to work hard in Las Palmas right up to departure, checking and re-checking everything, making everything safe and above all preparing for downwind chafe.
In St Lucia, all the pontoon talk was of how many sails where shredded, deck fittings pulled out or booms broken. There seemed to be some macho pride in the more that broke, the more heroic you were! We were proud to say that not one solitary thing broke or was damaged on Rock Oyster. That is not quite true because we did break the blender on day eight meaning no more fruit smoothies – almost worthy of a Pan Pan!
Our one small criticism of an otherwise superbly organised event by World Cruising was the lateness in forecasting the bad weather and in particular Olga. We were fortunate to have a link to our own weather forecasting and were aware of the storms at least two full days before ARC control gave out serious weather forecasts. Once again our Oyster 56 proved to be an absolutely unbeatable blue water fast cruiser, enabling us to come third in class whilst still reducing sail over dinner to ensure none of the best claret was spilt!
By Chris Shea
Just two days to go until the big off and everything on Magrathea is calm and under control. She arrived here ten days ago so there has been plenty of time to fix a few niggling little issues, plan for a major provisioning exercise and clean every square centimetre of the boat. In fact things are so much under control that we have been the first attendees at the daily happy hour every day this week!
With 250 yachts and 25 knots of breeze we held back at the start and crossed the line about a minute after the gun. Probably not an issue for a 3000-mile trip! We've been lucky so far with no mishaps and only two rain squalls. About half a dozen others have had rig problems already, including a bashed head from an accidental gybe on the start, though the casualty remained conscious. Another yacht has lines around the propeller and rudder and is currently drifting down wind at 3 knots in the dark and 3m seas awaiting search and rescue help!
We have slowed down somewhat, but it's remarkable that it only needs to get up to 15 knots for Magrathea to pick up her skirts and shoot off at 8 knots and above. We've seen no other yachts at all today but have been passed by two thousand foot cargo ships. A whole ocean to play with and they both managed to pass in front of our bow by just one mile.
There's not been much champagne sailing in the last few days with grey clouds, big swells and highly variable winds but this morning the sky cleared, the sea has organised into a gentle, regular swell so our spinnaker is out to celebrate. We have also been surprised to be surrounded by a pod of about 30 dolphins since we are now about 230 miles off the coast. They only stayed for about five minutes but as someone pointed out, with 230 other boats to visit they are working on a tight schedule!
With weak and inconsistent wind, Magrathea has spent all day rolling in the swell and covering hardly any distance. Our big, fully battened mainsail suffers badly as the wind is insufficient to hold the sail in shape causing it to turn inside out whenever a big roll starts, before popping back with an almighty bang, and a huge shudder throughout the boat. Apart from that we are having a great time!
At last the wind gods have come on side. We decided to gybe before dinner and, hey presto, we are now flying along at up to 10 knots – virtually in the direction we wanted all along. We just hope this will keep up for a decent period as morale on Magrathea has now shot up (this of course has nothing to do with the decision to break out a bottle of red to celebrate a quarter of the trip completed, good wind, Skipper volunteering to be Chef du Jour etc.)
We have had emails in the last two days describing an injury to a crew member on AA Big One necessitating a mid ocean rendezvous to evacuate, and two illegal immigrants boarding another yacht in their attempts to get into the EU. We can happily report that we continue with our original crew complement only and injuries are restricted to the usual sailing bumps and scrapes. Everyone has even braved the dangers of a rolling shower cubicle on a number of occasions without incident and so maintaining outstanding levels of personal hygiene.
It's the 1st of December so our Christmas decorations are up and we have an advent calendar. We are drawing lots as to who gets to open the little doors. Fortunately it's not one with the chocolates in otherwise there might be a real mutiny.
We have definitely been flying along for quite some time now and covering some real distance towards our destination. It looks as though we will have to regard this event as a long distance marathon and wait until the very end before we can see if our gamble to go south has been successful or not.
Late this afternoon we had plenty of excitement as some very large squalls blew in. Turned out it was more rain than wind but the shift was about 60% and we found ourselves close hauled (in the mid Atlantic!) and bashing our way into torrential rain. This rather put a damper on our intended celebration party so the champagne went back in the fridge - although we did manage a damp beer. The colossal amount of rain poured down our mainsail into our dish like boom and then ran out the end in a huge torrent. Our deckhand decided this was a good showering opportunity and so broke out the shampoo!
what a difference a day makes. We have had a lovely day - the wind has blown an almost constant 13 knots all day from the southeast. We have been able to fly ‘Don't Panic’ since first thing this morning and the wind has been such that we have been able to point straight towards St Lucia without any problem and average about 8 miles per hour in that direction the whole time. The sun shone throughout in an almost cloudless sky, while the breeze kept us cool.
We have had another pretty good day (and we had the highest distance run yesterday for all the similar Oysters). We have been debating what we will miss once the trip is over. The only suggestion to date has been "not having any sense of guilt" You can sit around all day doing virtually nothing or just reading and sleeping and there is no need to feel at all guilty, since there is absolutely nothing else you can do. Not a very frequent feeling back in the day-to-day real world. Perhaps that would be enough to entice some of you readers out there to try this some time in the future.
At 1030 UK time on 11 December we crossed the line - in the darkness as the sun had set some 45 minutes earlier. So that was 16 days, 9.5 hours for a trip which turned out to be 3034 nautical miles (even though the direct route from Las Palmas is supposed to be about 2,700 miles).
To find out more about the ARC, visit the event website here.