The 26th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) set sail today from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, bound for Saint Lucia. A brisk northerly wind and blue sky provided perfect conditions for a downwind start and a swift departure for the first part of the passage across the Atlantic. 217 boats and 1,188 people, including 26 aged under 18, are sailing in this year's edition of the world's most popular transocean rally.
ARC2011 Hallberg Rassy 48 Sana (NOR) at the start with the 217-strong fleet in the background - Photo James Mitchell
First boats to cross the start line:
While the ARC is a cruising rally, there is a start and finish line, and the boats are split into divisions according to size, type and competition.
At 12.30 GMT the gun on the Spanish naval ship fired for the start of the catamarans and open divisions. First catamaran across the line was Catana 47 Rafale (FRA), followed by Lagoon 620 Foxy Lady (GBR) then Privelège 745 Cattitude (GBR). With 30 catamarans and one trimaran, this is a record-breaking year for multihull entries in the ARC; making it the largest-ever ocean crossing by catamarans.
The open division was lead by round-the-world veteran maxi Rothmans (SWE), closely followed by trimaran Rayon Vert (FRA) and Med Spirit (RUS), then the ARC's largest yacht, 31.6m Oceans Seven2 (FRA); all popping their spinnakers as they crossed the line. Med Spirit and Rayon Vert were both averaging 15 knots as they accelerated away from Las Palmas.
In the IRC racing division, run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), the 22-boat fleet was lead across the line at 12.45 by Swan 56 Clem (ESP), Akilaria 40 Vaquita (AUT) and IMX-45 Maline (NOR). Scarlet Oyster (GBR) headed-up a tight group of five yachts, all flying spinnakers.
The cruising division is the largest group of ARC yachts, with 145 boats. Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 49 Buzios VII (POR) flew their blue and yellow spinnaker across the line at 13.00, and were followed by Shipman 63 Bepa (RUS), Elphin II (GBR), Lazy Days (ITA), Uxorious IV (USA) and Splendid (NED). The remaining yachts followed closely behind, most staying with white sails.
Rayon Vert and Oceans Seven2 cross the ARC2011 start line in Las Palmas © World Cruising Club. Photo James Mitchell
All boats are now on their way to Saint Lucia, 2,700 nautical miles to the west. The weather forecast suggests moderate north-easterly trade winds for the first few days, enabling the boats to make good mileage, although the fastest boats may experience lighter winds as they get closer to the Caribbean.
ARC crossing record:
The ARC crossing record is 11 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds, set by Italian maxi yacht Capricorno (Rinaldo Del Bono), in 2006. Trimaran Rayon Vert (FRA) could potentially make the crossing in 9 -11 days, assuming the wind holds, and Med Spirit (RUS) are also keen to set a new record. Most yachts, however, will be just happy to cross the pond safely without breakage.
Farewell to Las Palmas:
In the two weeks of ARC activities in Las Palmas, the boats and crews become an important part of the city, and they always receive a warm send-off. Boats left the docks accompanied by a salsa band and calls of support from Don Pedro at the Texaco station, and thousands of well-wishers lined the seafront to wave off the boats on their Atlantic adventure.
Some of the crews provided spectators with a show as they left: skipper Stewart on Fair Lady (NOR) was dressed as a 'fair lady'; the crews of Gunvør XL (CAN) and Dantes (GER) lined up for a Mexican wave; trumpeters played on Pipaluk (ITA) and Chiscos (GBR); and the entire crew of Chilli Chilli (GBR), Great Escape (GBR) and Sophistikate (GBR) dressed up in costume. Four boats were unable to start and will follow the fleet next week, but Grateful Red (USA) were towed out - keen to leave despite engine failure.
Follow the fleet:
All ARC boats are fitted with the latest version of the Yellowbrick YB3 trackers, allowing family and friends to follow the fleet from the comfort of home. As well as position, the online Fleet Viewer displays heading, speed and boat information. Wind direction and speed is also shown. Follow the fleet online at http://www.worldcruising.com/arc/viewer.aspx