ARC Portugal - 20 years on and still going strong

ARC Mike and Sue Petch with friends Geraldine and Nigel
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The World Cruising Club have established a fine reputation for running excellently devised rallies, and the ARC Portugal, mostly joined by boats from the UK and now in its 20th year, is no exception. Fifteen yachts left Plymouth's Mayflower Marina on Sunday for the first leg of ARC Portugal 2014 - a cruise in company to Marina de Lagos, Portugal, with two boats from the Netherlands and one each from Germany and Australia.

ARC Portugal - the route
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Under a light layer of clearing cloud, with a moderate 12-15 knots breeze from the WNW it was smiles all round as the yachts set off on Sunday, with the anticipation of developing good winds after a calm first two days (to find their sea-legs). These are favourable conditions for the 550 nautical mile crossing of the Bay of Biscay to Bayona, which for many crews is their first offshore passage beginning a long term sailing adventure.

Before departure, all yachts joining the rally were given a safety inspection by the World Cruising Club team, and fitted with Yellowbrick satellite trackers so that friends and family can follow their progress via the rally website. A Rally Briefing was held at the Plymouth Albion Rugby Club, followed by welcome drinks and curry supper, crews already beginning to enjoy the social atmosphere that will no doubt grow throughout the cruise.

2014 marks the 20th edition of ARC Portugal (formerly Rally Portugal) and combines a cruise in company with a sightseeing holiday, visiting some of the best historic locations on the Iberian Peninsula. While the itinerary has changed slightly over the years as new marinas have developed, the ethos of a social cruise with exploring ashore and afloat has remained strong.

The 2014 route features stopovers in Bayona, Povoa de Varzim, Gaia (for Porto), Figueira da Foz, Peniche, Oeiras and Sines, before reaching Marina de Lagos at the gateway of the Mediterranean - an ideal finishing point for a summer of cruising.

There is just one catamaran in the fleet this year, the Lagoon 39 Porcellum. Amongst the monohulls, the largest is Jeanneau Trinidad 48, Aislig Bheag, and the smallest, Salsus a Baltic 38, one of two Netherlands flagged yachts participating in the rally. Boats from Australia and Germany make rest of the international entries. The oldest boat in the fleet is Richard Daglish's 1965 Moody 40, Salmo Salar, a real cruising classic.

Almost all the crews are using the rally as a passage-making event to get south and then move on to explore the Mediterranean after arriving in Lagos. Australians Mike and Sue Petch, purchased with Island Packet 420 Macnoon in the UK with the intention of cruising European waters for a couple of seasons. Brother and Sister Keith and Ali Sammons, are heading away on a live-aboard adventure, having both quit jobs ashore to go sailing on their Beneteau First 405, Spirit III.

With fair winds forecast, the fleet are expected to have arrived by Friday for a welcome sangria at the Monte Real Club de Yates in Bayona. Over the weekend, there are organised tours and free time to explore before the prize-giving ceremony for Leg 1 held on Sunday evening. Leg 2, to the Portuguese town of Povoa de Varzim, will set sail on Tuesday 10 June.

Follow the rally's progress south on the fleet tracker and read blogs from on board at worldcruising.com/arcportugal
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