Sunday 25 November 2012

ARC Pre-start

For only the second time in the history of the ARC the start has been delayed due to bad weather. We are now leaving on Tuesday 27th November. Nothing too alarming, but the weather forecast today is for 20 knots from the South gusting up to 30 knots with heavy rain as the cold front comes through at dusk this evening. As the ARC is primarily a rally for cruisers and family boats the start has been postponed to Tuesday when we are forecasting 20 knots from the North East, perfect conditions for a downwind start. The Racing division will be starting this morning and anyone else who wants to start today is allowed to go, but we have decided to stay until Tuesday, along with most of the fleet.

The past ten days have been non-stop:

Last Saturday Paul and Consuelo arrived with the first consignment of frozen food which we store in the freezer. Our plan to take Cook frozen food from the UK and store it in the freezer seems to be working well and when we un-wrap the boxes they are still frozen solid. Andrew and Steven are bringing another 10 meals when they come on Wednesday so we hope to have good frozen meals for supper every day of our trip.

 Last Sunday ARC 2012 was officially declared open with a procession through the marina led by a marching band with all the crews parading behind, waving national flags. Everyone is in high spirits and there is an air of excitement around the docks. It is a great to be here.

On Monday, Fatty and Consuelo set off to buy non-perishable goods and return 6 hours later with the car groaning under the weight of provisions.  We load everything on board and then start the task of stowing everything into big storage boxes, one box for each week.

On Tuesday the frozen meat arrives and we attend to various final jobs around the boat including the modified mast gaiter which normally protects the mast base from UV damage, but today is modelled by Fatty as a new form of Sunbrella mini skirt.


Wednesday is Fatty and Consuelo's last day and they spend the morning preparing 24 portions of bolognaise for the freezer before writing out long lists for me to hand over to Andrew. In the afternoon Fatty and Consuelo leave for the airport. They have been amazing. I don't know how we would have managed without them and we are sad to see them leave, but we know that the next time we see them will be in St Lucia, around three weeks from now.

Later on Wednesday evening, Steven, Andrew and Kim arrive and our crew is complete. As soon as they arrive we unload the final batch of frozen food and head for the masked ball in our splendid masks supplied by Saz. It is a loud and noisy evening in the Club de Vela and all the crews have made a huge effort to dress up in the most exotic outfits including the crew from the doctors boat, dressed entirely in operating theatre scrubs complete with a body in a stretcher hooked up to a drip. Everyone is tired after their journey so we leave early and have dinner in a restaurant in the marina.

Thursday was a day of sorting out the boat, making beds, cleaning and cataloguing all the provisions. In the morning there is a safety demonstration by the local coast guard, retrieving a man from the water by helicopter. The drama of the helicopter hovering overhead and the bright orange lifeboat all serves to remind us that safety is the most important consideration for our trip. Steven paints our logo on the wall in the marina alongside all the other murals from ARC participants over the years. Then it is off to the Oyster cocktail party in the evening in the Santa Catalina hotel. The Oyster team have been amazing, attending to all the needs of 24 Oysters yachts, conducting a health check as well as attending to the various issues of each owner. Our list for Oyster has included a new pressure relief valve for our hot water, a new tricolour to be fitted at the top of the mast, mug holders fitted in the cockpit and a seal for the fridge. Paul Bennet and his team manage to fit in all the items on our list despite having much bigger tasks to attend to on other boats.

On Friday morning we set off early to be at the Mercado Central at 8am to buy our fresh fruit and vegetables. We load four large crates of fresh produce and 200 eggs into a taxi and Kim and Paul take them back to the boat where they wash each piece and dry them all in the sun. Meanwhile Andrew and I go to El Corte Ingles, the big supermarket in town, where we buy cheese, cold cuts of meat, frozen pizzas and 30 loaves of Bimbo bread. This bread has a sell-by date of December 31st which is great for the Atlantic but we conclude that it must be stuffed full of chemicals to last so long. We re group on Juno and start the job of finding yet more storage space for our 60 apples, 80 tangerines, 80 tomatoes, three bunches of bananas, fresh ginger, peppers etc. Our limes, lemons and oranges go into the string bags that Fatty created and they hang either side of the companionway. Andrew has firmly grabbed the provisioning responsibility and I feel confident that he has everything in hand.

We thought that Saturday would be our last day in port so the boys check out of the hotel and move onto Juno, their home for the next three weeks. At midday is the Skippers briefing which Paul and I attend along with 500 other crew members in the huge conference room at the Santa Catalina hotel. We all listen with great attention to the weather forecast from Chris Tibbs and when he sits down after his presentation there are worried faces in the room at the prospect of strong winds and rain for the start of the voyage. Then Andrew Bishop, the CEO of World Cruising, steps up to the podium and announces that for only the second time in 27 years they have decided to postpone the ARC to Tuesday. A huge gasp echoes around the room followed by a loud and extended round of applause as everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. We have the option to leave either on Sunday in the rain or wait until Tuesday when the forecast is good. My initial reaction is to go on Sunday but i need more facts to make a decision.

We return to the boat to brief the crew who are preparing for a Sunday departure and we discuss the situation. Before deciding when to go I meet with Chris Tibbs, our weather router, and I also chat with experienced sailors from the Oyster team. The most telling advice I hear is to ask ourselves if we weren't doing the ARC and were crossing the Atlantic Ocean, would we chose to leave in these conditions or wait until Tuesday when the wind is forecasted to be in the Northeast, perfect conditions for a transatlantic. When combined with Chris Tibb's opinion that we may even arrive sooner if we wait until Tuesday, the decision is an easy one and we inform the ARC office that we will be joining the Tuesday start.

After lunch we decide to prepare the boat regardless and to carry out our safety briefing and our emergency drills. We rig the boat with sheets, jackstays, running back stays, gybe preventers and all the other ropes and lines to prepare her for 20 days at sea. Next we rig the storm jib, the emergency tiller and we practice our drill for abandoning ship in the event of an emergency and if we have a man overboard situation. In the evening we go to happy hour drinks which is crowded with hundreds of animated yachties, buzzing with talk about the weather and asking each about their start date. Then we go to dinner with the girls from Diamonds are Forever who are in the racing division and therefore starting on Sunday. They are subdued and nervous and most worryingly they were advised by the owner not to bring foul weather gear and are therefore woefully unprepared the conditions that they will experience. We lend them some waterproofs form our boat and wish them luck.

As I sit here in the saloon I can hear the wind howling through the rigging and flags flapping in the wind, although the sun is shining and it looks a lovely day for a sail! The brass band has just started up to serenade the boats that are starting today and we are going up on the wall to watch.

I will try and write again before we leave. In the meantime a big thank you to everyone who has left us messages and emails of support, please keep them coming.


  1. Hi Paul, brilliantly written, you convey the atmosphere so well. Our only sadness is that we are not there to wave you off. I am sure Tuesday cannot come quick enough now. What an incredible build up. Safe journey Andrew,Susie, Tara and Patrick

  2. Great to hear from you. Keep an eye on us on Tuesday.

  3. Best of luck for Tuesday! Will be thinking of you... Safe sailing!

  4. Such a blow to have to delay but we all want to meet you in one piece in St Lucia so better late.......xx
    Dont eat all those carefully calculated provisions in Las Palmas!! Have fun and stay safe - cant wait until we see you at the other end xxxx

  5. Fair winds and safe passage!
    Bonne voyage.

  6. Very best of luck to you. Keep safe

    John & Xenia Fletcher