Friday 16 November 2012

Las Palmas

We are in Muelle Deportivo, the large marina in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, where the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers starts on November 25th at midday and ends around 17 days later in Rodney Bay on the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean. There are 150 ARC boats already in the marina with another 100 or so still to come and there is a buzz in the air. The pontoons are covered with assorted paraphernalia in varying stages of assembly ranging from outboard motors and engines parts to bicycles, push chairs and life rafts.

First things first; when we arrive in the marina we fill up with diesel, squeezing as much as we can into our tanks and inevitably the tank overflows and I have to rinse smelly diesel off the deck, all for the sake of a few extra litres which of course makes little difference in the context of this passage. The trip is around 2,700 nautical miles and after keeping enough fuel in reserve to run our generator every day we have sufficient fuel to motor about 700 miles.

Next we check in at the ARC office and we are given our bag of documents and tickets to all the seminars and parties which run every day from now until we leave. Having been to many business conferences over the years, at first this is not dissimilar: we get our bag of goodies, some tickets and badges and a timetable crammed full of seminars and sponsored cocktail parties. However there the similarity ends because at the end of this conference, rather than packing up and heading for home, everyone here will be getting on board their yacht and sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, and this gives the event a purpose that binds everyone together and creates a strong feeling of camaraderie. A number of boats have young children and I marvel at how their parents will manage night shifts, sailing, navigation and amusing their children for two weeks mid-ocean.

The first day that we arrive I receive a call from Paul Bennett, the customer support manager at Oyster, and within minutes a team of 7 descend on Juno, opening up the boat, testing battery levels, electronics, gas, water maker, engine, generator, bilge pumps - all the important equipment to get us safely across the ocean, and it is most reassuring. Then they tackle my list of jobs, replacing water valves, changing the fridge door seal, fitting a new tricolour at the top of the mast, and adjusting the pressure in the hot water system. Eventually at 6.30 pm the major jobs are done and they promise to return tomorrow to complete the remaining tasks. Then Yachtfunk come on board. These are the long-range radio experts from Germany who arrive on motorised scooters and start to replace the arcane wiring system that comprises our SSB antennae. No-one really knows how an SSB works but they are the self-proclaimed experts and they leave me with a bill that reminds me that we are a captive market - and they are the experts.

One of the events that has preoccupied me over the over the past few months is the safety check that all boats must undergo before they are allowed to start the rally. We prepare for ours by laying out all our safety equipment in the cockpit: flares, emergency VHF aerial, EPIRB, grab bag, emergency steering, life jackets, horse shoe life buoy, harnesses etc. Chris from the ARC team comes on board and runs through his checklist, checking life raft certificates, expiry dates on flares and our fire extinguishers. We pass the check without any issues and Chris gives us some very useful ideas on managing our water, which forms part of our emergency supplies. I scrawl a big tick on my list.

Yesterday Fatty and I hired a van for the day and we went in search of storage boxes. We have decided to make the mid-cabin our store room so we drive to Leroy Merlin, a huge DIY store just outside of Las Palmas, to buy plastic sheeting, non-slip matting, transparent plastic storage boxes and padded linoleum for the galley floor. Then we go to El Campo, a hypermarket next door and buy 250 litres of emergency bottled water, 100 cans of emergency beer and 5 miles of emergency loo roll. Back at the boat we wrap the cushions in plastic sheeting, fit the non-slip and use the lee cloths to secure the boxes ready to receive provisions. We have also discovered that one of our lockers is the perfect size to store 200 eggs in plastic trays that we have brought from the UK. Slowly Juno is being converted from a luxury yacht into an
expedition vessel.

 Very quickly 6pm comes around and it's off to the dinghy park on our bicycles where we show our ARC badges and are given free drinks tickets to use at the bar. It is the daily happy hour, and today the food is being supplied by one of the local butchers who is hoping that we will not just devour his free buffet, but that we will return to his stall in the market and buy our provisions for the trip. It's great to meet up with other crews at happy hour every evening and in particular the girls from Diamonds are Forever. This is a boat crewed by an all-girl team, some of whom have never sailed before but they are excited about their trip and we admire their guts squeezing a crew of 7 into a 37 foot yacht with no water maker and no generator.

Today was the first seminar day, starting at midday with a lecture on weather and routing given by Chris Tibbs, who is also the man who has been providing our private routing service across Biscay and down to Lanzarote from Gibraltar. He will also be guiding us across the Atlantic with a daily email advising us the best route to get the fairest wind and the calmest seas. Then its lunch in the yacht club followed by a lecture on provisioning by Clare Pengelly. Fatty scribbles copiously in her note book and I feel re-assured as this is one part of the voyage that i have personally had least to do with. We have Andrew's menu plan and shopping list and we return to the boat with a raft of new ideas and suggestions to incorporate. At happy hour I collar Clare and ask her what she thinks of our plan to use pre-frozen food for dinner every day and much to my relief she wholeheartedly approves. From her experience, having the main meal pre-cooked and frozen allows all-male crews to use their creativity to make canap├ęs, lunches and other additions in the knowledge that the heavy lifting has already been done.

Tomorrow evening is the official ARC welcoming party hosted by Las Palmas City Council. During the day we will begin emptying the boat of any surplus clutter and packing our bags ready to move into the Santa Catalina hotel for a few days to allow us to clean and provision up. I am not so keen to leave the boat as all the excitement and activity is down on the water in the marina but the hotel is only 100 metres away and it will allow us to focus on the jobs remaining. On Saturday is the owners' dinner when Paul and Consuelo are joining us, followed by the ARC opening ceremony on Sunday. Next week will become more hectic with a schedule of seminars and drinks parties as we count down to the start, with Andrew, Steven and Kim joining next Wednesday. I remember from my last ARC in 2005 that the relaxed atmosphere of the first week becomes a little more strained as the day of the start approaches and the night before the start everyone is looking more tense and the drinks aren't flowing quite so freely as crews prepare for the off. In fact as I write this I am reminded that we now have only 10 days to go and I can feel the buzz in my veins.


  1. Exciting! You're giving us all butterflies now - cant wait to get there!

  2. cant wait jam. small sail to do first

  3. Hi We are business colleagues of Andrew's and jsut wanted to wish you all a successful and enjoyable voyage. It looks a great adventure!!
    I hope you have some nice wine to go with the beer for Andrew!!!
    Paul and Sue Philpott

  4. Good luck for the start tomorrow, sail safely and look forward to reading the bloga, photos and videos,