Wednesday 19 November 2014

Las Palmas preparation for ARC 2014

We have finally made it to the start line of ARC 2014. Phew.

The ride down to Las Palmas from Lanzarote was fast. We left at 4am and covered 100 miles in 12 hours arriving at the reception pontoon in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria at 4pm. We filled up with fuel, spilling smelly diesel all over the decks as usual, trying to squeeze an extra few litres into the tank: this despite the absorbent pad fashioned ingeniously by Fatty from a personal hygiene product. We head for our berth and in the falling light we tie up next to our friends Mervyn and Amanda on El Mundo.

The marina is crammed full of Arc boats. Around 200 yachts, but many of the crew are absent, packing in a few more days at work before they leave the shores of Europe for the Caribbean.  Then on Saturday, 3 flights arrive from Gatwick, Berlin and Stockholm and suddenly the marina is buzzing with a thousand animated sailors. It is still early enough for everyone to be excited and in the mood for a party. As the days wear on crews tend to become more nervous as the start day approaches, but for now it’s an exhausting round of chores during the day and parties every night, including a 70’s disco where Juno and El Mundo were well represented.

I came to Las Palmas slightly smug, thinking that I was well prepared for our Atlantic crossing, but now I am convinced that I have so much more to do. Standing in the chandlery queue waiting to be served, I overhear a snatched conversation about a breather valve; in the Sailor Bar there is mention of new sea water strainers; the team from Oyster casually mention the seals on the gooseneck; jobs that I hadn’t even thought about are suddenly vital to our very existence. The worst culprit is Mervyn on El Mundo. He and I both have lists: in fact we are very similar. To those that know the Myers-Briggs type indicator, Mervyn is INTP, I am INTJ.  He has a list; I have list. The problem is that his list is entirely different to mine and once we combine lists we end up with a long superset of tasks – all essential to our survival of course. 

There the similarity ends because Mervyn is more rational than me: once I develop an idea it becomes an obsession. The lack of breather valves on the seawater inlets have plagued me for years, but now that I have worked out a solution, the matter takes on a life of its own and becomes all-consuming. I discuss the issue with Alfie from Oyster and we make a plan. I email Dee at customer services and order the parts to be delivered to Kerry in time for her to bring them out to Las Palmas in her hand luggage. I worry that customs will confiscate the valve because it could be used to poke a pilot in the eye and as a result Kerry is a bag of nerves, terrified that she will arrive on Juno empty handed. I buy the necessary fire-retardant fuel hose and at 7am I sneak out of our cabin and start drilling holes in the bulkhead.  I plan to tee the breather system into the cockpit drain, so I take the stainless steel fitting to the Volvo engineers and ask them to weld two new spigots where my pipes will attach. Kerry arrives, triumphantly holding the breather valve aloft and I spend a happy morning connecting the hoses, making the connections water tight and testing the system until I am confident that it is bullet proof.  Chatting with other skippers I find that I am not alone in my ability to turn a casual remark into an obsession; a problem that hadn’t existed a few hours previously suddenly shoots to the top of the list and an irrational panic takes a grip that cannot be eased until the job is done.

We had some visitors today in the form of Nichola and Willow. Nichola and Caspar have an Oyster 53 called Aretha and Willow is their youngest, just two years old.  Our delivery of two hundred litres of emergency water arrives on the dock and I jokingly suggest that Willow helps me to carry these 10 litre packs of water to the stowage below. Despite being only two, she clutches a six-pack of water in her strong little hands, and looking to her mother for reassurance, big smile and blonde curls stomp across the cockpit dragging a burden that is almost as large as she is. After the exertion of the water carrier Willow then seeks refuge in a large bucket where she amuses herself listening to the echo of her cooing reverberating around the large plastic tub.

We are now exhausted:  Fatty and I alone preparing Juno for an Ocean crossing is just too much.  Last time we did this crossing we had much more help before we left whereas this time we have been working largely on our own.  Of course we are indebted to our friends for taking the time out of their lives to help us sail Juno further along the track, but we resolve that next time we will ask for more help from our crew in the preparation. My worry is that we will arrive at the start line on Sunday with Juno all ready to go, but Fatty and I will be exhausted and no use to anyone.  However, it is only Tuesday and now that the job list is finally receding, we plan to ease off and relax a little.

I have become rather sensitive to the topic of spares. I feel that it is entirely reasonable to have a spare Nespresso machine , Dyson vacuum cleaner, Alternator, two sets of spare steering cables and a hundred other spares on board - but not everyone seems to concur. In fact Juno is now referred to as a floating chandlery, with new additions every day as our inventory expands and the boat develops a rather alarming list, heeling to starboard where our spares locker bulges with the latest box of supplies from Oyster.  I find it curiously satisfying to know that for every piece of equipment on board, we have an inventory of spares, catalogued in a large spread sheet, with each part recorded in detail with its part number, description, supplier and location in the bowels of the boat. Is that strange?  I think Mervyn understands me.

Every evening the ARC hosts a Sundowner party, hosted in turn by the many suppliers to the ARC.  At the door of the dinghy park we present our ARC passes and are handed two tickets which we exchange for drinks at the make shift bar. When we arrived a week ago there were twenty or thirty people at Sundowners. Tonight, by 7pm you could hardly get through the door as 500 excited crew members jostle for drinks and they exchange stories of the days achievements, technical problems, solutions and anxieties for the trip ahead. My mother has just been to Santiago de Compostela and I compare the ARC to a pilgrimage. It brings together people from a diverse set of nationalities and backgrounds, driven by their own personal motives and united in a common goal. Everyone sympathises with others’ problems and concerns and is eager to help. Hugh, the skipper of Oyster Blew, gave Caspar a vital part for his autopilot that would otherwise have prevented him from setting sail.  It makes for a great atmosphere of camaraderie.

The big issues for me have been with our engine and our mainsail: issues that didn’t exist when we left Palma but which have developed on the trip south. The engine developed a coolant leak; with tell tale red streaks down the engine block where coolant had leaked into the bilge. With help from Oyster and Udo in Palma we diagnose this as a faulty gasket on the turbo unit and a Spanish engineer arrives to make the repair. Fortunately I have a spare turbo gasket in the Juno inventory. No-one seems surprised. The other problem is the shrieking noise coming from the mast whenever I furl the main sail. We remove the top swivel to discover that the bearings have turned from circular balls into small fragments that look like plasticine.  It seems that Juno is at the upper end of the size range for this system and the loads on the 575 are proving too great for the swivel. Eddie from Oyster helps me to change the bearings and I order a new swivel from Formula, which is of a new design with two bearing races. I plan to fit the new swivel before we leave and keep the old one as a spare.

A friend of Kerry, called David Caukill, circumnavigated recently on an Oyster. When i asked for his thoughts he strongly recommended that we fit a reinforcing strip on our headsail furler.  Under load the head foils have been known to fail if too much pressure is exerted by the winch when furling the genoa. Juno and El Mundo duly ordered the parts and the Oyster team agreed to help us make the modification.   We moved the boats onto the reception pontoon so that we could bring them alongside and remove the forestays.  It is a complicated job that the Oyster team throw themselves into with gusto and soon our forestay is reinforced and back on the mast. Unfortunately El Mundo has a kink in their stay and another part has to be ordered to complete the job tomorrow.

Tonight Fatty and Kez have been preparing the last few meals to go into the freezer with Thermo standing by in the galley, quivering with flashing lights, keen to participate. Tomorrow, Paul joins us and I have 30 LED lights in shiny new boxes in his cabin, waiting for him to replace the energy-hungry halogen lights that we have now.  It beats having chocolates on the pillow i think. Four days to go until the start.


  1. It'll be chocolates on your pillow when you get to St Lucia Mr Frew. And none of your LED lights in exchange thank you very much.

  2. I'd also prefer chocolates to LEDs when I arrive in St Lucia por favor

  3. Spare Nespresso machines!! Best of luck for Sunday and beyond...

  4. Darling Frew's - feel like we are there with you both. Sending our love and personally love the list obsession! xxx

  5. Exhausted reading it all and worrying about your bank balance!