Monday 12 January 2015

World ARC start

Well this is it. Today is the start of the World ARC 2015: a circumnavigation of the globe, twenty yachts sailing from East to West along the trade wind route, around 26,000 miles in all. Crewed mostly by couples of our age and their friends, from every nationality, sailing in company. A life-long ambition for most. Years of planning for everyone just to get to the start line and today at midday we depart St Lucia on the first leg, heading for Santa Marta in Columbia.

It has taken many years of preparation for us as well – quite literally. The brochure of an Oyster 55 that nestled in the drawer of my office desk for twenty years, now rather dog eared in its new home in the chart drawer on Juno, was my periodic reminder that those early morning commutes were a means to an important end.  Or rather, an important new beginning.

We have decided to sail the first half of the circumnavigation to Australia with the World Cruising Club, relying on their experience and local knowledge of the route, allowing us to focus on exploring, rather than the time-consuming administration and planning that the WARC does on our behalf. Their yellow shirts are always visible around the marina, offering help and guidance wherever they can.  The week leading up to the start begins with a programme of activities and seminars, similar to the one in Las Palmas before the ARC, but with an essential difference.  Here in St Lucia, instead of 200 boats on the ARC, there are only 20 on the World ARC and instead of a ‘short’ Atlantic circuit, all the crews here have committed 18 months of their lives to a voyage that not many people attempt, covering over 25,000 miles and circumnavigating the earth. And it makes a difference.  Most of the boats are crewed by couples of around our age, augmented by friends, family and in some cases complete strangers, needed to cover the many miles. Some couples are sailing double handed, in the belief that their relationship is more important than extra hands to cover the watch system.  Some have complete strangers on board; people they have met on the dock in Las Palmas, the hitch hikers of the seaways who jump from ship to ship to travel the world. And then there’s us: Fatty and me sailing with good friends who we know are great company, reliable crew members and importantly, good cooks.

The first seminar of the week is a two-hour tour of the stopovers we will make between St Lucia and Queensland, Australia. Although we see the pictures and hear the descriptions of these exotic locations it still seems slightly unreal. Our first destination is Columbia and the town of Santa Marta, the oldest city in South America; then the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of 378 islands belonging to the country of Panama, mostly uninhabited and home to the Kuna Indians. Next a short sail to Shelter Bay at the mouth of the Panama Canal where we will be measured by the canal authorities and rafted up into ‘nests’ of three boats for our transit through the lock system.  Being one of the larger boats, Juno will be in the middle of the nest with another rally boat on each side as we ascend the three locks up into the Gatun Lake where we will anchor overnight. Then the following morning, down three locks, under the Bridge of the Americas and into the Pacific Ocean: the point of no return. We will then stop in Panama City for a few days to provision before the short sail to the Las Perlas Islands and then we cross the equator on our way to the Galapagos Islands. Beyond that we will explore the south Pacific Islands of French Polynesia, including those iconic destinations such as Tahiti, Bora Bora, Tonga and Fiji before arriving in Australia in July having covered 10,000 miles.

Andrew Sarah and Kerry arrive from the UK and are immediately involved in the preparations. Saz sews a leather patch into the dinghy cover - a simple job on the face of it but one that requires a large chopping board, a drill, pliers and a leather thimble, so tough are the materials. Kez and Fatty put the crew covers back on the saloon seats and start the process of pre-preparing suppers for the freezer. Andrew spends the early mornings on his laptop tidying up work from his life on land, and the rest of the day helping me with jobs around the boat. Every evening there is an ARC drinks party or dinner in the marina and suddenly time is running out for me to do all those outstanding items on the List. However, when I review the List I am able to tick all but the most obscure items – the tide tables for the lagoons in the Tuamoto islands will have to wait for another day.

The final day before departure begins with the skippers briefing by the World ARC: starting instructions in Rodney Bay, the daily radio net and the schedule of events in Santa Marta. Then we gather on board Juno, rig the boat and conduct our safety briefing. It takes time because we cover our lifejacket policy, man overboard drill, abandon ship procedure and the location of all our safety equipment; at the end of which Saz is convinced that she will have to deploy flares from a sinking ship, retrieve bodies from the sea and leap into the waves as Juno goes up in flames. 

Finally the day of the start: topping up water tanks, paying our marina bill, clearing customs while Fatty and Saz prepare all our meals for our first day at sea.  Then quite suddenly we realise that there is nothing left to do and it’s time to untie our lines and leave the dock. We motor out of the marina into Rodney Bay where it is blowing 25 knots of wind with white horses galloping across the waves. At the designated start time the committee boat, a Police launch from Castries operating on Caribbean time, is nowhere to be seen, so the start is delayed until the Police arrive, collecting the yellow shirted team from a dinghy bouncing in the surf and the start countdown begins. At the five-minute gun twenty yachts converge on the line and we start our circumnavigation as if we were racing around the cans in the Solent.  Before the start we vow to hang back, take it easy; it’s a marathon not a sprint we tell ourselves. But now we are all excited, our blood is up and we cross the start line at full pelt and the leg to Santa Marta is underway.

We are in the leading group as we broad reach down the coast of St Lucia and after rounding the designated mark off the town of Castries we head West, dead downwind, in the direction of Panama and the Pacific.  We set Juno up goose winged: main on port, genoa poled out on starboard, jib sheeted to port for that extra half knot of boat speed and off we go, surfing at up to 11 knots and by dark we are leading the fleet.  As darkness falls we have drinks in the cockpit followed by our traditional first night supper of Fatty’s shepherd’s pie, perfect comfort food to settle our stomachs as we regain our sea legs.

Overnight we sail fast with 20 – 25 knots of wind from astern, the perfect wind speed for Juno who has put on a little weight in preparation for her travels and now weighs in at a portly 32 tons and needs some wind to get her up to speed.  It is a beautiful starlit night and we settle in to our watch system for our first night at sea.


  1. Wonderful - best of luck!! Have crossed the Pacific from Tahiti to Val Paraiso on a research ship 3 times - but sailing it the way you are makes me green with envy!!

  2. Congratulations TEAM JUNO! We are in total admiration and in awe of your determination to bring this all together. Hugely proud and hoping this will be an experience you will enjoy and treasure. Lots of photos please. A valuable lesson to chase our dreams. Well done Frews! Big hug from us all in a very cold but beautiful day in Ireland. The Ossies xx