Tuesday 26 November 2019

The Start of ARC 2019

We time our run for the start. Ahead, a large grey Spanish warship is acting as committee boat, marking the inshore end of the start line and we cross under her bows as the gun booms out, announcing the start of ARC 2019. We are in the multi-hull division and the first group to start, and as we get clear air, away from the fleet and anchored oil tankers, our boat speed builds and we are off. The sun has broken through the clouds and it's an exhilarating  start to the largest ocean yacht race in the world.

This is champagne sailing and perfect conditions for a spinnaker, so we
snake ours out of the sail locker onto the wide foredeck, and with Mervyn
directing operations, Nick and Rosie provide the muscle to winch the sail
to the top of the mast. Meanwhile Andrew and I are in the cockpit, and as
the sail snaps open, we winch in the sheets and Hera accelerates. The wind
strengthens as we reach the acceleration zone near the airport and it
proves too much for our ten year old spinnaker which splits open and
floats down over the front of the boat into the water. With the ripped
sail dragging beneath us I have no option other than to cut it free and it
slides away, down into the deep. With no spinnaker we will have to be
creative to keep the boat moving fast in lights winds. We unfurl our
genoa and as night falls the wind builds further, gusting up to 30 knots,
and we reef down the main sail and prepare for our first night at sea.

By tradition, supper on the first night is cottage pie, made by Caroline,
and heated in the oven by Andrew who is on mother watch. One of the joys
of a catamaran is that Hera is streaking along at 10 knots, and yet we are
sitting around the saloon table having dinner, barely a ripple on our
water glasses. From the cockpit I can hear the laughter of four friends
sharing a joke in the glow of our small high tech capsule with all its mod
cons, afloat on the giant dark ocean.

I am writing this account on watch at 3 a.m. The sky above me is alive
with the blaze of a million stars although the constellations are
unfamiliar at this latitude. The plough, like a question mark, low on the
horizon, points to the northern star, falling behind us now as we head
south, searching for the illusive trade winds whose story begins over a
thousand miles to the south. The heat that rises from the equator is the
engine room of the world winds, with it's hot tropical air that rises, and
then cools as it reaches the troposphere, falling to create a band of high
pressure around the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. As the pressure tries
to equalise, it flows south back to the equator and is twisted by the
rotation of the earth, creating a clockwise movement of air, known as the
Azores High. It is this weather pattern, which generates the easterly
winds on its southern side, that has filled the sails of boats for
centuries, pushing us west across the Atlantic. However the Azores high
is delicate, and this year it has been disturbed by Hurricane Sebastian,
thousands of miles away and of no threat to us, except that it has split
the High in two, weakening it and forcing it south. So we are ghosting
through the night at 5 knots, heading south to find the trades, making
little progress but enjoying a peaceful, gentle sail with four miles of
water underneath us and only the stars above.


  1. Okay this is doing Gill no favours as your blogs fuels me even more that a cat would be the way forward!!

  2. Good luck all - have a great trip !!