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ARC St. Lucia and More Sailing

ARC, St Lucia and more sailing

The Arc, or to give it its correct title, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), has now become an annual yachting event in the St. Lucia calendar. Each November, St Lucia comes alive, with the focus on making ARC participants welcome and wanting to stay — especially for St Lucia Yacht Club’s (SLYC) Christmas Sailing Festival starting in December.

It’s the third year SLYC has staged the Christmas Festival and the club is hoping for around 40 entries from the ARC, beginning on Monday December 20 with registration at SLYC, ending on Thursday December 23 with a final race, fun classes and a barbeque.

Over the years, the ARC has gained worldwide recognition and, in so doing, has put our 'Helen of the West' St. Lucia truly on the international yachting scene.

It’s a far cry from when the ARC began in 1986. It was world sailor Jimmy Cornell who began it all as a project to get the annual trek of yachts across the Atlantic collected into one group sailing together in company. It has now become the holder of the Guinness Book of Records record for the world's largest transocean event of sailing yachts ever to sail the Atlantic in company. The record was set in 1999 when no fewer than 238 yachts arrived in St. Lucia from their departure base in the Canary Islands.

In that first year, 1986, history saw a fleet of 200 boats cross together for a landfall in Barbados - the original Caribbean destination. This initial number was followed in 1987 by a much smaller fleet. However, the concept began to catch on and it soon became clear that Barbados could not cope with the arrival and management of such large numbers.

Where then should they go? St. Lucia, which had recently seen the development of new marina facilities in Rodney Bay, was downwind of Barbados and had already received scores of yachts from the ARC fleets, who continued after their crossing to sail among the islands of the Caribbean.

Jimmy Cornell worked with various concerned bodies in St. Lucia such as the Tourist Board, Customs and Immigration, Rodney Bay Marina and the Rodney Bay Marina Business Association, the Police, the St. Lucia Yacht Club and many others to make St. Lucia the Caribbean home of the ARC fleet. The first year was a resounding success with the fleet gaining an international reputation and St. Lucia was assured of repeated visits and a confirmed contract with World Cruising, as Jimmy Cornell's company was then called.

As each year passed, control had to be taken of the numbers which could sensibly be contained - with regard to the safety at sea issues, communication and not least the facilities at both ends. This limit has now been set at 225 yachts.

The rally, which has safety as a top priority, has sometimes been incorrectly quoted as being the Atlantic 'race' for cruisers. This misconception is easily appreciated as all sailors are only too aware that sailing in company promotes the friendly rivalry of individuals who want to out-sail their friends. However, safety with fun remains the prime objective. Seamanship and camaraderie fall neatly into these categories, which are neatly summed up in the phrase "that's what it's all about at sea!"

However, those who want to be the first across the finish line have, in the true spirit of racing, been accommodated in the RORC (Royal Ocean Racing Club of Great Britain) but still under the auspices of the ARC.

This class within the ARC comes under specific racing rules of RORC and has a separate start of their class in Las Palmas, usually held before the main event. This too has become very popular and provides the racers with an extended race of some 2,700 miles in which they really pit themselves against the elements but are still able to enjoy the benefit from the organization of the ARC at both the start and the finish.

Three good reasons for doing the ARC

To lose weight…

“I want to lose weight,” said a patient at Brighton’s NHS hospital.

“Cut down on fatty foods,” replied the doctor.

“I eat nearly nothing,” replied the patient.

“Exercise more,” advised the good doctor.

“Come on doctor, what’s the secret?”

“There is not secret!”

“There is and you know it, tell me!”

“If there was a secret and I knew it do you really think I’d be in an NHS hospital in the middle of winter, I’d be rich and sailing my yacht around the Caribbean!”

“Not the Med?”

“Nope, the Caribbean.”

“I think someone’s feeding me in my sleep!”

“NEXT!”

Dr Paul Sharpstone is the featured doctor. He came across to St Lucia on the 2000 ARC aboard Rampersand, decided he liked it and stayed.

Doctor Paul, as he’s known in St Lucia, is retiring for good at the close of 2005. He retired once before in the UK, but a chance meeting in a Brighton bakery changed all that.

“After the ARC, I kept thinking about employment in St Lucia but didn’t know how to go about it. Whilst queueing for bread, (in the aforementioned Brighton bakery), I met a colleague who’d been based in St Lucia, and he shared some contacts. Here I am,” said Paul.

Paul’s ARC crossing aboard the Rampersand began in Gran Canaria. She’d sailed up from Brighton, and skipper Sam Roles was an old friend.

The crew of five were made up of Sam, whose new-found interest in Hinduism was probably the reason for the boat’s name, Sam’s vegan girlfriend, another vegetarian and a lad with an aversion to anything but lentils and pasta.

“The stores were full of flour, muesli, rice, pasta, lentils, oh, and a full branch of unripened bananas,” said Paul.

“Sam’s girlfriend thought fishing cruel,” said Paul, “so that was out. I took along some eggs and sausages but still managed to lose a stone in the 23 day crossing.”

To seek new horizons…

When Helen de Vest scattered the ashes of her deceased daughter on the remote island of Islas Desertas, it signalled the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

A premature birth lead to complications and in just nine days Helen’s child lost her brave struggle for life leaving two lives forever changed.

Always a keen sailor, Helen decided the ARC would be the tonic, make some new friends, see different places, you know the kind of thing.

With this in mind she joined the Julainne, a 40ft Colvic, as the crew were planning a European sojourn before taking part in the 2003 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)—just the ticket.

Julainne slipped her London mooring in July 2003 and headed for Spain then along to Portugal, Porto Santo and Madeira where permission had to be granted before Islas Desertas, could be entered.

“We were one of only seven yachts allowed to visit that year,” said Helen. “It’s similar to National Trust land, isolated and very peaceful.”

Scattering her infant’s ashes, she rejoined the Julainne and duly set sail for Gran Canaria. “The crew were a rare mix,” smiled Helen. “There was Sara, a German chainsaw artist, Crutchy (the skipper with a four-year-old daughter) who’d broken both his legs and been on crutches for some time. A Swedish boat designer called Yohan and, finally, a one-eyed diplomat called Paul who hated sailing but wanted to cross the Atlantic. He now works in Africa.”

In all, it took the Julainne 28 days to cross the Atlantic. “We finished second to last. If we’d have slipped one more place we’d have received the ‘Coming Last’ prize.

“It was more or less 28 days of doing nothing, we only changed the sails half a dozen times, but, it still took a fortnight enjoying St Lucia’s bars to talk about it!” said Helen.

For the love of spam…

Michael and Alison Richings have lived in St Lucia since 1984 and share more than a surname. They both love sailing, competed in the ARC and have passed on their passion for the sport to son Christian, who, at just 23, was the ARC’s youngest skipper.

Michael competed in the 1995 ARC on GB2, one of Chay Blythe’s first flat-top Maxis. Renamed Integrity, the 95ft vessel finished third in just 13 days 23 hours.

“We landed in St Lucia with about as much stores as we departed with. The skipper kept us on very short rations!” said Michael.

Apart from ripping too many sails, Michael lists sweet and sour spam as one of the ARC’s most vivid memories.

Alison was more concerned about being seasick than the actual crossing. Was it something to do with the spam?

“I’d done some sailing but nothing major,” said Alison. “I remember thinking I must be mad to want to cross the Atlantic!”

So with seasick pills and sanity checked, Alison and 13 other like-minded individuals crewed the 68ft BT Challenge 32. It took just 14 days and a few hours of 2001 to complete her ARC dream.

“We had plenty of fresh fruit, and took turns at cooking and cleaning. The onus was very much on racing,” said Alison.

Both Alison and Michael’s skippers had taken part in the BT Around The World Challenge, the only difference being the preference of sweet and sour spam over fresh fruit!

Son Christian made his ARC debut as the youngest skipper, aged just 23, back in 2004 and fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming a sailor.

Born and raised in St Lucia, he attended the UK Sailing Academy, based in Cowes. He soon picked up his Yachtmasters.

Since those far off days at the academy he’s successfully traversed the Atlantic no fewer than a dozen times — last year in Sky, a Swan 53.

Christian is now a charter boat skipper based in the Mediterranean half the year and the Caribbean for the other.

Previous ARC competitors will know the Richings from St Lucia’s quintessential beach bar, Spinnakers, a must for every thirsty yachtie. Whilst you’re here, pay them a visit. Who knows, they might even have sweet and sour spam on the menu!

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