ARC Rally, Day 1

The farewell from Las Palmas yesterday morning was overwhelming and like nothing we’d ever experienced. Hundreds of well wishers lined the docks, quays and breakwaters of the marina and waved goodbye to the ARC fleet while a marching band circled the marina and women danced to music blaring from the fuel dock. With 240 yachts trying to get out to the start line on time, and local spectator boats heading out to watch the spectacle of the rally start, the congestion in the marina was like morning rush hour in Los Angeles.
As each entrant slowly departed the marina, the yacht name and country was announced over a p.a. system and was met with cheers and waving flags from the enthusiastic spectators. Each yacht was photographed as it departed the marina. We all felt like rock stars! Or were they politely saying “thanks for coming to the Canary Islands and spending tonnes of Euros, now go home!”
As much as we have all enjoyed our time in Las Palmas and the Canary Islands, we were itching to put to sea and face the challenges and adventures that only an offshore passage can serve up. That said, we we had the jitters that always accompany a long ocean passage mixed with a dose of adrenaline one gets from a tight quarters race start.
We motored out to the start area with an hour up our sleeves, or so we thought. Plenty of time to tune up the boat, make last minute adjustments, and work on our strategy for the start. Yes, of course, until we unfurled our #1 Genoa, sheeted it home and it ripped in the middle of a panel on the leech. A veteran of the first ARC 24 years ago, the “genny” was apparently well past its useful life. Perhaps it will enjoy an easy life of retirement as an awning over a beach bar on some Caribbean island.
The boys and girl made a very snappy headsail change while the stressed-out skipper dodged spectator boats and ARC entrants in the cruising class who were unfamiliar with that silly starboard-tack-has-right-of-way rule.
The next challenge was to figure out exactly where the start line was for the cruising division. That was sorted by the ten minute warning gun and of course, it was ten minutes sailing distance from us. Perrrrrfect timing!
Our strategy for the start was to sail on starboard tack to the pin end of the start line, which happened to be to windward. Just before the start line, we would gybe onto port, set the spinnaker for the photo crew and then sail away from the rest of the fleet who would be to leeward in a huge pocket of disturbed air.
As you might expect, there were a few others who had similar delusions of grandeur. We got it mostly right, but a cowboy from Sweden on a lovely new yacht, which shall remain unnamed (except possibly to his insurance company), confused the translation of words “rally” with “race” and decided to play hardball with us as we approached the start line with the pin to windward and his yacht to leeward. “Up you go!” he called, hoping we would do the lemming/cliff thing and sail across the start line outside the outer distance mark. Clearly he did not have a clue that he was messing with a crew of surly Stewart 34 sailors, who have long been accustomed to yacht racing being a full contact sport. Add to that the fact that another yacht was running the line from right to left ahead of us, which we would have t-boned if we had been wimpish enough to go up, and there were also at least three boats to windward of us who were fully intent on barging in between us and the mark. Let’s just say it was getting very, very cozy.
I reminded him that this was a friendly rally and he, finally seeing the big picture and thinking better of it, decided to bear away and sail his proper course. What he failed to consider is that a boat steers from the stern, so when he turned right within a few millimeters of us, his stern turned left, passing underneath our long boom, which was eased well out to leeward. No problem-except for his shiny stainless steel antenna farm which had a line of aerials that popped under the end of our boom like a playing card on the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Thanks God his big-ass stern anchor didn’t put a hole in our hull or I might have been pissed off. In any event he came out second in the ordeal.
We managed to squeeze through the start line about 10-15 seconds after the starting gun and got the kite up seconds later when the distance between the boats increased to something greater than the the thickness of cigarette paper. Every second counts on a 2700 mile passage!
Annie and Liam had a group of cruising friends aboard “Gone With the Wind” out on the water to watch the start and cheer us on. Shortly after we got going, they motored by blaring the song “Moonshadow” on the stereo, wishing us well, cheering us on and waving us goodbye. Special moments and special friends like this are a few of the many rewards of cruising.
The rest of the afternoon was spent working our way up to windward to insure we had clear air and clawing our way ahead of most of the smaller boats in the cruising divisions. The sailing conditions were brilliant with moderate breezes and slight seas. Yesterdays sailing felt like riding in a Cadillac on ice.
As predicted, the breeze increased significantly in the wind acceleration zone between the Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura Islands and we got a nice slingshot ride south and stayed on a patch of breeze along the coast of Africa. We’re dropping south toward the Cape Verde Islands in order to avoid a weather system that will bring head winds to the great circle route to St. Lucia and to (hopefully) pick up the trade winds at a good angle to take us the rest of the way across the Atlantic Ocean.
Sailing was absolutely beautiful throughout the evening with the kite up, bright moonlight, warm breezes and excellent visibility.
Our noon position on Monday 22 November was 25 deg. 31 min. north by 16 deg. 25 min. west. Our 23 hour run from the 1300 GMT start time was approximately 180 nm for an average speed over the ground of 7.8 knots.
“Moonshadow” and crew are all well and quickly adjusting to the rigors of life at sea. Yes, it time for a beer!

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