Ali Wood meets the youngest and oldest sailors as well as a veteran transatlantic dog
A record-breaking 95 boats left Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on the ARC+ this morning, the largest number to date for the World Cruising Club rally. The yachts from 24 different nations (a third of them British) are now on their way to Port Louis, Grenada, with a stopover in Mindelo, Cape Verde.
As the boats left the breakwater there were cheers and smiles from sailors of all ages, including seven-month old Roux Clarke Stevens onboard Pinnacle and 87-year-old skipper Chris Lotthé on Namaste, whose accordion teacher was playing a tune at the bow.
Barking excitedly was 10-year-old collie-cross Buzz onboard Topaz Rival, who’s doing his second transatlantic.
“Buzz doesn’t get seasick,” says owner Martin Whitfield. “Put it this way, he’s never missed a dinner. But if you’re thinking of sailing with a dog, get a small dog, a less hairy dog!”
First over the line
The multihulls started 15 minutes ahead of the monohulls. The first three boats over the line were all Outremers – a 51, Maracuja, flying her orange gennaker, followed by Outremer 55-2 XIII Treize and Nuvem Magica, an Outremer 5X.
The monohulls were next across the line with a very competitive start. Hanse 455 Infinity of Yar, Italia Yachts 15.98 Nessun Dorma, Rustler 44 Sea Hayes and Oyster 485 Wild Goose crossed the line in close formation.
Almost a third of the boats this year are multihulls, 11 boats were launched in 2023, and there are 44 children taking part – another record for the event.
Lucy Collins (12) is doing the rally with Dad Will and friends onboard Oyster 55 Valent. Her mum Suzy and sister Sophie joined them for the passage from the UK but will not be doing the Atlantic crossing.
Lucy’s already had quite the adventure, having slept through an orca encounter which damaged the boat’s wind vane and resulted in a two-month stay in Gibraltar for repairs.
One of Lucy’s many highlights from the voyage to the Canaries was stopping in Morocco, where they visited Tangier, Rabat and Agadir and took river taxis whilst the call to prayer rang out across the river.
The Collins family have lots of tips on preparing a boat for a transatlantic, which PBO will share in the March issue.
Well prepared boats
Another well prepared family we met were the Smiths onboard Moody 54 Blue Pearl. Grown up children Henry, a nurse, and Chloe, an outdoor adventure graduate, showed us their impressive emergency kit.
Chloe has a caving helmet ready for trips up the mast and dive equipment for swims under the boat. Henry, who has just come from an understaffed A&E department in Leicester, has stocked up with varying strength painkillers, bandages, Superglue (for cuts), steri-strips, painkillers and sea sickness tablets (he recommends Scopaderm patches).
Mum Helen is also a retired nurse, and has already dealt with her husband Neil’s emergencies at sea, including a severed thumb tendon and paint scraper in his foot!
The Smith family is hoping not to use any of this equipment, of course, on the three-week passage, and are looking forward to detoxing from their busy lives, opting not to get the new Star Link data package that many of the boats have this year.
“I think it’s going to be very nice being away from all that,” says Chloe. “I very much enjoyed the trip down from Spain, not looking at my phone, not doing anything, just seeing different places. I was blown away by dolphins!”
Henry adds: “I was working night shifts for the two weeks before we left. There were doctor and consultant strikes and it was hard work. It’s going to be much more relaxed and pleasant now.”
The rally’s oldest skipper, Christian Lotthé, who turns 88 in December, has spent the months leading up to the voyage organising a fund-raising effort to help victims of the war in Ukraine. Whilst he says that age is just a label, and he is personally not bothered, he knows that people are interested.
“For me, it is a time to do things for other people, not just grieve for them; it’s called nyingjé in Tibetan, which means active compassion.”
Chris is sailing with three friends, including Dimitri Boyard, who he met using the French crew finding website, Vogavecmoi.
Arrival in Cape Verde
The 850-mile passage to Cape Verde is expected to be a quick one as the northeast trade winds are already well established. Although it was a gentle 12 knots at the startline, boats can expect 20 to 25 knots of wind with gusts of 25 to 30 knots and a decent long swell for the next week.
The yachts should arrive in Mindelo, Cape Verde from 10 to 12 November then, after a week of sightseeing and recuperation, will set sail on 17 November for the remaining 2,150 miles across the Atlantic to Grenada.
Every ARC+ boat is fitted with the latest YB trackers, so you can follow the fleet on the YB Races app or on the Fleet Viewer on the rally website worldcruising.com/arc_plus.
Find out more about ARC+ and other World Cruising Club rallies at www.worldcruising.com