Dreary weather failed to dampen the spirits of the ARC 2015 fleet, as sailors departed Las Palmas de Gran Canaria bound for Rodney Bay, St Lucia

Years and months of intense planning and preparation finally paid off today as the yachts taking part in ARC 2015 set sail from Gran Canaria.

There was an air of excitement throughout Las Palmas marina for 1,125 sailors who are embarking on the 2,700 nautical mile voyage across the Atlantic that even a few rain squalls throughout the morning could not dampen.

Friends and families of the sailors as well as local well-wishers and staff from the marina businesses lined the dock, cheering and dancing to the loud music blaring out in celebration of the start.

ARC yachts head out to the start as spectators watched them head through a ‘gate’ before making their way to the start line. © WCC/James Mitchell

Traditional folk band La parranda Café-Tin and brass band Banda Canarias marched around the marina serenading every pontoon to add to the festival feel.

The Tourist Board of Gran Canaria, the Port Authority of Las Palmas and the city government of Las Palmas, have been hosts to ARC participants for the past two weeks.

Boats had to identify themselves as they left the marina and headed through a ‘gate’ before making their way to the start line. To the delight of the spectators, several crews dressed up for their departure, danced on the foredeck as the gathered their fenders and lines and waved their nations flags to bid farewell to the Canarian hosts.

While the ARC is a cruising rally, there is a start and finish line, and the boats are split into divisions according to size, type and competition. A total of 195 yachts sailing under the flags of 27 nations crossed today’s start lines.

A strong north-north easterly breeze of 25-30 knots and moderate seas made for a lively welcome to being at sea again.

At 12:30 UTC the gun on the ARC committee boat – the Spanish naval ship Tornado – fired for the start of the multihull and open divisions.

In the 29-boat racing division Ross Applebey’s Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster led the way across the starting line, followed by fellow British flagged charter boat Quokka 8.

More than 140 yachts sailed across the start line for the cruising division, many heavily reefed following a brief squall that came through as the start sequence began, rocking and rolling over the line.

Today’s start provided a breezy beginning to the ARC 2015 ocean adventure as the fleet heads out to sea. The forecast is looking good for at least the first part of the crossing with moderate to strong trade winds, and with the established Azores high, a route close to the great circle or a little to the south looks favourable for a quick and comfortable sail.

Chris and Helen Tibbs, with Jeremy Wyatt and William Yonge on the yacht Taistealai © WCC / James Mitchell

ARC weatherman Chris Tibbs, who is participating in this year’s rally, told his fellow sailors at yesterday’s Skippers Briefing: ’30 years ago I sat where you are and prepared to embark on my first ARC. The boats have got bigger and faster, communications have changed and so has navigation but the wind and the waves are still the same. I look forward to hearing all your stories in St Lucia and have a good passage and fair winds.’

Former Yachting World editor Dick Johnson

Former Yachting World editor Dick Johnson recalled the original ARC 30 years ago when they were expecting about 50 boats to participate and had 214 entries in the first year.

He said: ‘The boats have changed, we used to see some really rough old boats and we did stop some boats from taking part.

‘I remember one lovely couple with two children aged five and three, with a Nicholson 32 Mk 1 yacht. He had been a fireman in Portsmouth and she was a nurse. They went off and took one crew with them on the second ARC.

‘Halfway across the their batteries went flat and they couldn’t start the engine to recharge the batteries so they lost all electricity. They had a bicycle on board and they took the saloon table out and lashed the bicycle to the saloon table with the back tyre off the ground. They got an alternator off the engine and wires to extend back to the battery.

‘They wrapped the alternator in carrier bags and for three days they pedalled, holding the alternator onto the bike until the charged the batteries up enough to start the engine.’

WCC managing director Andrew Bishop

Managing director for World Cruising Club Andrew Bishop said: ‘It was a good start, it would’ve been nice to have slightly calmer conditions for the start but they all got away and all were sensibly heavily reefed.

‘It’s going to get stronger when they go into the acceleration zone, they’ve all been briefed about the likelihood of winds increasing so we hope they’ve heeded that advice and don’t get lulled into a false sense of security in the first part of this passage.’

He added: ‘The atmosphere in the port was calm this year, everyone seemed well prepared for participation in the event. Obviously there were still people running around doing things but the amount seemed to be less than normal.’

Andrew, who has been involved with the event for many years, said: ‘I like seeing people achieving their dreams and that’s what this is all about, it’s what World Cruising is all about.

‘One year a French family, with a 15-year-old son took part. The father said to me at the end ‘I want to thank you for the most fantastic event, my son started the ARC as a boy and he is now a man.’ That was very moving.

‘Another very well respected Argentinean family started off with their daughter missing Facebook and the son feeling miserable, all sorts of negativity, but then the daughter realised she could make friends and the son came out of his shell, when they got to the Caribbean they said ‘This has changed our lives, we’re not going to go back, we’re going to buy a bigger catamaran.’

‘When you talk to people at the end of this event you realise what an impact it’s had on them.’

A record year

The departure of the ARC fleet sailing directly to Saint Lucia today means a combined total of 254 yachts are sailing the Atlantic under the ARC banner in 2015 – a record number in the 30 year history of the rally.

The 59-strong ARC + fleet departed Mindelo, Cape Verde for their second leg of their crossing last Wednesday and are enjoying great downwind sailing and fishing triumphs reported in their logs sent in to the World Cruising Club website.

All ARC boats are fitted with YB Tracking satellite trackers, allowing family and friends to follow the fleet from the comfort of home. Click here for the online Fleet Viewer

The majority of boats will take 18-21 days to make the Atlantic crossing, arriving in Rodney Bay Marina, Saint Lucia. Whatever time they make landfall, every boat will be met at the dock by Saint Lucia Tourism Board and World Cruising Club staff bearing a welcome rum punch and cold drinks.

There will be a full schedule of events in Rodney Bay for all ARC crews and their friends and families, culminating in the ARC prize giving on 19 December.

The ARC+ Monohull fleet setting sail for Leg 1 from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria © WCC/Claire Pengelly

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