After playing a waiting game with the weather since Friday, it was finally time to set sail as the ARC Channel Islands Rally headed for France this morning, Monday.

Skippers were free to choose their own departure time, for the 70NM passage to Cherbourg in Normandy, with most opting to leave together at 5am, not long after first light. A few of the smaller boats decided to set-off earlier, so all the 29 yachts are expected before dark today.

Sadly the fleet has said good-bye to one boat, Ralph Luck’s Catalina 34 Java, after crewman David Stocker was put out of action by a back problem yesterday. Another non-starter was Escape, an early withdrawal due to engine problems that kept them from reaching the rendezvous in Gosport.

Now that the unseasonal low has passed over Britain, conditions in the English Channel are much more favourable for the rally fleet. Strong winds on Saturday had kept the boats in port, and the residual swell of +3m on Sunday meant a postponement until Monday was in order.

Crews, several of whom are crossing the Channel for the first time, or who are sailing double-handed, used the extra time in port to check and revise their passage plans. Lead boat skipper, Roger Seymour from Hamble School of Yachting, was on hand to cast his experienced eyes over the chart work of any who wanted it.

Inspired by the popular BBC TV series, it was a case of “Ready, steady, bake!” in Haslar Marina yesterday as World Cruising Club‘s rally control Yellow Shirt Sally, issued a challenge to the fleet’s chefs to produce a baked cake or savoury for first ‘Great ARC Channel Islands Bake Off’.

The nautical bakers rose to the challenge and at 4pm yesterday the pontoon tea-party and judging got underway with some inspired bakes; inventive Channel Islands and boat-shaped cakes meant that the competition was fierce. The winning entry eventually selected was a surprise savoury entry – tomato and olive bread – from the crew of Millia that scooped the overall winner’s prize.

The weather now looks settled for the week ahead, offering the prospect of enjoyable cruising around the Channel Islands.

Meanwhile the rally programme has been rescheduled, with an extra day added to the timetable. The expected SW winds around 14 knots should make for a good passage time across the Channel, but arrival may be slowed into the evening as winds are forecast to drop off during the late afternoon and evening.

The progress of the rally boats is being tracked via YB satellite trackers aboard each yacht, and can be viewed on the rally website.