The inaugural ARC Channel Islands rally has successfully created a channel-crossing community, says its World Cruising Club (WCC) organisers.

The event, which was run in association with RYA Active Marina, concluded back in Gosport on Sunday 28 August, after a week-long cruise exploring Cherbourg, Alderney and Guernsey.

The rally was planned as a way to encourage boat owners to sail beyond their normal cruising areas, and to gain confidence taking their boats to unfamiliar destinations or on longer passages. Sailing with the fleet was a lead boat with Hamble School of Yachting senior instructor Roger Seymour and a team from WCC aboard, offering guidance and help with planning the passages, and facilitating the shore-side programmes in each of the ports visited.

A total of 29 boats from across the UK, including Scotland, the West Country and East Coast came together for the rally, with crews made up of friends and families ranging in age from grandparents to young children.

ARC Channel Islands rallygoers in Alderney. Credit: Clare Pengelly/World Cruising Club

ARC Channel Islands rallygoers. Credit: Clare Pengelly/World Cruising Club

An unseasonal low pressure system postponed the planned departure from Haslar Marina, Gosport, originally scheduled for Saturday 20 August.

Crews, several of whom were crossing the Channel for the first time, or sailing double-handed, used the extra time in port to check and revise their passage plans assisted by the rally team, to explore the local area and to take part in a baking competition.

By the time lines were slipped on Monday crews conditions in the English Channel were much more favourable for the 70NM passage to Cherbourg in Normandy, although some crews did have to earn their sea legs riding through residual swell and a period of strong winds as they left the Solent.

Seasickness caused three yachts, Jessica, Jillian and Venturer II, to turn back to port.
Other early withdrawals included Ralph Luck’s Catalina 34 Java, after crewman David Stocker was put out of action by a back problem, while engine problems kept the yacht Escape from reaching the rendezvous in Gosport.
ARC Channel Islands Hufflepuff crew arrive at Cherbourg. Credit: World Cruising Club

ARC Channel Islands Hufflepuff crew arrive at Cherbourg. Credit: World Cruising Club

Further into the crossing, conditions moderated and sun-kissed faces with beaming smiles were welcomed in to Port Chantereyne that evening.

Crews swapped tales of their Channel crossings over drink and buffet supper before a leisurely departure to Guernsey the following day.

Fiona Franklin, sailing with her family on Hufflepuff described their day sail to St. Peter Port, Guernsey: ‘We woke up in Cherbourg to the most glorious weather – having moored up just before 10pm BST after a long sail from Gosport, we slept very well.

‘We set off in light winds and prepared to motor much of the way. What we weren’t prepared for was the fabulous sight of dolphins playing around the boats. Absolutely wonderful! We negotiated the Alderney Race at slack tide with no problems and negotiated the Little Russel. Stunning scenery and very enjoyable by day!’

ARC Channel Islands 2016 yachts in St Peter Port, Guernsey. Credit Clare Pengelly/World Cruising Club

ARC Channel Islands 2016 rally fleet in St Peter Port, Guernsey. Credit: Clare Pengelly/World Cruising Club

A free day gave time to explore ashore and a coach tour of Guernsey took crews away from the marina to visit some of the island’s highlights, including the Little Chapel and the German Underground Hospital, Plienmount Point with beautiful views over the west coast of the island, and a stop at the Guernsey Pearl for coffee and lunch overlooking the rocky bays.

Sailing in the English Channel and therefore dependant on local weather, the rally programme needed to be flexible and was twice adapted for the prevailing conditions.

The prospect of stronger northerlies in the Channel meant the fleet sailed to Alderney earlier to avoid swells in the harbour, rather than Jersey further to the south. An extra visit to Cherbourg then made for better routing on the final sail back to Gosport.

Mark Wilcox, from Majic-L posted on the World Cruising Club website’s boat log: ‘The sight of the ARC yachts all heading out together from Guernsey harbour was quite something.’

A dedicated VHF channel helped keep the fleet in touch at sea, and YB Trackers enabled family and friends to follow the fleet’s tracks throughout the cruise.

ARC Channel Islands 2016 rally visit to Alderney's Braye Harbour. Credit Clare Pengelly/World Cruising Club

Alderney’s Braye Harbour. Credit: Clare Pengelly/World Cruising Club

On arrival in Alderney the choice was to pick up a mooring, raft alongside another boat on a mooring or drop anchor. Graseal decided to challenge themselves and were the only boat in the fleet to drop anchor.

Most boats picked up their own mooring buoy, however some decided they wanted the company and rafted alongside another yacht.

Ian from Mon Dilemme said: ‘We wanted to be sociable, so we moored alongside Beowulf.’ Once the lines were tied they were then offered beers and a tour of Beowulf. The afternoon was spent relaxing and swimming in Braye Harbour, before venturing ashore for a leisurely sundowner and dinner.

The next day a trip on the railway was organised, offering more beautiful views and visit to the lighthouse. Many participants vowed to be back to explore more of the little island.

The fleet departed for Cherbourg on Friday, regrouping for a sundowner and meal ashore before the return crossing. The following afternoon, all too soon for some, it was time to return across the Channel.

The decision on the time to depart was based on the destination port; Gosport, Lymington, Hamble, Chichester and Weymouth.

Conditions for the return leg showed just how varied the winds on a cross-Channel passage can be. For most, the trip began with light north-easterlies, so the first few hours had to be under motor. It then picked up slightly and turned north west for a couple more hours, allowing for some great sailing, before dropping again to nothing.

For the closing hours, it then finally filled in from the South West with a steady Force 5.

The crew of Current Obsession said: ‘The watch system failed entirely due to the sailing being far too exciting!’

True to the spirit of the RYA Active Marina programme, Guy Malpas from the RYA joined the crews in Cherbourg for the sail home.

Guy said: ‘I was lucky enough to be invited to sail back to Gosport on Midnight Wanderer. Stephen and his daughters were great fun to sail with and supplied the best night time provisioning I have ever experienced! The highlight of our passage was probably mid-Channel, monitoring the AIS to safely pass through the stream of commercial shipping.’

Despite the differing destinations, crews were keen to come together for a final farewell lunch, hosted at The Lightship, at Haslar Marina.

Reflecting on the rally with fun prizes and sharing their memories, many commented how it was almost unbelievable that they had been relative strangers just over a week ago.

Mark from Magic-L said: ‘The fact we have so many get-togethers over the last few days has really helped with a community spirit amongst the ARC’ers and good to see the ranges of age and experience amongst the crews. So the question you always ask – would we do this again? Absolutely!’

ARC Channel Islands 2017 – rally launch at the Southampton Boat Show

Would you like to know more about ARC Channel Islands? Join World Cruising Club and RYA Active Marina for refreshments and the launch of ARC Channel Islands 2017 on Sunday 18 September, from 16:00-17:00 in the RYA Members’ Lounge at the Southampton Boat Show.

The event will provide an opportunity to learn about the rally, first time channel crossings, what makes the Channel Islands so popular for cruisers and mix with like-minded sailors. Crews from 2016 will be on hand to answer your questions and you can chat to the experts.

The launch is free to attend with advanced registration and takes place within the Southampton Boat Show at the RYA Members’ Lounge in the Holiday Inn (you will need a valid ticket to the boat show to attend).

Click here to register.