Although the average boat length is 15.51m (51ft), almost half of the 220 boats sailing in this year’s Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) range from 40ft-50ft.

The 31st edition of the rally, which follows the tradewinds from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, is due to start on Sunday, 20 November.

From family cruisers to collections of friends ticking off that bucket list sailing adventure, the ARC is always popular with boats of under 50ft and they come from all over the world to join the rally.

Following week two of preparations now underway in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and with the countdown to start day ticking away, World Cruising Club share stories from the crews of the forty-footers.

Back on their own boat

Cubaneren skipper Karl Otto Book

Cubaneren skipper Karl Otto Book. Credit: WCC

The aptly named, Cubaneren, with an unusual cigar-shaped narrow hull is owned by Norwegian sailor Karl Otto Book and his wife. They have previously sailed in the event, this will be their first crossing on board their own boat, a lovingly restored Norwegian Wassa built in 1982.

‘Three years ago we decided to do the ARC crossing and our plan is to go around the world,’ says Karl Otto Book whose is from a small town 100 km south of Oslo. ‘Since we bought the boat five years ago, we have carried out a massive refit; all we kept was the hull, deck and keel.

‘We won’t have much space on board with four of us, but will change crew, two on, two off, every two hours, so we will manage. Quite early in our planning we knew we would join the ARC, mainly because of the social aspect of the rally, both here in Las Palmas and Saint Lucia.

‘Our two father’s who are experienced sailors will join us for the crossing and are hoping for a good start and look forward to enjoying the whole experience in our own boat. After we arrive in Saint Lucia we will sail west quite quickly and plan to go through the Panama Canal in January or February and see where it takes us from there.’

A dream come true

Koen Simkins on High Five

Koen Simkins on High Five. Credit: WCC

Koen Simkins on High Five, the Belgian Beneteau Oceanis 43 was on board waiting for his ARC Safety Equipment Inspection and spoke about his dream of sailing across the Atlantic and around the world. He has taken a two-year sabbatical from his job as a driving school instructor after purchasing the boat three years ago. “

‘I’ve always wanted to do a circumnavigation since I was very young,’ says Koel from Nieuwpoort began sailing when he was six years old with his grandfather. ‘For the ARC there will be five crew from Belgium and Holland, including my brother-in-law. My wife is not so keen on long-distance sailing so will join us in the Caribbean with our three children aged 3, 7 and 8. We will be in the Caribbean for 20 months and are uncertain of our plans after that.’

Koen likes the whole concept and atmosphere of the ARC and the idea of sailing across with lots of other yachts. ‘You meet many other sailors and they share their experiences. It’s kind of addictive because you get caught up in the feeling of why we are doing this and realise that your dream has actually become reality. It is really good to have the organisation of the ARC team to make sure we do our safety checks and have all the information and help we need; it’s very reassuring.’

No time like the present

Babs Watkins. Credit: WCC

Babs Watkins. Credit: WCC

Paul and Babs Watkins, members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and Royal Airforce Yacht Club in Hamble, UK sailed their Moody 44, Lyra Magna doublehanded from Hamble, UK to Las Palmas. The Bay of Biscay was the longest time at sea for Babs and she will not be joining her husband and his three sailing friends for the ARC crossing, but will meet them in the Caribbean. A fifth crew member was going to join them, but due to illness is now unable to take part in their transatlantic adventure and will be following their progress closely.

‘We have had the boat for six years and we talked about an Atlantic crossing and we knew we were coming up to retirement,’ said Babs, a senior nursing Sister at Southampton General Hospital and her airline pilot husband, Paul. ‘Our retirement plans came sooner than we expected, plus we lost some close friends this year and another is ill, so we decided to do it now whilst we can.

‘We always talked about doing it but I never really thought we would do it,’ explains Babs who has written a much-followed blog of her experiences since leaving home.

Three sailing couples

David and Vicky Addey. Credit: WCC

David and Vicky Addey. Credit: WCC

David and Vicky Addey are part way through a self-build house project at home in Sherbourne, Dorset, but this has been put on hold to fulfil David’s ambition to sail the ARC as a skipper. He has sailed in the ARC twice, once as a paying guest and once as crew for a friend. This year he will be celebrating his 60th birthday at sea and will be sailing with wife Vicky, a retired primary school teacher on her first Atlantic crossing. They will be joined by two other couples; all great friends who have all known each other since their children were born.

‘We are towards the lower end of boat length at 41ft and I think we might be going for the prize for the largest number of people per foot,’ says David. ‘Six people on our boat is sort of too many, but the three couples come as a team and at least we’ll all get plenty of sleep. We’ve given up the forepeak for food storage and are going to hot-bunk it at night too.’

The Addey’s will be joined in Saint Lucia by their children who will sail with them down to Grenada.

ARC start

ARC start Gran Canaria

ARC 2015 start Gran Canaria

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has been the ‘home port’ of the ARC since the very first edition of the rally in 1986. It is a natural departure point for boats crossing the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean, and all summer and autumn boats will converge on the port of Las Palmas from northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Gran Canaria is located at the edge of the tradewind belt, so boats leaving the Canary Islands will sail south (until the butter melts, as the saying goes) until they pick up the north east tradewinds which then blow them west across the Atlantic.  The ARC starts in late November when the tradewinds become established, and the boats arrive at the end of the Caribbean hurricane season.

Sunday’s race start is expected to attract thousands of spectators, who will line the city shore to watch the action. The first start gun will sound at 1230 for the Multihulls, followed by the Racing boats at 1245 and then the cruising boats, making up the majority of the ARC fleet, at 1300.

The ARC 2016 fleet are expected to arrive in Rodney Bay, St Lucia between 27 November and 1 December.

In addition to the ARC, the World Cruising Club organises the more leisurely ARC+ route across the Atlantic, which set sail more than a week ago and stop at Mindelo Marina in Cape Verde.

Follow the crews’ progress via blogs, news updates and boat tracking at