Andrew Bishop tells Ali Wood how an accident at sea led to a career organising cruising rallies
Andrew, who retired on 6 January, was on a career break from the Navy when he joined his father for the 1989 ARC.
“It was my father’s long-term ambition to sail across the Atlantic, and the opportunity arose for me to take time off,” says Andrew. “I basically had a gap year at the age of 29.”
He helped his father prepare their new-build Freedom 39, a time he recalls as being ‘very special’.
He’d already done a lot of cruising and offshore racing, but learned a lot from the experience.
The ARC was due to leave Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, for Barbados on the Saturday, but was delayed because of bad weather, allowing Andrew to celebrate his father’s birthday on land.
The Sunday start attracted a far bigger crowd of spectators than usual, so ever since the ARC yachts have left on Sundays, with the destination changed to Saint Lucia.
Andrew Bishop loved the Atlantic swell and the sailing, but unfortunately the passage became memorable for another reason.
“It was a lovely calm day, apart from the Atlantic swell; not too windy,” Andrew recalls. “Because we had a cat rig schooner, there was a mast right at the bow, and we were sailing with the booms on opposite sides. The foreboom was so far forward it was difficult to rig an effective preventer. It could slow an accidental gybe, but not stop it altogether.”
Clobbered by the boom
Andrew was on the foredeck, preparing to hoist the main staysail when the boat caught a wave.
The foreboom gybed, giving him a glancing blow to the head. “I ducked, but not fast enough and the next thing I remember was waking up down below. I was unconscious long enough for the crew to move me below.”
Andrew’s father immediately got on the SSB radio and linked up with the fleet, among them several doctors as crew.
Being exactly halfway through the voyage ‘as always happens’, there was no choice but to continue with the passage.
“We were experiencing first-hand the benefits of being at sea with other boats,” says Andrew. “However, the real eye-opener was the fact I hadn’t been wearing a lifejacket. That made me reflect on my life. I realised things could have turned out very differently, and that’s why I’m so particular about safety. I have a rule on my boat now that before the lines leave the dock or the anchor leaves the bottom, the crew wear lifejackets, and that’s the way we stay.”
“This reinforces the idea that wearing a lifejacket when you go to sea is the right thing to do,” says Andrew. “If skippers relax that at sea then that’s their prerogative but I personally feel very strongly about that particular point.”
It’s also a requirement of World Sailing Offshore Regulations that lifejackets are equipped with a light, whistle and personal AIS.
Andrew’s close-call forced him to reflect on what he was doing with his life.
“I started to think about changing direction, and that I’d rather embrace the day. I decided to go and talk to Jimmy Cornell, who kindly offered me a job working on the next ARC. I’ve been involved with it ever since.”
Bluewater cruising has evolved a lot since that time. SSB radio is still used among participants, but is not as popular these days, given the development of satellite communications, electronic charting and alerting devices such as personal AIS.
EPIRBs were around when Andrew Bishop first started working with the ARC, but are much more sophisticated now.
“We had Decca on board then too, which I don’t think was much good for an Atlantic crossing,” he says. “I did do lots of astro-navigation. In fact I did my first noon sight with a sextant on the Fastnet when I was 15, and went on to get an O-Level in navigation. When I was in the Navy, I used a sextant to navigate a small warship from Hong Kong to Bangkok.”
Another trend the ARC has seen over the last decade is in the size of boats.
Production boats are becoming relatively cheaper to produce, so boats are getting bigger. “We’ve lost a lot of the smaller boats that we’d have seen in the ARC early years,” says Andrew.
“It’s quite unusual now to see a boat under 35ft, and also there’s an increase in the number of catamarans.”
There have always been families doing the ARC, but Andrew senses that there’s been a shift in people’s outlook on life.
“Maybe people are putting their experiences before their careers. They’re taking the plunge and saying, ‘we want to do this, and we want to do it with our children,’ whereas before they might have waited. It’s a shift in mentality.”
The organisers, World Cruising Club (WCC), have strict safety requirements for participants and check all boats’ offshore sailing gear before…
Without doubt, safety has been the biggest improvement to long-distance cruising over the last 50 years. This is my own…
‘During the past four years I have sailed through some of the major crossroads of the cruising world: Rhodes, Gibraltar,…
Every voyage starts with a dream and for me it goes back a long while to when I was a…
The challenge of finding solutions to practical problems is something I have enjoyed as far back as I can remember.…
When Jimmy Cornell retired in 2006, Andrew took over the company together with Jeremy Wyatt, who is also retiring later this year.
At the time they were operating the main ARC – from Gran Canaria to St Lucia – as well as ARC Europe and ARC Portugal.
They decided to re-launch the World Cruising Club round-the-world rally, rebranded as World ARC.
By 2010, things had really taken off and the ARC was continually full.
In response to this in 2013, WCC added a second transatlantic, the ARC+, which still went to St Lucia, but with a stopover in Cape Verde.
In 2021, the final ARC+ destination switched to Grenada. Next on the agenda was ARC Baltic, a six-week, 1,800-mile voyage with short rally legs, enabling participants to enjoy the Swedish and Finnish archipelagos.
World Cruising Club was now a year-round operation, co-ordinating safe passage for hundreds of yachts a year.
“Suddenly we’d added a lot of things, and there was no way I could get to all the destinations,” says Andrew, who travelled extensively with WCC.
“I’ve been to a great number of them. In fact, I could say I’ve been to all the places on the first half of the World ARC. Vanuatu is my favourite; it’s so remote and such a different culture.”
Andrew sails a wooden replica of Joshua Slocum’s Spray, which he keeps on the west coast of Scotland.
Change of helm
Andrew’s handed over the helm to Paul Tetlow, who rejoined World Cruising Club after managing St Katharine Docks in London.
For Paul, this is a return to familiar ground, having worked for WCC until 2015 as the event manager for the World ARC.
His wife Suzana, a familiar face to many ARC participants, will also help take the company to the next level.
“I just feel the time is right to move on and hand over to next generation,” Andrew says. “We’ve been extremely fortunate in establishing some really cracking, world-class events. I’m happy with what we’ve achieved, and handing over to a team who are going to continue that growth and continue to put the participants first.”
For more about World Cruising Club and its rallies, visit worldcruisingclub.com
Enjoyed reading Andrew Bishop: Close-call in the Atlantic?
A subscription to Practical Boat Owner magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.
Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.
PBO is packed with information to help you get the most from boat ownership – whether sail or power.
- Take your DIY skills to the next level with trusted advice on boat maintenance and repairs
- Impartial in-depth gear reviews
- Practical cruising tips for making the most of your time afloat