As the sun set in Saint Lucia on Wednesday 6th December, crews of ARC+ 2017 came together to mark the end of a wonderful ocean adventure with a special prize giving ceremony held at Pigeon Island National Park. The experience of crossing an ocean is one that few ARC+ participants will ever forget, and the focus of the evening's festivities was not only the achievement of those who placed well in their respective classes but everyone who shared in the spirit of the ARC+ adventure in 2017.
Their journey began some six weeks ago in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria where the crews of yachts from 21 different nations assembled and a special community has developed ever since. The pre-departure programme brought together the fleet for seminars, safety demonstrations and final preparations before setting off on Sunday 5th November. The rally sailed first to Mindelo, Cape Verde, filling the marina with a special buzz as continual arrivals greeted one another with great enthusiasm following the 850nm passage. The passage took between 5 and 7 days for the fleet, and along the way they enjoyed plenty of special ocean sailing moments of starry nights, playful dolphins, fishing triumphs and riding the rolling waves as the miles to Mindelo counted down. Putting the 'plus' in the ARC+ name, the stopover included days ashore to explore the delights of Mindelo town, including markets and local handmade crafts. Organised tours to the neighbouring island of Santo Antao, the largest of the Cape Verde Barlavento islands, saw participants guided around the mountainous volcanic landscape, and a visit to SOS Aldeias Children's Home gave an opportunity to meet local children who are being supported through poverty and difficult situations by the charity.
All too soon for some, it was time for the ARC+ fleet to continue across the Atlantic Ocean on to their Caribbean destination of Saint Lucia. The start of Leg 2 provided "a brilliant afternoon and the perfect way to begin two weeks of blue water rally cruising." said Holly from on board Hummingbird, as the fleet were whisked away from Mindelo with spinnakers flying.
Already in the trade wind belt, the ARC+ fleet enjoyed favourable, if a little light, winds to help tick down the nautical miles to Saint Lucia. As a cruising rally, use of engines is permitted and motoring hours are provided by the skipper to be factored into the fun results calculated before the prize giving. Declared hours ranged between 0 and almost 200 - showing a wide variation of cruising styles in the fleet. Many took advantage of the calm conditions by fishing, writing blogs for family and friends, and taking a mid-Atlantic swim during their time at sea.
The first ARC+ boats were led into Saint Lucia by Sparkman & Stevens Sloop Altair on 26th November and steadily sixty-six boats in the fleet have joined them in the time before the prize giving ceremony. Two final arrivals are sure to receive an extra special welcome as they reach Rodney Bay later today.
In a large marquee adorned with flags and traditional Saint Lucian madras tartan cloth from their national costume, crews assembled for the awards ceremony to celebrate their ocean crossing achievements. Welcoming them to the ceremony, World Cruising Club's Andrew Bishop recounted a few tales as he worked his way through numerous awards. Hon. Dominic Fedee, Minister for Tourism, Information and Broadcasting and Agnes Francis from the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority kindly assisted in presenting prizes to the lucky winners.
Those visiting the stage to collect their prizes included family boat Charm (USA) topping the Multihull Class, Marisja (NLD) in Class A and Luna (GER) in Class B. As the crew of Norwegian boat, Mera arrived on stage to collect their tankard for coming 1st in Class C, they regaled the crowd with a song to summarise their crossing, prompting plenty of smiles and rapturous applause. Final class winners were Windgather (GBR) for Class D, and it was a special moment to recognise the international nature of the fleet with each class winner coming from a different nation.
As is traditional in the ARC too, it was not just crews who were successful in the competitive side of the rally who received prizes; there were many other awards given out for happenings at sea, successes and achievements as well as recognising the families and double-handed crews who took part. Drawing much amusement from the crowd, a special prize was awarded to O'Deline who sailed the longest distance from Mindelo, Cape Verde to Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia of 2357.4NM - 265.2NM more than the rhum line route winners Opptur who sailed the shortest distance!
The last participants to be acknowledged were the crew of Helen, who were chosen to receive the Spirit of ARC+ award. Each year, this prize recognises the crew who contribute in a special way to the rally, and Helen's crew have raised almost £10,000 for SOS Aldeias Children's Home. Although not all the crew could be present at the ceremony, ARC+ Mascot Ed the Iguana who sailed on board this year was nominated to receive the shiny salver marking their contribution.
As the formal ARC+ prize giving concluded, the few first arrivals from the ARC were invited to join the party. It's be a challenging year for the fleet sailing directly from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and just nine boats have arrived in Saint Lucia batting some strong head winds and patches of light airs along the way. Special entertainment soon set off the party atmosphere as the Helen Folk Dancers encouraged participants on to the dancefloor and Stars Incorporated Limbo Dance Group wowed the crowds with a stunning fire display.
As the evening came to a close, it was clear that the friendships made during the rally will continue to grow long into the future. Plenty of plans are afoot to continue cruising in company with the ARC+ camaraderie set to stay throughout the Caribbean season and beyond. Wherever their cruising plans take them, there'll be plenty more wonderful shared sailing adventures ahead for the Atlantic crossing crews of ARC+ 2017.