In a period of six weeks, more than four-hundred yachts sail across
the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. The
largest group of yachts consists of the ARC, the Atlantic Rally for
Cruisers. In 2005, the ARC had over two-hundred and thirty yachts
signed up to make the trip TOGETHER - although together doesn't really
mean together, except at the start. Together means they do it at the
same time, sort of. The only time they really are together is in the
Canary Islands when they start the rally, and they leave on the same day
from Las Palmas.
Since the yachts range is size from thirty-five feet to over one-hundred
feet, it doesn't take long for the boats to disperse as they sail over the
horizon. We were told that the ARC costs one-thousand two hundred
euros per yacht and one-hundred and fifty euros for each person on board. If we had joined the ARC, it would have cost us $2000 in fees.
We didn't join, and saved $2000 worth of freedom chips..
Instead, we formed our own rally which I call the NARC - the Non Atlantic
Rally for Cruisers. There are several hundred yachts in the NARC, and
everyone leaves whenever they choose, and there are no entry fees. The
NARC flotilla is extremely diverse with yachts of all sizes and designs -
monhulls and multihulls, and they come from dozens of different countries,
and they have crews from an equal number of nationalities. They didn't
join the ARC for many reasons, but the two biggest are that they didn't want
to spend the money, and they didn't want to be forced to leave on a specific
date irrespective of the weather.
In former times, the ARC provided benefits to cruisers such as weather
routing and theoretical safety in numbers. But times have changed, and
weather routing is accessible to even solo cruisers who don't belong to any
group. Email, weather fax, and satellite communications are now
commonplace on yachts, giving easy access to weather information and
weather routing. In fact, there is so much easily
accessible free weather information that the average cruiser has to contend
with severe information overload.
Groups of yachts form transatlantic radio nets that collect
and disseminate weather information free of charge. For people who
want professional routing, every evening they can check in with Herb
Hilgenberg on Southbound II from Canada, and he will give them a precise
weather analysis and customized prediction based on their specific latitude
and longitude. If you don't have good weather information and good
weather routing on your yacht, it's your own fault because it's cheap and
Starting a two-thousand seven hundred mile passage across
the Atlantic is no small task, and it's not to be taken lightly. Your
boat needs to be in good condition, and you need to avoid gross and serious
weather blunders that can be dangerous, or at least make your voyage
uncomfortable. Crossing the Atlantic involves significant weather risk
because the trip takes two to three weeks, and weather predictions are not
accurate for more than two or three days in advance.
So what's a person to do? How do you deal with the
possibility of tropical storms, hurricanes, strong cold fronts, and other
potential nasties during the voyage? And what if there is no wind at
all, and you need to motor for one-thousand miles?
You obviously need some basic contingency plans, but you also must accept
the fact that the weather is out of your control once you set off.
Fortunately, God gave you a brain, and when you cross an ocean, you need to
turn it on and use it. Crossing an ocean is
mostly common sense. For us that meant putting extra fuel on board.
We added enough jerry cans and fuel bladder tanks to extend our motoring
range to about one-thousand four hundred miles, which means we could motor
one-half way across the Atlantic if necessary.
This year the eastern Atlantic has been windless.
The trade winds were disrupted in December by Tropical Storm Delta and
Hurricane Epsilon, and this has been the most active year for hurricanes in
decades. So we prepared ourselves to motor across windless zones if
need be, and if a hurricane pops up, we would immediately head south and
motor into the doldrums, since hurricanes don't usually go there.
We download weather faxes twice a day to be sure there
are no threatening weather systems near us, and we download grib files to
see the predicted wind direction and speed for the next several days.
We put all this information into our heads, add a dash of common sense,
whisper a prayer, and see what emerges from the hopper. We then decide
whether we will raise our sails, furl our sails and start the engine, go
into a holding pattern, or head south and hunker down if severe weather
There are old sailors, and bold sailors, but no old bold
sailors, at least not among our friends. Our goal is to become old
sailors, and leave the bold to other people, like the ARC which leaves port
on a specific date irrespective of the weather forecast.