Las Palmas – prepping for the Atlantic crossing…

The Line Extends – Jeffrey Smith’s circumnavigation continues

This installment finds Jeff and his crew in the Canary Islands preparing for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

Being down one crew member, and while awaiting the arrival of our final crew member from Seattle, Tom Niccoli and I had a long list of work items in preparation for our transatlantic crossing in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (the ARC). The annual migration takes place in late-November each year, and for the last several years has had to limit participation to the first 225 boats to register.

I registered last year, wanting to make certain that I had a place in the 2001 event. An extremely well-organized event, the ARC sees 1500 skippers and crews across the Atlantic, from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to Rodney Bay in St. Lucia.

Participation is truly international – 23 countries are represented this year. 50 percent of the boats are from Great Britain, with Germany and the US having large contingents. But Croatia, Russia and South Africa are also represented.

The boats are spectacular. There is an ex-Whitbread 60, many large Swan’s, an Alden 45, and 10 Catana catamarans. Catana has the largest participation of any manufacturer, and along with Oyster and Swan, flew a team in from the factory to help support the boats.

Most of the Catanas had been manufactured in the last year, and had spent time cruising the Med, working out bugs and refining the basic systems in the boat. For virtually all of the owners, this was their first transatlantic crossing, so the anticipation was high.

We spent time with Jerry Templer on board his new Catana 582 The Saint, and to say that the boat is exceptional is an understatement. From the spreaderless carbon rig to the carbon bowsprit, boom, Kevlar shrouds and stays, the boat is really set up. And the interior, with a stand up Corian bar, multiple electronic displays, computers, integrated telephone system and entertainment system, is marvelous.

The ARC team sponsors a series of lectures on weather, routing, provisioning and other topics, but we found that we had to spend all our time getting the boat ready. We did attend Stokey’s weather/routing lecture, and it was outstanding. And last night we attended Jimmy Cornell’s presentation on his trip from Cape Horn to Antarctica and up to Alaska. This was a great presentation, with remarkable photographs of ice bergs, penguins, humpback whales and petrels. The entire audience was spellbound and the applause at the conclusion of Jimmy’s presentation was raucous!

Las Palmas has been a provisioning spot for transatlantic crossings for hundreds of years. There are three large supermarkets within walking distance of the marina, and they all will deliver your food to the boat. This is a great service – we went to one store two days ago, bought all of our canned goods, and they were delivered to the boat yesterday afternoon. I marked the lids and pulled off the labels to avoid the dreaded cockroach problem, while my crew was out doing other errands.

Today, Scott Milne and Tom Niccoli went to another store to get fresh produce and to fill in some of the things missing yesterday. We are carrying a completely redundant set of water in plastic bottles, so even if the watermaker fails again, we will have fresh water all the way to St Lucia.

Catana has been having problems with their bow nets failing, and my boat was under recall for the problem. I told the factory that I was leaving Gibraltar for the Canaries, and did not want to do the passage without the replacement net installed. They could not get the net to me in time, so they arranged for a team to meet us in Las Palmas. Because two people have fallen through failed bow nets – one while performing maintenance, and the other while washing his boat – I wanted to reinforce the existing net. So I spent most of a morning in the dinghy, weaving a lattice of line into a makeshift net. Tom’s father helped tie knots from above, and the end result is great. I am going to retain this “subnet” even after the new net is installed, as I think it improves the safety, with minimal additional weight.

Tom Reese, Seattle multihull racer aboard Hanoman, had assembled a high-powered crew from Hanoman, Red Shift and Dave Dupree’s boat, Coral Reefer. Unfortunately, Tom’s new Catana 431 did not cooperate – manufacturing defects in the mast base have caused major delays, to the point that he may miss the start for the ARC.

Our wind instruments malfunctioned during the trip down from Gibraltar, so we were not able to use the autopilot to steer to the apparent wind. On any boat, and particularly on a multihull, steering to the apparent wind is a critical feature, so getting that fixed was top priority. The B&G rep just left, having replaced a board in the masthead unit, so we will see if the repair sticks. We will have to hand steer for 2800 miles otherwise!

The barometer dropped 8 millibars the other afternoon, and a frontal system went directly over the Canaries. Winds gusted to 40+ knots and eight boats dragged anchor and went on the rocks. People were tearing down the ARC flagpoles to attempt to fend the boats off!

While at the gas dock getting our laundry washed, one of the training boats for the Volvo Ocean Race currently underway – ASSA ABLOY – pulled in. The 60 foot monohull was beautiful, and great to see close up.

The ARC has a racing division and a much larger cruising division. Multihulls are not allowed in the racing division, and all of the multihulls entered are cruising boats. It would be wonderful to see one of the open 60’s or one of the catamarans from The Race participate – a new ARC record would be set for sure!

Swan and Oyster had receptions at a beautiful hotel close by – The Santa Catalina. The same hotel hosted the ARC seminars, and it is a wonderful facility. We had dinner there last night after Jimmy Cornell’s presentation, and it was the best meal we have had in Las Palmas by far.

Tonight the ARC team hosts the going away party. They figure having it on Friday night, when the event starts on Sunday, will give sailors the opportunity to get over their hangover prior to the start. Saturday night is a fireworks display, and then the racers start at 12:40 Sunday afternoon. 180 cruisers start 20 minutes later, so it is likely to be havoc on the starting line. We are going for a conservative start, aiming to get across the line without fouling anyone or getting hit, and then setting the spinnaker in the prevailing northerlies and heading away from Gran Canaria.

We are planning on heading southwest until we get below 25 degrees North and 25 degrees West. Then we will start searching for the tradewinds, and once they have filled in, we will turn right for two weeks of downwind sailing. Two years ago the tradewinds never filled in, and the ARC boats had to sail upwind to the Caribbean. We are praying for normal weather patterns and weeks of sun and 15-20 knot breezes!

Watch for our update in the January issue on the event and our adventures during the crossing!

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