Saturday, November 21, 2009


At noon tomorrow Moonstruck will head across the start line off Gran Canaria and out into the Atlantic, on her way to St Lucia, with 219 other yachts in the 2009 ARC, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Sam will be on board with Alan and Joan Teed and their daughter Lauren, and they expect the crossing to take around 20 days.

Sam flew out to Las Palmas last Friday, and I went too, for a few days of warmth, sea, and soaking up the atmosphere of one of the world's biggest cruising events. The enormous pontoons were filling up fast, and so many of the yachts were over 45ft that anything the size of Kalessin looked like a dinghy by comparison (although in fact the minimum size for entry is a modest 27ft). I've just looked at the entry list and the smallest entry is a Sadler 29, the same as Magewind, our previous yacht. Good god, I am impressed. However, out of the 220 yachts only half a dozen are 10m (33ft) or less.

There are loads of parties, dinners, briefings and other jolly events including the opening flag-raising (tasteful reflection, above) and an entertaining dinghy race. Overall however the atmosphere is a bit on the tense side. People are worrying about rigging, electronics, navigation, safety, fuel, weather and victualling, and indeed anything else they can think of.

Busy noticeboard

By the time I left on Tuesday the gate to our pontoon was permanently open so El Corte Inglés could deliver endless supplies of shrink-wrapped foods. Boats with dodgy watermakers, or none, were shipping dozens of huge water containers. Someone was always up a mast somewhere, and anyone with diving gear and a scrubbing brush could do quite well for themselves cleaning hulls. Many yachts were still waiting for parts - Sam managed to bring a key exhaust elbow for Moonstruck's Fischer-Panda generator out from England, the one ordered from the Spanish agent is probably still on its way, very slowly after Alan declined to pay an extra €70 for express shipping. The Israeli boat across the pontoon was running its generator for an hour or so every morning and only managed to get water flowing through it consistently on Tuesday. (An un-cooled generator is an extremely noisy animal).

Alan and Joan have been in Las Palmas for six weeks and have been able to devote all that time to planning and worrying. Supplies of food are documented in a spreadsheet, with meals planned day by day and snacks allowed for. Joan was very concerned that there was enough Pepsi for one can per head per day, but what if Lauren suddenly decided mid-Atlantic she wanted Fanta? An Italian yacht with six crew was shipping 200kg of pasta, which works out to around 1.5kg per head per day, unless they were expecting a really slow passage. A Canadian racing crew were planning to live almost exclusively on freeze dried food - all of them were males, so no surprise there.

The massive Independence of the Seas towers over the port. Note substantial three-masted schooner on the far left for comparison

Sam and I took a bit of time to wonder around Las Palmas. I must say that if we ever do the ARC it is not a place where I would want to spend six weeks, although the old centre is nice (but small). Based on my vast experience of Las Canarias (about 11 days altogether) I would spend four weeks in San Sebastian de La Gomera and head over to Gran Canaria as late as practicable. La Gomera is not so handy for the airport (the nearest is on Tenerife), or for the huge array of suppliers in Las Palmas, but to my mind a much nicer atmosphere.

Moonstruck is a beautiful yacht and it was a pleasure to be able to spend time aboard, and to enjoy spending time with Joan and Alan - and even a bit of reminiscing about the old days in Essex. (Apparently I once went on a date with Alan - we went to the cinema together - and I'm ashamed to say I don't really remember it. His mother drove us there and back in her Triumph Herald). Some of the American-style luxuries - air-conditioning in each cabin, brilliant lighting of every nook and cranny, onboard showers every day - seemed strange to us. I guess perhaps we are just stingy Brits. It took us months to get used to having pressurised hot water on Kalessin...

Meanwhile Guy is down at Suffolk Yacht Harbour completing his RYA Day Skipper theory course. He went down there after supper yesterday evening intending to spend the night on the boat, and at around twenty to eleven I got a cross phone call asking where the hell Kalessin was (she came out of the water around 10 days ago). After an hour's searching in the dark and cold he found her down by the lightship, hundreds of yards from where she was last week. Apparently the yard moved here because she was next to a huge tent which seemed likely to blow on to her. What a pity they didn't tell us. Sam, 1500 miles away and in touch by text, is Very Cross. But at least Guy found her in the end and had a good night's sleep.

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