The ARC this year will go down in history for being one of the slowest and for having one of the most complicated weather patterns. This year the decision to take either the north or south route was as critical as ever, as the northern route had the extremities of gale force winds at the beginning and then no wind at the end, in contrast to the southern route which encountered very light wind at the start and then a moderate trade wind which eventually started lower south than normal.
Running up to the start date, our plans of going north or south changed frequently, after reviewing daily updated weather reports. Eventually, we took the decision to take the southern route but took a rather high version of it (we could see a wind channel and we hoped to find it). It worked well for us and by a few days in we were competing well against the other (faster) cruising yachts.
The start line was nail biting! With our Skipper’s brief that we wouldn’t be aggressive – only competitive; making space and calling for water whilst blocking out other yachts is the norm for a start line! What a relief we had an engine as 1 yacht also wanted line honours and almost T-boned us 1 minute from the start — Skip manoeuvred and we were safe but unfortunately only came 3rd across the line and not 1st !!!
Around day 5, a big area of low pressure had travelled south to our location. Thankfully, this wasn’t a surprise as we had been tracking it frequently on GRIB files, downloaded using our SSB radio. This brought the harshest conditions of our crossing with true wind speeds averaging around 38 knots; and to make it worse it was on our nose! The sea state was also very lumpy and it felt like we were inside a washing machine! After analysing the charts and weather reports, we decided that the best decision would be to head south and hopefully that would put us in line for the trade winds (created annually by the Azores high) and push us straight to St Lucia. To our relief the stormy conditions only lasted for 24 hours and by the end the crew were eagerly awaiting some downwind sailing.
As Chris Tibbs says, “Head south till the butter melts”, this is about 20oN 30oW. Once we arrived here we started to head west and, slightly later than usual, we started to see trade winds on the weather reports. This left just one job to do… Sail to them!
Once in them, the sailing was a lot calmer and it felt like we were on the home straight. At this point we had different sailing tactics to most other yachts; all thanks to the Skipper’s racing background! Most yachts like to use the ‘twin headsail’ technique and head straight downwind (which happened to be the direction of St Lucia); conversely, we ‘played the angles’ and changed between white sails and spinnaker and made a zig-zag route. Our reasoning for this was that we could gain more speed over ground and it would prevent the boat from rocking side to side, thus causing the rig to rattle and bang (we left this kind of music to the radio!).
Eventually, after 20 days, and many fish later, we arrived safely and happily into Rodney Bay and were greeted by a member of the St. Lucian tourist board (who gifted us local fruits and rum!), 4 yellow tops from the World Cruising Club and crew from other yachts whom arrived before us – What a great reception party! The following hours were a whole different story… photos don’t lie! Needless to say we partied into the night…!
Lastly, sailing is a team event and we would like to thank Stuart (our land based weather router) for his email support throughout the crossing, advising us of wind slots and if our direction was good.
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