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Ocean sailing is the dream of many yachtspeople. But to successfully perform this adventure it is highly necessary to be prepared, especially those who are setting about to cross the Pillars of Hercules for the first time.

The annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers ARC or ARC plus is a well-known and tested trans-ocean sailing event held since far-off 1986. About 70 boats, ARC-members, starts from Cape Verde while 200 boats start from the Canary Islands, all heading to Saint Lucia. The English staff not only organise and manage the fleet, but also the pre-departure activities.

What is essential to take into account is boat efficiency and safety on board. Thanks to the statistical reports on previous ARC editions it is easy to foresee most of the accidents that might take place at sea, among which the most serious are losing the rudder and being dismasting.

It should be pointed out that racers have to sail from the Mediterranean Sea having their boat ready and equipped to cross the Atlantic. Otherwise, everything will be more difficult, not so much at the Canary Islands, easily reachable, but at Cape Verde, poorly stocked, or at the Caribbean, where everything is more expensive and you must resign to the epic waits.

SAFETY

Safety is surely the central issue.

First of all let’s talk about the liferaft. This has to be stored in such a way that it is capable of being launched within 15 seconds, no matters it is stowed in the transom or below the pulpit. In this case, an easy release system, maybe an hydrostatic one, will have to be considered. Also the capsize possibility must be taken into consideration. If the raft has been tied to secure it in place, tie also a knife nearby.

In addition, it is recommended to have a grab bag on board provided with safety equipment such as:

  • Hand-held flares
  • Thermal blankets
  • Stick lights
  • Portable GPS
  • Batteries
  • Floating portable VHF
  • Mirror

Finally make sure the grab bag is in an easy-to-reach place and provided with a reflective sticker.

The ring lifebuoy shall be provided with a small floating anchor. Place the floating rope out of the boat, well coiled. Provide also a rescue light. In addition, a MOB system or a man overboard recovery belt with floating pole are absolute requirements on board boats.

As personal protective equipment I suggest a 150 N or 200 N lifejacket provided with thigh strap, sprayhood, light and spare spray cans. Ribbon (not Dyneema) lifeline, safety harnesses or safety lines ISO 12401 approved.

I also recommend extra equipment such as a floating anchor, to be used as a rudder, and white-light flares. Wooden chocks/plugs properly fitting thru-hull plugs and two bilge pumps, of which the manual one is operated from the cockpit, are mandatory. VHF shall be provided with an external speaker. Or, as an alternative, a floating and watertight portable VHF.

BOAT

Whether big or small, always check the proper working and good condition of:

  • Thru-hull plugs
  • Rigging
  • Guardrail
  • Skylights tightness
  • Bilge pumps
  • Navigation lights
  • Deck lights

There must always be spare navigation lights and bulbs on board.

ELECTRONICS AND ELECTRICITY

In addition to the traditional chartplotter GPS systems, an AIS transponder and a communication system e.g. SSB Radio or a satphone, which is the favourite at the moment, are mandatory.

One should have a good knowledge of these navigation systems as well as weather routing systems and their apps. To learn how to employ and test these equipment for the first time during a crossing means going in blind, which – as you can easily imagine – is certainly not the best way to do it.

The staff also provides a Tracking Yellowbrick as well as daily communications including weather information via e-mail. Also a professional weather routing service is available, but on payment.

As the autopilot is highly stressed, it is better to have a spare one on board.

All batteries must be in good working order and completely charged. Solar and wind panels, hydrogenerators in addition to traditional diesel generators are highly recommended.

SAILS

Some boats run better off-wind, while others run better down-wind and have a slight rolling. In the Atlantic Ocean the famous swell – a group of short-period waves created by local winds – may be annoying. If you prefer sailing goose-winged, boomed-out genoa and mainsail are required. Pay the utmost attention to protect spreaders and rigging tracks.

The most recommended sails are, here again, gennaker and spi, mainly in case of light wind, but also Code Zero can be used that are, roughly speaking, similar to big genoas.

Dedicated spinnaker pole downhaul and spinnaker guys shall be created, even using Dyneema lashings and rings. Parts subjected to wear and tear, such as halyards, must be protected with Kevlar, leather or Dyneema sheath. Wear and stress caused by waves are so remarkable that it is better to install oversized sheaves at masthead.

Those who are looking for wind can choose a North course direct from the Canary Islands, about 15-25 Kn. Those who are sailing down to Mindelo or Cape Verde will find milder winds (12-17 Kn) that, if astern, may put big boats under stress. 

It is not uncommon to use gennaker and genoa as if the boat were sailing goose-winged but at night, when the wind may drop, engine navigation is necessary. The course is a long one, so make sure you have enough diesel oil.

DANGERS AND RISKS

The first major risk lies in seaweeds and rubbish present in water. Not infrequently boats have had a net entangled in the fin or in the rudder.

The second risk is related to the storms, called squalls, that strike at night as you move closer to the Caribbean. In this case: two reefs in the mainsail, then furl everything at the first signs. The wind goes from 1 Kn to 30 Kn in a few seconds and, blowing from the opposite direction, it often causes sudden gybes.

This is why a boom vang must not be missing, which starts from bow but is operated from the cockpit.

MISCELLANEOUS

This is a long race, for which large food-stoks, an experienced and well-organized crew of at least two people are necessary. Solo sailboat races are FORBIDDEN.

ARC, however, provides a manual containing many information, also logistic, on ports and costs. They have a well-structured website and send newsletters to the participants.

Team spirit and fun are guaranteed to all those who take part to the crossing organised by ARC but remember: your boat and your crew must not only be well-equipped but also well-trained.

Davide Zerbinati
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