With the majority of boats now docked in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and crews busy making preparations for their 2,700 nm Atlantic ahead of start of the ARC next Sunday - 24th November - it was time to mark the official opening of the 34th edition of the world's largest transocean rally for cruisers.
The Irish flag was flying proudly in the opening ceremony as an Irish group of sailors have chartered the British flagged yacht Umiko, a Swan 80, to take part in ARC 2019.
It's always a favourite with ARC participants as they proudly follow behind a lively carnival-like procession around the marina, representing their countries with national flags.
"Irish sailors have chartered the British flagged yacht Umiko, a Swan 80"
This year was particularly special as the High Commissioner for Saint Lucia in London, H.E. Guy Mayers, along with a large group of Saint Lucians wearing colourful national dress, joined principal flag bearers for Spain, Gran Canaria and the Canary Islands to lead hundreds of ARC crews around Las Palmas Marina. 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the event's arrival in the beautiful tropical Caribbean island of Saint Lucia and the 40th anniversary of the country's independence, with the occasion being marked in a number of ways for this year's rally. As a special year, the High Commissioner brought together a group of Saint Lucians from London to witness what makes the ARC such a defining experience for cruising sailors and share the excitement that they will spend three weeks at sea to reach Saint Lucia's shores.
With a spectacular, colourful carnival parade around the whole marina, crews from 35 different nations waved their national flags patriotically and got into the spirit of the event. For many this will be their longest ocean passage and for others, it is a regular trip across the pond, but for all, it has been the culmination of a lot of hard work and preparation in the build-up to this great adventure.
The international conga line was led by the Banda Gran Canaria, with the Batucada Timbalao beating a salsa rhythm at the back of the line. Once the procession had completed its parade around the marina, sailors were welcomed to the ARC by World Cruising Club's Managing Director Andrew Bishop. He thanked The Tourist Board of Gran Canaria and the Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for their support, and praised the Port Authority who manage the marina for accommodating the vast number of ARC boats year on year.
Carlos Alamo, Consejero de Turismo del Cabildo de Gran Canaria spoke on behalf of the Tourist Board of Gran Canaria: "I welcome you. It is a pleasure for us to be chosen by you to set off from here to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia in this 34th edition of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. I hope that you are enjoying your stay in Gran Canaria, and have a safe crossing."
Coming to see the crew's preparations for the second time, and personally wish them well on the voyage, Guy Mayers High Commissioner for Saint Lucia in London addressed ARC sailors and said, "When you come to Saint Lucia you will understand what unique hospitality is all about. I want to thank all of you who have chosen to be part of this. We welcome you with open arms and will continue to grow the ARC together so thank you for choosing Saint Lucia and we wish you well across the ocean."
A week today, from 12:30 on Sunday 24 November, the fleet will begin their ocean adventure and say farewell to Gran Canaria, but before then, there is a packed programme of events for the days ahead.
The ARC fleet will set off this year with 190 entries from 35 different countries and is truly a multinational celebration which showcases the international flavour of the rally. The attraction to sail in company as one fleet has continued to have undaunted appeal. Twenty two boats will be sailing across with children and 44 will be part of a family adventure this year, with the youngest crew member being 3 years old on the German boat Gentoo.
The ARC is very diverse and attracts boats of all sizes and design. This year is no exception; the smallest being the German-flagged Amel Fango Falema at 10m, and then there's the superyacht 32m Ulisse, at the larger end of the size range - and everything in between! There has been a significant swing towards multihulls once again year and 40 catamarans will be on the start line in a week's time. The average cruising boat can expect to arrive in their final destination at Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia in 18 to 21 days, but the competitive Racing Division which will see 28 boats vying for position, will hope to reach the rum punch much sooner.
One special crew to follow this year is the ARC Youth Team, bringing 12 together sailors aged 18-30 from Gran Canaria, Saint Lucia and the UK to sail on board a 72ft Challenge sailing yacht, Challenger 1, operated by Tall Ships Sail Training Adventures. They will be accompanied on board by a professional Skipper and Mate, and two qualified Watch Leaders, on what will be an 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' and are supported by sponsors and benefactors who have been in involved with the ARC over the past three decades. The crew marched in the parade today under their own ARC Youth Team flag and will officially step on board the yacht for the first time tomorrow for some training.
As start day draws nearer, preparations for the crossing increase urgency as provisions are stowed, equipment is checked and re-checked, and further crew members fly in daily to join the yachts. World Cruising Club, together with local supporters including the Tourist Board of Gran Canaria and the Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Port Authority and local chandlery Rolnautic, organise an extensive programme for the participants. In week two of the programme, many will take advantage of the free seminars led by some of the most respected cruising sailors and marine specialists in the industry. The famous ARC social programme is a fun way for participants to get to know one another, and form an Atlantic crossing community before they head out to sea.