Dec 16. Written from Montreal prior to my return to St Lucia. We have completed our Atlantic crossing with the ARC. Overall, we are pleased the start, with our crossing, with the finish place and with our crew! We were five on board: 1) Robert Levy, who raced with Pierre on Tornados (20 foot, Olympic class catamarans) for 8 years in the late 80’s early 90’s. They still know how to race together, and we were first across the line at the start, despite it being Robert’s first time on the water on BioTrek.!! 2) Robert’s Italian girlfriend Patrizia. It was her first time on a sailboat — she was a real trouper and kept the galley spotless and well our stomachs full. 3) Benjamin from Outremer who oversaw the construction of our boat. He helped Pierre ferry the boat to Cannes earlier this year, so we already knew that he would be a great complement to the crew. Pierre and I made up the 5 people. Therefore, 5 nationalities (I have dual Canadian/US).
Week one: We had an amazing start. It was a downwind start and thanks to Pierre and Robert we were first across the start line. We started with mainsail only to allow maneuverability, and raised the Gennaker right after we crossed the line. It was the first time we ever sailed with this new sail! To read about the start Practical Boat Owner wrote a review.
After the start, two of the fastest boats (Ulisse and Austrian Volvo Race Project (Sisi)) overtook us in the first hour. The large monohulls with longer waterlines eg a Swan 83, passed by us in the early evening; these boats can go straight downwind. The fleet was spread out by 12 midnight, at least none were near us because we could not see any ARC boats on AIS. We were pleased with our start and first day because we are just 2 couples and a friend; some of the boats behind us have professional crew or were filled with many men to do constant sail changes and hand steer.
The first week was mostly light winds, and much of the fleet headed south “until the butter melts” to catch wind. At one point our gennaker collapsed and a line went in the water. Pierre, Benjamin and Robert had to winch it in by detaching the tack end of the line – there was too much line in the water to pull! That meant that there was no sheet to use for a gybe without going up front to reattach it – not an option at night with big waves, no moon and no stars. A racing boat full of crew would have done it, but as cruising couples, we did not want to risk such maneuvers.
The rally has many classes for the race. There is no racing class for catamarans – just cruising classes. Monohulls have both racing and cruising classes, with many divisions. The racing class cannot use motors, whereas cruising class can use motors, and the engine hours are logged. The permission to use motors adds an interesting twist to the race. The Lagoon catamarans all have huge reservoirs and dozens of jerrycans, and we watched them all fill up in Las Palmas as it became clear that winds would be light to non-existent for the first week. We were docked just in front of the fuel dock and could see all the activity! The lighter faster TS catamarans (that came in first and second in our class) have electric motors, and so do not need to log diesel engine hours – giving them a distinct advantage, in addition to the light weight of these stripped down racers.
The advantage of the light wind and slow speed during the first week is that we caught fish! A mahi mahi we caught had some parasites that I removed. But I made the mistake of looking at the parasites under my dissecting microscope and we all got a bit turned off about eating the fish. They were a type of cretaceous copepod affectionately called “sea lice” . Our fish had some with the more visible adult stage. Luckily we also caught a large tuna, and stuck to eating tuna.
Week 2. On Dec 1 the trade winds finally settled in. We celebrated one week of sailing together and spent Dec 1st with lots of experiments on changing sail configurations to increase boat speed. On night watch a very large boat (about 200 meters) NOT transmitting AIS appeared to be on collision course so we changed course. It changed course. Pierre got up and called it on the VHF and asked them to identify themselves. They refused for “commercial reasons”. He told them they were illegally operating without AIS for a boat that size. They said they just want to come behind our stern to have a look. Pierre said that was not acceptable and was going to contact the authorities. The boat then turned away. Their closest approach was 2 miles, which is the limit of what is acceptable for large ships at sea. That was enough excitement for the crossing!
By Dec 4th we had the high winds and large seas, as predicted. The winds were very shifty, with many storm cells and gusts. If we were sailing with our self-tacking jib, the gybes would be easier. But, with the gennaker (needed for speed) there is quite a bit of preparatory work and someone must go forward to winch it down and back from the weather bow to center. Then, timing is everything to make sure lines do not go into the water. At night gybes are done with at 3 or 4 sailors (ie all of us that sail the boat). Often we were often 4 up to do a gybe: one to steer (Robert), one to release (Benjamin), one to winch (me), one to tail (Pierre). When we gybe with 3 people, we let Auto (autopilot) steer.
Sailing really fast is hard on the crew and the boat (risk of chaff and breaking things). Therefore, even if the boat did not mind going fast and the apparent wind was OK for the sail, we slowed down when the wind got too strong. Slowing down meant putting in a reef or two on the mainsail. And then the wind lightens up and the reef must be removed. Sailing is lots of constant work!
By Dec 5th we were all anxious to arrive, including Tiller, our dog. Every morning she sniffed the air -nothing! No smell of land. By Dec 6th when we looked at the navigation display, we not only focused on wind angle and speed, but hours to destination ticking down. The night watches were made easier by the company of Tiller, who liked to sit at our feet near the helm and feel the ocean breeze on her face.
We arrived Dec 8 at 3:30 in the morning local time. The ARC was waiting for us on the dock, and gave us rum punch to celebrate. What a great feeling to arrive, and what a great experience to race across the Atlantic! As I write this, there are still 5 more boats to arrive. Most boats arrived a week after us. I do love having a fast boat!
We are grateful to our friends Jean-Marc and Melissa who flew to St Lucia to take care of Tiller while we flew home. I heard nice things from family and friends who have been following our adventures and I will continue to post Youtube videos as well as the occasional blog. Sadly, my mother died while we are at sea, and I thank my friends and followers for their condolences.
The above is an image of boat positions 24 hours before we crossed the finish line. We were the 3rd catamaran to finish because Allegra dropped out and diverted to Martinique. We were the 9th of all classes.