As explained on the Preparing for the ARC page, we decided to cross the Atlantic in company because although we had clocked up a fair number of sea miles in our time, we had never crossed an ocean on our own. So we felt that this was best done in company and with the safety features that an organisation like the World Cruising Club offers. In fact we met up with several boats who had followed this exact logic and signed up for their ARC! So our logic wasn't too far off... and perhaps we weren't the wimps we generally make ourselves out to be! This first time round we were indeed very happy with the ARC organisation in Las Palmas; we attended several interesting seminars and some of the many social events held to create a bond between the 200-odd boats (with some 1000-plus participants involved). Because of our timetable constraints, due for instance to preparing Ngahue IV for an ocean crossing in Lanzarote, we were amongst the last boats to arrive in Las Palmas. Thus, for instance, we missed a (probably very interesting - for us at least) seminar on two-handed crew sailing across; but managed to attend most others. On the plus side, we got the prize for the most romantic couple in the fancy dress party (see picture on Circumnavigation page 2) and were treated to a candle-light dinner at one of the restaurants overlooking the marina! Nice!
The only real breakage that we had during our crossing was the flagstaff holder breaking off the pushpit railing - after 22 years, the gyrating movement at sea broke the welding (which in Las Palmas had a crack in it...). It was welded back in place in Guadeloupe, thus removing a weak spot in the tubing of our pushpit!
The ARC organisation scrutinises each boat carefully for all required safety features that are needed by their reckoning. Our boat flunked the test because like all bigger Rassies, she doesn't have a hand operated bilge pump in the cockpit. Ours is inside the boat, and although it was described by the ARC checker as "a serious piece of kit", it doesn't comply with the ARC requirements. We baulked at installing a manual bilgepump in the cockpit, arguing that pumping water up 3 metres to discharge it overboard would require so much muscle power we would be exhausted after 5 minutes and too drained to get into the liferaft! On most bigger Rassies this particular requirement is waived, and a special document is signed by the skipper acknowledging that his boat will sink and that the ARC told him so: all very proper... Anyway, our boat has additional electric bilge pumps (the previous owner added two pumps to the shower drain complex and via additional Y-valves we can pump extra litres of water out of the boat with these pumps - although in truth, if you do get a big hole in the boat which you cannot repair, the liferaft remains your best option once the spreaders of the mast start touching the waves).
Hallberg-Rassy and our Insurers also came and inspected the boat. Admiral Insurance (our insurers at the time) offers a free rig inspection for all its customers through the services of "Jerry the Rigger" (who also gives one of the technical seminars - and in our view by far the best seminar of the week!). Hallberg-Rassy checks the engine room, steering and also the rig for its HR-owners participating in the ARC, and has been doing so for many years!
All of this was VERY USEFUL and lots of little things were set right for our Atlantic crossing. It's amazing how complex a modern and larger sailing boat is and what needs additional checking and putting right! My little HR29 was ever so easy to check and look after! These checks also raised our own level of knowledge about the boat and the need to check out things; and we found a couple of other things that needed doing even after the ARC, Hallberg-Rassy and Jerry had left! Suffice it to say that our boat was in much better shape after all these checks and repairs! And we as crew were a lot more aware and committed to the daily inspections needed to keep the boat problem-free out on the ocean.
Water, fuel, energy and refrigeration on board:
We had put a lot of thought into our water and energy consumption for our trip across the Atlantic. We had no problems in this area, but only because we had foreseen double and triple back-ups for everything. For instance, our generator wouldn't start when we tried to switch it on after a week or so at sea. As the watermaker works on 230 AC, no generator therefore means no extra water! No worries: two people can happily survive a month at sea with the amount of water that an HR53 carries, and we had lots and lots of bottled water on board just in case something went wrong with our main water tank!
For our cruising energy, we relied primarily on our new Watt & Sea hydro-generator which is rated at 600 watts. This amount of energy is probably generated at racing speeds of a Pogo 40 (for which the unit was probably designed by its French inventers); a speed that we of course will never reach!!! So the output on the water-generator side was a disappointment. We decided that fitting the bigger propeller that W&S makes would probably add enough output to make us relatively independent from an energy point of view when cruising. But even the bigger propeller turned out to be a disappoinment. Our problem is that we sail our boat too slowly! During our crossing, when we added the Solbian solar panels to complement the W&S output, energy production shot up and we were, for the first part of the Atlantic crossing actually generating energy by day (used up at night of course). At that stage, the att & Sea and the Solbians kept us "energy neutral"...
As temperatures increased (air and seawater - see our Circumnavigation Page 2 for the 43°C seawater temperature indicated by our (rubbish) Furuno water thermometer - probably a huge exaggeration (it actually went up indicating 99° - boiling??? - seawater), but it indicates a general trend of warmer seawater in the Caribbean), our fridge & freezer became more energy-hungry. Our energy needs went up and the W&S with Solbians were being stretched again. We thought about "daisy-chaining" an extra solar panel into our system (solar panel output also drops dramatically when there are clouds) with a view to being energy generators under nearly all circumstances. A first discussion of our plans with Maricom in Swanwick Marina ended in the concluding that with our current set-up, it probably wasn't a good idea to add this extra panel. Idea frozen for the moment... In the end we added (in a parallel circuit), 2 extra Solbian SP125 solar panels which now genuinely make us more or less "energy-independent".
Weather at Sea & Communications:
I've bundled these two topics together as modern cruising boats can have very sophisticated communication systems in place to collect weather data for their use and interpretation at sea. For us, all went well until 26th November, after which our Iridium system and service provider - AST - denied us access to the Iridium network. For the rest of the trip we were reliant on obtaining weather information received from passing ships or fellow ARC boats who were in VHF hailing distance. It effectively made us "blind" and completely reliant on our own observations and interpretation of the information we got. It was interesting to see the different levels of detail of information we got, big ships vs sailing vessels; and serious sailing vessels vs. those more relaxed about the weather.
We felt awful being cut off from the world and not being able to "communicate with home" to say that all was OK. Key lesson here is to have a back-up satellite phone for the future (we have acquired an Iridium 9555 phone since with prepaid SIM cards). Not just for the GRIB files to download, but also as the means to talk to an external person (who can perhaps put a disconnected Iridium back on line). Interestingly enough, and quite frustrating when you think about it, when an Iridium Pilot system denies you access to the network, you can't even call an emergency number unlike your mobile phone where 112 (Europe) or 999 (US/UK) or the network operator's basic services number remain operational). We were literally and brutally cut off and left to fend for ourselves!!!
Perhaps one more thing to mention, our radar never wanted to be recognised by our plotters. So we crossed the Atlantic without it working. Probably a loose connection, which was seen to afterwards in Guadeloupe. We didn't want to mess around with our wiring and connections for fear of doing even more damage to our system. A bit strange to put some of the connection boxes in areas where you have absolutely no access to at sea with the boat moving around in all directions... Oh well, technicians don't always think logically! On later ocean crossings, we've always appreciated our Furuno radar for giving good and crisp images of (thunder) storms and squalls at sea. It allows us to pknow where the dangers of a lightning strike could be!
We've also acquired our own Y/B (Yellow Brick) tracker for the boat. Not only does it put a plot of the boat on internet so that everyone can follow us; it also allows for simple messages to be sent, e.g. to AST should they again cut us off mid ocean...
We provisioned carefully; and thus had lots of food for 4 weeks at sea (at least). There was certainly enough left when we arrived in Saint Lucia. The fruit and veg man from the Las Palmas market definitely over-charged (and over-supplied) us by factor 3 or 4. But we didn't have the time or feel the inclination to go and haggle with him the day before our departure. By and large all was fine in this department. Fridge and freezer worked well to store our food at the correct temperature. Even when it hotted up considerably a few hundred miles off Saint Lucia. Hallberg-Rassy had warned us that we would probably stock up too much food - and they were right! We've seen since that the provisioning infrastructure in place at the beginning of the ARC is quite unique; ever since, it's been more difficult to find what we need for longer trips... And food tastes in the Caribbean can be quite "American" (e.g. lots of processed cheese as opposed to decent European cheese!). Moving on to the Pacific the story doesn't improve, except for Tahiti in French Polynesia, where if you shop very carefully stores will be only marginally more expensive than in Europe.
And for the future a first return for a second departure:
In the course of our trip through the Caribbean, we felt that things both at home and on the boat had suffered too much because of our much shortened preparation for our circumnavigation. Several factors contributed to this... For starters, we were both fully committed to our jobs, right up to the moment of our departure. Then there was the fact that the original buyer of our HR43 in 2015/16 de facto walked away from the sale agreement, obliging us to sell the boat again, which held up all work on Ngahue IV for at least 7 months (the time it took to sort out the whole mess of the first sale that went pear-shaped... ). Subsequently, matters like selling the house and moving to a smaller apartment, and preparing our administrative lives at home all had to be rushed through without being able to give these important matters all the thought they needed. We decided to interrupt our trip around the world, return to Europe with the ARC Europe, sort out matters and set off again in 2019 with the ARC-Plus and to continue around the world in the company of the World ARC starting from Saint Lucia in January 2020. It may now seem as if we have become "ARC junkies"; but we feel there is much to be said for a) travelling in a - larger - group; and b) having a land-based organisation looking after some of the things that as a boat alone, are much harder to do. And perhaps we are Ocean-softies, more dependent on the comfort that travel in company offers than the truly independent spirits, who set off on their own and manage their circumnavigation that way...