A team of amateur sailors has undergone an intense training weekend off the coast of southern England in preparation for a famous transatlantic race later this month.
The 12-strong crew, backed by a professional skipper, his mate and two watch leaders, has signed up for the high-profile Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) with Southampton-based sailing specialists First Class Sailing.
Beginning in the Canary Island resort of Las Palmas on the 20th November, the ARC will conclude on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia around two weeks later, with over 200 vessels taking on the 2,700-mile voyage.
During the training weekend, held in the Solent, members of the crew on the 72-foot long racing yacht were put through their paces by skipper Ricky Chalmers, who will compete in his second successive ARC.
He said: “We’ve been getting the team used to the methods on big boats. Many of the crew have experience of sailing smaller vessels, but nothing as big as a Challenger 72 yacht.
“Aspects like the power of the boat, winch techniques and the forces involved need getting used to, so the weekend has been a good introduction.”
Starting and finishing in Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, the crew explored the eastern Solent and moored overnight in Cowes on the Isle of Wight before approaching Southampton the next day and doubling back for Portsmouth.
Crew members familiarised themselves with a variety of roles including deckwork, putting up sails and grinding ropes in the ‘snakepit’ – which additionally acts as an important area of communication between the bow and stern.
Basic tasks such as cooking and cleaning were also carried out as the crew readied themselves for all facets of their voyage.
With the ARC less than two weeks away, Ricky believes the reality of crossing the Atlantic Ocean will now be setting in for the crew.
“This race is nothing trivial, it’s a huge challenge. We are dealing with nature. The ARC will throw up ‘rolly’ waves of eight to ten feet and on a stormy day those numbers could double,” he said.
“We’ve got the right formula to compete and transatlantic racing is something lots of people have done successfully and are able to do.
“Sailing is very accessible now – that wasn’t the case 20 years ago mainly because of the costs involved.”
Charlie Tulloch, principal at First Class Sailing said: “Training has gone well for the crew. They practiced some of the vital skills needed to operate the yacht and got over 50 miles under their belts.
“The ARC is a tough challenge and isn’t for the faint-hearted. Winds of 30-40 knots and large Atlantic waves may well be experienced at the start of the race.
“However, once the boat gets into the proper trade winds the crew should have days and days of blissful downwind sailing with the spinnaker up.”
With the ARC offering many sights, the crew could be in for a treat.
“It’s a great way to cross the Atlantic. The team can look forward to stunning sunsets and sunrises, wonderfully clear night skies, dolphins and possibly a whale or two,” he said.
“It will be a great experience for sailing enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies alike and there is the added comfort of a support and safety network surrounding each boat.”
For Godalming-based civil servant Tony Kerby – who turns 36 before the ARC begins – competing in the ARC is something he hopes can be a catalyst to more racing.
He said: “If I get the opportunity I’d love to do a bit more sailing. I’m keen to do a few bigger races like the Clipper round the world.
“My family have been really supportive. I feel lucky to be going on this adventure and can’t wait for it to begin.”
First Class Sailing provides the full range of RYA sailing courses, plus a huge variety of yachting experiences – including delivering the ARC yacht to Las Palmas via Biscay and back across the Atlantic to the UK from St. Lucia.
The company has been awarded a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence three years running.
Sailing holidays to various parts of the world are on offer, including Norwegian fjord cruises next year and participation in races such as the 2017 ARC Rally, The Rolex Fastnet – a race from Cowes to Ireland, finishing in Plymouth – and the Round the Island race circumnavigating the Isle of Wight.
You can follow the race via First Class Sailing’s blog: https://www.firstclasssailing.com/blog/