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23 November 2002, 11:22 am
Final Preparations
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Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) 2002
Las Palmas, Canaries

With the start of the ARC taking place tomorrow, the pontoons are awash with kit, food and supplies as crews make their final preparations before the big day.
The 225 boats which make up the grand total of yachts taking place this year are as different from one another as can be with many making special alterations to their boats, personalising them as their own.

And, just as the boats are different so too are the crews which are taking part in the event. For many this will be their first real time on a yacht - a certain baptism by fire - whereas for many other seadogs, an Atlantic crossing has been done dozens of times before, often with the ARC.

Crews have made new friends on the bustling pontoons and stories have been swapped as colourful characters recite their tales. The organisers of the event, World Cruising Club marvelled at one particular story involving Riley, a Beneteau First 51.

This was quite a crossing for the crew who set off just 11 days ago from Oban on the west coast of Scotland. They primarily had to sail in the exceptionally poor conditions in the Bay of Biscay, which saw many of the yachts participating in the Route de Rhum, capsizing, dismasting and generally running into trouble.

If this was not enough for a crossing down to the Canary Islands the yacht also had to cope with the massive oil slick off Cape Finisterre, which recently hit world-wide headlines. The white hull of the yacht was covered in a thick black gunk, but this did little to dampen the spirits of the crew when they arrived. In total it took two gallons of petrol to get the slick of the yachts but, "not a drop went into the water" a proud Jon Fitzgerald. Skipper of the yacht explained!

Children have been making up large numbers of competitors but one little girl, Alex Pearce from Zarzen grabbed the attention of the organisers after they learnt that that the eleven year old was writing regular columns for the US magazine Multihull International. One may question why until you hear her story. Her parents decided to sell their home in London and immigrate to Australia. But they were not going to do this in the traditional style. They would instead sail a boat they would have specifically made for their adventure- a Shuttle 40.

In total Alex, her parents and her younger brother will be making their way across to Australia which will take them the best part of a year to complete. The catamaran will be Alex's home, school and playground for the next few months, which will be captured in words for the magazine.

There are many competitors who are realising their dream of sailing off into the Caribbean and beyond. One of these is a couple taking part in the event on the smallest boat, Canina, an 8.70 metre van de Stadt 29. Their plans are to sail to the Caribbean and then continue sailing for quite some time.

Michael Heldre from the Scanmar 33, Flying Eagle has done what most people would never dream of doing and sold up, given up his job and is also using the ARC as the first point to sail around the world. "Some people may think we're crazy but we've got support from out friends and families. We want to spend about four months in the Caribbean and then take it from there."

There are also competitors who are looking for something else, in the case of Peter Tanner from the yacht Oojah, love! The unusual twist is that he is sailing to the Caribbean with his two sons and his ex wife - an unusual combination one might say!

This year the ARC welcomes back the winner of last year's line honours, Ross Daniel aboard the Formula 1 yacht, Spirit of Diana who has spent the past couple of days welcoming his crew, a crew which might help him to another record.

Also in the racing division is XII Bar Blues, owned by John and Sally Priestly. A magnificent X-442, the crew will have the added support of crew member Richard Tolkien, the well known single handed round-the-world yachtsman who is joining the yacht for the crossing.

Whatever people's reasons are for starting the ARC, the event is renowned as the starting point for many people's dreams and aspirations. The event brings people together and the atmosphere on the pontoons is buzzing with excitement and laughter. ARC 2002 starts at 13.00 on local time tomorrow and will be a truly memorable occasion as 225 yachts take to the start both of the race and their dreams.
Rachel Anning/ISAF News Editor
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