ONE OF the world’s largest trans-ocean rally for cruisers and big yachts is now underway from the Gran Canaria to the Caribbean with over 280 boats taking part in the 34th edition of the World Cruising Club (ARC) trans-Atlantic crossing. The rally started on November 24 and the first boats are expected to arrive at Rodney Bay Marina in St Lucia early December.
Before the cruisers set sail, there was the colourful opening ceremony around the Las Palmas Marina in the Gran Canaria over the weekend of November 16-18 which was led by a large contingent of St Lucian community groups from the UK who added a carnival-like atmosphere to the proceedings.
Headed by high commissioner Guy Mayers, the St Lucians, decked out in traditional dress, led the procession of participants from 35 different countries behind their national flags.
This year’s event was particularly special as it marked the 30th anniversary of the ARC’s rally to St Lucia and also the island has been celebrating 40 years of independence.
High commissioner Mayers in a short address to the ARC participants at the opening ceremony said: “Because this was the 30th anniversary of the crossing of the ARC, we wanted to make it special. Last year it was only a small number of St Lucians who carried the flag, but this year we brought a larger contingent and every year we plan to make it even bigger.
“We want to build on the success of the ARC and with the help of the St Lucian Tourism Authority and our folks in the diaspora we will continue to grow this event and provide you, the sailors, with a unique hospitality before you sail and this will give you a taste of what to expect when you arrive in St Lucia.
“We will also have a team of young St Lucian sailors taking part this year who will be on board the 72ft Challenger sailing yacht managed by the Tall Ship Sail Training Adventures which was a significant achievement as we have sponsors from St Lucia who gave these youngers the opportunity of a life time. We want to wish everyone a great time as you cross the ocean.”
Also addressing the gathering was ARC managing director Andrew Bishop who welcomed the St Lucian contingent. He said: “Following the High Commissioner’s visit to the start of the ARC last year, it is encouraging to see he has kept his promising to bring a lot more St Lucians over to participate in the festivities as it coincides with your 40th anniversary of independence.
“The St Lucian tourism authority has been a huge supporter of the event and we are happy to have the young St Lucian sailing crew taking part for the first time. There are varied experiences among the sailing crew as there will be a racing element of about 30 boats which are fully crewed, while there will be a cruising section with people who will be having their first Atlantic crossing experience.”
After the ceremony, high commissioner Mayers had the opportunity to tour the Challenger vessel where the young St Lucian sailors will be part of a crew which includes a professional experience skipper, a mate and two watch leaders. St Lucia’s minister of tourism, Dominic Fedee along with tourism officials from the ministry also toured the boat later in the week before the ARC sailings got underway.
The St Lucian tourism authority earlier hosted a “sundowner” welcome party for participants on the launch weekend.