Thursday, 13 November 2014

Rallying around on Lanzarote

People often ask us if we're crossing the Atlantic with a rally. Usually they're thinking of the ARC (the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). Alex crossed the Atlantic in 1989 as crew on an ARC boat. He had a ball. So why aren't we going with a rally?

Enki in Lanzarote marina

For a couple of reasons: first, the ARC leaves Las Palmas in the third week of November to get people to the Caribbean in time for Christmas. We think (and so do lots of others) that November is too early to go. The trade winds are not well established. December is a better month and January better again, we've heard. Second, we're not clubby, not party animals (though people who've known Alex is his younger days might beg to differ, he "don't do it no more", as the Old Dogs say). The rallies are social. Lots of gatherings. You get the big flag to fly from your spreaders, and presumably the tee-shirt and the hat, and you're part of the gang (or family, as I've heard it said this week).

Atlantic Odyssey rally boats (and below)

We're right in the thick of rallydom here at Lanzarote, and guess who's the star turn? Old Mister Jimmy Cornell who started the ARC in 1986, and then sold it on. Cornell Sailing (a family affair) is having another go at rallies. The Atlantic Odyssey is in its second year, and sets out on Sunday from this marina. Jimmy (he's always Jimmy) says he's trying to revive the spirit of the original ARC.  There's no racing division, just cruisin'. The reason there are so many kids floating around is that families get a 50% discount on the registration fee ("we're making money just on the docking fees by going with the rally," my Russian neighbour told me. She and her husband have an ugly big catamaran which they share with one very small blonde person, aged two-ish). It's a pretty attractive offer even without kids if you sign up early.

Family crossing

Rally kids at the marina

Rallies are business. Jimmy is a businessman. I don't want to be cynical.  I admire the man. He's got an eye for an opportunity, for sure, and his ego can get in the way of a good seminar, but he's achieved an awful lot in his lifetime, and at 74 he doesn't seem to be slowing down. This summer he took his new boat to Greenland and the Arctic circle. When the engine cut out suddenly and a GoPro camera on a stick revealed rope around the prop, Jimmy got into a dry suit and dived into the Arctic water to attack the tangle. And I worry about Alex being on the wrong side of 65!
Our engineer

His working drawings for the spare autopilot

There are a fair number of old sea dogs kicking around the world's oceans who've done as much or more sailing as Jimmy Cornell.  Romantic Sea Dogs, let's call them. They like company in small doses, and their boats are usually not cut out for women.

Sailing by Arrecife

Jimmy Cornell is different. He's a kind of evangelist.  He seeded the rally concept, and his books (most significantly World Cruising Routes) have kept the Cornell brand alive. He and his son Ivan have just released a new pilot guide to the world's oceans. He's indefatigable in his outreach. Some people think he's ruined "serious" cruising, that he's infested the best cruising destinations with herds of boats who hurtle through at speed, taking photos from their mast-cams and seeing nothing.

Branded by Cornell

I can't comment. We'll see for ourselves. Just because we're not travelling with a rally doesn't mean we're not part of this herding phenomenon. We all carry the same cruising guides, mostly stick to the same routes (the ones described by Cornell) and thus often end up, after a big day's sailing (or several days) in a crowded anchorage. Which some people love, and others don't.

There are about 35 boats in this Atlantic Odyssey rally. Nothing particularly fancy pants. A mix of monohulls and catamarans, average length about 45 feet, I'd guess. We've chatted with a fair few rally people, and they're people like us for the most part, exhibiting the same confusion about comms technology, asking the same questions about provisioning, expressing the same worries about sleep patterns at sea etc. Ordinary people who want to cross an ocean in their own boat. Remarkable, really.

Mmmm....where are they going?
But at the other end of the marina, there's another little group which has quite a different flavour from the Cornell rally. I see no support staff with logos on their shirts, no advertised seminars or cocktail parties, and the type of craft is quite distinctive. Small and very basically kitted out. I can't decide whether the rally flag they're flying is for real, or if it's a spoof. They keep to themselves. Their cockpits are tiny, and they huddle, or burrow down into the dark recesses of their cramped saloons. Let's call them the New Romantics. They're young, of course, and there are a few of us older people who'd trade our washing machines and Nespresso machines for the years they got ahead of them...and the strength and flexibility of their bodies. But perhaps not the space on our bigger boats.

The New Romantics (and below)

This young Frenchman doesn't do a bosuns chair

Aboard Enki, preparations continue - Alex has wired up the spare auto-pilot (now that's something a New Romantic probably isn't carrying, but we're glad to have), and we're gradually getting our heads into gear for the long passage ahead. "Life at sea is not an extension of life at home. It requires a change of mindset." (Jimmy). Being in the Canaries is doing some of that work for us. For centuries this archipelago has been a stopover for ships sailing en route from Europe to the Americas, a place for transients. The marina, as so many marinas are, is a world unto itself - somebody thought it necessary to open a Burger King, for example. But outside the marina there's Arrecife, a quiet town which seems rather detached, rather disembodied. It's a little bit eery, but also quite beautiful behind the bare volcanos.

The tidal basin at Arrecife

Market day by the church

Before go to sea however, we're going to dive one more time into big city life. A week in London. Airfares from the Canaries are cheap with the budget airline Easyjet, and we've got time to do this. One last look at the great museums and galleries which have given us so much pleasure during these years in Europe. It's a long way back there from Australia.


  1. I've been enjoying your writings since the blog before this one, and I still anticipate every new article. This one stands out, and if it just were because of "Jimmy".

    May your seas be smooth and winds be steady!

  2. Thanks Nico Nightowl - nice to hear from you where-ever you are. We're hoping for both the above, plus a full moon for the 3 weeks of the crossing. Is that too much to ask for?

  3. thanks for the first-hand report on the curious rally phenomenon…I wonder if it's not just an inevitable outcome of the # of boats out sailing the oceans of the world. Once you get to tens of thousands (or whatever it is), organization becomes inevitable. What will happen with the next doubling of boat #s? My prediction is that cruising rallies will develop into cruising leagues - whatever that might mean.