Looking back on an ocean crossing

Donal O’Driscoll sits in the cockpit of his Hallberg Rassy 42. He’s one of 223 skippers who have just sailed from the Canaries to St Lucia as part of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)

“My favourite times were when I was alone on watch at night. We’d be doing seven or eight knots downwind. The waves were lit by the moon. It was amazing.”

Two ARC yachts remain at sea, expected within 48 hours, but for the rest of the fleet there is now time to relax and look back on what for many was the voyage of a lifetime.

For Nick Lewis, skipper of Flying Start, a Moody 38, it will perhaps be the dolphins that stick in his mind the longest.

“They arrived almost every night at five o’clock. We’d look at our watches and wonder where they were if they didn’t turn up. One dolphin shot straight up out of the water six times in a row – it was amazing.

“We’re used to dolphins in the Bristol Channel where we sail but these seemed different. More relaxed somehow. We were in their element but it was as if they were as pleased to see us as we were to see them.”

Another incident is bound to stay with the crew of Flying Start. The boat came across an open boat hundreds of miles off the coast of north Africa. Fifteen illegal immigrants huddled aboard, desperate for water. Flying Start gave them the water they so desperately needed then stood by until a Spanish hospital ship came to their aid. Nick was later told that there had been 34 immigrants on board when the boat had started its desperate voyage.

Read more about the experiences of this year’s ARC fleet in the March issue of Yachting Monthly – on sale in February – and discover how skippers’ and crews’ expectations of an Atlantic crossing compared with the reality of spending three weeks at sea.