Near-perfect weather set the scene for a comfortable crossing of the Bay of Biscay for the crews of the 18 boats taking part in the annual ARC Portugal rally, which departed Plymouth yesterday (3rd June). Crossing “the Bay” is often the first long offshore passage for many cruising sailors, and with its reputation for strong weather combined with busy shipping lanes, it can be a challenging sail. However, the lure of sunnier southern sailing in Spain, Portugal and into the Mediterranean is the reward for making the 550nm passage to NW Spain.
World Cruising Club’s annual ARC Portugal rally has been taking boats south to Marina de Lagos on Portugal’s Algarve coast since 1994. It combines an “ARC style” fleet crossing of Biscay, with social day cruising and sight-seeing along the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal. The yachts, which range in size from 34-54ft (9.90m – 16m), had assembled at Plymouth’s Mayflower Marina in the build up to the start of the 900 nautical mile sailing rally which runs over 3 weeks in June. The West Country berth-holder owned marina, has hosted the rally start since 1998, offering visitors a warm welcome as they prepared for the first leg of the rally to Bayona on Spain’s Atlantic coast.
This year conditions are expected to be extremely good for the Biscay passage, with winds from the north or northwest all the way cross. Some flat spots will mean boats need to use their engines at times, which is allowable in this fun cruiser-style event. Gentle seas and clement weather may not give a fast passage, five days is typical, but it should be a relaxed and easy sail. Once in Bayona, crews get the chance of some rest, as well as exploring a few of Galicia’s culinary and historical delights before setting sail south towards Portugal for the two week long coastal cruise.
The ARC Portugal rally, now in its 24th year, is organised by World Cruising Club, which coordinates ocean sailing events around the world and has an impressive portfolio that includes the world famous Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) which has been taking sailing boats across the Atlantic to the Caribbean since 1986.
Andrew Bishop, MD of World Cruising Club says, ‘The rallies are devised for the ‘average’ cruising boat and crew and help people to realise their dreams of making a long offshore passage. ARC Portugal is more than simply a voyage to the sun; in every port there is a programme of social activities or tours ashore, making it one of the most social of our rallies’.
The rally culminates in a celebratory prize giving on the final day on 27th June in Lagos, where participants in the fun ‘competition’ attend an awards ceremony with prizes for good seamanship, great sailing, and joining in the spirit of the rally.
Andrew Bishop says, ‘We know that undertaking a long voyage can be a daunting prospect, even for seasoned sailor. Making an ocean passage in a small sailboat is a great achievement, one that deserves celebrating, so we like to mark this in our prize reception. Alongside the more traditional awards, there are also awards for the fun things, like the prettiest boat, the best boat blog or photograph and the most fish caught. Every boat will receive a memento of their rally’.
Marina de Lagos, the final destination of the fleet, has been hosting the finish of the rally since the first edition, and provides a secure, well equipped base for exploring the Algarve, or as a stepping stone into the Mediterranean or towards the Canary Islands.