Off again: World's largest ocean rally prepares to depart

ARC participants wave their national flags at the opening ceremony of ARC 2011
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With one week to go before the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) 2011 fleet leave Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands to cross the Atlantic heading for for Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, crews from across the world marched and danced behind their national flags in a stirring parade around Las Palmas Marina.

At midday Sunday November 13, hundreds of ARC participants took part in the Official Opening Ceremony for ARC 2011. Flag bearers from representing Gran Canaria, Spain, Saint Lucia, the European Union and 28 of the main nationalities in the ARC fleet paraded behind the Banda Gran Canaria, with the Banda H Mencey beating a salsa rhythm at the back. The grand parade had a real festival atmosphere as participants young and old waved flags and cheered.

Sr Jesus Ramirez, President of the Port of Las Palmas, Pablo Barbero from the Concejal del Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas (City of Las Palmas) and Sr Melchor Camon, of the Patronato de Turismo de Gran Canaria welcomed the ARC fleet to Las Palmas and Gran Canaria. Sean Compton, chairman of the Saint Lucia ARC Planning Committee then said how much Saint Lucia was looking forward to seeing the boats in a few weeks time.

Andrew Bishop, Managing Director of World Cruising Club declared ARC 2011 officially 'open' and the country flags were proudly hoisted on flagpoles around the marina as fireworks were launched in celebration.

The fiesta atmosphere continued with ARC participants and local people taking part in Don Pedro's famous International Dinghy Race. The race across the marina encourages crews, dressed in a variety of fancy dress costumes, to use any tactics they like to outwit their opponents.

Later in the afternoon, teams of ARC participants and World Cruising Club staff raced the local 'vela latina' outside the harbour. These lateen-rigged wooden boats are unique to Las Palmas, and the racing was kindly organised by the Federacion Vela Latina and the Ayuntamiento de Las Palmas.

In the first week of ARC activities in Las Palmas, crews have enjoyed daily social events, seminars on cruising topics and the opportunity to plant another 200 trees in the ARC Forest in the mountains above the city.

ARC activities continue this week, with more crew flying in to join their boats. 202 of the 222 confirmed entries are now in the marina, and the remaining boats are expected in the next few days.

ARC 2011 will depart Las Palmas on 20th November are are expected to be across the Atlantic and arrived into Rodney Marina in St Lucia somewhere between the sixth and the 11th December. However, slower boats (and there's no race among cruising boats) will still have until the 18th December, the night of the final celebrations, to arrive.

The ARC is a fun rally for cruising yachts wanting to cross the Atlantic in company and has been run every year since 1986. However, there is a racing division for the small number each year who want to test themselves. The ARC Racing Division is run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) using IRC ratings. Yachts in the Racing Division are not permitted to use their engines for propulsion.

For more information about World Cruising Club and its many rallies, go to their www.worldcruisingclub.com!website.