Rallying across the Atlantic: ARC Europe fleet prepares in Portsmouth, VA

1st ARC Europe Happy Hour at the Bier Garden on High Street in Portsmouth, VA

What a wild week for weather! It's something like 80 degrees and humid here in the rally office at Ocean Marine Yacht Center in Portsmouth, VA, and the thunderstorms and tornado warnings are just now expiring after a wet night in the historic waterfront town.

With that said, it's supposed to go down to 55º tonight, but Neptune is working on providing the fleet a pretty darn good forecast for departure on Saturday. So we've got that going for us!

Seven boats are set to take part in the USA start of ARC Europe this year, a whopping 7x the numbers we had last year (yes, it was only 1...)! Combine that with the fleet in Tortola, and Mia, Lyall and I - the 'Yellowshirt' team - is set for a busy ten days in St. Georges, Bermuda! The fleet here consists of three big catamarans (including the all-carbon-fiber 61-footer Tosca, an impressive sight on the end of the main pontoon with her synthetic rigging, rotating wing mast and menacing dark grey hull) and four monohulls. The smallest yacht, Tiger Lily, a Pacific Seacraft 31, also gets my vote for most beautiful, but then again I'm a traditionalist. With her study bulwarks and oiled teak interior, Tiger Lily gets my pulse going. Granted, she'll have a hard time keeping up with the 30-knot max speed of Tosca, but then again, ocean sailing is about the journey, not the destination, and I reckon Julia & Purnell will have a nice one on little Tiger Lily.

In the middle of the fleet, we've got Sojourner (no, not my dad's boat that did the 1500 last fall), a Shannon 43 cutter from Milwaukee, Athenea, the other big cat with the widest spreaders I've ever seen (in fact, the owner claims it's rig was wind-tunnel tested to 200 knots!), Mariposa, the third catamaran, Persistent Lady a classic Hardin 45 ketch (with new aluminum spars!), and Happy Destiny, a Jeanneau 43 with a cheerful crew led by Ray Smith  that perfectly embodies the boat's name. 

While the dock is busy with skippers and crew preparing the boats for sea, it's not that busy, despite being now 48 hours from the start on Saturday. Which is a good sign. The safety inspections have been very reassuring, with most folks having arrived here at Ocean Marine very well-prepared. Persistent Lady is the only boat with real work being done on her - she's currently in the yard here at Ocean Marine getting new rudder bearings and beefing up the autopilot linkages. Combine that with the new Selden rig (mainmast & mizzen mast) she got in NY earlier this spring, and she'll be in tip-top shape for the voyage across the pond. 

Festivities started yesterday in Portsmouth, with check-ins and safety inspections happening all day, followed by the first Happy Hour (of many during the six-week ARC Europe event!) at the Bier Garden on High Street. The German-themed bar & restaurant boasts hundreds of beers in bottles and array of German lagers on tap, not to mention a wonderfully European atmosphere and a great place for the folks to get to know one another.

Tonight's program continues with a happy hour at Skipjack Nautical on the waterfront, and the flare demo gets underway tomorrow afternoon! Follow the rally, including news, feature stories, weather, at-sea logs & photos and GPS fleet tracking on www.worldcruising.com/arc_europe