Here’s a little extract from Yachting World who interviewed us a few days before we departed. We felt that the journalist had an angle to her story, and to be honest upon reading it I would add a whole lot more and perhaps tweak a few statements which I feel were taken out of context.
In addition to her article, I think the ARC doesn’t market themselves towards the ‘younger generation’, their focus is more about supporting peoples’ life long dreams. Which is perfectly fine, though perhaps a targeted marketing campaign could inspire people in their early 20s and 30s to club together with friends and family, it doesn’t have to be astronomically expensive if a back to basics approach is encouraged. One thing I will say is that the UK simply doesn’t inspire people to take to the seas in the way that other nations have, such as France, Sweden or Norway. On our travels, all the young kids we’ve met have been from these countries, but the Brits are mostly silver surfers from our experience.
Anyway, here’s the story. At the bottom is the transcript of the article for ma and pa to read.
Trina is making me point out her favourite bit: “With his mane of hair and luxuriant ‘Lion King’ beard, Tim Butler, 38, stands out”.
Everyone planning to sail across the Atlantic is dreaming big, but the form in which big is made real comes in some radically different sizes and shapes.
For Jason Geale, owner of G2, the largest yacht in the ARC Transatlantic Rally, big or big enough, is 127ft. The Bill Tripp design has been modified in a huge refit at Pendennis Shipyard and is being sailed by owner, friends and a professional crew of five. For Tim Butler and Triona O’Leary, a dream no less grand is being realised in Butler’s Halmatic 30 Excalibur, smallest yacht in the rally – one of the oldest too – and it is just the two of them on board.
The enduring appeal of the ARC as a migration route from Europe to the Caribbean is that it gathers together this diverse community.
Walk the docks and you feel you have an entire miniaturised world of yachting before you, from immaculate, shining superyachts and the latest hot designs, to family cruisers of every type. But drill a little deeper and you find the ARC represents, literally and metaphorically, what way the wind is blowing.
Age of the catamaran
For all its variety, the ARC fleet tells us that the cruising dream is steadily being supersized and coalescing around a smaller range of production builders, predominantly French. Ever more obviously, we are in the age of the catamaran.
Of the 261 boats in the ARC, ARC+ and ARC Vincent 54, or 20%, are multihulls. But that is growing – and fast. “Among the new boats, that is, 18 months old or less, easily 50% are catamarans,” says Jeremy Wyatt, director of organiser World Cruising. “Of those, there are 10 Lagoon 42 Series 2 catamarans and 10 Lagoon 450s between the different fleets.”
The why of it is simple to understand, he believes. “Catamarans are considerably more expensive to buy, but for the Caribbean they are perfect boats. They have got a big social space, they are relatively easy to park with two engines, you can lift a dinghy on and off easily, there is a big area for solar panels and lots of room for guests. They are great boats but you have to understand the limits of where you are sailing and stick to tradewind routes. Indeed Wyatt thinks that catamarans could become the norm for warm water cruising, as attitudes to what is ‘proper’ sailing broaden. “There is a lot of prejudice in our industry that if you can’t race it, it’s not sailing.” he says “but who’s to say that bimbling round the Caribbean anchoring and having rum punches is not sailing? Who’s to say if you’re not getting cold and wet it’s not sailing?”.
Norwegian sailor Elvind Farstad, 39, bought his Fontaine Pajot Saona 43, Queen, this year and picked it up from La Rochelle in August. He is taking two years off work to sail to Australia with his family. He agreed the time off with his elder brother, with whom he runs a Hamburg based company selling cars to dealers. Farstad had always sailed monohulls before, but wanted a boat with lots of room for his wife and three children aged between four and 11. “It has so much more space for the kids to run up and down. It’s got five double cabins. Compared to the Jeanneau 45DS we had before, it’s enormous.”
“We expected the comfort,” he adds, “but what surprised us was when we were crossing Biscay in 25 knots was we could sit around and eat breakfast and dinner. It was great.”
Like most sailors, Farstad thought hard about safety, and concluded: “Lots of older sailors don’t want to talk about safety in bad weather, but a catamaran is going to float if something happens, whereas in a monohull, if you lose the keel, you’ve got two minutes. Regarding the sailing, yes you do lose a bit of the experience, the feel of it. It’s different. You have to look to see the acceleration. But it is fun, and we’ve got an asymmetric and Parasailor for downwind sailing.”
A majority of crews sailing in the ARC fleets have ceased working. A small percentage, like the Farstads, are families taking a year or more out and planning to return afterwards. But a group of sailors that seems to have vanished is couples in their twenties and thirties. A decade ago, I recall numerous young couples and crews chasing the dream, more often than not in modest but well-maintained yachts.
Tim Butler and Triona O’Leary now stand out as a cruising rarity: the Missing Millennials (I’m Generation X lol – Tim). With his mane of hair and luxuriant ‘Lion King’ beard, Tim Butler, 38, stands out anyway. The UK-based web developer owns Excalibur, a Halmatic 30 he bought five years ago for £27,500. It wasn’t primarily with a view to sailing, it was an inexpensive place to live in London. “I’d had a camper van so I was used to living in it and travelling round Europe, and the boat was the price of a family car.” (makes me sound like a bloody hobo…I guess I lived in a campervan whilst I was on holiday – Tim).
Butler kept his boat in St Katharine Docks, and in the summers took it out to the coast and learned to sail. In 2012 he sailed in the ARC aboard a friend’s Rival 32.
Three years later, he met Triona. He spotted her on Tinder, painting a boat with red lead. Triona who works in theatre and TV, was living two miles downriver at South Dock Marina aboard her own boat, a Thames gentleman’s cruiser. She’d bought it aged 23 when she “fell in love with the mahogany and brass and romance of it.”
Living on board allowed them to save enough money to buy a house and an apartment. They are off sailing for a year or so, as funds allow, taking on some contract work along the way.
In sailing demographic terms, they are the back of the wave. “Our generation came out of school and uni in recession times with student loans. I don’t know anyone with any spare money.” says Butler (I don’t recall saying that! I know plenty of rich c*nts! (sorry mum) – Tim). “And if you’ve come out with a £30,000 student loan and now you tell your parents you’re going to buy a boat….? You have to be strong and independent-minded to do that.”
Yet their frugal, miniaturised life (akin to the popular Tiny House movement in the US) has given them freedom.
“There is a perception of it being expensive, but living on a boat is very cheap living and it lets you save a deposit for a house because you’re not paying London rents.” say Butler.
Three routes west
The ARC itself reflects a trend among cruisers to choose established, social events. Numbers have increased during the last five years to an average of around 260 yachts (287 in 2016), as the organisers increased capacity by splitting the fleet. The main ARC goes directly to Saint Lucia, while the ARC+ goes via Mindelo in the Cape Verdes, starting two weeks earlier. And this year, for the first time, ARC St Vincent takes the first seeds of a new fleet to finish further south. “From next year ARC St Vincent opens as a separate route. There are already 36 entries for ARC+ and 10 for ARC St Vincent, which is more than for the ARC.” says World Cruising MD, Andrew Bishop.
The newest rally could prove popular because of a more intimate fleet, and by taking crews further south, near to Bequia and the Tobago Cays, where so many cruisers like to spend Christmas and the New Year. Cruising rallies, like yacht types, have seen a consolidation. A few years ago, several new challenger transat events were launched. Now there is just the Ill de Soleil to Guadeloupe, with 15 yachts. Some 33 years after the ARC was founded, the biggest, best organised rally is viewed as a ticket to realising that big dream.