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Marion wrote: I am a sea lover. Seems to be an interesting cruise. david martin Abrahams would love to travel on it.

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Ocean Bound
Do you have what it takes?

Naomi had barely any experience of sailing when she first heard about the race but even though she felt intimidated by the cost (around $45,000) she says she felt “I couldn’t not do it!” and her friends and family soon rallied round to help her raise the money. The experience has helped her to put life into perspective and she now takes a much calmer approach to day to day problems. Although the circumnavigation took nine months, Naomi says the world seems a lot smaller than it did before she left. Like many people who fall in love with the open ocean she cites the peacefulness of being away from land, as well as the focus that participating in such a physically and mentally challenging activity brings. My partner Alan, who has raced across the Southern Ocean and has just returned from delivering our own yacht across the Atlantic, agrees: “It gives you time to reflect without the clutter of everyday life getting in the way.”

However, you don’t have to sail around the globe for a taste of this; the organizers, Challenge Business, hold shorter races and their yachts can be chartered for other events. You can also get well out of touch with the nearest landmass in the world’s classic ocean races such as the Fastnet, the Sydney to Hobart, the Transpacific and the Newport to Bermuda. Each course puts participants to the test; in all cases the seas can be ferocious and the racing is serious. Participating yachts are submitted to safety inspections and for the Fastnet and Sydney to Hobart half of the crew (including the skipper) must be qualified in sea survival. It is recommended for everyone aboard to have completed basic offshore race training, as well as some familiarization sailing on the yacht in question.

The most popular race is the biennial Rolex Fastnet, which attracts about 250 yachts. Its five-day, 850-mile course starts from Cowes, England and rounds the Fastnet Rock off the southwest corner of Ireland before returning to Plymouth via the south side of the Scilly Isles. As well as hardened champions from the Grand Prix circuits, it attracts yachts and sailors from all over the world and not just the professionals, but also  family owned and crewed cruiser-racers, dedicated amateurs, sailing schools and enthusiasts who have chartered a yacht for the occasion. The handicap system gives everyone a fair crack of the whip and the 2005 race was won by a keen amateur crew aboard a Nicholson 33, beating multimillion dollar super-maxis such as ICAP Maximus and Skandia Wild Thing! But the most spectacular start is that of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race. Every Boxing Day hundreds of spectator craft follow the yachts out of Sydney harbor, helicopters buzz overhead and hundreds of thousands more people line the shore to wave the yachts off.

For many people though, the ocean crossing they most want to make is the transatlantic. No matter how many times you’ve flown over it whilst watching a movie or trying in vain to get some sleep, there remains a certain romance about the notion of traversing between the old world and the new by the same method as Christopher Columbus. Every November over 200 yachts cross the Atlantic from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to St. Lucia in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). It’s the largest transoceanic sailing event in the world and whether you want to race or just get from one side of the Atlantic to the other without any jet lag, the ARC can help you do it safely and in good company. Conceived as a race that would be entirely different from other ocean races, the event is more of an organized rally in the Cruising Division, where limited motoring is allowed. For the more competitive entrants a separate Racing Division is run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, who also supervise the Fastnet and the Global Challenge races.

The spirit of the ARC is one of fun and the increased security that comes from being part of such an event gives a welcome confidence boost to even the most seasoned sailors. For the adventurous amateurs taking part, the start is a watershed between months, sometimes years, of preparation and the realization of a life’s ambition. Most are people making the crossing for the first time, either on their own yacht, a charter yacht or as crew. Some are beginning a world cruise and plan to be away from home for several years, others may have no home to return to as they have sold it to fund their travels! Often, the kids come too; in 2005, 36 under-18s made the crossing, most aged between 6 and 12. It’s fair to say that many participants have reached a crossroads in their life and the event provides a focus for change; none more so than the 15 ex-servicemen aboard the Spirit of Juno, a Farr 65 chartered by the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association for the 2005 race. The crew of 15 amputees, including one who had recently lost a leg in Iraq, competed in the IRC Invitation Racing Division.

For anyone with determination and persistence, the opportunity to sail across oceans is there for the taking. It needn’t be Spartan – most of the yachts available for charter on ocean crossings are equipped with comfortable berths rather than minimalist crew bunks and only the most committed competitors eat freeze dried food – but you will have to participate in the sailing, including standing watch. You can charter an entire yacht with skipper and crew, buy a berth for yourself or, if you are an experienced sailor, crew places are sometimes available free of charge in return for your services. The extraordinary reality is that whilst chartering a luxury yacht to loll about in the sun for a week or so is out of reach for most people, the possibility of racing across oceans exists for just about all of us. For those who decide to take it, the reward is an experience that few will ever even glimpse and one thing’s for sure: the person who returns will not be the same as the one who set sail. 

About Michelle Blore and Alan Oliver
Michelle Blore and Alan Oliver both quit successful careers in London to move to the French Riviera. They now run Dream Sailing ( a charter brokerage specializing in luxury crewed yachts, including their own sailing yacht, DreamCatcher of London.

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