Accusations of Cheating in Cruising Rally

Published on December 10th, 2016

Every November since 1986 the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers has set across the Atlantic, offering an organized westward transit to the Caribbean. The 2016 edition left Las Palmas of the Canary Islands on November 20, with a total of 212 yachts from 31 nations on a 2,800 nm course for Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia.

What once was a casual crossing has turned competitive, and as usual, that’s where things get screwed up. While the winners celebrated their victories, Elaine Bunting reports for Yachting World on a controversy that is brewing…

How far would you go to win the silverware?

Would you listen to the relentless thud of a diesel engine for days on end while pretending to everyone outside that you were sailing along in your own private breeze?

Would you expect your crew to lie with you about it?

This is an accusation that has raised its ugly form at the ARC this year. The full title of ‘Atlantic Rally for Cruisers’ might lead you to think this is exclusively a come-what-may sail across to the Caribbean.

There is a racing division, but the cruising divisions are also ranked for results and are full of competitive crews. The main difference between the cruising divisions and the outright racers is that the former are allowed to use their engines for propulsion.

This throws up two sets of problems. First, the cruising divisions take a penalty for motoring hours that varies each year depending on actual conditions and is not known until the finish, but it always strongly favours ‘strategic motoring’ through calm patches.

Secondly – and controversially this year – the records of engine hours and hence the overall results depend on skippers making an honest declaration.

Cheating in sailing (let’s call it what it is) is not novel, and certainly not confined to the ARC – in many offshore races certain yachts are known to sail faster at night. But with the very light winds experienced on the rally this year, motoring hours are higher and the temptation in a few cases, it seems, is to be somewhat economical with the truth.

Suspicions abound throughout the fleet. In the ARC+ rally a minor storm erupted over a crew who bagged line honours and a class win after declaring five engine hours. They were rumoured to have motored for 11 days – ie, all the way from the Cape Verdes.

At the prizegiving, the 2nd placed skipper handed back his prize in disgust and the winner was booed.

But nobody had protested.

“This is not a new thing,” says Andrew Bishop, managing director of rally organisers World Cruising. “It is very controversial. When we started hearing rumours we did indicate to people that we can’t do anything about it unless a protest was forthcoming. Nobody in the ARC+ put in a protest.”

“They have now,” he adds. Full report.

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