When we first started cruising, everyone asked if we were going to join the ARC. Our answer was always a firm “No way” which was often met with confusion on the part of the person who asked.
The ARC offers a great way to explore the world and make new friends as you voyage to distant horizons in the safety of a group and in the care of overlooking experts.
I have always had two problems with this setup.
First: The group.
When the ARC arrives, the marina instantly fills up! All the slips are taken by their boats and the town streets that were once empty are now jammed packed with cruisers. It almost feels like when a cruise ship is in town.
Since you are in a big group, everyone will descend on a single restraurant together and pretty much fill the whole place up! When they go into shops, they seem to go as a massive group again. These cruisers are connected with unbreakable bonds, which is great, unless you want to meet the locals.
When locals see a massive group of people, they avoid it like the plague! As a couple, we frequently meet people who come over to talk to us and give us wonderful suggestions of sights to see, and even invite us into their homes. Inviting one or two people is a lot easier to manage than inviting a group of 10 or 20! We have actually found that the moment we reach a group of 3, the invitations seem to stop all together, almost like if 2 is company and 3 is a crowd!
If you want to travel to new places and really get to know the locals, hanging out in a huge group isn’t going to show you that side of the world.
Second: Care of overlooking experts.
Your marina stays are booked ahead of time for you, and all the events you could dream of are planned out on a long itinerary. Being told that you will have dinner at a fancy restaurant on the other side of the ocean on a certain date will sound enticing, especially when they tell you all the fun activities they have planned out for you in the prescribed destinations!
But crossing an ocean is dangerous, how do you know where to go or what weather systems to watch out for? Well, they have that solved and hire a private weather forecast company to watch the weather for you and tell you exactly when it is safe to go and cross the ocean. Their land based office connects to the latest weather information gathered from satellites and then sent directly to your onboard device. You have all the care and safety you could dream of!
The problem is, you don’t! They have a pretty firm scheduled leave date for these events and will leave in pretty foul weather because if they wait longer, they will run into scheduling issues.
Due to changing weather patterns, the old tried and true dates to leave on an ocean passage are not what they used to be. In the past, early May was the time to leave the United States and cross the North Atlantic going East. The ARC does just this. We thought it was hilarious to see the ARC arrive in the Azores with tales of strong winds and high seas on their crossing because I had been watching the weather for our departure to mainland Portugal and was seeing that the weather was not right yet for a crossing. With this wrong weather, they had already left and crossed, weather be damned!
The best part was when I asked an ARC boat. When they would be leaving (because I wanted to know when there would be space in the marina again) and they told me they were leaving for Lisbon that night. This was stated as a massive front was approaching bringing terrible storm conditions. The storm arrived that afternoon and I waited to see if the boat was going to set sail or not in those conditions. The answer is “Yes”, all the ARC boats left the safety of the harbor in a storm and sailed along with that storm which was on it’s way to mainland Portugal rather than waiting a few days for it to pass and follow in the wake of the storm.
These people pay for someone to keep them safe by guiding them on weather information while at the same time, that weather service isn’t warning them about real and present dangerous storms? All of a sudden, it doesn’t sound like such a “safer way to cruise”!
It is true, on a long passage, you will encounter bad weather. This is simply because you are out there for weeks and will eventually encounter some bad weather. The thing is, leaving in a storm doesn’t check off your quota for storms on the journey, guaranteeing a calm passage for the rest of the way. All it does is guarantee that you will encounter as least two storms in your passage!
No, we do not participate in the ARC and no, we will not participate in the ARC. We would rather use the fees they charge (which are rather expensive if you ask me) and use that for a lot of provisions which will then allow us to cruise longer and safer because we watch the weather ourselves (and don’t set off on a voyage in a storm).