This is the great Atlantic getaway. At the end of a year when the calendar has been mostly crossed out or marked provisional, families who stuck to their transatlantic cruising plans, or even advanced them, were breaking free.
Life in the Canary Islands in November always seems a world away from the darkening days of the European winter, but this year so much more so. It is 25°C and sunny in Gran Canaria, ideal weather for working through the jobs list for a transatlantic crossing. And when you’re done the shops and bars and restaurants are all open, and lively. This feels like the perfect time to escape.
The pandemic derailed the plans of around two-thirds of the crews planning to take part this year in the annual ARC and ARC+ transatlantic rallies from Gran Canaria to St Lucia, but 76 crews made it despite the difficulties (24 in ARC+ via Cape Verde and 52 in the non-stop ARC). These included a number who advanced longer term plans when they realised that going this year might be better than staying.
“COVID is the reason we are here,” says Vinny D’Avena. He and Ayesha, his wife, who are from Northern Virginia, faced a dilemma in the spring. Face-to-face education for their two boys, aged 16 and 14, had stopped.
“The online environment was not good,” says Vinny. “One thing that kept bothering us was that we were projecting the situation forward to next March. We were at our wit’s end. How to keep them engaged and challenged when you can’t hang out with your friends, do sports that motivate you and get the answers you want? They were isolated and withdrawn. It is a devastating cocktail for teenagers and we saw some of their friends struggle with depression.”
‘ COVID IS WHY WE’RE HERE’
In mid-June the D’Avenas had their first tentative discussion about going sailing. They had owned smaller 31ft and 34ft yachts on Chesapeake Bay before, but had little offshore experience. Scarcely five months later, here they are in Gran Canaria in a brand new Lagoon 450S catamaran. Theirs is quite a story. In June, Vinny started researching suitable brokerage catamarans lying anywhere between Croatia and Panama.
“This came up out of nowhere,” he says. “The broker told me Lagoon had sold this boat but the buyer had backed out.” The boat was in France, built but not yet launched, and the company offered a keen price. The D’Avenas closed on the deal on 7 July, only three weeks after their first ‘what if’ discussion.
As France was not allowing in US citizens, the family had their boat delivered to Plymouth by PYD yacht deliveries. Vinny and his eldest son, Michael (16), quarantined in the UK and used that time to order a van-load of kit for the boat. Back at home, Ayesha and the couple’s younger son, Robert (14), nervously waited for Robert’s passport to be renewed (it finally came through on 3 September).
Vinny and Michael, with the PYD delivery skipper, sailed the boat south to Gibraltar in August. Once reunited, the family spent two months there preparing, taking training courses, doing MOB and emergency drills and sailing their new boat.
They aren’t certain what they will do after the ARC – that depends on which countries are open and how the family are enjoying life afloat.
“We have some backstops. I have drawn a line in the sand around Puerto Rico, so it could be we are just doing a delivery to Florida,” says Vinny.
The couple knows their boat should resell well. The Lagoon 450 is one of the most popular cruising catamarans in the market. Still, this has been an enormous leap of faith, personally and financially. Vinny left his design and renovation business behind, and Ayesha resigned from her job with a healthcare nonprofit organization – and with that went the US family’s private health insurance.
She says a friend told her that this is: “The most un-Ayesha like thing you have ever done!”
“We are both planners. We have a lot of anxiety in our family, so it has to make sense,” says Vinny. “It’s not like we’d saved a big bunch of money. We had
lived relatively financially conservatively and been very restrained in our spending but we had to ask if we could do this without jeopardising our retirement savings and our kids’ college fund.” A loan from Ayesha’s mother helped but it is, they say, “definitely a bit scary”.
“We ran with a 50% idea and then we found there was no reason not to do this. Once you’re over the big stuff the rest is logistics, which we are good at, and resourcefulness, which we don’t lack.”
A reason for entering the ARC rally was to meet up with other families – their sons miss their friends.
“But I think the question is how do you help build resilience and self-confidence. Even setting sailing and COVID aside, one of the biggest things we’ve been trying to do as lifelong, enduring things is to find the right environment for this.”
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