Have you always wanted to sail the world but felt a bit daunted by the prospect of circumnavigating the globe all by yourself?
The World ARC might be the solution.
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It's a 15-month long cruising rally for sailing yachts that follows the classic trade winds route, avoiding storm seasons in both hemispheres and bypassing regions prone to piracy or political instability.
Participants come from all over the world and all walks of life, and meaningful friendships are made along the way.
"There are so many people who have this dream of doing something different, but don't really dare to take the step," said Louise Wennberg, who finished a four-year voyage around the world with her husband Jörgen and their two young children in June. "But it is a lot easier than you think."
"Going into such a big and quite risky event, the World ARC is a secure way of passing around the world," said Jörgen Wennberg, an experienced offshore race sailor.
"You are accompanied by boats all the time and if something really bad is happening, you will have assistance within 24 to 48 hours, which gave us a lot of confidence as a family."
Another major reason for sailing the world in a group is the social benefits.
"They were lovely people, from all around the world, and for us, with kids, it has been great," said Louise, adding that her Swedish children finished the trip speaking fluent English.
Each year, a fleet of three dozen sailing boats take part in the World ARC, which is organized by the World Cruising Club (WCC) based on the Isle of Wight off the English south coast.
Born out of the first-ever ocean crossing rally held in 1986, the WCC has since grown into the world's leading sailing rally specialist. Its nine annual rallies attract more than 450 boats and 1200 people.
Its most challenging rally is the 26,000 nautical mile-long World ARC, which can be joined from either Saint Lucia in the Caribbean or from Australia. Participants can either sail half of the rally or the whole circumnavigation.
Depending on the size of the boat and crew, it costs up to $23,000 for a 15-month trip.
The fee includes assistance from a dedicated team on the ground in every World ARC stop to help the boats with docking procedures and immigration clearance. It also includes daily weather forecasts, satellite tracking devices on each boat, sightseeing tours on shore and a twice-daily roll call between the boats to exchange weather reports and positioning.
"We joined the World ARC because they take care of all the bureaucracy," said Helen Tibbs, a recently retired nurse in Britain's National Health Service who sailed the World ARC from the Caribbean to Australia in 2017 with her meteorologist husband, Chris.
For Helen, it was money well spent.
"When you go through the Pacific, and Panama and the Galapagos, there is a lot of clearing in and clearing out, and you can spend half your time sitting in an office somewhere trying to get the right papers trying to get into the country," said Tibbs, who sailed a 40-foot Wauquiez Centurion yacht called Taistealai, or "wanderer" in Gaelic.
Rising demand for ocean-crossings
With more people moving into retirement and companies being more flexible when it comes to taking career breaks, demand for ocean crossings has grown in recent years, according to the WCC.
Its Atlantic crossing now attracts 300 boats a year, twice as many as in the 1990s. The World ARC has grown from 20 boats every two years in the 1990s to 35 boats each year.
Technological improvements such as electronic navigation and communication systems have also made it easier, according to Jeremy Wyatt, a spokesman for the WCC.
"It's very feasible for a couple in their 50s or 60s to sail a 45-foot boat comfortably with just the two of them," said Wyatt. "The boats are nicer to live on, they are more reliable and they are easier for older people to sail."
The Wennberg's voyage, on their 41-foot Elan 410 yacht Take Off, began four years ago, when Jörgen retired after a 12-year tenure as the chief executive officer of ICA Bank in Sweden.
"It was pretty obvious that from quite a hectic life, just to go home and shut the door was not my cup of tea," said Jörgen, 65, an experienced offshore sailing racer. "I needed some sort of landing ground. This project has been a fantastic way to cool down; Focus on nature, boating and family."
Between 2014 and 2018, the Wennbergs circumnavigated the world with their children, Alex and Inez, who had been three and five when they started. In 2014, they sailed the ARC rally, from Europe to the Caribbean. In 2016, they took part in the first half of the World ARC, followed by the second half from July 2017 to June of this year.
"I've always had a dream to travel around the world on my own keel, as we say in Swedish," said Louise, 48, who runs her own business from home.
Despite all of the precautions and support, things can go wrong once the boats are out in some of the remotest waters on the planet.
In the history of the World ARC, two boats have sunk. One struck a reef off the north of Australia after it made a navigational error and another yacht hit a submerged object which tore a rudder out of the boat.
In both cases, the crews were rescued.
In May, one of the World ARC boats damaged its rudder in the middle of the Pacific.
"The fact there were other boats around and able to get to their assistance within a matter of hours was of significant support to the boat," said Wyatt.
"It is safety in numbers," he added. "I hesitate to say the boats are safe there, but what we can prove from numerous examples is that if something happens, you are more likely to get the problem fixed because you are with the group."
Although the World ARC route mostly involves down-wind sailing, there were some hairy moments for the Wennbergs in the southern part of Madagascar.
"It was rough seas, with standing waves and storms," said Louise. "Then, the sun came out and out of nowhere we saw this huge humpback whale mother with her calf breaching in the pink sunset, one hundred meters from our boat. That was one the most magical moments," she added.
"We have enough memories to last us a lifetime," added Helen Tibbs. "We made so many friends, from all over the world. it opens up a whole new window for you. We feel very privileged to have done this."
The Wennbergs, who now live in Portugal, said they are already planning their next adventure.
"As a family, we are keen to get out there again," said Louise. "Once you've done it, it's hard to get a normal life. We are still young and healthy and the kids are still OK to be out there again. So probably again in two to three years."