How To Sail Across the Atlantic
Sailing across the Atlantic is every sailor’s dream, young and old. It can take some 2,700 miles or more for crews to sail from Europe to the Caribbean, into the trade winds and involves several weeks at sea.
How should you go about preparing your yacht, your crew and yourself for the challenge?
Trekking across the Atlantic is an epic adventure; the early masters of the voyage were adventurers who established colonial roots in the Americas. The first person to sail across the Atlantic is often miscredited to Christopher Columbus. Legends date back as far as between 1500-332 BCE, to stories of mighty Phoenician sailors crossing the blue Mediterranean to pass to mysterious wide Atlantic. There’s no proof to qualify these stories, but historians do know that the Viking Leif Eriksson made it to the New World before Columbus. Read more about encounters with the New World on NPR.
The best time for the trans-Atlantic adventure occurs in the couple of months leading up to winter holidays. During this exciting time, about 5,000 sailors cross from Europe to the Caribbean, symbolizing the culmination of years of intensive planning.
If it’s your first time, how can you best prepare?
- Know your Boat!!!
- Pick the best route
Route planning is a dynamic process. You have to map out strategy before departure and change accordingly depending on the factors such as wind and current. You should check the Pilot Charts of the North Atlantic. There are several versions, but one that is recommendable is the Atlantic Pilot Atlas by James Clark. It will tell help you to properly choose the best time to cross. Form East to West I would choose November or December through March. You should avoid the hurricane season. From West to East you can choose between April and June.
- Keep it simple
The fewer things you have to distract you, the better. Don’t bother with twin headsails or an expensive new asymmetric spinnaker. Focus on the sailing. Watch out for chafe. Set up a preventer on the boom. When that nighttime squall hits, prepare yourself by poling out the headsail so you can furl in quickly.
- Get some extra training
It can take up to a month to complete a trans-Atlantic journey. You’ll want to be as prepared as possible for whatever may come your way. Remember, you’re embraced a completely foreign landscape; open ocean for an extended period of time. It will feel like a bit like segment of a show on the Discovery channel. Enroll in a course to learn some skills about diesel engine maintenance, medical and first aid training, and sea survival.
Before cast off, you should explain to all people on board what to expect and all the safety procedures as well as the location of all safety devices.
Make sure you have good navigational equipment and backups. I would suggest you always mark your positions every couple of hours on a paper chart. If your electronic systems go down for some reason, you should be able to know your last position if you need to continue navigation dead reckoning.
At night and foul weather is better to always have two people at the helm and with harnesses. Make sure you have a lifeline on your boat.
It’s important to have an EPIRB on board in case of emergency. A DeLorme in reach is also helpful to have. Your friends and family can track you and you have a SOS function that will give your exact position.
- What to take
Remember to make a thorough checklist of the things to take. Hopefully you’ll have a water maker on board. Remember that you’ll be several weeks out in the open water. Make sure you bring your medicines, personal documents and fishing gear to enjoy fresh fish. A Leatherman or a good knife close to the helm can be useful in case you need to urgently cut lines in an emergency.
If you prefer not to do the crossing on your own, you can join other vessels through ARC, Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which originates in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to St. Lucia in the Caribbean.
A great site for tips and checklist are the posts by Aurélien Poncin (AURELIEN) “Atlantic Crossing on a Sailing Yacht. Top Tips & Equipment” of October 7, 2014. For more tips, you can also see Yachting World and Attainable Adventure Cruising.
Good preparedness is the key to success in crossing the Atlantic and it will be the experience of a lifetime.