Our ultimate guide on things to consider if you're planning to sail across the Atlantic
7. Go the long way round
Some people spend thousands on routeing software, and that’s fine. But you don’t need it and if you’re not used to using Grib files and don’t have polars for your boat, it’s of dubious value.
The most reliable passage plan is the simplest and often the quickest: run your latitude down to around 20°N, 30°W before turning right, following the age-old advice to ‘head south til the butter melts’.
Here are three reasons to favour this route:
- You’ll pick up the tradewinds earlier. They often don’t kick in properly until halfway across on the rhumb line route.
- You’ll get nicer conditions. Sometimes the direct route is upwind after the start or there’s an uneasy cross sea from a depression to the north
- The extra distance is only between 200 and 300 miles
- You’ll tick off 2-3 degrees of latitude a day, so it will get warmer quicker
8. Take it steady
Don’t go all-out at the beginning of a crossing. It takes around three days for a crew to get their sea legs and settle down into a routine. Be kind to your crew during this time- and also your boat. It will be fully provisioned, fuelled and watered and that’s tonnes of extra displacement. The increased loads on the gear and rigging are significant, so throttle back and don’t push too hard too early.
9. Prepare for gear failure and carry spares
Be prepared for key equipment to fail, because sooner or later it will. If it’s gear you normally rely on, like an autopilot or watermaker, have a contingency or a workable plan to do without. Autopilot failure will start to put a small crew under strain by robbing everyone of rest time. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to make sure most or all of your crew are decent helmsmen downwind in following seas. If not, spend some time on passage tutoring them.
Similiarly, assume any piece of equipment that can go wrong will and plan your spares list carefully. Getting professionals to install equipment for you is not always good value – if you do it yourself you will have a better understanding of how to effect a repair.