Our ultimate guide on things to consider if you're planning to sail across the Atlantic
The Atlantic crossing season occurs every winter. In the months leading up to Christmas, some 4-5,000 sailors will cross from Europe to the Caribbean on one of the biggest sailing adventures of their lives.
In most cases, the crossing is the culmination of years of planning and preparation. But if it’s your first time, are you missing something? You might be.
Here is a list of my top 15 tips for an Atlantic crossing, which I’ve drawn up both from my own ocean passages in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and from talking to hundreds of transatlantic sailors over the years. So what do you really need to consider when planning your Atlantic crossing…
1. You don’t need a special boat
Time was when a proper offshore cruising yacht had chines, a ketch rig and self-steering gear at the stern. That was a perception, and perceptions change. Numerically, the most common transatlantic yachts these days are ordinary production cruisers with standard kit.
There’s no black art to sailing 3,000 miles downwind. Generally, the toughest part of an Atlantic crossing is getting across Biscay. So whatever boat you have right now, the chances are that with a bit of extra prep she’ll be fine for an Atlantic crossing.
As for a watermaker, generator, SSB radio, etc: they’re all useful, but every additional item adds complication and service cost/time. Apart from a sound boat, all you really need is water, food, fuel and a (paper) copy of ‘North Atlantic, Southern Part’.
2. Keep it simple
A smart crossing is all about consistent speed, 24 hours a day. The key is not to have downtime.
There’s no need to fiddle around with twin headsails, Twistlerig or expensive new asymmetric spinnaker; a main and poled-out genoa ‘barn doors’ set-up will do fine. In fact, me and my other half won the ARC rally overall one year after sailing wing-and-wing almost the entire way.
Just keep an eye out for chafe, and be sure to set up a preventer on the boom and a foreguy topping lift and downhaul when poling out the headsail so you can furl in quickly when that night-time squall hits (which it will).
3. Revise your energy equation
Whatever power you think you’ll use on an ocean crossing, add on another third. Nav lights, radar, radio scheds, autopilot, watermaker, fridge, freezer, computer, fans – you name it, they all add up.
Increase the means of generating electricity with a diesel generator, larger alternator, solar panels and/or a towed turbine and look at means of making savings, such as fitting LED lights.