In this article we have one of our great 'globe'-skippers Marko Gomez Karadza, writing about his sailing experiences of Atlantic crossing. Marko has been loved by our clients, provided many safe and interesting sailing holidays for our guests, and is available for hire in summer season in Croatia.
Ever wondered what it's like to cross an ocean on a sailing boat? Why does it? How much time does it take? When and from where to start?
In this article I'm gonna walk you through the experience of doing it and will answer some basic questions that you might be generating in your mind already, as I will tell you from first hand about my own experience on doing 2 Atlantic crossings (and counting) from Europe to the Caribbean. So wear your life jacket, clip on your harness to the jack stays, prepare your follies and get ready to mind-cross the Atlantic ocean with me.
Maybe you are an experienced yachtsman, a very keen dinghy sailor, an adventurous soul or just looking forward to disconnecting from your monotonous office job and having a different type of vacation. There will be plenty of reasons for doing it and it is because the experience itself might be something magical in terms of being in nature at its full mercy. Being disconnected from social media, work, friends, daily routine, the world in general and just being at the open sea using the winds and the currents to move from Europe to arrive in the Caribbean, is something you won't experience every day. Just the fact you traveled from one continent to another in the "old-fashioned" way gives you a feeling of achievement and satisfaction you probably won't find in the comfort of land back at your place.
There are 2 types of Atlantic crossing: From Europe to the Caribbean/America and the opposite way; but for now, we are gonna focus on the first option. This is doable at almost every time of the year (except during Hurricane season, because you don't wanna be out there during that), but there are some specific moments when it is more likely to be an easier sail across the pond and that's why most of the people are doing it besides the change of season (end of European summer), and that's at almost the end of every year which means November - December.
This is not only because the summer in Europe is over and the Caribbean yachting season is soon to be started. This also has to do with the weather development. At the end of every year, the trade winds are starting to form and if it is true that they are not as strong and steady as during January - February, it is already good conditions to start moving towards the West Indies and be in time to start the season there.
So maybe you are now wondering what are those trade winds? Well in few words, they are some winds blowing from the North East and moving towards the South West across the Atlantic Ocean, which might benefit in terms of a downwind sailing and moving the currents in the same direction which makes your life easier and gets you quickly into the Caribbean.
The most convenient way to do it is via the Canary Islands. Normally from Gran Canaria or Lanzarote is the most common start but also it is an option to start a little more south, from Cape Verde. Many boats start from the UK, France, Spain, Portugal; but the last stop before starting the crossing are those islands since following a rhumb line to the Eastern Caribbean is easier from there.
Many different combinations might serve you to do this crossing; but, as a boat owner, or a total novice, if it is your first time I would recommend you to try it with a rally for cruisers such as the ARC or ARC+. Without being keen to make some publicity to such an organization, indeed, it is maybe the best option for first-timers in the matter, because they will walk you through all what is important to have a nice and SAFE Atlantic crossing and, also, you won't do it alone.
It might cost you a bit more to sign up your boat for the rally or to join a crew in a boat doing it (some charter boats sell berths for having the experience of the crossing) but they will make sure that your boat is ready to affront an ocean crossing and also that you are doing with competent crew respectively. All the safety checking of the boats such as rigging inspection, satellite communications, AIS system, safety gear on-board, weather briefing, and routing are done by professionals and this is a good starting point to learn about it and do it by yourself in the future.
Since the pandemic times started, many things changed in the organization of this event to adapt it to the new situation. Strict protocols now take place instead of social gatherings such as farewell parties and prize-giving ceremonies, which used to happen before when times were easier for social activities and distancing was not a priority. Since this rally is also a competition, some social events were a big part of it before and after the crossing; but now, keeping people safe and in a bubble before and after sailing out to the Caribbean is in first place in its agenda. Anyways the most important part which is the experience of crossing the Atlantic ocean is still doable and in a very safe way with the support of the organization and in the company of many other boats out in the water.
Well that will depend on different facts such as the size of your boat, if you are sailing with asymmetric Spinnaker or asymmetric (which will define if you are gonna be more likely to go in a straight line or will have to sail angles), how long you keep this sail up, etc. Facts that will define how fast you will sail; but let's say, on average, it might take you between 2 weeks and 20 days.
To cross the Atlantic ocean as for any kind of offshore sailing you need to keep the boat moving 24/7 and for that is important teamwork.
You and the rest of the crew onboard will need to adjust to a watch system and take turns on deck to keep the "machine" running so if you were thinking about just relaxing, sunbathing while having a piña colada, and enjoying the view for 2 weeks, well let me tell you that you can save that plan for your arrival in the Caribbean because discipline is gonna be a key part to make this a successful experience.
Also keep in mind that you are gonna be for at least 2 weeks in a reduced area with a group of people, interacting with them day after day. So you better put into practice your people skills and have a positive and friendly attitude because, who knows, you might find your best friends for the rest of your life after this experience.
And don’t forget that being tidy is a must for making this a good passage, you don’t want to be messing around with a bunch of stuff down below or even worse, with lines and sails on deck when a big squall hits you. In any emergency, a quick and panic-less response is vital to keep you out of trouble or to sort any problem.
As I mentioned earlier, I experienced 2 Atlantic crossings so far, from Europe to the Caribbean.
My first crossing took part at the end of 2018. By that time I already earned some miles and experience doing offshore yacht deliveries and races around the Med, so I did it as watch leader on board a racing charter boat that took part in the ARC that year. It was a 47 feet long boat and we were a crew of 11 people in total. We were part of the racing division so the goal was to sail fast and safely since our departure from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria towards St. Lucia, pushing day and night to climb on the rank and keeping an eye on our competition. It was a wonderful experience, very demanding but rewarding at the same time with awesome people onboard sharing everyday life on and below the deck. The final result was great! After 15 days and a few hours, we arrived at St. Lucia in 2nd place in our class and we made good friends on the way.
My second crossing took part at the end of 2019. This time was as part of a delivery crew for a private 60 feet sailing yacht. This experience was different since we were only 4 people in total on board and we sailed from Cap D’Agde in the south of France to Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. This time the whole trip took around 30 days but we made few stops in Spain, Gibraltar, and Lanzarote (Canary Island) before heading across the pond. Since we were not racing this time, our priority was not to push hard every day but to sail safely and keep everything in one piece. Of course, there is always something that will need to be fixed in the middle of the ocean, like the rudder’s steering system for example, which took us around 7 hours to repair. Also is very important to keep an eye out day and night for some traffic like cargo vessels or even whales! These are very tricky to spot and crashing to them can cause big damage for both parties (and it happens more often than you think). After 14 days we arrived safe and sound to Falmouth in Antigua and Barbuda after another very rewarding Atlantic crossing.
In 2020 I was supposed to do the crossing from France to Antigua, but this time corona made us cancel it. Hopefully, this 2021 will manage to be back in the middle of the beautiful Atlantic.