MultiHulls World, the essentials for catamarans and trimarans
MultiHulls World, the essentials for catamarans and trimarans
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Families cruising on the oceans are all different entities with their own pleasures, wishes and fears. In an ideal programme, how do you manage the transatlantic leg? The dream for many sailors can frighten others. So, is the Atlantic crossing essential?

In a sabbatical year project, crossing the Atlantic is often the big moment, the one you have dreamed about for years: being alone in the middle of the Atlantic for about fifteen days, searching for yourself and pursuing the myth that your teenage reading idealised. But crossing the Atlantic cannot be taken lightly, and in the programme of a sabbatical year, this is one of the first legs, coming a few weeks after your departure. Many families are afraid of this long crossing, and their reaction when faced with the scale of the Atlantic. So, to cross the Atlantic, or not?

The classic
On a ‘classic’ Atlantic circuit programme, the voyage generally starts with the holiday period, at the end of June/beginning of July. The boat will have been ready for some time, the crew is motivated and all your business will have been dealt with… This is an emotional time, with its ‘goodbyes’ and departure. If your catamaran’s home port is in the Mediterranean, you will start by discovering the Balearics before passing the first gate: Gibraltar. If you are leaving Europe from the Atlantic coast, a first crossing awaits you, with the dreaded Bay of Biscay and its legendary (and feared) gales. Then the first real island stopover in the Canaries – your last chance to take on provisions before the big crossing: and then the magic of the ‘transat’, 15 to 20 days at sea, sailing to the West Indies. Other people choose to go on to stop over at Cape Verde, to discover these exceptional islands and the kindness of their inhabitants, before setting off to cross to Brazil or the West Indies.
Everyone experiences their first Atlantic crossing in their own way: in general, it is the result of a dream that is already a few (tens of) years old. A very big moment, especially if you are lucky enough to be accompanied by your family, and they are happy with the project. You must really ask yourself the question ‘will my children really appreciate the crossing?’ Generally, all goes well, but the time can seem long to children who are too young to take part in the manoeuvres, and for whom the beauty of the thousands of waves to be climbed soon palls… Then there is fear, often irrational, of finding yourself alone with your family, on your small boat in the middle of a nautical desert. Yet the figures are categorical: with a well-prepared boat, and leaving at the right time, (from November onwards), you can cross the Atlantic downwind, with no navigational difficulties. There remains the feeling of having achieved something, having moved on to another stage and being able to go wherever you like, with your boat.

For those who are too worried, a very reassuring system exists: crossing as part of a rally or a cruiser race. The ARC leads more than 100 boats across the Atlantic every year. This year, for the 9th time, the ‘Transat des Passionnés’ will take the participants across the Atlantic, from 28th October. There are many organisations whose principle is always the same: to allow you to enjoy your crossing with the safety of other boats around you in case of problems at sea, and to meet up at the stopovers for some very convivial moments! The routes vary according to the organisers: for example, this year, the ‘Transat des Passionnés’ will stop at Madeira, before crossing to Martinique. The advantages of this option are many: you don’t have to organise the stops, find a place for your catamaran in the marinas, and above all, as you leave as a group, you have the security of having a boat which could help or advise you, or just cheer you up, within VHF range, if you feel the need. Certain rallies are even genuine races, with prestigious results that many skippers dream of adding to their racing record. This system is reassuring, as it allows you to cross alone ‘for real’, whilst taking advantage of the reassuring environment. On the other hand, the disadvantages of these rallies are the cost of enrolment, and the fact that they have fixed departure dates. And if the weather is not good, you still have to leave…  

If you are really unwilling to accept the idea of setting off across the Atlantic with your family, you can always call on the services of a delivery skipper. (S)he will then take your boat to your destination, and you will reunited with it, ready to set off directly for some wonderful adventures in the West Indies. But be careful: to avoid your sabbatical year dream becoming a nightmare, we cannot advise you strongly enough to call on a professional: he or she will respect the delivery dates and above all, your boat. We have had readers write to us to say that found their boat in better condition than when they had entrusted it to the delivery skipper; well-adjusted and with the small repairs done, the catamaran was then in perfect condition… Obviously, this will cost, depending on the size of your boat, where it leaves from, its destination and your dates. As a catamaran has a certain value, you must be careful who you entrust it to: the friend of a friend, who has already crossed the Atlantic fifteen times, may be a financially attractive solution, but the risks for your boat are real. Don’t forget this when you make your choice…

Other solutions
Crossing the Atlantic is not an obligation: more and more sabbatical year cruisers prefer to concentrate on the ‘islands in the sun’ part, with beaches bordered by coconut trees and small passages between two dream anchorages. Or, on the contrary, they envisage a complete tour of the West Indies, from the arc of the islands to the Central American coast via the Bahamas, and in order to have the time to enjoy the stops, they willingly give the Atlantic crossing(s) a miss. In this case, the ideal is of course to find your catamaran directly in the West Indies. There are many for sale locally, prepared to a greater or lesser extent, from the charter fleets or having sailed around the West Indies and quite simply for sale. There are enough harbour facilities and chandlers to envisage preparing your boat locally. Although there is a good supply, looking for the boat is nevertheless more complicated, and visits will be harder to organise. The ideal, therefore, is to call on a recognised professional, who will be able to select the boats which really correspond to your programme and your budget. Given the supply of boats, a couple of weeks should be enough for you to find the catamaran you need.  Then it is up to you to equip it, and your cruise can start quickly: from Martinique, you are only a few hours’ sailing from the first of the anchorages you have been dreaming about…
If you already the proud owner of your catamaran, you can either have it delivered directly by a professional, or choose the option of sending it by boat… An expensive system, which needs good organisation and advance booking, but the advantage is that you are certain your boat will arrive in perfect condition, with no wear and tear on the engines or damage to the sails during the Atlantic crossing. In addition, you can load everything you will need for your cruise, having bought it at a better price in Europe…  
The last solution, far and away the most economical, is to choose a transportable catamaran, which is easy to dismantle, fits in a container, costs less and will allow you to visit the whole world without having to spend a lot of time crossing the oceans.
This is the new trend for certain builders: to offer a catamaran (or trimaran) designed to be dismantled, with all the parts fitting into one or two containers. Advantage: no need to plan on a long crossing, or considerable expense (delivery or barge) to send your catamaran to the West Indies or Polynesia…
In this family, you will find most of the trimarans which can be dismantled (such as the Farrier), as well as a few catamarans, whose deliberately simple design allows easy enough dismantling and reassembly to be carried out by private individuals.  
The renewal of Edel, with the Open Light version of the Helios 38, was in this spirit, even before the turn of this century. The specifications, from the design stage, required the catamaran to fit into two containers. Each part, each element, was therefore designed to go through the doors of a standard 40-foot container…  
Finally, note that most transportable multihulls can also be sent on their trailer, in a container, to the other side of the world…
Whatever the length of your cruise, from 2 days to 1 year, your cruising area will inevitably be limited… The advantage of having your multihull transported is being able to enjoy a new cruising area. Put another way, if you are in the Atlantic, you can easily go to the Mediterranean, or discover the West Indies… without having to allow between one and two months’ sailing to get your boat there! The solutions are simple then: have your boat delivered by sea, by a professional, put it on a barge (or on a lorry via special transport), or simply put it in one or two containers (or on a classic trailer, pulled by a big car or a lorry). This last solution is of course the most economical, even though it implies dismantling then rigorous reassembly, which will take you several days…

So, this Atlantic crossing, are you going to do it, or not?
Crossing the Atlantic nevertheless remains a real pleasure, and a sort of accomplishment for all sailors. It is a magic moment and offers unique memories. But if your programme doesn’t allow you to envisage it, for reasons of time, wishes or otherwise, you must not take exception: it is better to give this crossing a miss and go and live your voyage in the West Indies, than never to leave. 
Further reading
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