CROSSING THE ATLANTIC: An accessible dream.
Throughout time, sailors have never stopped going to see if life is better on the other side of the Atlantic. From Columbus to Gerbault, Bombard to Tabarly, the Atlantic Ocean has been marked by these sporting or human exploits, and continues to provide dreams for a lot of us…
Preparing the boat
Before setting off across the Atlantic, you should prepare your boat correctly: in addition to taking on provisions and organising life aboard, (see later), your boat must be in perfect condition.
Engines, rig, sheets and halyards must be checked carefully and any doubtful elements changed.
It is essential to have on board the essential spares (oil and diesel filters, belts, pump rotors, pump filters, a few blocks and plenty of shackles, a complete collection of lines and enough rope to replace the halyards, plumbing and electrical equipment… you must be prepared to be a real tradesman, able to work in all the different trades in just a few days…)
To have a successful crossing, don’t forget:
• Fishing lines to improve your daily fare
• A large quantity of books: you will read a lot and much more quickly at sea…
• DVDs to occupy the night watches
• Some music: here again, lots, and especially different kinds. Music is almost always omnipresent aboard and an artist you may love at the beginning of the crossing may easily be spurned after 15 days of continuous playing…
• An MP3 player so you can isolate yourself. A good way to disconnect when you feel the need to be alone.
• A few good bottles and coherent food to keep the troops’ morale high…
The right crew
The Atlantic crossing, strictly speaking, generally begins in the Canaries, and finishes on one of the West Indian islands. The crossing generally lasts between two and three weeks, depending on the state of the sea, the winds, your boat and of course, the crew… Because a successful crossing is a crossing shared with crew members who want to live the same experience as you. So before setting off, asking yourself questions about the crew is of the utmost importance.
Crossing as a family is often in favour with fathers seeking to both live out their teenage dreams and to share an intense moment with their wife and children. This is a real joy, if the family accept the project completely. Because you must ask yourself if your children will really appreciate the crossing. Generally, everything goes well. But time may seem to drag to children who are too young to take part in the manoeuvres and it is quite possible that the ‘mystical’ side to climbing over thousands of waves escapes them…
The other solution is therefore to leave with friend. Here again, the programme must be perfectly taken on board and understood by everyone. There is nothing worse than a crossing with a budding racer, who wants to change sails every half hour (one minute the symmetrical spinnaker, the next the gennaker, the next the asymmetric…), if the rest of the crew want to spend a moment of plenitude and take advantage of the break offered by the crossing to reread the complete works of Proust or the adventures of Harry Potter!
Finally, there is the option of leaving singlehanded… Reserved for hardened sailors, this solution means you can live your dream to the full, but does not allow you to share the experience!
The right boat and the right time
Examples of Atlantic crossings aboard ‘cockleshells’ are numerous (see following pages for Benoït and Pierre-Yves’ adventure on a sport catamaran). The choice of boat is therefore not of first importance. It is better to have a small boat whose preparation (as well as that of its crew) is optimal, than a roughly-prepared giant catamaran with a crew which has not even got its sea legs. A good overhaul and a few well-chosen spares should guarantee you a happy crossing… (see box).
On a ‘classic’ Atlantic crossing, the only essential is to leave neither too early nor too late. Waiting for the trade winds to be well-established guarantees downwind sailing, which is much pleasanter… Of all the magazine’s readers who, over more than twenty years, have told us about their Atlantic crossing, those who lacked wind or who had to sail to windward suffered the most. Don’t be afraid, then, of delaying your departure from the Canaries, and why not call on the services of a router to give yourself the best chance of having a good crossing?
For those who are too apprehensive, there exists a reassuring system: crossing as part of a rally or cruiser race. The ARC takes more than 200 boats across the Atlantic every year. You have also the famous Odysseys organized by Jimmy Cornell (the next one will be for multihulls only!!!). The principle is always the same: to allow you to live your crossing with the safety of having other boats around you in case of trouble at sea, and meeting up at stopovers for some highly convivial moments. The routes vary according to the organisers. The advantages of this formula are many: you don’t have to organise the stopovers, or find a place for your catamaran in the marinas, and above all, by leaving in a group, you have the guarantee of having a boat which can help you, advise you or just cheer you up if needs be, within VHF range. Certain rallies are out-and-out races, with prestigious results that numerous skippers dream of adding to their list. This system is reassuring, as it allows you to cross alone, ‘for real’, whilst taking advantage of a reassuring environment. On the other hand, the disadvantage of these rallies is their entry fee, as well as the fact that they have fixed departure dates. Even if the weather is not good, you still have to leave…
So, are we going?
But what is holding you back? All those who have crossed have just one dream – to do it again! Each crossing is unique and offers intense, grandiose moments and lots of memories. Real happiness, to be shared with your family, your friends, or enjoyed singlehanded!