Crossing an ocean: an achievable dream!

Ever since man began sailing, he has always wanted to sail to the other side of the oceans to see if the grass was greener. Ever since the swashbucklers of the sixteenth century, right through to today's ocean racers, all the crossings have been done. However, the fascination with crossing the oceans has not diminished for many of us.

Whether it's an Atlantic, Mediterranean or Pacific crossing, going across an ocean is an exceptional moment in a sailor's life. It's a key moment, the realization of a long-held dream. It is also sometimes an opportunity to take stock of one's life during the two weeks or so alone, or with family or friends in the middle of the ocean. The only horizon is the blue of the sea and you are striving to live the dream that your teenage reading had elevated to a mythical level. To ensure that the reality matches the dream, here are a few pieces of advice to help you prepare and to make the most of the experience

Dream to cross the Atlantic ocean

Heading west... The route is easy: follow the sun!

The ideal crew

The archetypal transatlantic crossing starts at the Canary Islands, finishing in the West Indies (although there are alternatives-see later). A trans Pacific usually starts from Panama or the West Coast of the USA, heading for Polynesia or Hawaii. These journeys usually last from two to four weeks, although this depends upon the route that you take, the sea conditions, the wind, your boat and of course the crew... A successful crossing has to be shared with a like-minded crew, who want to experience the same things as you. So before setting off, thinking about the make-up of the crew is crucial.

A family crossing is usually borne out of a father's wish to live out his teenage dreams and to share an intense event with his wife and children. If the family takes up the challenge willingly, then it can be a wonderful time. But you must ask yourself the questions as to whether your children will really appreciate the crossing. It usually turns out fine. However, for children that are too young to get involved in any of the maneuvering, the time can drag on, and it's highly likely that they don't really get the "mystical" challenge of taking on thousands of waves...

The way around this is to set off with a group of friends. Again, everyone needs to buy into and fully understand the program. There's nothing worse than a budding racer who wants to mess around with the sails every half an hour (first the spinnaker, then the gennaker, followed by some risky weather-related maneuver...) if the rest of the crew are just looking to make the most of this period of plenitude, and to enjoy the break which the journey represents, or to have another go at the complete works of Proust, or the adventures of Harry Potter (delete the incorrect suggestion!).
And then there's the option of striking out on your own... This is just for hardened sailors. It is the ideal way to live out the dream, but obviously the experience cannot be shared!

Dream to cross the Atlantic ocean

During a crossing, preparing meals and fishing are the main occupations...

The Right Boat And The Right Timing

Even though there are examples of crossings in smaller boats (the first Transat crossing in a sports catamaran was in 1986, and Alessandro di Benedetto is still the only person to have crossed the Pacific solo in a sports catamaran), the choice of boat is still very important. More than the size of the boat, it's the preparation of both the boat and the crew which are extremely important. A good overhaul of the security equipment and some well-chosen spare parts should ensure a happy crossing...(see box). The one thing to get right with an ocean crossing, is the departure date. That means not leaving to early or too late in relation to the hurricane or cyclone seasons. For a Transat, it's worth waiting for the Trade Winds to set in, so that you can make the most of a good downwind sail, which is a much more pleasant experience... The worst thing is having to set out with the aim of arriving on the other side on a particular date. Modern communications mean that reliable weather information can be accessed at any time, and so help to choose the best route. And on that subject, if you're not totally confident understanding the maps, why not use a route planner?

Dream to cross the Atlantic ocean

No wind? It's time to experience the unique, amazing sensation of swimming with 3000 meters of sea beneath your feet!

Rallies

For those of you who are a little wary of setting out alone, there is another, reassuring way to go about it: a rally crossing or a cruising race. For the last 30 years, the ARC has crossed the Atlantic with over 200 boats each year. There are of course other organizations too (Atlantic Odyssey, Rallye des Iles du Soleil...), and it's always the same principal: to give you the chance to do your Transat with the security of having other boats around you in case of a problem at sea, and then spending some memorable moments together at the stopovers. The routes vary depending upon the organizers. This way of travelling has several advantages: you don't need to organize the stopovers or find a place for your boat in the marinas and most importantly, by setting out in a group, your VHF means that you are sure to have a fellow boat within striking distance should there be a problem, or if things start to get on top of you. Some rallies are actually races which are highly prized by many skippers. This is a great way to travel properly "alone", secure in the knowledge that help is at hand. The downsides of the rallies are the cost of joining in, and also the fact that they have fixed departure dates. So if the weather isn't great, you've still got to set off...

Dream to cross the Atlantic ocean

Would you dare do it? Spending several weeks with only the waves as your horizon?

Right, Shall We Go?

So what's holding you back? All those who have done it dream of one thing: doing it again! Each crossing is unique, and offers a multitude of memories and many intense and wonderful moments. It a fabulous thing to do as a family, with friends or solo, and then to have the pleasure of being able to say: "I did it!"

Don't Forget:

For a successful crossing you definitely mustn't forget:
Fishing gear to add a little something extra
Lots of books: at sea one reads a lot and more quickly...
DVDs to help pass the evenings
Music: again, lots of it, and especially lots of different styles. On board, music is almost always omnipresent, and an artist who is a favorite when you set off, can become hated after 15 days of non-stop airplay...
A good pair of headphones to get away from it all. It's a good way to "disappear" when you feel the need to be alone.
A few nice bottles and sufficient supplies to keep the troops' moral high...

Preparing The Boat

Before setting off you should think about getting your boat prepared: as well as the supplies and the onboard organization, your boat needs to be in perfect order.
Motors, rigging, sheets and halyards should be expertly serviced, and any parts which you aren't sure about should be changed. There are certain spare parts which are indispensable (oil and diesel filters; belts; pump impellers; pump filters, some blocks and a good few shackles and a full set of ropes and whatever is needed to change the halyards), not to mention plumbing and electrical equipment... It's amazing how you become a real Jack of all trades, able to deal with all the various disciplines after just a few days...

Supplies

Get the crew together and make a list of the recipes that they know how to make. Then list the ingredients needed and the quantity needed per person based on the expected length of the journey and the possibility of restocking along the way. Then draw up a list of menus starting with the most perishable goods and ending with the longest lasting. At each meal, plan to have some fruit and vegetables, especially citrus fruits for the vitamin C and dairy products for the calcium!
To help your crew get their sea legs, try to avoid any foods which are too fatty, spicy or out of the ordinary during the first few days.
Once you've done your shopping, it needs to be stored on board. Before taking the supplies on board, get rid of as much of the packaging as is possible: these are ideal haunts for cockroaches. This also includes cartons of juice, milk and other products, as the "ears" of these packs are also attractive to unwelcome guests...
Don't forget: our bodies need 1ml of water to digest 1 calorie, so drink at least 1.5l/day.

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