The Best Time to Cross the Atlantic on a Sailboat
While it can take about three weeks to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, it would only be wise if you anticipate that you'll spend at least a month out there on your sailboat. In most cases, you'll be exposed to changing weather for the entire period, so it's very important to know when to sail.
You should also take into consideration the trade winds. Keep in mind that trade winds can change direction depending on the season so it can either hinder your voyage or help you sail along smoothly.
That being said, the best time to sail across the Atlantic is between November and February. You may be wondering why it's appropriate to sail during the coldest months of the year. Believe it or not, the Atlantic is warmer during this period with water temperatures reaching 82.9 degrees Fahrenheit during winter, so you won't be shaking and shivering.
Another reason why you should sail between November and February is that hurricanes are less prone so it's a lot safer to set sail during this period than other periods of the year. Needless to say, sailing during hurricane season can be deadly and it isn't the right way to test your sailing skills or faith.
Again, the trade winds are most likely to be in your favor if you sail between November and February. The Easterly winds and Mid-Atlantic trade winds will let you sail with more ease during this period.
How to Cross the Atlantic
It wouldn't be a great idea to start planning for your sail after reading this article unless you're an experienced sailor. The truth of the matter is, you may not even know that there are routes that you need to take. There are two main routes: sailing from east to west and from west to east.
These routes may seem enormous but they're the most forgiving and sailors have used them for centuries since the days of Christopher Columbus. Let's get into the details.
The Northern Passage (West to East)
Like any other route, this route is dictated by the trade winds and you, of course, want the trade winds to work in your favor. The first thing that you have to do is to reach your port of departure. If you're sailing from the Americas to Europe, you'll have to reach Bermuda, which generally serves as the point of departure for sailors sailing from the Americas to Europe.
The idea of departing from Bermuda is based on the fact that it offers the best windward winds. In essence, you can sail south to the Caribbean and then to Bermuda. You should then set sail to the Portuguese Azores, after which you can sail to the Portuguese coast and then to your final destination.
Here are the expected distances.
- The Caribbean to Bermuda - 850NM (5-8 days)
- Bermuda to the Azores - 1900NM (14-17 days)
- The Azores to Portugal - 700NM (4-8 days)
- It may take you an additional 3 days to reach your destination.
Keep in mind that this voyage will take a little bit longer than the westward voyage.
The Southern Passage (East to West)
Just like when sailing eastward, you'll first have to reach your port of departure. The best way to make this voyage is by sailing South-East, so the best port of departure should be the Canary Islands just offshore from Western Sahara. You should set sail to Cape Verde just offshore from Dakar, Senegal before sailing windward to the Caribbean.
Here are the distances that you'll cover.
- Portugal to the Canary Islands - 750NM (5-7 days)
- The Canary Islands to Cape Verde - 850NM (5-8 days)
- The Canary Islands to the Caribbean - 2700NM (16-21 days)
So Why Does it Take about Three to Four Weeks?
In addition to the fact that the total distance of this journey is about 6,800km, a sailboat never sails in a straight line. The voyage is general S-shaped or curved so you'll cover more distance than the normal 6,800 km. In other words, you'll most likely cover 8,000 km, which may take you up to three weeks in good weather and an additional one week if the weather and the winds are working against you.
And because you never know what the ocean and the weather might bring, it only makes sense to talk about distance in nautical miles and not based on time. There are, however, several factors that come into play when crossing the Atlantic on a sailboat.
For example, the type of boat you are using will influence your traveling speed. Generally, sailboats may reach 10 knots which is just about 11.51 MPH. Besides the speed, your location may also be a huge factor. For instance, you may have to cover a greater distance if you're traveling from California than if you're traveling from California.
How to Use Trade Winds to Your Advantage
Trade winds typically come from the southeasterly direction if you're sailing in the southern hemisphere and may tend to push you towards the equator. On the other hand, it may come from the northeasterly direction and can push you along the equator if you're sailing in the northern hemisphere.
Keeping in mind that voyaging through the Atlantic Ocean will hugely depend on how you effectively use reliable road winds. These trade winds are very predictable, which can make them quite useful for your voyage. At the center of the Atlantic basin, there's an enormous area of high atmospheric pressure. This area is known as Azores High and goes all the way to Bermuda.
The trade winds are predictable since they blow in the same direction due to the earth's rotation or what some may refer to as the Coriolis Effect. The currents also move in the same direction with the winds, thereby offering comfortable sailing.
What's the Ideal Sailboat for Crossing the Atlantic
The world's record for the smallest sailboat to ever cross the Atlantic was set in 1993 by a sailor named Hugo Vihlen. The boat named Father's Day measured only five feet and four inches. But if you're sailing for the first time, it wouldn't a really good idea to try replicating Father's Day. In essence, your sailboat shouldn't be less than six feet at it may be too dangerous out there. With that in mind, the best sailboat to cross the Atlantic should measure at least 30 or 40 feet long to be able to withstand the stormy weather and the rough waves and winds. Here's a list of the best cruising sailboats, all of which would do just fine crossing the Atlantic.
In addition to the size of the sailboat, there are other important factors that you should take into consideration. For instance, the design, stability, condition, build quality, the number of crew and the size of holding tanks are other important factors to consider. The sails should be durable and you should be able to control them without any difficulty, especially when there's an emergency.
When it comes to choosing a boat, go for a sailboat with a fixed keel as it works much better than sailboats with suspended rudders. Instead of going for a sailboat with more than one hull, you can go for a mono-hulled sailboat. The idea here is that a sailboat with several hulls can be very difficult to control when the weather becomes bad. The fact that you want to put more focus on your route should mean than you avoid anything that can distract you, so a mono-hulled sailboat might be the best way to go.
Some of the models that can be perfect for this voyage include Albin 27, Vancouver 28, Dufour 29, Westsail 28, and Cape Dory 28. These are exceptional sailboats that have huge reputations when it comes to sailing across the Atlantic.
What You Need
Let's be very honest here, crossing the Atlantic on a sailboat isn't about pointing your sailboat east or west and start sailing. You have to be a skillful sailor, gain experience, and prepare for the voyage. The most important thing is to get informed, plan, and attain some experience.
Here are some of the things that you should do.
- Have a budget
- Create a timescale for the voyage
- Pick on the most appropriate route
- Choose your crew
- Make sure that the crew is skilled, self-sufficient, and experienced
If you're planning to sail solo, you have to keep in mind that the risks are higher because you'll be all alone out there on the ocean and have to keep watch at all times. You'll also have to be self-sufficient and have the ability to self-rescue. We, however, believe that this is not the type of voyage that you should go solo. Find a crew and let them be by your side on this journey.
The Right Clothing for the Voyage
When it comes to crossing the Atlantic, it's a good idea to always pack light without compromising your safety. This voyage will take you through a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions so you have to pack accordingly.
Here are some of the things that you must have for this voyage.
- Boots and trainers
- Two sets of foul weather gear
- Running shorts
- 1 full mid-layer and 1 fleece
- 2 long sleeve t-shirts
- 2 full sets of thermals
- 1 short sleeve t-shirt
- 4 hats
- 1 sun hat
- 4 sets of gloves
- 3 pairs of warm socks
- 3 pairs of light socks
- Travel towel
- 2 sets of sunglasses
So How Hard is it to Sail across the Atlantic Ocean?
You're probably still wondering whether or not it is hard to sail across the Atlantic. The truth is; sailing across the Atlantic won't be the same for everyone so it's tough to say whether or not it's going to be tough for you. For experienced sailors, they may find it a lot easier to sail across the Atlantic even if they've done it, thanks to their level of experience. On the contrary, a beginner may find it quite challenging and may have to gain some experience by sailing in their neck of the woods before even thinking of trying crossing the Atlantic.
Additionally, you should have a sturdy boat with durable and easy-to-use sails and have a GPS, as well as all the accessories such as a Watermaker. More importantly, have an experienced boat and make sure that everybody is self-sufficient and contributes to making the voyage.
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean is, without a doubt no mean feat. While it's very challenging, it's an attainable one and perhaps a dream for every sailor out there. The key is to get informed, preparing, planning your route, choosing the right crew, gearing up for the voyage, and learning how to use the winds to your advantage. You should also make sure that the time is right and the sailboat is of appropriate size and well-fitted for the voyage.