by Pete Green
As the sailing season in Europe comes to an end, some lucky folk will be preparing to relocate their yachts to the Caribbean for the winter months. Autumn is a common time to set off, ideal for making the most of the Caribbean season, and leaving the wintery conditions of Europe behind.
On November 23rd 2014, around 250 yachts will be sailing from Gran Canaria to St Lucia to participate in the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). It is the biggest trans-ocean rally or race in the world. Later in the season on December 14th a further group of yachts will be leaving Lanzarote, bound for Antigua as part of the Caribbean Christmas Rally. Many other yachts of various shapes and sizes will also be crossing at a similar time.
Halcyon Yachts are one of the leading European yacht delivery companies and we are very familiar with the 2700 Nautical Mile route from the Canaries to the Caribbean. In fact many of our Trans Atlantic crossings start in Northern Europe or the Mediterranean. We also handle numerous yacht deliveries coming back to Europe, more typical in March, April or May.
Here is a list of our top 5 tips for crossing the Atlantic:
1) Safety First
All your safety gear should be in good condition. Your flares, fire extinguishers, EPIRBs and liferaft need to be serviceable and in date. When conducting a yacht delivery of any length we always make safety amongst the crew a priority. This should start with a clear a concise safety brief ensuring that everyone on board knows exactly where all the equipment is kept and how to use it.
Everyone on board should also know and respect the rules for safety. The skipper shouldn’t be afraid to ask crew to wear their lifejacket/harness in all conditions – then there’s no confusion. At the very least lifejackets should always be used at night. The best way to avoid a man over board situation is to ensure that nobody is in a position where this could happen. Clip on if you need to leave the cockpit, and certainly wear a life jacket in bad weather. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to go for the safe option.
Establish standing orders before you set off, such as not leaving the cockpit to go forward if there’s no one else on deck and not peeing over the side. We will often run safety drills periodically. This helps to ensure that after a week at sea people will still remember exactly where all the equipment is stored and how to use it. As well as knowing how to deploy the liferaft it is crucial that you have a grab bag close to hand to take with you in case an evacuation is required. This should contain items including water, food, flares, first aid, a torch, passports, a credit card/cash, and an epirb.
Bear in mind that when sailing offshore you are in an isolated environment with limited access to medical equipment. With safety issues prevention is far better than cure. Always conduct yourself with high regard to safety and look out for each other!
2) Keep the Sail Plan Simple
Many people over the years have asked me “What’s the best sail configuration for the ARC (downwind/Trade wind sailing)?” I always say that a Genoa and Mainsail are more than adequate. In fact the added complications of a spinnaker or gennaker will only add to the stress and fatigue of the crew. With the Main and Genoa goosewinged you can cover some good daily mileage without the need for extra crew to handle the sails. This means more downtime and more relaxation for both the skipper and the crew!
My preferred approach is to triangulate the pole using a foreguy, topping lift and an afterguy. One advantage of fixing the pole in this way is that you can easily and quickly furl the headsail should you need to, keeping the pole in place and ready to go.
Be aware of chafe and always set a preventer on the boom. You will more than likely experience several squalls – be ready to furl away the genoa quickly and alter course accordingly to avoid an accidental gybe.
3) Cooking Duties and Provisioning
When you are sailing offshore, life becomes much more simple. You don’t have the distractions of mobile phones and the internet, you forget about which day it is or whether or not bills need paying. Your focus becomes the daily routine, sunrises, sunsets and of course mealtimes. I believe that one of the most important things for crew morale is to keep the crew well fed! When people are sleeping at random times throughout the day and night mealtimes become very sociable – and may be the only time when everyone is up and in the cockpit together.
If you are planning the provisioning for an ocean passage then it is crucial that you find out about peoples tastes (especially if you have anyone with particular dietary requirements or allergies). It is also essential that you carry enough to last the journey, and are disciplined with the distribution throughout the passage. Most skippers will try to involve all the crew when it comes to domestic duties such as cooking and cleaning. I prefer to include the duties as part of the watch system so that the workload is shared, and everyone knows exactly what is expected of them. Drawing out a meal plan for the expected duration, adding at least 20% for potential delays, is one approach that is commonly used. I personally prefer to allow the duty cooks a bit more freedom so that they can prepare dishes suitable to their own expertise and the current weather conditions.
My top tip is to stock the vessel with plenty of dried pasta or Couscous, lots of tins of vegetables, cereals, uht milk, long life bread, cheese, chocolates and crisps, biscuits and snacks etc… Fresh fruit and veg is essential, and some items will last a surprisingly long time. Apples, Oranges and Bananas are excellent fruits to have on board; potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions are great examples of veg that also lasts a long time. Cured meats such as chirozo and salami are fantastic. Bacon also lasts very well. You should also consider fishing for fresh tuna or baking your own bread.
Something that has worked very well for me over the years is the technique of storing boxes of treats. You can prepack a few boxes of luxury foods that will only be opened on a certain day – perhaps a Sunday! You will find that the crew look forward to the surprise, and it is a great way of ensuring that certain food types don’t all get consumed in the first half of the trip. Items such as olives, dark chocolate, pate, anchovies, granola, fizzy drinks etc can all bring a smile to the face of someone who has perhaps eaten far too much corned beef!
4) Consider Your Energy Consumption
It is likely that you will have more people onboard your yacht for an ocean passage than usual. Whatever power you think you’ll use, add on another third to make sure you are covered! Nav lights, radar, radio, autopilot, watermaker, fridge, freezer, electric fans, laptops, etc will add up.
It is very important to make sure that the batteries are in good working order before you set off, and I recommend that you try and increase the means of generating electricity with either a diesel generator, larger alternator, solar panels and/or a wind turbine. You can also look into ways of making savings, such as fitting LED lights.
5) Be Prepared!
Equipmant can fail, so have a back up plan! If you have a watermaker for example, then also carry enough bottled water in case it goes wrong.
Additional training is highly recommended. Ocean seamanship is more about managing problems and fixing things than navigation or routeing. The RYA offer Diesel engine maintenance, sea survival, medical and first aid training which are all invaluable preparation.
You should have a variety of tools on board along with all the relevant handbooks so that you can repair and maintain equipment whilst underway.
Don’t expect to arrive on schedule. Some crossings are quicker than others – and even trade wind weather conditions can vary hugely. Make sure your diary is clear and keep your plans open. When we are conducting yacht deliveries we ensure that all the crew on board are clear to complete the passage regardless of delays. There is nothing worse than sailing to a deadline; it is far more relaxing to understand from the outset that you will arrive when you arrive…
Halcyon Yachts Ltd is a dedicated international yacht delivery specialist with highly experienced and qualified crew. For more information or to see details of their recent deliveries please visit www.halcyonyachts.com/