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Time to Cross the Atlantic by Sailboat: A Comprehensive Guide

Alex Morgan

cross atlantic sailboat

Crossing the Atlantic by sailboat is a thrilling and challenging adventure that requires careful planning and preparation. The duration of the crossing can vary depending on several factors. To provide you with a better understanding, let’s delve into the details.

The Atlantic crossing refers to the journey of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from one continent to another. It is a significant achievement for sailors and offers a unique experience of being surrounded by vast open waters for an extended period.

Several factors come into play when determining the duration of an Atlantic crossing. These factors include:

The chosen route significantly impacts the duration of the journey. Sailors can opt for the trade wind route, northern Atlantic route, or southern Atlantic route, each offering different challenges and opportunities.

The type and size of the sailboat also affect the duration. Factors such as speed, stability, and design of the sailboat contribute to the overall performance during the crossing.

Weather conditions, including wind patterns, currents, storms, and calms, play a crucial role in determining the speed and progress of the sailboat. Unpredictable weather can lengthen the crossing.

The skill and experience of the crew members onboard influence the efficiency of sailing maneuvers, navigation, and decision-making. A well-prepared and experienced crew can optimize the sailing process.

There are three main routes commonly used for crossing the Atlantic by sailboat:

The trade wind route follows the prevailing easterly winds, known as the trade winds. This route takes advantage of consistent winds and is the most popular and direct route for sailors.

The northern Atlantic route involves sailing closer to the polar regions, taking advantage of the prevailing westerly winds. This route allows for unique experiences and challenges due to colder temperatures and potentially hazardous weather conditions.

The southern Atlantic route involves sailing closer to the equator, where winds are often weaker and the crossing requires careful navigation. This route offers opportunities for exploring tropical areas but can be challenging due to unpredictable weather patterns.

The duration of an Atlantic crossing varies depending on the chosen route, weather conditions, and sailboat performance. On average:

The trade wind route typically takes around 18 to 21 days to complete.

The northern Atlantic route can vary from 15 to 30 days , depending on weather conditions and specific route choices.

The southern Atlantic route can take anywhere from 20 to 40 days due to weaker winds and potentially longer distances.

To ensure a successful and safe Atlantic crossing, consider the following tips:

Thoroughly plan the route, provisions, fuel, and necessary equipment. Adequate preparation is key to a smooth voyage.

Stay updated on weather forecasts and make informed decisions based on the expected conditions. Anticipating and avoiding adverse weather can contribute to a safer crossing.

Establish reliable means of communication with shore and other vessels. Regular contact can provide essential support and updates during the journey.

Check and maintain all safety equipment, including life jackets, life rafts, EPIRBs, and fire extinguishers. Safety should always be the top priority.

By understanding the factors influencing the duration, choosing the right route, and following safety guidelines, sailors can embark on a remarkable Atlantic crossing experience.

##Key takeaways:

Key takeaway:

  • The duration of crossing the Atlantic by sailboat depends on various factors including the route chosen, type of sailboat, weather conditions, and skill of the crew.
  • There are three main routes for crossing the Atlantic by sailboat: the Trade Wind Route, the Northern Atlantic Route, and the Southern Atlantic Route.
  • The average duration of crossing the Atlantic varies according to the chosen route, with the Trade Wind Route being the fastest.
  • Tips for a successful and safe Atlantic crossing include proper planning and preparation, monitoring weather conditions, maintaining good communication, and ensuring the availability of safety equipment.

What Is the Atlantic Crossing?

The Atlantic Crossing , also known as sailing across the Atlantic Ocean , is a challenging voyage that requires careful planning and preparation. Factors such as the route chosen , the type of sailboat used , weather conditions , and crew experience all play a role in this adventure.

The route for the Atlantic Crossing depends on the time of year and weather patterns. There are various popular routes to choose from, including the Trade Wind Route , the Northern Atlantic Route , and the Southern Atlantic Route . Each route presents its own set of challenges and advantages.

The choice of sailboat impacts the duration of the journey. It’s important to consider factors such as the size, stability, and performance capabilities of the sailboat . As weather conditions along the route can change rapidly, the type of sailboat can affect crossing speed and overall safety.

Having a skilled and experienced crew is crucial for a successful Atlantic Crossing . They must possess essential skills including navigation , sailing techniques , safety procedures , and emergency preparedness . With a knowledgeable and experienced crew , the journey can be made smoother and safer.

Factors Affecting the Duration of Atlantic Crossing

Planning an Atlantic crossing by sailboat? Get ready to explore the factors that impact the duration of this incredible journey. From the chosen route and type of sailboat, to the ever-changing weather conditions and the skill of the crew, each variable plays a crucial role in the time it takes to traverse the vastness of the Atlantic. So, grab your compass and chart, as we dive into the elements that shape the ultimate adventure across the open seas.

When planning an Atlantic crossing by sailboat, choosing the right route is crucial in determining the duration of your journey. Here are the steps to consider when deciding on the best route:

1. Research the Trade Wind This is the most popular and direct route across the Atlantic. It takes advantage of the steady easterly winds, also known as the trade winds.

2. Explore the Northern Atlantic Set sail north towards Iceland and then turn east to avoid the doldrums and harness the powerful westerly winds.

3. Consider the Southern Atlantic Head south towards the Canary Islands and then catch the trade winds to cross the Atlantic. While this route is longer, it offers a more enjoyable downwind passage.

4. Assess the weather conditions: Examine weather patterns and forecasts to determine which route will have the most favorable conditions during your planned crossing.

5. Evaluate the sailboat’s capabilities and speed: Take into account factors such as size, design, equipment, and performance under different wind conditions.

6. Factor in the crew’s skill and experience: Their ability to handle various sailing conditions and make strategic decisions will influence the choice of route and overall duration.

7. Choose the route that aligns with your goals and preferences: Consider the desired level of challenge, the sights along the way, and any specific destinations you want to reach.

By carefully considering these factors, you can determine the optimal route for your Atlantic crossing, ensuring a safe and successful journey.

Type of Sailboat

The type of sailboat is crucial when planning an Atlantic crossing. Various sailboats have different capabilities and features that impact the duration of the journey. Factors to take into account when selecting a sailboat for an Atlantic crossing include:

  • Size: Larger sailboats offer more comfort and stability, but may require a larger crew and more resources. The size also affects the boat’s ability to handle harsh weather conditions.
  • Design: The design of the sailboat influences its speed, maneuverability, and stability. Some sailboats are specifically designed for long-distance voyages and ocean crossings, featuring a full keel for stability and a cutter rig for versatility.
  • Sail Configuration: The configuration of the sails, including the number and type, affects performance in different wind conditions. Certain sailboats have a single mast with a mainsail and jib, while others have multiple masts and various sail combinations.
  • Equipment: On-board equipment, such as navigation systems, autopilot, and safety gear, enhances crew safety and efficiency during the crossing. It is vital to choose a sailboat that is equipped with the necessary systems and equipment for a successful journey.
  • Construction: The construction materials and methods used for building the sailboat impact its durability and seaworthiness. Common materials include fiberglass, aluminum, and steel, each with their own advantages and considerations.
  • Experience: The experience and skill level of the crew are crucial when handling the sailboat during an Atlantic crossing. It is important to choose a sailboat that matches the crew’s level of experience and expertise.

Considering these factors helps in determining the best sailboat for a safe and successful Atlantic crossing.

Weather Conditions

When crossing the Atlantic by sailboat, weather conditions are crucial.

1. Wind: Sailors rely on favorable wind to make progress. Strong and consistent trade winds, blowing from east to west, are ideal.

2. Storms and hurricanes: Weather systems in the Atlantic can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Sailors need to be aware of the hurricane season and avoid storm-prone regions. Monitoring forecasts and navigating around adverse weather is essential for safety.

3. Sea states and waves: The Atlantic Ocean can have large swells and waves, especially during storms. Sailors need to be prepared and have a capable boat.

4. Fog and visibility: Fog impairs visibility and makes navigation challenging. Sailors must be cautious and have radar and navigation aids for safe navigation.

5. Ocean currents: The Atlantic has various currents that can help or hinder progress. Knowledge of these currents, like the Gulf Stream, helps sailors plan routes efficiently.

Understanding current and forecasted weather conditions is crucial for a successful and safe Atlantic crossing. Sailors should consult weather charts, use modern forecasting tools, and consider professional meteorologists. By considering weather conditions, sailors can optimize their route, adjust their sail plan, and ensure a smoother crossing.

Skill and Experience of the Crew

The success and safety of an Atlantic crossing by sailboat heavily rely on the skill and experience of the crew. Their expertise can have a significant impact on the duration of the journey, as a well-trained and experienced crew is capable of navigating more efficiently. Let’s explore the various aspects where the crew’s skill and experience come into play.

Firstly, navigation plays a vital role in determining the duration of the crossing. With their expertise and experience, a skilled crew can choose the most efficient routes, avoiding unnecessary detours and delays. By making informed decisions, they can optimize the sailing path, ultimately reducing the overall time taken.

The crew’s sailing techniques are crucial in maximizing speed and efficiency. An experienced crew knows the most effective techniques to employ, allowing them to harness the wind’s power and propel the sailboat forward swiftly. By implementing these proven methods, they can cover more distance in a shorter amount of time.

In the event of emergency situations, the crew’s experience becomes invaluable. With their knowledge and practice, they can quickly and effectively handle unforeseen circumstances, minimizing disruptions and delays. Their ability to remain calm and composed during such situations ensures that the journey remains on track, preventing any unnecessary setbacks.

Effective crew coordination is another key factor in a successful Atlantic crossing. Through clear communication and mutual support, the crew can ensure smooth operations and timely decision-making. This cohesion fosters an environment where everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, enabling efficient teamwork and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

It is important to note that crew members must undergo appropriate training and gain experience in various sailing conditions before attempting an Atlantic crossing. By building their skills and experience through shorter voyages and training programs, they can enhance their confidence and proficiency. This cultivation of competence and capability ensures the crew is well-prepared for the challenges they may face during the journey across the Atlantic.

Routes for Crossing the Atlantic by Sailboat

Looking to set sail across the vast Atlantic by sailboat? Let’s explore the numerous routes available for this incredible adventure. From the renowned Trade Wind Route to the lesser-known Northern and Southern Atlantic Routes, each option offers its own unique challenges and rewards. Whether you seek steady winds or a more adventurous path, these sub-sections will unveil the secrets and possibilities of each route, helping you plan your epic journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Trade Wind Route

The Trade Wind Route is a popular route for crossing the Atlantic by sailboat. Sailors on this route can take advantage of the consistent easterly trade winds in the subtropical regions. These winds are caused by temperature differences and the Earth’s rotation.

The trade winds on this route typically blow at speeds of 10 to 25 knots , occasionally gusting stronger. Sailors can expect a smooth journey with smaller waves and less challenging weather compared to other routes.

The duration of the Atlantic crossing varies based on factors such as boat size , type, crew experience , and weather conditions. On average, it takes 14 to 21 days to complete this crossing.

To navigate the Trade Wind Route successfully, sailors should plan, prepare, monitor weather conditions, maintain communication, and ensure safety equipment is in place . Following these guidelines ensures a safe and enjoyable crossing.

Northern Atlantic Route

The Northern Atlantic Route is a popular sailboat route between Europe and North America . It offers an adventurous journey across the Atlantic Ocean .

Factors to consider when taking the Northern Atlantic Route include:

– Route Distance: The route covers approximately 2,800 nautical miles .

– Weather Conditions: The Northern Atlantic can have unpredictable weather with variable winds and potential storms. Sailors need to be prepared for adverse conditions and strong currents .

– Strong Currents : The North Atlantic Drift is a strong eastward-flowing current that can affect the progress of sailors. It is important to consider these currents when planning the route and timings.

– Potential Hazards: Icebergs are a potential hazard, especially in the Labrador Sea . It is crucial to be aware of these hazards and navigate safely around them.

– Duration: The duration of the journey can vary depending on factors such as weather conditions, boat size and speed, and crew experience. On average, it takes between 15 to 25 days to complete the journey.

When planning a sailboat journey on the Northern Atlantic Route , sailors should carefully consider the distance, weather conditions, strong currents, potential hazards, and expected duration. Adequate preparation, monitoring of weather conditions, and good communication are essential for a safe and successful crossing.

Southern Atlantic Route

The Southern Atlantic Route is a popular choice for sailors crossing the Atlantic. It offers a unique experience compared to other routes.

1. Strong Trade Winds: The route experiences strong and consistent trade winds blowing from the southeast. These winds provide favorable conditions for sailing and can increase speed.

2. Great Circle Route: The Southern Atlantic Route follows the shortest distance between two points on a globe. This allows for a more direct and efficient path, reducing the duration of the crossing.

3. Warmer Climate: Sailing along this route means encountering a warmer climate compared to northern routes. The waters are generally calmer, making it a more comfortable journey.

4. Wildlife and Scenic Views: Sailors have the opportunity to witness diverse marine life and enjoy picturesque views. Dolphins, whales, and other marine creatures are often spotted along the way.

5. Possible Stopover: Some sailors choose to make a stopover in Cape Verde , an archipelago off the coast of West Africa. This allows for a break in the journey and an opportunity to restock supplies.

The Southern Atlantic Route provides an exciting and challenging adventure for sailors. With its strong trade winds, shorter distance, and beautiful scenery, it is a popular choice for those seeking a memorable journey.

Average Duration of Atlantic Crossing

Ready to embark on a journey across the vast Atlantic? In this section, we’ll explore the average duration of an Atlantic crossing, providing insights into various routes such as the Trade Wind Route , Northern Atlantic Route , and Southern Atlantic Route . Discover the importance of proper planning, vigilant monitoring of weather conditions, effective communication, and ensuring essential safety equipment is in place. Get ready to set sail and unlock the secrets of crossing the Atlantic like a seasoned sailor.

The Trade Wind Route is a popular route for sailing across the Atlantic due to its favorable wind patterns. These winds, known as trade winds, blow from east to west in the tropics. The route starts from the Canary Islands and heads west towards the Caribbean or South America .

Sailing along the Trade Wind Route offers advantages. The trade winds provide consistent and steady winds, making it easier to maintain a good sailing speed. The route offers a smooth and comfortable passage with less rough seas compared to other routes. The Trade Wind Route allows sailors to take advantage of warm and pleasant weather conditions in the trade wind belt.

The time it takes to cross the Atlantic via the Trade Wind Route varies depending on factors such as sailboat size, speed, weather conditions, and crew experience. On average, it takes around 15 to 21 days to complete the crossing using this route. It’s important to note that these are rough estimates and actual crossing times can vary.

Fact: Some sailors have reported completing the Atlantic crossing via the Trade Wind Route in under two weeks, while others have taken over a month. The duration largely depends on the specific conditions encountered during the voyage.

The Northern Atlantic Route is an important consideration for sailors planning to cross the Atlantic by sailboat. The duration of the crossing via this route is influenced by various factors. The route itself, sailing from Europe to North America, can be longer due to distance and prevailing wind and current patterns. The type of sailboat used also impacts the duration, as different boats have different speeds and capabilities. Weather conditions along the route, including storms, wind patterns, and currents, can significantly affect the crossing time. The skill and experience of the crew onboard also play a role in navigating the route efficiently. Sailors should carefully consider these factors for a safe and successful journey.

The Southern Atlantic Route is popular for sailboat crossings due to favorable weather conditions and reliable wind patterns. This route, also known as the Cape Town Route , starts from Europe or the Americas and heads south towards the Canary Islands . Sailors then continue southwest across the Atlantic Ocean towards their final destination in South America or South Africa .

The Southern Atlantic Route offers consistent trade winds and mild weather compared to other routes. The prevailing winds blow from the southeast, providing a steady breeze that helps propel the sailboat forward. This makes it easier to maintain a good average speed and complete the crossing efficiently.

The duration of the Southern Atlantic Route can vary depending on factors such as sailboat type, crew skill and experience, and specific weather conditions encountered. On average, the crossing from Europe to South America takes around 20 to 30 days, while the journey from Europe to South Africa typically takes around 25 to 35 days.

Sailors navigating the Southern Atlantic Route should be prepared for challenges posed by the open ocean, including unpredictable weather patterns, potential storms, and the need for self-sufficiency. It is crucial to plan and prepare adequately, monitor weather conditions constantly, maintain good communication, and ensure all safety equipment is in place for a successful and safe crossing.

The Southern Atlantic Route has been a preferred route for sailors for centuries, connecting Europe with Africa and South America . The route played a significant role in the Age of Discovery , facilitating the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures between continents. Today, it continues to be a popular route for adventurous sailors seeking to experience the thrill and challenge of crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat.

Tips for a Successful and Safe Atlantic Crossing

Add tips for a Successful and Safe Atlantic Crossing

Here are some tips for a successful and safe Atlantic crossing:

1. Plan your route carefully, considering weather patterns, currents, and potential hazards. Have charts, navigation equipment, and a reliable GPS system.

2. Prepare your boat by inspecting for wear or damage. Ensure all safety equipment, including life jackets, flares, and a well-maintained life raft, is in good working condition.

3. Stock up on essential supplies like non-perishable food, water, and fuel. Have enough provisions for the entire journey and extra reserves for emergencies or delays.

4. Stay informed about potential hazards or changes in weather conditions by communicating with other sailors and maritime authorities.

5. Develop a detailed sailing plan that includes rest cycles for the crew and potential stops for restocking supplies or refueling.

6. Ensure all crew members are experienced and prepared for the challenges. Conduct regular safety drills and assign specific roles and responsibilities.

7. Monitor weather conditions closely and be ready to alter course or adjust schedule if needed. Prioritize safety above all else.

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of a successful and safe Atlantic crossing.

Plan and Prepare Adequately

When planning and preparing for an Atlantic crossing by sailboat, it is important to plan and prepare adequately to ensure a successful and safe journey. Here are the key steps to follow:

  • Research the route: It is crucial to thoroughly research the different routes available for crossing the Atlantic, such as the Trade Wind Route, the Northern Atlantic Route, and the Southern Atlantic Route.
  • Check weather conditions: Monitor weather forecasts and have a clear understanding of the typical weather patterns along your chosen route. Take note of any potential storms or unfavorable conditions that may arise.
  • Prepare the sailboat: Before setting off, ensure that the sailboat is in good condition and equipped with all the necessary safety equipment. This includes life jackets, flares, a first aid kit, and emergency communication devices.
  • Stock up on supplies: Make a comprehensive list of essential provisions needed for the journey, including an ample supply of food, water, fuel, and spare parts. Calculate the amount needed based on the estimated duration of the crossing.
  • Create a navigation plan: Develop a detailed navigation plan that includes waypoints, potential stops, and alternative routes. Familiarize yourself with navigational charts and instruments to aid in navigation throughout the journey.

By following these steps and planning and preparing adequately , you can embark on your Atlantic crossing with confidence and peace of mind . Just like Christopher Columbus , who meticulously planned and prepared for his transatlantic voyage , you too can open up new horizons for exploration and have a smooth and safe journey.

Monitor Weather Conditions

When crossing the Atlantic by sailboat, it is crucial to monitor weather conditions for a safe and successful journey. Here are some key points to consider:

1. Check weather forecasts: Stay updated with the latest forecasts for your entire journey. Pay attention to wind patterns, storm systems, and potential hazards.

2. Use weather routing services: Subscribe to a specialized routing service tailored to your specific route. These services can help you navigate around unfavorable weather conditions.

3. Monitor weather systems: Keep a constant eye on changing weather systems, especially tropical storms or hurricanes that can pose a significant threat. Take appropriate measures to avoid these dangerous conditions.

4. Be aware of wind patterns: Understand the prevailing winds along your route for planning and optimizing your sailing strategy. Trade wind routes offer consistent winds for a faster crossing.

5. Consider swell and sea state: Besides wind conditions, pay attention to the sea state. Large swells and rough seas can affect your comfort and safety at sea.

By actively monitoring weather conditions during your Atlantic crossing, you can make informed decisions and adjust your plans accordingly. Remember, safety should always be the top priority.

Maintain Good Communication

Maintaining good communication is absolutely crucial during an Atlantic crossing by sailboat. It is of utmost importance as it guarantees the safety and seamless operation of the voyage.

To ensure effective communication, there are several key steps that need to be taken:

1. Establish clear communication protocols: It is essential to set up a system that allows crew members and the skipper to effectively communicate with each other. This can be achieved by using designated channels such as radios or walkie-talkies for conveying important messages.

2. Implement regular check-ins: Designate specific times for crew check-ins. This enables everyone to report their status, share vital information, and address any concerns that may arise.

3. Create a comprehensive communication plan: Develop a plan that outlines how to communicate with land-based support teams or coastguard services in case of emergencies. This plan should include contact information and the correct procedures to be followed.

4. Maintain good radio etiquette: It is crucial to adhere to proper radio protocols in order to ensure clear and concise communication. Utilize standard phrases and refrain from engaging in unnecessary chatter to prevent any confusion.

5. Utilize technology: Take advantage of modern communication devices, such as satellite phones, that provide reliable coverage even in remote areas. This will enable seamless communication throughout the entire journey.

It is important to remember that maintaining good communication is not solely about accurately conveying information. It also plays a vital role in fostering teamwork and creating a sense of security among the crew members. By communicating effectively, the crew can promptly respond to any changing conditions and thus ensure a safe and successful Atlantic crossing.

Ensure Safety Equipment is in Place

Ensuring safety equipment is crucial for a successful and safe Atlantic crossing by sailboat. Follow these steps:

  • Inspect and test all safety equipment before departure, including life jackets, harnesses, tethers, and personal locator beacons, to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Ensure the boat has proper navigation equipment, such as GPS, charts, and radar, for accurate navigation and to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Install and regularly check the functioning of essential safety devices like EPIRBs and SARTs, to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Equip the boat with a well-stocked first aid kit, including necessary medications, bandages, and disinfectants, to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Have a reliable communication system, such as a VHF radio or satellite phone, to stay in contact with other vessels and emergency services and to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Ensure the boat has proper fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors, to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Install and regularly test the boat’s bilge pumps to handle water ingress and to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Keep all essential safety equipment easily accessible and in good working condition, to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Train the crew on how to use and deploy safety equipment properly, to ensure safety equipment is in place.
  • Regularly review and update the safety plan, considering the specific challenges and risks of the Atlantic crossing, to ensure safety equipment is in place.

By following these steps and ensuring safety equipment is in place, sailors can improve their preparedness and enhance the overall safety of the Atlantic crossing.

Some Facts About How Long To Cross The Atlantic By Sailboat:

  • ✅ An Atlantic crossing on a sailboat takes an average of 20 to 25 days.
  • ✅ It is important to know the shortcuts, maximize speed, and have experience to cross the Atlantic.
  • ✅ The best time to cross the Atlantic is between November and February.
  • ✅ The total distance of the trip can be as much as 4,000 nautical miles.
  • ✅ The trade winds blow from east to west and are predictable due to the rotation of the earth.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to cross the atlantic by sailboat.

An Atlantic crossing on a sailboat takes an average of 20 to 25 days, but can be completed in two weeks if lucky, take shortcuts, and have a fast sailboat. The time it takes to cross depends on the route, type of ship, size, skills, and speed.

What are the best routes for crossing the Atlantic by sailboat?

There are two main routes for crossing the Atlantic by sailboat: the Southern passage (east to west) and the Northern passage (west to east). The Southern passage starts from Europe and goes to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, or the Windward Islands. The Northern passage starts from the Caribbean and goes to Bermuda, the Azores, and then the Portuguese coast.

When is the best time to cross the Atlantic by sailboat?

The best time to cross the Atlantic by sailboat is between late November and February, as there is less chance of hurricanes and the water is warmer. Timing is important to avoid the hurricane season, which lasts from June to November.

What are the challenges of crossing the Atlantic by sailboat?

Sailing across the Atlantic can be challenging mentally and physically. It requires sailing expertise, familiarity with weather forecasting and navigation, and the ability to quickly adjust to sudden changes in weather. The trip can also involve long travel, large waves, severe weather, collisions, encounters with whales, and epic proportions of wear and tear on the boat.

What type of sailboat is suitable for crossing the Atlantic?

The best sailboat for crossing the Atlantic should be at least 30 feet long, have a fixed keel, and be sturdy with durable sails. A monohull sailboat is recommended over a sailboat with multiple hulls. The type of boat used affects the speed of travel, and the location can also be a factor.

Can I hire a skipper for the Atlantic crossing if I lack experience?

Yes, hiring an experienced skipper is an option for those without the necessary skills and experience to safely make the journey. A skipper can provide guidance, navigation expertise, and help ensure a successful crossing.

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How To Cross the Atlantic, Routes and Timelines

cross atlantic sailboat

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Before the time of ocean liners and airplanes, crossing the Atlantic used to be a great adventure that took a long time to complete. Nowadays, it’s very different; it’s still a great adventure, but the time it takes to complete has changed.

Here’s how long it takes to cross the Atlantic on various types of boats.

Looking at this table we can clearly see that the time it takes to cross the Atlantic has decreased exponentially. Some big developments were of course the steam engine that allowed for bigger and much faster ships to travel the Atlantic while also bringing a lot more cargo.

If we look at the Sailboats in this list, we can see that the more hulls you have the faster it goes (if you want to know more about how that works, check out this article)

There is not a significant difference in time to complete between the catamarans and the trimarans in the short run, but in a circumnavigation of the world, the difference can be huge.

A monohull on the other hand is slower, this is mainly due to the amount of drag this type of hull has.

This table compares different types of boats under the same conditions and adds an airplane as a point of reference.

Transatlantic Crossing in Record Time

Here are the records for the fastest crossings of the Atlantic in a Sailboat.

The 2880 Nautical miles(5330 Km) long route starts at Ambrose Light in New York and finishes on an imaginary line between Lizard Point and Ushant of the coast of England

As you might have noticed, there aren’t any numbers for catamarans since the  classes are divided between monohulls and multihulls.  Since trimarans (three hulls) are faster than catamarans (two hulls), there is no real point in racing a cat.

What you also may have noticed are the ridiculously high speeds these boats are doing. Bear in mind that these are racing boats optimized for speed and made to smash world records.

There’s a big difference between the 28 knots a racing trimaran will make and the 9 knots a cruising catamaran will.

What Type of Sailboat Do You Need To Cross The Atlantic?

Crossing the Atlantic can be done in almost any sailboat or ship. As a matter of fact, it has already been done in small rowboats and open catamarans, so everything is possible.

If your question is what boat should I use to get a somewhat comfortable and safe trip, well, then we have something to talk about.

Choosing between a monohull or a multihull has more to do with personal preferences. Some people really like the stable platform of a catamaran, and others dont think it’s a real way of sailing and wants to be heeling over to its side to fully get that true sailing experience.

For me? Catamaran every day, speed, and comfort, but I’m also not a purist sailor in any way. I’m an adventurist, and the boat is merely a way to experience adventures.

The size I would say matters, bigger usually means it’s safer and can handle bigger waves, although it might be harder to handle on your own I something happens to you or your crew mid-sea.

Most people seem to cross the Atlantic with a boat in the 35 -45 ft spectrum, which fulfills both requirements!

If you are interested in digging deeper into what sized boat you should get, check out my article on Best Sized Catamaran for Ocean Sailin g

Other aspects you might consider are the  size in terms of space onboard , how many people are you doing the passage with, the more people, the easier operating the boat will be. This assumes you have a well-trained crew that you know well.

And what are you going to do once you get there, is it the end of your trip or is the beginning. If you’re doing everything just to cross the ocean and then get someone else to bring it back, that’s one thing. But if its the start of a long adventure, the requirements are different. You are going to want more space for scuba gear, and other toys.

I do think the most important aspect is that you have a seaworthy boat that it’s capable of withstanding weeks on end with sailing in many times rough conditions.

This means that your equipment spent has to be the most expensive and handy, but it needs to be in good condition, and you need to be able to handle your great in every weather.

What Gear Do You Need to Cross the Atlantic?

Not including your average stuff when sailing, such as life vests, etc. There are some great that you might not be on your everyday say m still that could be of high importance during such a formidable sail as this.

  • Emergency food
  • Satellite coms
  • Storm drogue (want to know what it is and how it works,  read  this)
  • Spare parts(tiller, sails, etc.)
  • Entertainment

Different Routes to Cross the Atlantic

Westward route: europe to the caribbean.

According to Jimmy Cornell, a well-known sailor and circumnavigator that has made his own research on the subject, Las Palmas is one of the biggest ports of departure for sailboats crossing the Atlantic.

Around 75’% of the sailboats that arrive in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands will depart for an Ocean crossing.

Getting to The Canary Islands, you should not be in a hurry; there are many very beautiful places en route. No matter where you are coming from this is a good stop well worth a visit.

Coming from the north of Europe, you have France, Spain, and Portugal. Entering from the Mediterranean, you have Italy, Croatia, Greece, and so many other interesting places that you shouldn’t miss unless you’re on a very tight schedule.

Once you reach Las Palmas, you can either go straight towards the Caribbean island of Barbados, or you can do a stop along the way at Cap Verde.

Planing a Stop on Cape Verde

A stop at cap Verde makes sense in many ways; for one, it makes the transatlantic trip more manageable by dividing it into two sections.

The second reason is that it gives you the possibility to stock up on fuel and water that you might have used more than you thought. Since Cap Verde is well developed when it comes to receiving boats doing this type of passage, there is no technical expertise on the island.

From Cap Verde, you can also take a direct flight to Portugal and onwards if the need arises.

Even though you might not plan to stop here, the recommendation is to at least  plan your sailing, so you pass close to the islands,  so if something happens, you can head to Mindelo port and fix it.

Another good reason why you would go close is that the further south you go, the  better chance you will have of catching those sweet tradewinds  that will take you safely and enjoyably to the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Westbound Route On a Catamaran

Sailing west is the preferred option for any sailor and especially if you are on a boat that doesn’t sail perfectly upwind, such as a catamaran.

Sailin g west and using the tradewinds is perfect on a catamaran, the sail will be faster and more comfortable than a monohull of the same size.

Looking at the 2019 ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), a 55ft french catamaran outclassed the 65 ft professionally sailed monohull with a 10-hour lead. All this while doing yoga on board, something that I can promise was not happening on the monohull.

The stable platform of a catamaran with the wind on your stern makes sailing west on a transatlantic passage perfect for Catamaran.

Eastbound Route: The Caribbean to Europe

Coming back to Europe, I would argue that the same principles are still valid: to stop at or pass by islands close enough to have the option of going into port if need, and using the tradewinds to your advantage.

Considering this, most people leave the Caribbean from Tortola, Britsh virgin islands, or St Marteen. These make great starting points for the eastward journey since they are the last point where there is plenty of fuel, spare parts, and food for the long and sometimes arduous trip back to Europe.

Though it is not necessary, many sailors make a halt at Bermuda; this is a good start to fix anything broken or wait for the right weather before your head on to the next part of your trip.

The Azores, the same goes here, you can skip it, but staying close to it adds safety and comfort if needed, and I would also stop by just to enjoy the islands. It’s a beautiful place and good for a few days of low-intensity cruising.

If you still have some energy left after the trip from Bermuda, one option is to head for a place called Horta. The place is well remembered for its hospitality towards sailors heading towards Europe.

Once you have refueled on diesel and energy, it is time to head for northern Europe. This is usually done by sailing north until the 45th latitude and then heading east.

When is The Best Time to Cross The Atlantic

Choosing a route has a lot to do with your intended purpose of the trip, are you going for a speed record, then going more north might be an option, and accepting the risk might be ok for you and your crew.

If you are going west but more interested in doing it safely and are able to spend a little more time out at sea, then the southern routes mentioned above with a departure date around November and December.

Going west on your way to the Caribbean, you’ll notice the days are getting warmer and longer; this is because going west, you also travel south towards the equator where the days and nights are equally as long be it summer or winter.

This weather window is to avoid the hurricane season in the Caribbean that ends in late November, these are the main risk and must be considered in your plan.

What Is The Best Route For an Atlantic Crossing

Taking into consideration the information above with trade winds, the possibility of breakdowns, and the collective knowledge of the area.

The best route for a westbound Atlantic crossing is from Las Palmas (on the Island of Gran Canarias) to Barbados Via Cap Verde. The best route going east is from St Marteen to the Azores Via Bermuda.

This is, of course, based on the assumptions we have discussed above, and it might not apply to your skillset or aim of the crossing.

Can You Cross the Atlantic Single Handed?

You can definitely cross the Atlantic on your own (short-handed). As a matter of fact, many do every year. Of course, this demands more of the sailor since there is nobody to ask for advice or to help while underway.

Neither is there anyone that will help you with handling sails or maintenance while underway; because of this, it is more dangerous and more difficult to solo sailor sail short-handed as it is also called.

The usual way is to either bring a crew of your own, recruit a crew from the port of exit, or find one online via

Is Transatlantic Passages Dangerous?

Sailing in big oceans is never a hundred percent safe. This is why it is an adventure if it was absolutely safe, where would the attractiveness and the excitement lie?

Looking at the data, there aren’t many accidents happening, and of those, there are even fewer that are deadly or leave the crew injured for life.

There are also ways to make it safer; we have discussed boat size and crew skills; other route selection factors are vital. It might not be the quickest to cross the Atlantic, but the southern route seems to be a safer bet.

Prepare yourself, your crew, and the boat, and the chances for accidents will still be there, but they will be small and manageable.

How Lonely Is Crossing The Atlantic?

Spending two to three weeks in the middle of the ocean can definitely be lonely, but it can also be the absolute opposite. If you’re sailing with a crew, you will share the same small space with everyone else, always bumping your elbow. If the weather is rough, you may all be a little tired, which also adds to the group dynamics.

But even if you would get sick and tired of your crew, there are ways to call back home. You might have a Satellite phone, which is expensive by the minute but a lovely way to hear the voice of a loved one back at land. Much better than a text message through Email.

Sending emails has been a pretty straightforward process since the SSB radio started to be utilized.  This type of radio is very simplistic and has good reception up to thousands of miles .

The nice thing with this radio is that it allows for data traffic, which means not only are you able to receive weather updates, but you can also contact your family through Email.

Can You Get Rescued If Something Goes Wrong?

Yes, there might not be a coast guard or anything nearby, and you might be way out to sea, but there is help to get. Since every ship is listening to some set of frequencies, usually, the first step is to call for a Mayday on that channel.

If you’re not getting anyone’s attention, then they might still see you on the AIS, Automatic Identification System, which makes anyone around you know where you are.

Many times the crossing is done together with a lot of other vessels; this gives comfort as they might also be able to help in case of emergency.

If all this fails, you probably also will have your EPIRB,  Emergency  Position Indicating Radio  Beacon , which is a gadget that can be activated through certain triggers such as water, tilt angle, or manually activated.

Once activated, it sends an emergency signal at different frequencies and relays the information back to shore for someone to come help you.

Owner of A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

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Yachting Monthly

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How to sail across the Atlantic and back

Elaine Bunting

  • Elaine Bunting
  • March 8, 2021

Confined to quarters during the pandemic, many sailors are itching to slip their lines and sail for the sun. Elaine Bunting explains exactly how to break free and sail across the Atlantic and back

A yacht sailing over the horizon

If your dream is sailing off into the sunset, making it a reality could be easier than you think

Just as the island of Hiddensee drew across the wake of the boat, Malin Andersson took up her camera and shot a video, writes Elaine Bunting .

When she looks at it now, a late summer scene from the Baltic coast of Germany, she remembers it as the instant she knew for certain she was right to think of leaving work to go cruising.

Malin and her partner Kaj Maass, both from Sweden and aged in their late twenties, met as students and formed a plan to take a year off before starting a family.

After years of scrimping, they bought a Bavaria 38 and renamed her Cross Ocean .

With the last tiny island of a summer cruise behind them, they began to prepare to sail across the Atlantic and back, and a year of adventure.

‘From then, we have never had a moment of regret about setting off,’ she says.

Each year, hundreds of yachtsmen of all ages sail across the Atlantic.

Some have only a few months of freedom, others plan to cruise indefinitely.

Their ambitions shape diverse choices in terms of boat design and preparations.

Here, we look at some of the biggest considerations if that is your goal, too.

What’s the right boat to sail across the Atlantic?

A good place to start might be with the question: can I sail across the Atlantic and back in the yacht I have now?

In most cases, the answer is yes.

Almost any well-prepared yacht of 30ft and upwards can tackle the downwind crossing, and indeed there is no reason why an even smaller boat can’t do it successfully.

People have crossed in Folkboats; the legendary American sailor Webb Chiles sailed across the Pacific in a converted 24ft dayboat, and some masochistic adventurers have crossed oceans in micro yachts not even long enough for them to stretch out in.

Two sailors I have repeatedly met over the years are Swedes Pekka and Barbro Karlsson.

They first crossed the Atlantic in 1986 in their 32ft Arvid Lauren-designed double-ender, Corona AQ .

A woman and two men sitting on the deck of their yacht

Pekka and Barbo Karisson have sailed their 32ft double ender across the Atlantic multiple times over 30 years. Credit: World Cruising Club

Over the last 30 years, they have made multiple crossings back and forth, observing boats getting ever larger, even of the same LOA as theirs.

By comparison, theirs is dwarfed in every dimension, including beam and freeboard, yet it has everything this experienced couple need for living on board for six or more months every year.

So, really, it is a matter of cost, preference and expectation.

The big question is whether your current yacht is the best tool for the job given your budget.

Is it large enough for the crew you intend for longer passages, for the provisions, fuel and water?

A 35-footer might take 25-28 days to sail across the Atlantic from the Canaries to the West Indies.

Obviously, the longer and faster your boat is, the more stowage and water tankage you will have for less time at sea.

You might also ask yourself which parts of the adventure are the most valuable to you.

You will need a solid yacht to sail across the Atlantic

A solid yacht set up for bluewater cruising is a good option and can be sold once you return home. Credit: Tor Johnson

If you don’t intend to do the more arduous return home to Europe, maybe you don’t need a bigger, more expensive, more complex long-legged bluewater cruiser; you could consider shipping back – more on that option later.

If you intend to live on board for longer, then perhaps you will want more space, including for guests, greater comforts and faster passage times.

In that case, one solution might be to buy for the duration of the project a second-hand bluewater cruiser already well kitted out with the right gear, then sell her right afterwards.

‘I think that makes total sense,’ says Sue Grant, managing director of Berthon International, the well-known brokers specialising in bluewater cruisers.

‘The best thing you can do for a North Atlantic circuit is to buy from the guy who had the dream, had the money and didn’t go. A refit will always cost you more than you think.’

For a two- to three-season transocean cruise, Grant advocates stretching up to your next level, especially to a yacht that doesn’t need a big refit and brands with a strong residual value.

‘If you buy a high-quality Hallberg-Rassy or an Oyster then sell it you’d lose 10% of value but have three years for it.’

Buy a boat you will enjoy

While in the Azores in 2012 I met Stuart and Anne Letton, who were sailing their Island Packet 45, Time Bandit , back to the UK.

Their boat was brimming with sensible ideas for living aboard and I have kept in touch with them over the years as they are a wonderful source of thoughtful advice.

Since then they have sold the Island Packet , bought an Outremer 51 catamaran, sailed across the Atlantic again, and are presently in Indonesia having sailed across the Pacific.

In total, they have now logged a very impressive 60,000 miles.

A couple on the trampoline of their catamaran

Catamarans are increasingly popular thanks to their speed and space. Credit: Stuart & Anne Letton

‘Before we went cruising, I spent a lot of time looking at what would be the best, safest mode of transport. I wanted a proven, tough, sturdy, bombproof ocean cruiser, hence Time Bandit [the Island Packet], the “Beige Battleship”,’ says Stuart.

‘Having spent my sailing career racing performance dinghies and keel boats, this was something of a departure for me. It was safe. And a bit boring. However, the reality is you all end up in the same place, give or take a few days. With reflection, though, I’d say, buy a boat that will make you happy, one that reflects your sailing style and capabilities. We opted for slow but safe and used the safe features a handful of days in 10 years. Those were years we could have been enjoying more rewarding sailing.

‘Buy what you will enjoy, can afford and are able to keep running. Do the maths on running costs, rig, insurance and repairs, and work that into the budget.’

Asked about their ideas of the ideal size for a couple, the Lettons comment: ‘Generally I’d say bigger is better, but the costs are exponential. Personally, for two up, I think around 40-45ft feet is a good size: big enough to be safe and comfortable, small enough to manage.’

Tips on how to sail across the Atlantic from Stuart & Anne Letton

The couple own the Outremer 51, Time Bandit and have completed four Atlantic crossings and sailed 60,000 miles

Stuart and Anne Letton

Stuart and Anne Letton.

‘Being very well set up for dead downwind sailing is important, especially well thought-out preventers, fore and aft on the spinnaker pole and main boom.

‘An asymmetric or spinnaker will keep you moving in lighter air.

‘Save on gas with a Thermal Cookpot and get as much free power from water and sun as you can.

‘Trade in your trusty CQR or Bruce anchor for a spade or similar “new technology” anchor .

Is a bigger boat better for crossing the Atlantic?

Like the Lettons, I think 40-45ft is something of a sweet spot, offering the volume and tankage required for longer cruising, yet still manageable by a small crew.

Bigger has its advantages, even up to 55ft (above that the loads become too large to handle manually and maintenance is a massive chore for a family crew, requiring significant time and budget).

The waterline length and extra speed will be your friend, most of the time.

Speed is your ally in evading bad weather, and if you are sailing to a schedule.

A yacht anchored in a bay with a palm tree

The Witt family sailed around the world as part of the World Cruising Club World ARC

Karsten Witt and his wife, Sheila, circumnavigated in the World ARC in their X-55 Gunvør XL , and he says: ‘It was hardest work for the smaller or slower boats. They are at sea longer, therefore experience more and sometimes harder weather, arrive later in port, get more tired and have less time to make repairs and bank downtime.

‘I would always go for a modern boat that’s faster,’ he adds.

‘If you had a heavy 40ft cruiser you would miss weather windows. Other boats spend days battling headwinds because they were doing 6-7 knots upwind and they couldn’t point. We averaged 200 miles a day every day, so in five days were a long way away and in completely different weather.’

But you certainly don’t need a large or expensive yacht, just a well-prepared one.

Starting with the basics: safety gear, fire and gas installations, good sails with deep reefs, in date and inspected rig, winches and all machinery serviced, and power and battery systems upgraded if necessary, plus full inspection of keel fastenings and rudder, skeg and bearings.

After that, you really need to know how everything on board works, how you’d repair or service it and, if you can’t, how you would manage without.

A crew on a yacht about to sail across the Atlantic on the ARC

Karsten and Sheila Witt and family enjoyed the extra pace and comfort of their X-55. Credit: World Cruising Club

Only after considering that is it worth adding complexity.

Multiple power generation systems, including hydro-generator and solar panels, watermakers, diesel generators and WiFi networks.

Mark Matthews is marine surveyor who ran Professional Yacht Deliveries for 12 years, a company that moves around 200 yachts and averages 350,000 miles a year.

When he made his own Atlantic crossing, it was in a 42ft production yacht.

‘We kept the original sail plan and sails and did not have a generator or other means of charging the batteries apart from the engine. We took bottled water to supplement the on-board tankage. We only invested in a secondhand satellite phone, jerrycans for additional fuel, fishing tackle, wind scoops for the West Indies and provisions for the crossing. We crossed from the Canaries to the West Indies in 17 days,’ he explains.

But if you are looking at a boat for the way back to Europe or outside the downwind routes of the tropics, maybe you should look at more conservative, heavier displacement types, he suggests.

A yacht for a one-way voyage?

The downwind Tradewinds crossing can really be tackled in any well-prepared boat large enough for your crew, so one way to look at an Atlantic circuit is to weigh up first how you feel about the way back home, and factor that into the cost equation.

A growing number of sailors spend the winter season in the sun, or several consecutive seasons between periods of work, then ship their boat back.

This on-off cruising lifestyle could be compatible with some remote working, so while extremely expensive in itself, shipping represents a trade-off that could be worth considering.

A yacht being craned onto a transporter ship

You may find a smaller boat adequate, especially if you are shipping it home. Credit: Neville Hockley

Minus requirements dictated by the longer, more windward crossing back home, perhaps you could go in a ‘one-way/downwind-only/island-hopping’ boat option.

That could be a much smaller boat, a lighter, simpler or more performance-orientated yacht.

A one-way voyage involves relatively short times at sea, possibly three weeks at most, and you might be able to manage without spending a fortune on equipment.

This year, Peters & May will be loading from Antigua, St Lucia and Martinique and have ships going into the Med, Southampton and other North Sea or Baltic ports.

Michael Wood, general manager of Peters & May, quotes typical prices of US$10,200 for a 32-footer and US$21,600 for a 41-footer.

Unlike a delivery service, shipping saves on the wear and tear from an Atlantic crossing, so is also something to weigh up.

Ready to go?

Typically, getting ready to go off for an Atlantic circuit or more needs a two- to three-year runway.

I have met people who have done it much quicker – I recently met an American family who only decided to go cruising last June and were in the Canary Islands with a brand new catamaran in November – but it is stressful, and you risk sailing away with a long list of warranty work needed, and jobs lists incomplete.

It might take most of a year to choose, trial and select the right boat, then you could spend the next year sailing from your home port, preparing, fitting new gear, testing and sea trialling everything and upping your knowledge level.

Kaj Maass and Malin Andersson, an engineer and a pre-school teacher respectively, bought their Bavaria 38 Cross Ocean in 2016 for €80,000 and lived on board for a summer and winter to increase their savings.

Provision on yacht ahead of the crew left to cross the Atlantic

You’ll need space to store enough food for the crew – though choice in foreign ports may be limited. Credit: Kaj Maass & Malin Andersson

‘You don’t have to set off for several years right away, you could make the adventure in smaller parts,’ says Kaj.

‘We met several sailors who sailed for a couple of months, left the boat, flew back home, and continued later on. We adjusted upgrades, the time frame for the adventure, and saved during our day-to-day lives before setting off.’

Do make sure everything you fit for your cruise is well-tested and problems ironed out before you set out to sail across the Atlantic.

If you buy a new boat, expect lots of snagging.

Sorry to say it, but yards tend to put switches, filters and so on in silly places, and because yachts have relatively low volume sales, information about fitting or installation problems can take a while to circle back and be corrected.

Some cruisers decide to replace their engine for peace of mind before leaving to cross the Atlantic

Kaj and Malin replaced their engine for peace of mind. Credit: Kaj Maass & Malin Andersson

If you leave before inevitable glitches are corrected, you could spend days arguing with the boatbuilder or manufacturer about who is responsible and how they are going to get spare parts to you.

This quickly rubs the nap off a dream cruising life.

A year of home-range cruising will also allow you to gain all the knowledge and training you need, which should include essential maintenance know-how and medical and sea survival training (people tend to rave about the latter, interestingly).

It will also allow you time to prepare a manual about your boat, with info and serial numbers and specs of everything on board, which will pay you back handsomely if you need advice or spares.

Tips on how to sail across the Atlantic from Kaj Maass & Malin Andersson

The couple own the Bavaria 38, Cross Ocean and have sailed from Sweden to the Caribbean and back via the Azores

A woman raised a flag on a yacht at the end of crossing the Atlantic

Malin hoists a courtesy flag as their Bavaria 38 makes landfall in St Lucia. Credit: Kaj Maass & Malin Andersson

‘You do not need that much. Less equipment equals fewer breakages.

‘We would never go without a windvane and we are definitely pleased with having a centre cockpit boat, which keeps you safe and dry in the centre of the boat, though the master cabin is worthless at sea.’

Go with the kids

There has been a big upswing in families taking a year or 18 months out from normal lives, to return later.

This seems to coincide with that point in an established, stable career where a sabbatical is possible, there is enough money to buy a boat for a special project, parents are healthy and the kids are not yet in the run up to major exams.

Most often, the sailing families I meet have children aged between five and 12.

A family on the deck of their yacht before they left to cross the Atlantic

Crossing an ocean with a family is entirely feasible. The Paterson family took part in the 2018 ARC on their Moody 471. Credit: World Cruising Club/James Mitchell

The obvious rewards for children spending every day with their mum and dad have to be weighed against the considerable extra work and commitment, though I have yet to meet a parent who regretted it.

In 2019, Russell and Kate Hall sailed across the Atlantic in their Hallberg-Rassy 46 with their boys, Hugo, 8, and Felix, 6.

‘Somebody said to us that living with kids on a boat for a year is like living on land with them for four years,’ Kate laughs.

‘It can be quite draining but it’s also part of the reason why we are doing this, so it’s the yin and yang.

School lessons kept the children from getting too bored during the crossing

Additional crew can help with sailing and school when you sail across the Atlantic. Credit: Erin Carey

‘There are jobs that require both of us and you have to rely on the children to keep themselves safe at times. They sleep really well on board and they go to bed at sunset and wake at sunrise, then they’re full of beans. You might not have had much sleep. It takes a while to adjust.’

The Halls concentrated on the basics of English and maths, and then tailored history or geography or science projects around places they were visiting.

This seems to work for most families.

Schools will usually provide a curriculum plan for time out, and there are a lot of distance learning and ‘school in a box’ courses for homeschooling children, such as Calvert and Oak Meadow.

‘My advice would be to be easy on yourself,’ advises Kate Hall.

Two children with a half way sign to mark the half way point of an ocean crossing

Celebrating milestones can help bolster a young crew’s morale when you sail across the Atlantic. Credit: Erin Carey

‘We started with five hours’ schooling a day and then reduced that to two-and-a-half. Chill and relax; it all works out. There are always things to learn.’

If you are planning to sail across the Atlantic with kids, look at taking on extra hands to help with the sailing.

Also consider joining the ARC rally where in port you share a pontoon with all the other family boats so there are lots of other kids of different ages for yours to socialise with, as well as an organised daily kids club.

The friendships made between adults and children also often shape later cruising plans.

Seasons and routes to sail across the Atlantic

If you are planning on sailing across the Atlantic, don’t leave it too late to set off across Biscay – late August or September is pushing your luck from a weather point of view.

Ideally, make the most of the summer cruising opportunities travelling south through France, Spain and Portugal – these could be among the best parts of the trip.

Annually, the ARC rally leaves the Canary Islands in November, the ARC+ heading for Mindelo in Cape Verde first, and the ARC direct to St Lucia.

This is so that crews can be in the Caribbean for Christmas.

A yacht set up with a preventer on the sail

White sails can make a solid downwind sail plan if well set up with preventers and guys

It is early in the season for Tradewinds, though, and you may have to be prepared for a trough, a front, or calms – or all three – on the way across unless you wait until January.

Whether you cross early or not, my own personal preference would be to go via Cape Verde.

It’s a fascinating archipelago and culture, a place to re-provision or make repairs, and it breaks up the crossing.

It lengthens the time away and overall distance, as Mindelo is 800 miles south- west of the Canaries, but the leg south into ‘butter melting’ latitudes will then put you into almost guaranteed Trades, even in November.

From the Caribbean, you can then sail up to Florida via the Bahamas, or the US East Coast, or return to Europe via the Azores.

Routes for sailing across the Atlantic

The routes to sail across the Atlantic and back. Credit: Maxine Heath

For the return to Europe, most cruisers generally strike out from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands or St Maarten, both good for provisioning, spares, chandlery and repairs, or head up to Bermuda and wait for a springboard forecast for Horta.

From here, crews will again wait to pick their timing to head across to Spain or Portugal or up to the UK.

According to Jimmy Cornell, author of World Cruising Routes , as early as March and as late as mid-May there are reasonable chances of favourable south-easterly and south-westerly winds on leaving the Eastern Caribbean.

The advice he offers is to track north-easterly towards the Azores and stay south of 30°N until 40°W.

For cruisers a southerly route is generally the preferable passage to choose, staying south of the Gulf Stream in lighter winds and taking on extra fuel and motoring if conditions deem necessary.

How much will it cost to sail across the Atlantic and back?

Cruising costs will depend on how you wish to live while cruising.

If you want to spend time in marinas, eat out regularly, hire cars, take tours and fly home occasionally, obviously that will be different to a more self-contained life on board at anchor.

As a guide, we asked Swedish couple Kaj and Malin to add up their costs to prepare for their trip and during the 14-month sabbatical.

A yacht at anchor in an anchorage

Costs will be much lower where you can stay at anchor rather than berth in a marine. Credit: Kaj Maass/Malin Andersson

‘The budget for our trip was €80,000 to buy the boat, and €30,000 of upgrades,’ Kaj says.

The upgrades included a new engine, new standing rigging, a Hydrovane and satellite communications.

They dropped the rudder and the keel and reinforced the area around it.

Of the total budget, around €10,000 was spent on safety equipment.

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Their cruising costs were around €2,500 a month for the two of them, averaging out the most expensive parts of the journey from Sweden to the Canary Islands, when harbour fees were costing around €40 a night.

This would cover some eating out ashore and car rental for tours.

Over the longer term, a good rule of thumb is to allow 20% of the cost of your boat for running repairs to cover antifouling, sail replacement, servicing and, if you are leaving your boat to return home, you’ll need to factor in haul-out, storage and hurricane tie-downs.

If you plan to buy a boat, sail it back and sell it right after your trip, however, you may be able sidestep some ongoing costs.

Cutting the cord

Maybe you don’t have to wait until retirement to go cruising.

There is a strong argument for taking a career break (or breaks) and working for longer if necessary as it spreads the cost and reduces the risk of the big adventure never happening.

Two yachts with white sails sailing

Additional offwind sails, like a furling Code 0, can keep the boat moving in light airs for more enjoyable sailing and to save fuel. Credit World Cruising Club

Around half of the people I meet on transatlantic rallies are taking sabbaticals and intending to return to the same post, or have quit a job.

Both options have become quite acceptable, and in some professions and countries sabbaticals are actively encouraged as a retention incentive.

‘Tell the world you are leaving,’ advises Kaj Maass.

‘Make sure you create some pressure on yourself to realise your dream. Involve your employer early on in the planning process. A modern employer will understand and respect your decision to explore the world and live out your dreams, maybe they even see a long-term benefit from the knowledge and experience you will gain from it and you can [negotiate] a leave of absence.’

A satellite phone on the deck of yacht

Satellite comms add a level of safety and keeping in touch but can be costly. Credit: Richard Langdon/Ocean Images

Those running a business may bring in a trusted general manager or step up a family member while they are away.

Keeping tabs on business while away is possible (though it can be expensive in satellite data) but it’s not something that generally works well on a day-to-day basis.

You do need to be able to cut the ties to enjoy cruising, not least because the cruising life comes with its own workload, from maintenance to laundry.

A man carrying out maintenance on his yacht

Long-distance cruising comes with its own workload and maintenance. Credit: Kaj Maass/Malin Andersson

‘Trying to mix work and pleasure compromises both,’ says Stuart Letton.

Before setting out, the Lettons brought their son in to run their web-based business supplying global brands with customisable marketing material.

‘While our business was under new management, it was still a struggle for me to let go. I can remember sitting in WiFi cafés from Spain to the Galapagos trying to blend cruising with work and, while it helped my conscience, I doubt the effort did much for work or cruising.

‘That’s not to say it isn’t possible. With good WiFi and satellite connections you really can work pretty much anywhere . But if you don’t need to, I’d cut the ties, burn the bridges and go. If you need to work, fine, just get your management team in place, communication systems properly set up and resourced, and go.’

Two yachts anchored in St Lucia

It helps to set a deadline so you can realise your dream and sail across the Atlantic. Credit: Kaj Maass/Malin Andersson

However you plan to break free, what really helps is a deadline: a date that you are going set off, with a scene you can visualise to keep you motivated as you work through the preparations and demands of shore life.

Most preparations are really just logistics, and you’re probably already pretty good at that.

The bigger obstacle is often mustering the courage to leave.

I often hear cruisers describe hassles – one described cruising as the act of sailing from one place where you couldn’t get something fixed to another where you hoped you would – yet when I ask for their best advice it usually boils down to a simple prescription: just go.

Kaj Maass said exactly that when I asked him that question.

‘Just do it. Life is too short not to live out your dreams.’

To rally or not?

This is entirely a personal choice.

Advantages of the ARC , which is the best organised and biggest, are great seminars, preparation information and tools.

It’s also an ideal way to meet lots of fascinating, like-minded people, and is agreed to be good value despite costs.

It also gives you a departure date to hold yourself too.

The ARC fleet leaving the Canary Islands

For a first taste of ocean sailing, it can be reassuring and fun to join a rally to sail across the Atlantic, like the ARC. Credit: James Mitchell/World Cruising Club

Plus is has good parties and entertainment on tap to keep crew happy.

The cons would be its early crossing date for the Tradewinds season, large fleet size (though check out ARC+, which is smaller) or if you just want to be low-key and go it alone.

The Viking Explorers rally is one alternative, but not many others still run.

If you do your own thing, you will still find a wonderful cruising community anywhere cruisers other, and there is fantastic support across the world for independent voyaging through the Ocean Cruising Club.

Preparations for sailing across the Atlantic  – the basics

While in no way a comprehensive list of preparations, here are some jumping off points to think about when planning your voyage:

  • Learn how to service and maintain your engine and key machinery, have a good set of tools on board. Video repair tips and techniques when you have technicians on board to refer to later.
  • Have your yacht lifted, antifouled , stern gear serviced, and anodes replaced. Consider fitting a rope cutter . Also check steering systems and replace rudder bearings.
  • Create a boat manual with all your procedures, equipment and the location of safety and medical equipment for crew to access.
  • Fit an autopilot capable of handling your yacht in an ocean swell, fully laden downwind in 30 knots of breeze. Have a back-up if shorthanded, or two separate systems for redundancy.
  • Have power systems checked and replace or upgrade batteries if necessary . If you upgrade batteries, consider if additional charging is necessary .
  • Get first-class safety equipment for all crew on board.
  • Have all sails serviced by a sail loft and consider double stitching all panels. With slab reefing mainsails, get a deep third reef.
  • Set up a good boom preventer for downwind sailing on both tacks. That can be just lines and blocks but set up so you can gybe and switch preventers without leaving the cockpit.
  • Check all running rigging and ensure you have adequate spare halyards set up before you depart. Think about chafe prevention.
  • Choose your crew carefully. Make sure you are all comfortable sailing together and that roles are established well before you leave.

Enjoyed reading How to sail across the Atlantic and back?

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Another World Adventures

Sail across the atlantic ocean – join transatlantic sailing voyages, it’s every adventure seeker’s dream to sail across the atlantic ocean..

And we’ve helped hundreds of sailors – new and experienced – to turn that dream into reality.

Find transatlantic voyages here where you book a berth or cabin and join join as hands on guest crew on planned journeys and rallies like the ARC, or if you’d like to charter a whole boat then get in touch .

We work with a network of many incredible boats from luxury yachts, performance racers to historic traditional tall ships.

If you have the ambition to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, whether you’re a beginner or pro sailor, there are exciting options for you on board hands-on sailing vessels. Join yachts or tall ships as guest voyage crew and learn incredible new skills, as you pull together as a team to harness the wind and reach a new continent. It’s a sustainable long-distance travel option that is all about embracing the journey.

Complete our short form to let us know your Atlantic ambitions and we’ll be in touch with exciting options.

Which direction?

A big first consideration for many when planning their transatlantic is which direction to sail – east or westbound and if you’re fixed on that it will determine when you’ll go.

Westbound: Europe to the Americas & Caribbean tend to depart with the trade winds in between October-December.

Eastbound: Caribbean & Americas to Europe tend to sail between March – June (April & May most commonly).

Northbound : South Africa to Europe voyages tend to depart between April-June

How experienced are you?

Our crews are a mix of sailing abilities.

Some enter races and you’d be expected to know what you’re doing, others teach you everything you need to know on the go. You’d just need to join in with a ‘can do’ and ‘here to learn’ attitude and the professional crew will help with the rest!

Want to join a crew for a fixed departure?

We have limited spaces available on organised voyages – these trips are very popular and often book out far in advance.

First step: Explore the listings and make an enquiry on the voyages you’re interested in. You’ll receive more information by email right away and if you asked any questions we’ll get back to those as quickly as possible. In the info you receive is an intro to the skipper or crew office for the boat so you can go ahead and book with them directly if it’s the right fit. These berth options are perfect for solo travellers or couples/pairs/small groups of friends.

Or book a private charter?

Bespoke voyages are organised separately, so reach out to us through the contact form or by email for more details on these.

Or get in  touch using the contact form above so we can help you make this trip dream a crossing to remember!

Voyages to sail across the Atlantic 2024 / 2025 and beyond

2024 east bound.

  • Sail from USA to Scotland via Newfoundland 2024 Clipper 60
  • Sail from Caribbean (Tortola, BVI) to Azores, to UK on a Celestial Navigation voyage  Clipper 60
  • Beneteau 40 or Harmony 52 yachts sailing Caribbean to UK
  • Sail British Virgin Islands > Azores > UK May/June  2024 – tall ship
  • Sail Caribbean to France  on a Challenge 67
  • Sail Cape to Cape – Chile to South Africa via Antarctica, South Georgia and Tristan de Cuna – tall ship
  • Sail New York USA to Lorient France in June 2024

2024 Westbound

  • ARC 2024 Canary Islands to St Lucia on a Beneteau 40 or Harmony 52
  • Challenge 72 ARC entry 2024 to St Lucia (request details!)
  • Luxury 54ft Catamaran sailing Canary Islands to Martinique
  • Tall ship adventure sailing Tenerife to Falkland Islands

2025  Eastbound

  • Sail West Indies to France March 2025
  • Sail Argentina to Namibia South America via Antarctica tall ship Feb/March 2025 
  • Sail Caribbean to Rotterdam tall ship March 2025
  • DARWIN200 South Atlantic Falkland Islands to Cape Town via South Georgia & Tristan da Cunha Feb-April 2025
  • Beneteau 40 or Harmony 52 yachts sailing Caribbean to UK March/April 2025
  • Celestial Navigation voyage sail Caribbean Antigua to UK Clipper 60 March-April 2025
  • Sail NYC to Lorient France June 2025 

2025  Westbound

  • January 2025 Atlantic Circuit Sail Lisbon to Suriname tall ship
  • January 2025 RORC transatlantic race
  • Sail Lorient France to NYC USA in May 2025
  • We expect to have several tall ships and yachts making the crossing to the Americas with and independent of the ARC so email us if you have any questions!!

Check all Atlantic ocean crossings here or email Larissa on [email protected]

Want to sail, but not sure about a transatlantic voyage?  We have options for everyone. Check out:

  • All sailing adventure holidays
  • Ocean adventures
  • Tall ship adventures

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Tall Ship vs Yacht?

Finding the right boat for your journey is a important part of your planning, not just the route. Each boat has it’s own character, style and charm – and personality! And the on board experience varies hugely depending on the reason for the boat sailing – is it taking part in a race? Is it an ocean cruise slow travel experience? And so on. The degree to which you’ll be mustered to help with the sailing and life on board also varies so whether you’re keen to join a 50ft yacht or a full size tall ship we’re happy to talk you through the options to find the best fit.

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What is it like on Board a Transatlantic Voyage?

Experience navigation, planning and life on board with your fellow crew who will be a mix of ages and from all walks of life.

There’s rarely an upper age limit on the voyages although some of the tall ships have more recently set a limit of 73 for their offshore voyages (please ask for details). Decisions on whether someone is a suitable crew are made on a case-by-case basis by the crew office for each vessel but the key requirement is good health and an enthusiasm to get involved.

Solo Travel Sail Across the Atlantic Ocean

We met as two solo travellers on board a transatlantic voyage, so we understand the opportunities and challenges of solo travel on long journeys at sea.

It was a life-changing experience for us and Another World Adventures wouldn’t exist without that solo travel experience.

The really good news for solo travellers is that when it comes to ocean sailing trips around 80% of the people joining are doing so on their own – so if all of your mates look at you like you’ve grown two heads when you tell them your Grand Plan then don’t worry, you’ll be in great company with the friends you’ll make on board.

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Sail with Friends Across the Atlantic Ocean

As well as being an amazing experience for those travelling solo, transatlantic sailing with friends can bond you for a lifetime.

As experienced adventure travel planners, we can connect you with a reliable and responsible vessel that you can join together to make the crossing. Heck, we’ve even known honeymooners celebrate their marriage with an ocean crossing.

All that’s needed is an adventurous mindset to sail across the Atlantic.

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Private Charter to Sail Across the Atlantic Ocean

If you are looking for a more personalised experience, we can coordinate bespoke voyages for individuals, groups and companies.

Let us help you find and charter a private vessel for a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Whether it’s a bonding experience with friends, a brand contest or marketing effort, or a chance to achieve a life-long dream, we can help you navigate the best vessel choices  whether you’re 4 or 40 sailors.

Do I Need Prior Sailing Experience to Sail Across the Atlantic Ocean?

You do not always need much prior sailing experience to take on the challenge of a transatlantic sail although it is advised to ensure you and your fellow crew get the most out of the experience. Afterall, this is a really big experience to go into without knowing if it’s your cup-of-tea. For many of the boats we work with, especially the tall ships, sailing experience is not compulsory. Instead, the vessel crew will give you hands-on experience and training along the way – both on expedition sail yachts and tall ships. 

If you’re looking for an experience on a smaller vessel, you might need to have or get some sailing experience or qualifications beforehand. For example, some of the race boats or smaller yachts (60ft) require RYA Day Skipper or equivalent, so speak to us if you’d like more information. A few of the passages are even qualifiers for Yachtmaster Ocean mile makers, so if you have bigger ambitions for your sailing, please reach out to ask about that and about Watch Leader roles, too.

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Be Inspired to Sail Across the Atlantic Ocean by our Previous Atlantic Sailing Voyages

Below are some voyages from the past which we’ve left up to give you an idea about routes to consider. If there’s a route you love the sound of but it’s not in the current schedule then just drop us a line to find out more. With so many changes to the sailing schedule for ocean journeys there’s a chance it’s in the planning stages, just not yet announced..!

If you’re not sure of the best option for you, speak to us about your plans and dreams for this great adventure,  so we can advise you on the best voyage route and crew to join.

Sail Across the Atlantic Ocean – Join Transatlantic Voyages

Transatlantic Route inspiration

Past voyages have included

  • South Africa to Canada 2019 – January – May 2019 – This was the final leg in a circumnavigation that set off in spring 2018 on board a unique sail training tall ship. Solo travellers were invited to join the crew of this remarkable vessel for the voyage of a lifetime. Unusually for the ocean crossings this voyage included lots of stops along the way.
  • Sail Cape to Cape via Antarctica on a traditional tall ship from South America to South Africa.
  • Sail Cape Verde to Cuba
  • Sail Falkland Islands to South Africa 2018
  • Sail Bermuda to the UK on a traditional tall ship
  • Sail USA to the UK via the Azores on a Clipper 60 yacht
  • Sail Azores to the UK on a tall ship
  • Sail Europe to South America on a Dutch tall ship
  • Sail USA > EUROPE (Florida to The Netherlands via Bermuda and Azores)
  • Sail Antigua and Barbuda to the United Kingdom
  • Sail South Africa to Norway via Azores, Ascension Island and St Helena
  • ARC – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers Canary Islands to St Lucia (via Cape Verde)

If you see a trip listed here but not on the Atlantic sailing trip page , please contact us to discuss your options. We are constantly updating this list so get in touch if you don’t see a route that works for you and we’ll see what is possible.

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Sail Around the World via Cape Horn Square-Rigged Tall Ship

Join the crew of a square-rigged tall ship to sail around the world by way of Cape Horn

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Sail Transatlantic New York City USA to Lorient, France

Embark as a teammate in a transatlantic voyage on a Challenge 67 from USA to France

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Sail Transatlantic Argentina to Namibia 2025

A TRUE epic - sail a traditional tall ship from South America to Southern Africa via Antarctica

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Sail Cape to Cape Chile to South Africa via Antarctica, South Georgia and Tristan da Cuna 2024

Join a Cape to Cape sailing voyage via Antarctica, South Georgia & Tristan da Cuna on a tall ship

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Sail ARC Atlantic Rally 2023

Join the famous Westbound Atlantic Rally crossing on a fantastic sailing cruiser.

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Sail Transatlantic Lorient to New York City

Embark as a teammate in a transatlantic voyage on a Challenge 67 from France to USA

Sail ARC Transatlantic 2024

Embark as a teammate in a transatlantic voyage on a Challenge 67 during the ARC 2024!

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Atlantic Circuit Sailing Adventure

An Atlantic Circuit sailing adventure including two transatlantic crossings and some unusual port stops

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Sail Transatlantic Westbound Luxury Catamaran 2024

Embark on the voyage of a lifetime sailing from Gran Canaria to Martinique on an exceptional 54ft catamaran

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Sail ARC 2024 Transatlantic

The voyage of a lifetime to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with a crew in the ARC 2024.

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Transatlantic Eastbound Sail Antigua – UK 2024

Join a crew to sail back across the Atlantic Ocean from Antigua to the UK

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Sail Spain to Canary Islands

Offshore sailing between Malaga and Lanzarote, Canary Islands on a fantastic sailing cruiser.

Sail Around the World As Crew on a Square Rigger

Become crew on an authentic working sailing ship on a global circumnavigation. 20+ ports, 30000 nautical miles

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Transatlantic Sailing Tenerife to Falkland Islands

Adventure sailing Tenerife to Falkland Islands from the North Atlantic into the South Atlantic across equator

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Atlantic Crossing Cape Verde to Fernando de Noronha Brazil DARWIN200 Leg 3

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Verde to Brazil Fernando de Noronha.

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Sail Caribbean to UK via Azores Tall Ship 2024

Hands on sailing a classic brigatine across the North Atlantic from Caribbean to Azores to the UK in May '24

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Sail Across the Atlantic Ocean – Cape Town to Montevideo

Experience life at sea as you sail across the Atlantic Ocean on a 100 year old traditional tall ship.

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Celestial Navigation Transatlantic Eastbound 2025

Navigate by the stars as you sail across the Atlantic Ocean eastbound from Antigua to UK

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Join a RORC Transatlantic Race Crew 2025

Embark as a teammate racing on the RORC Transatlantic Race where you are the crew in this legendary event

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Sail Transatlantic USA to UK via Newfoundland

Sail across the Atlantic Ocean from the east coast of USA to Oban, UK


Hi I’m Larissa, Founder of Another World Adventures. Welcome! If you’re planning an adventure you’re in the right place. Get ready to discover epic travel inspo and a collection of hand-picked trips from my trusted network of experienced adventure experts. Think unusual destinations, expeditions, slow, solo and sustainable travel and epic journeys on land and at sea! Ever got a question? Just get in touch, I answer every enquiry myself. Enjoy!

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We believe in ‘creating better places for people to live in, and better places to visit’ through a responsible approach to travel. Read how you can travel responsibly on your adventure.

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Crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat: the most famous crossings

cross atlantic sailboat

Sailing the Atlantic in a sailboat is a feat that few dare to undertake. From meticulous planning to dealing with unpredictable sea conditions, we will discover what it takes to cross the Atlantic by sailboat and what are the best routes. Meteorology and weather is fundamental when planning a transatlantic voyage, it is also important to know what time of the year to go and what route to follow. If you would like to live the adventure of this oceanic navigation, but you have doubts about how this kind of voyages are, in this article we will try to solve all the questions as much as possible. To cross the Atlantic by sailboat, there are basically two routes available.

Route from East to West. Crossing Europe-America

This is the simplest route, as it is the usual route chosen by sailors to cross the Atlantic. It is easier to make this crossing, due to the distance among other things. This Europe-America crossing has a shorter distance so you will reach your destination sooner. Also, depending on the time of year you travel, it is much safer and you will enjoy a smooth and pleasant journey. The journey generally starts from Western Europe, being the most common departure from Spain or France , usually in the first days, most of the sailors make a stop in the Canary Islands, so you could also decide to leave from there. The destination when crossing the Atlantic by sailboat following this route is to end up in the Caribbean or in Central or South America . Another of the stops that is usually made would be in Cape Verde, African islands.

Th e weather conditions you encounter on this crossing are usually a bit more favorable than on the west-east route. However, you have to take into account the times of the year since there can be times of the year when hurricanes are quite common. That is why most expert sailors who make this trip do so in the winter months, between November and January. Despite being in December, the temperatures are very pleasant as we are in the Atlantic on our way to the other continent where at those times it would be "summer". Normally, the weather is usually exceptional , with an average of 26-27 degrees with constant sunshine and breeze, provided by the trade winds that blow strongly especially the first days of this voyage.

Route from West to East. America-Europe Crossing

This route is a priori, a little more complicated than the previous one. In principle the distance is a little longer and it can be a more difficult crossing due to the weather conditions that you can find. Normally, on this route the winds are usually quite strong. On the one hand, this can be beneficial since it has winds that favor navigation , but, on the other hand, in some seasons they can be detrimental due to the formation of anticyclones . This voyage can be longer, as there may be days with little wind, and they slow down the trip. It is therefore advisable to have sufficient supplies of food, water and gasoline in case the crossing takes longer than expected.

Due to the weather conditions that you can find when crossing the Atlantic by sailboat on this route, the most advisable to undertake your trip would be in the months of May to June. At that time the weather is quite pleasant and it is usually quite cool . The itinerary for this trip is usually as follows. Generally, the departure is usually from North America, New York or Newport would be good destinations. The route to follow would be to go to Bermuda , and then to the Azores , islands of Portugal. This route is usually taken because the conditions are usually more favorable than if you cross the Atlantic a little lower, closer to the equator, being cautious in case of hurricanes or tropical storms. In addition, you can stop to visit these spectacular destinations such as Bermuda and the Azores.

How long does it take to cross the Atlantic?

The duration of the voyage may vary according to different factors. First of all, as we have already mentioned several times, the weather , in particular the wind and sea conditions. A bad or good swell can slow down your trip, as can a lack of wind. On the other hand, a good wind (also favorable for sailing), plus a good swell can make the boat and your trip go more smoothly. Another factor that influences the duration of the voyage is the type of boat and its length. If the boat is larger, you will be able to sail faster. If you know the shortcuts, you could maximize the speed and if you also have the experience of sailing across the Atlantic, you could cross the Atlantic in less time. We are looking at a distance of between 3,500 and just over 4,000 nautical miles , depending on the route, departure and destination you choose to embark on such an adventure. In spite of these factors that we have just mentioned, generally sailing trips to cross the Atlantic can last between 15 and 30 days. It must be taken into account when planning the route and, above all, planning the weather, as the weather forecast is not usually so reliable with 1 or 2 weeks of difference.

It is necessary to be flexible in terms of dates and to have enough supplies to have sufficient safety margin. Also, remember to comply with all maritime safety regulations and requirements before embarking on a transatlantic crossing. Crossing the Atlantic by sailboat is a feat of courage, determination and passion for sailing. Whether you choose the majesty of the Azores Islands on the America-Europe Route or the lush tropical beauty on the other route.

The GC32 sets sail today after 18 months in the Lagos Cup


  • How it works
  • Frequently asked questions

Atlantic crossing by boat

North Atlantic crossing in a single cabin

  • ⭐ Is it necessary to plan the route to Cross the Atlantic? Sailing across the Atlantic is a high-seas sailing activity and, therefore, it is essential to plan the route to minimize setbacks and navigate with favorable winds and currents.
  • ✅ What is the best time to cross the Atlantic? The best time to cross the Atlantic by sailboat from Europe or Africa to the American continent is between the months of October and January, coinciding with the arrival of the Trade Winds and the low season of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • ⌚ How long does it take to cross the Atlantic by sailboat? The transatlantic crossing can last between 15 and 30 days, depending on the capabilities of the ship and the route they intend to take.
  • ⚡ Is it dangerous to cross the Atlantic by sailboat? The main danger involved in crossing the Atlantic by sailboat are tropical storms and hurricanes. For this reason, the crossing is always carried out once the hurricane season ends, to avoid the risk of encountering these meteorological phenomena.
  • ✍ Do I need experience to cross the Atlantic by boat? It is not necessary that you have specific nautical skills to embark on an Atlantic crossing, although it is advisable to have some experience in navigation.
  • ➡️ How much does it cost to cross the Atlantic by sailboat? As you can see in Sailwiz, the price of the Atlantic Crossing varies depending on the type of ship and what is included in the package, although in general, the tickets usually start at 1,000 euros.
  • If you have always dreamed of crossing the Atlantic but have never dared, this is the time to make it happen. You just need to enjoy the adventure and some time (around a month) to cross the Atlantic by sailboat.

Crossing the Atlantic by boat: start of the season

On what dates do the crossings depart to cross the atlantic by sail from europe, from which ports do you leave to cross the atlantic, what itinerary do the atlantic crossings that leave europe follow, what are the main dangers in the crossing of the atlantic, how is tall navigation across the atlantic, what dates do the atlantic crossings depart from the caribbean to europe, what itinerary do the atlantic crossings that leave the caribbean follow, how much fuel is needed to cross the atlantic.

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Travel Across the Atlantic by Sailboat | 10 tips for a happy and safe ocean adventure

a woman is taking a picture of the ocean from the deck of a sailboat.

Travelling an Atlantic Crossing on someone else’s sailing boat is not a straightforward endeavour and an adventure to be taken lightly. Finding a boat is one thing, finding the right boat, crew and captain match is what makes all the difference. There are some things to be mindful of.

Almost everyday we receive a message from someone who would like to sail across the Atlantic ocean as crew. We’ve created blogs, a book , resources , local provision contact, a story collection, and an active network you can tap into to make the Atlantic sailing dream real.

And there’s more coming! We’re stepping up our game to help you get out there! Join the ‘ Sailing across the Atlantic’ theme month this August on our member network. We also have an online sailboat travel & lifestyle crew course in the making to guide you on this adventure. And last but not least, this year for the first time we also organize a voyage across the Atlantic ocean that you can join !

Join the conversation this August about sailing the Atlantic. Many of our members have done it, and many are looking to do so. 

Perhaps the ocean nomads adventure to sail across the Atlantic that we organize doesn’t fit your timeline or budget. So here are some more waypoints to get you across the ocean, happy safe and meaningful. Above all, we like to make ocean adventure accessible, and memorable and impactful.

Five times our Suzy has sailed as crew across the Atlantic. In fact, she hitchhiked on +50 sailboats across the world. So many lessons learned. Here are a few of her tips to get your Atlantic sailing journey started. + Find dozens more tips and stories from Ocean Nomads network members who sailed across and shared their lessons learned on the network. 

Ten tips for crew looking to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

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1. Have your WHY clear

Do you want to gain sailing experience? Learn as much as you can about seamanship? Go from from A to B and reach a certain destination travelling by sail? Meet sailors living on sailboat to learn from? Just be away from all of it? Or simply chillax on anchor in pretty bays? Search accordingly. There is a huge variety of sailing vessels and styles of which only some will match what you’re looking for.

Share what you are looking for in the Ocean Nomads network and our community captains create personalized connections to people and resources that can help you further.

2. Be Confident or Start small

Be confident you’re ready for an ocean passage.  You owe it to yourself, captain, and fellow crew. If you’re not sure about the full Atlantic Crossing, start with a trip near shore or a shorter offshore passage to figure out if an ocean passage is for you. 

The upcoming autumn / winter we facilitate numerous offshore voyages shorter than an ocean crossing but long enough to dip your toes into offshore sailing and learn if it’s for you. Sail with us from the Netherlands to Madeira . Sail with us from Madeira to the Canary Islands. Or from Sail with us from the Azores to the Netherlands. Or jump on board with one of our 70 vessel members .

The voyages we organize are the fastest way we can facilitate a new heading in your life . Literally ;). You get to meet, live, sail with fellow ambitious ocean lovers and be introduced to ocean travel through experiencing it yourself. And all the connections, learnings, and next opportunities that come with it. Paula, Nadiem, Thomas, Pim, Sael, Anna, are a few of our example members we’re so proud of who joined us on a trip as one of their, if not their first sailing experiences,  and then made their Atlantic Sailing dream happen .

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3. Know the bearings

To be ready to expect the unexpected, careful investigation and preparation is essential for a happy and safe ocean passage. Learn about the Atlantic Ocean passage, seasons, distance, destinations, weather, costs, and tasks involved. This will help you find a ride at the right time and place. 

Explore the ‘ Sailing across the Atlantic as Crew ‘ resource on our member hub for the basic bearings, ask your questions, and we do our best to pin point you in the right direction. This August 2022 we have our theme month about sailing across the Atlantic on our member hub. Join in to get ready for the Atlantic crossing.

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Map of Atlantic Crossing Sailing Routes

4. Be flexible with time, place and money

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Sailboats deal with seasons, routes, weather, breakage, and all sorts of variables. By thinking about scenarios in advance makes it easy to peacefully change course and comply with Captains’ calls.

That said, upcoming winter 2022 / 2023 we organize an expedition with Ocean Nomads across the Atlantic. The professionalism and nature of the collaborative vessel (+100 year old schooner!) allows for a certain schedule, as well as a beautiful space to unite a selected crew of impact driven ocean adventurers. Accelerate your Atlantic ocean sailing dream. Apply now to join !

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5. Be 100 percent happy and confident on with whom you’re jumping on board

We’ve met too many people that thought to ‘just’ hop on a boat do an Atlantic Crossing. Unsurprisingly many of them did not succeed in having a pleasant experience. And that’s a pity. Because it should be a beautiful memorable experience to never forget. On the Atlantic ocean, you live, work, eat, leisure together for weeks. Non-stop. It’s like camping in the wild with a bunch of strangers. Only you can’t walk away… Inform yourself, research and prepare. It’s part of the fun! And essential for feeling and being as safe as you can.

Research the boat, captain, and crew carefully. The people you share the adventure with either make or break the experience. Realise that anyone can buy a boat without experience or license. Exchange loads of messages, ask questions, and talk to each other on the phone, preferably with video. Meet-up, fix things together and go for a test sail. Don’t let your eagerness to make a trip override your instinct and judgment. Be 100 percent sure and clear about expectations and intentions.

And network! Sailing the Atlantic is a big deal and big dream for many captains and boatowners. They would like to undertake this adventure with people they feel good with, people they know, or are referred to by others. We for example have one member, Wolfgang, who is now already selecting crew from the Ocean Nomads network for next year. Also we have a few Atlantic sailing crew opportunities for this year! He takes the time to get to know the potential crew. Have a foot in the door early so your chances are increased to be welcome on board. 

Find a safety and happiness assessment checklist and questions list in book Ocean Nomad and in our upcoming Sailing Across the Atlantic theme-month on our member hub.

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Ocean Nomads Crew

We learned that at the end it’s all about the people you share the experience with. That’s a big reason we started Ocean Nomads , to connect more of the adventurous and conscious minded ocean explorers to each other. We have had more and more boat owners particularly reach out to Ocean Nomads because of the amount of ‘noise’ and unmatching crew requests via the many Facebook groups and crew websites. Ocean Nomads members are seen as serious and well-informed crew members. We want you to spent the least amount of time online ‘(re)searching and the most time adventuring out there! 

Throughout our expeditions we walk the extra mile to bring together a unique mix of inspirational individuals talents and knowledge on board. We release the power from the individual talents and knowledge into the group, for maximum learning experience. We select participants based on motivation, drive, and mindset. For legs of longer than 10 days we additionally interview on the phone to make sure expectations, mindset, and values are aligned.

“Expedition ON gave me everything I was looking for. It has opened up so many possibilities to meet new people with similar vibes, including connection, companionship, purpose and being one with nature.” – Cay Chandler Netherlands – Canary Islands ‘21

6. Feel and Be Safe

The ocean deserves our greatest respect. Sailing remotely is an endeavour not to be taken lightly. Especially when joining a smaller sailing vessel, when assessing the options and figuring out if a boat is a good match, talk to the captain, learn about the vessel, the miles sailed on the vessel, and other crew joining. Don’t let your eagerness to make the trip override your investigative spirit, instinct and judgement. Discover the strengths, weaknesses and interests of the captain, crew and boat. Put your critical hat on and do your homework. It’s not ‘just’ a ride. 

ON expedition ON with Schooner Twister we prioritize safety.  Teaming up with Twister allows us to combine professionalism, safety, and adventure, impact and community facilitation. After three offshore collaborations, the only thing we broke were 2 plates. Many  certificates are obtained and complied with to pass the safety checks and requirements to take people out offshore.  This comes with a cost but the rewards are priceless.   Offshore we keep contact and update relatives about the trip (Mum will be happy :)).

In doubt about a boat to join or not? Share it in our community. We’re happy to help assess and figure it out. 

7. Be clear on intentions, expectations, and agreements.

Know what the captain or organization is expecting from you. What are you expecting from the captain and the Atlantic crossing? It makes it easier for you to prepare, anticipate, and avoid misunderstandings. 

cross atlantic sailboat

Ocean Nomads expeditions are hands-on active expeditions, with next level participation in the offshore legs. We have a professional captain and crew who’ll be showing us the ropes. Everyone on board is expected to take part in the running of the ship, including helming, watchkeeping, cooking etc. It’s part of the fun, experience, development and epiphany moment creation. That said, we’ll be many hands on board so there’ll also plenty of room to chill, relax and simply BE.

8. Pack Light and Thoughtful

You don’t need much at sea. As a general rule, if you can live without it, leave it at home. Storage space is worth gold on board. If you have already committed to a boat (and are sure about it!) before leaving your home base, ask what’s already on board, so you don’t have to bring it. Less is more; less is more; less is more! 

cross atlantic sailboat

Find an extensive ocean sailing packing checklist and considerations on the Ocean Nomads network.

9. Provision Consciously for offshore sailing

Captains usually have their hands full preparing the boat, so it’s likely that as crew you will be part of the provisioning team. A well-fed crew is a happy crew, so properly organise, plan and execute provisions for the boat. Your health and happiness for the next few weeks depends on it. A big part of your contribution (or destruction!) to a healthy ocean starts with the packing and provisioning preparation. Find a resource on happy and healthy provisioning , and ocean friendly vegetarian and vegan recipes on the Member Hub.

cross atlantic sailboat

10. Give back to the ocean. Sail with positive impact. Make it Meaningful.

The ocean is the heart of the planet. Water covers more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. Ocean plants produce most of the oxygen we breathe, and the deep waters are home to wildlife and some of the biggest creatures on earth. It provides us with food, jobs, life, play, and sailing! It gives us everything; without it, we cannot survive. By experiencing the ocean first hand on a boat, you will be amazed by its beauty, gain a deep respect for its power, and also see its decline. Here’s a blog on why the ocean is so important.

cross atlantic sailboat

As users of the ocean, it’s our responsibility to become part of the solution, not the problem. Lots of solutions are in the hands of governments, policymakers and corporations, but we don’t have time to wait for politicians to prioritise the ocean in their agenda. We can travel oceans, do good, save money, and have fun. When we plan, prepare and make conscious decisions, we can minimise our negative footprint and maximise the benefits for the place we visit and for the planet as a whole. All together we are responsible for the life that is depleting in the ocean. All together we can also bring it back! Collectively, our impact can be major. It’s our responsibility to become part of the solution, not the problem. Governments and businesses respond to the choices of the public. By making conscious decisions as a consumer, you can influence what will be on the market tomorrow.

The pursuit of a healthy ocean and lifestyle are one and the same. Connect to nature, prioritize play, say no to plastic, fix, create, simplify, use what you got, and only what you need, buy little and buy local, explore more, team-up, walk your talk, stay curious, stay wild, stay pure, eat plants, spread kindness, be aware of your privileges and act accordingly, use your superpowers, and have breakfast from the pan now and then. You’ll save some dishes. And water. And time. If we all try some of this, a little, every day, a healthier ocean and you is the way. 

cross atlantic sailboat

Explore more and meet-up and team-up with fellow ocean nomads to contribute to a healthier ocean on our member network . Together we can!

“Our actions over the next ten years will determine the state of the ocean for the next 10,000 years.” – Sylvia Earle

cross atlantic sailboat

10. Bonus tip! Don’t book a return ticket 😉

An Atlantic Crossing goes hardly as planned. Avoid stressing the captain because you have a plane to catch. Above all, chances are you’ll be hooked and you want to keep going. Don’t book a return ticket, chances are you want to keep going. We’re here to help you continue and accelerate your ride towards a more sustainable ocean nomads lifestyle.

cross atlantic sailboat

At the end sailing across the Atlantic as Crew is common sense, following your instinct and one big adventure! But being well informed and prepared is key for a happy, safe, and meaningful experience. That’s why we set up Ocean Nomads and now also organize a sailing adventure across the Atlantic ocean that you can join!  To connect more of you to the ocean, happy, safe and meaningfully! And to each other! 

Enjoy & Ahoy!

Yes, I want this! This content has partly been published in YachtingWorld.

Are you planning on Sailing across the Atlantic as crew? What questions do you have? Would you like us to help you decide if it’s a good match or not? Join our Sailing Across the Atlantic theme month this august on the Member hub! As a community we are here to support each other and make the dreams real.

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cross atlantic sailboat

How Big A Sailboat To Cross The Atlantic Ocean? (Explained)

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Sailing across the Atlantic is one of the most adventurous and thrilling sailing decisions you could make.

However, you should always prepare for such a journey and make sure that your boat can handle the crossing.

Table of Contents

Here’s How Big your Sailboat Should Be to Cross the Atlantic:

For crossing the Atlantic Ocean, you should aim for a boat that is at least 30-40 feet long. An experienced sailor can do with less. The smallest sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean was just over 5 feet long. The record-holder is Hugo Vihlen.

While this is a valid question, there are many factors to consider beyond size.

In this article, we researched all that you need to know for your Atlantic Crossing Adventure:

cross atlantic sailboat

The 1993 World Record Breaker:

When preparing for your journey across the Atlantic, your biggest worry is probably: is my boat too small?

Chances are it is not.

In 1993 the record was set for the smallest boat ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Hugo Vihlen set the record on a boat named “Father’s Day.” “Father’s Day” measures in at 5 feet and 4 inches in length.

It can now be found at the National Maritime Museum at Cornwall.

“Father’s Day” still holds the World Record to this day.

Check also our article on 3 ways to sail around Niagara falls .

So What Size Do I Need?

If you are planning a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, ​your boat’s size is more a question of personal preference and needs.

One mistake you don’t want to make is going too big or small for the crew at hand. While it is common to crave more space and privacy, you do not want to take out a too big boat to handle. If you plan to make the trip solo or even as a small team of two, you will want to be sure that you pick something that can easily be sailed by one person.

We recommend taking off in a sailboat that is around 30-40 feet long or bigger. This is to make sure you can withstand rough weather and bigger waves.

That being said, it’s definitely possible to cross the Atlantic ocean in smaller sailboats. Still, unless you are a very seasoned and experienced sailor, you shouldn’t take off in a boat any smaller than 30 feet.

This will be helpful in case of emergencies and any other challenges that may arise. If you plan to travel with a larger crew, you will be able to a lot for more space.

However, you will want to keep in mind, ​the bigger the boat, the bigger the expense!

Other Things to Keep in Mind when Selecting a Vessel:

Size is not the only thing you should be concerned about when choosing your vessel to sail across the ocean.

Other factors include but are not limited to:

  • Mono-hulled boats are more traditional and are much more stable in dangerous weather conditions.
  • Multi-hulled boats are being built safer every day and can be used on the open ocean; however, they are still risky in treacherous conditions.
  • When choosing a boat, you will want to avoid suspended rudder types as they have been known to be vulnerable.
  • No matter what type of rudder you have, make sure you have an emergency backup.
  • The best type of Keel for open ocean travel is a fixed keel .
  • A keel fixed in the center is ideal for this type of travel.
  • Ensure that your sails are as strong as possible, as well as being easy to manage.
  • You want to make sure there are no sail issues while traveling.

How Long of a Trip Should I Expect?

When planning to take this trip, you should expect it to last about 3 to 4 weeks.

This accounts for normal travel as well as accounting for a possible lack of wind.

When measuring your route’s distance, keep in mind that boats do not often travel in a straight line. It would be best if you  planned for the possibility of up to 20% more distance traveled than your planned route.

Average travel time can also vary based on multiple factors. ​

These can include:

  • What type of sailboat you have.
  • The size of the sailboat.
  • Your personal sailing skills and speed.
  • Your chosen route.

Atlantic Sailing Routes

One of the most critical aspects of your trip is the trip itself!

There are two major routes to take when choosing to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, and they have a high impact on travel time.

The most important decision to make is whether you will go east to west or west to east.

If you are traveling from Europe to the Americas, you will sail South-East to the Caribbean, most likely from Portugal or the Canary Islands.

Going South-East instead of straight across might seem out of the way, but this is how you will get the strongest winds and kindest weather conditions.

Your trip from Europe to the Americas can average between three to four weeks, depending on your land.

A journey from the Americas to Europe will still average between three to four weeks but generally takes sailors longer than the South-East route.

The best route to take when traveling from the Americas to Europe would be to depart from Bermuda and land on the Portuguese coast.

How Big of a Challenge Should I Expect?

Sailing across the ocean is no easy task. ​

​Novice sailors should be careful; mistakes made on this journey could be potentially fatal.

Not only can the journey be challenging, but it can also be nerve-wracking. Confidence in your ability should help calm your nerves, but you may want to evaluate how comfortable you feel about your journey, equipment, and sailing skills.

One major precaution to take is to avoid setting out in hurricane season. This normally lasts from June to November. It is wisest to head out before or after hurricane season.

Even in the hurricane off-season, you should ensure you are prepared if you come across a storm. Out in the open ocean, waves can get larger than anything closer to shore. With an experienced sailor on board, most boats are set to handle any type of weather challenges.

This is exactly why you don’t want to be sailing in too small of a boat when crossing the Atlantic Ocean, or the Pacific ocean for that matter.

One challenge that comes with long ocean travel is loneliness.

A one-month solo journey across the ocean with nothing to look at but endless water and no one to talk to can be challenging for the average person.

What Should I Bring?

It would not be wise to take off without all the essentials.

Most importantly, you will want to make sure you take on enough fuel. Whatever fuel you think you will need for the journey, you will want to bring at least 33% more.

It is easy to use more fuel than you might immediately think, especially if the winds are light or need to run your engine to keep the batteries charged. You will want to be confident that you have enough fuel to power the engine whenever you need it, so you know you will have full use of your craft and equipment for the entire journey.

One way you might consider ensuring you will not run out of power is to have alternatives on board, such as solar panels. This will provide energy throughout the entire trip without taking up too much cargo space.

Along with fuel for your boat, you will want to make sure you have food and water for yourself. Make sure to pack enough that will last the longest possible length of your trip.

Packing enough water is a key element to your survival. Dehydration can be extremely harmful to you and can cause sailing mistakes due to fatigue and other symptoms.

While you are out on the water in the exposed sun, the risk of dehydration is higher than normal, so you will need more water per day than you would otherwise consume.

Clothing and correct skin protection is also something that should be considered while packing. Both warm and cooler clothes will be useful on the trip.

Some other essentials to bring include:

  • A watch or other timekeeping device
  • Sleeping gear
  • Waterproof bags
  • Sun protection for your skin
  • Knife and other survival utensils such as can be found on a swiss army knife.

While you want to make sure you have everything you will need, you also don’t want to overpack. The more room you preserve for the essentials, the better.

You will also benefit from cutting down on the luxuries. Your main focus will be sailing, and there won’t be time for much else.

Are There any Tips I Should Know About?

Some tips for your journey include:

  • Focus on safety! Your main focus should be arriving safely, so get experience and confidence before you depart.
  • Maintain good speed! Keep a constant watch on the wind and your boat’s sailing performance to arrive at your destination as quickly as you can.
  • Keep your journey simple! A month-long trek across the ocean is not the time to try out unnecessary fancy equipment. You don’t want to be fiddling around with too much stuff when your focus should be on the ocean and your journey.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to have faith and confidence in your ability to succeed.​

If it is your goal to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, you can do it!

Many people make this journey every year in all types of vessels. My advice is not to get too bogged down in the specific size of your boat.

If you prepare properly you should have an amazing journey across the Atlantic Ocean!

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The Caribbean to Mediterranean sailing routes: how to cross the Atlantic Eastward

cross atlantic sailboat

Countless boats sail the transatlantic route from the Caribbean to Europe each year, but you should not take navigation lightly because it must endure disturbances from the west moving east for up to 15-20 days. The traditional sailing ship path is called either an arch approach or possibly a stop in Bermuda simply to exit the trade wind system and enter the perturbations zone, where there would be enough wind. Let’s dive deep to know the sailing routes from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean.

Why crossing the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean isn’t the same as the Mediterranean to the Caribbean?

By early summer, the Caribbean’s prime season is winding down, pushed out by a barrage of large regattas. Then, when summer returns to the northern latitudes, the workers return home.

While most people concentrate on traversing the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean, the journey back to Europe or the east coast of the United States is as or perhaps more significant. The return trip may be more difficult, but it is also more diverse, and you should begin arranging for it as soon as you decide to go on a season abroad. The return path is well-traveled but presents a different situation than the way out. As a crew travels northeast, the days will grow longer, but temperatures will drop, and the climate can be highly variable and occasionally challenging. What should you consider while preparing your crew and yacht, and what is the ideal route and strategy?

The Azores High or the Bermuda High dictates the wind direction and the weather in the Atlantic.

cross atlantic sailboat

Winds from the east are blowing against the south side of the high, which has the power to push tropical systems further west. From the eastern Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea or even over to the Gulf of Mexico, these easterly winds can carry them. That implies the Bermuda high’s effects are so profound that a hurricane may proceed in any direction—westward toward Louisiana, eastward toward the East Coast, or anywhere in between.

Taking the same route as the Mediterranean to the Caribbean (or a very direct line) would mean sailing upwind against tradewinds.

The weather window to cross the West to East is much shorter and more volatile than East to West.

The predominant winds in the northern hemisphere, more especially in the United States, blow from west to east in accordance with the rotation of the Earth. As a result, storms follow the jet stream in that same direction, making the weather very volatile. Thus, we get a very short window to travel in this direction.

Your chances of navigating very calm waters are high around the Azores High

The air is circulated clockwise by the high-pressure block of the Azores High, which behaves anticyclonically. Due to this movement, African eastern waves are pushed away from coastal West Africa and into the Bahamas, Central America, and the Caribbean, along the southern edge of the Azores High. Therefore, the chances of navigating very calm waters are high around the Azores High.

The best routes to cross the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean

cross atlantic sailboat

Use our Sailing Distance calculator here

The weather plays a significant role in determining when to set sail, the route to take, and which sails to bring. The primary priority is avoiding the storm season from June to November. Hence, most boats depart in late November to arrive before Christmas, even though the tradewinds are typically stronger in January.

However, it is like humans to test the limits; some crews always depart early to extend the season. The sooner you go, however, the more crucial it is to maintain an easterly trajectory before deciding on a westerly route. Late storms from the west make a route through the Cape Verde islands increasingly appealing. It reduces the time spent in possible storm zones and provides a southern escape route since hurricanes seldom track south of 10°N.

Most sailing routes try to cross the Atlantic above the Azores-Bermuda High and head to the Azores islands.

Early in the season, low-pressure systems are more likely to be located further south; if you head north, you’ll often encounter headwinds north of the Azores. As summer draws near, low-pressure systems have a tendency to drift further north, and the Azores High widens, resulting in lighter winds as you approach the Azores.

The arch route going around the north of the Azores high straight to the Azores (Horta): the fastest and most reliable route

A yacht undertaking the west-to-east trip will eventually be overtaken by at least one front, and perhaps more, due to weather systems spinning off the US East Coast that can produce lows and frontal systems that can stretch well south. Therefore, the goal is to catch and ride favorable winds as far as possible. To do this, most boats head for the Azores to halt before choosing the best time to continue on to Spain, Portugal, or up to the UK.

The two stops route: head first to the Bermudas, then to the Azores

The most well-liked launching places are St. Maarten and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands; both are conveniently located and suitable for provisioning, spare parts, chandlery, and repairs. However, many crews stop at Bermuda on their way to or from the Caribbean, and this is a particularly wise move if the wind patterns alter three to four days out. Crews can rest, replenish supplies, have fun in Bermuda, and wait for favorable weather to start the next leg.

Going directly into the North Atlantic High straight to the Azores: a potential route for cruisers and yachts with plenty of fuel only

For cruisers, it is typically preferred to travel in a southerly direction, staying south of the Gulf Stream in light winds and adding extra fuel and motoring as needed.

What are the best Caribbean islands to cross the Atlantic from West to East?

cross atlantic sailboat

One of the most well-liked launching points is Tortola in the British Virgin Islands or St. Maarten because of its convenient locations, chandlery services, and superior provisioning. However, several crews make a stopover at Bermuda, which is an excellent choice if the prevailing winds alter three to four days before reaching the Caribbean. In Bermuda, crews may rest, resupply, explore the island, and await a window of favorable weather conditions for the next round.

Read also: BVI Hurricane Season – Everything You Have to Know

What is the best time of the year to cross the Atlantic from the Caribbean to Europe?

Some people consider an Atlantic crossing or circuit to take a full year. It starts with a trip from Europe to the Caribbean in late November or early December and the yacht circle back in Europe in April/May to start enjoying the Mediterranean again summer time.

There are valid reasons for this schedule, the most important being the hurricane season. So this spans from the start of June until the conclusion of November. Hurricanes can occur beyond the ‘official season,’ although uncommon; yet, the previous three years have all had named storms during May.

What does your yacht need to have to cross the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean?

cross atlantic sailboat

You should include essential spares, like pump and autopilot components. Moreover, replace any you may have used after your Atlantic voyage. Spare parts transportation to the Azores may be challenging and time-consuming.

A thorough inspection of the rigging before departure is required. Your standing and running rigging will have already traversed thousands of bright, salty miles. Likewise, the returning transatlantic trip will need you to remain days at a time on a single tack, so anticipate chafing on sheets and halyards. A skilled rigging inspection could be well worth the investment. However, if you perform it yourself, examine every piece.

In addition to bringing additional gasoline in jerry cans or flexible tanks, don’t forget to stock up on engine fuel filters and Racor water separator filters to prevent fuel supply difficulties. On most crossings, you seldom use the engine. But, when the wind is low, it’s excellent to push through a wind hole and get into the wind on the other side; more gasoline offers you more alternatives. Consider purchasing a portable transfer pump since wrangling funnels and pouring fuel at sea are filthy and cumbersome tasks.

Read also: 10 Sailing Myths And Bad Advice You Shouldn’t Listen To

How long does it take to cross the Atlantic from West to East?

On average, you will spend between three and four weeks sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. However, it is possible to finish in two weeks if you are fortunate, find shortcuts, and have a speedy sailboat. If there is insufficient wind for one week or longer, it may take as long as a month.

How hard is the sailing experience of crossing the Atlantic eastward?

Before setting sail across the Atlantic Ocean, you should be knowledgeable of and well equipped for the following circumstances and dangers:

  • A lengthy travel
  • Large waves
  • severe weather, such as hurricanes (depending on when you set sail)
  • Collisions involving cargo ships and vessels

How experienced do you have to be to cross the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean on your own?

cross atlantic sailboat

Crossing the Atlantic requires a solid, well-equipped vessel and a great deal of sailing expertise and talent. You will require expertise in weather forecasting, awareness of weather conditions, and familiarity with charts and course planning.

Can you charter a yacht for a transatlantic sailing trip from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean?

Transatlantic voyages are not just unique but also exhilarating experiences altogether. For many sailors, crossing the approximately 2,850nm (Canaries) – 3,200nm (Western France) distance across the Atlantic is a “must do experience of a lifetime.” It is an amazing yacht charter journey of a lifetime. The most seasoned, daring, and keen sailors are invited to participate in this yacht charter experience if they want to challenge themselves or just go on a brand-new sailing adventure. After an Atlantic crossing, we can surely say that yacht charters are no longer the same. Take advantage of these exclusive yachting vacation packages right away.

You can pick the yacht charter as sailing catamarans between 40 – 62′ or sailing yachts between 40-65′. You can visit a range of amazing destinations such as Saint Thomas, Saint Martin, Barbados, Portugal or even Spain.

Read also: Five Easy Beginners-Friendly Sailing Trips And Destinations

The Caribbean to the Mediterranean sailing route is lengthy. But it is worthwhile to those who complete it to the other side. The pleasure and feeling of success you will feel after completing the crossing will more than compensate for the months of planning and the difficulties you will undoubtedly encounter on the way.

If you are planning to traverse the Atlantic, good luck!


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6 Top Transatlantic Cruises for 2024

T ransatlantic cruises are unique when you compare them to traditional cruises most people book for family trips and romantic getaways. These voyages tend to be longer in general, and they have more built-in days at sea and offer a lot more time on board as a result. Repositioning cruises that include a transatlantic crossing tend to attract more retirees and travelers who just want to relax and enjoy their ships' amenities, especially since fewer days in port means fewer excursions and more time doing nothing at all.

That said, the fact that transatlantic cruises can last as few as seven nights means they may fit in your plans more easily than you may think. There are also some benefits to transatlantic crossings that may not be obvious, including lower nightly rates, more onboard credit, and more time to kick back and relax at a floating luxury resort in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

If you're curious which transatlantic cruises are best for 2024, here are six top picks with different cruise lengths, itineraries and unique destinations to explore.

Explore cruises on GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

Cunard Line

Date: Departs May 5, 2024

Departure port: Brooklyn, New York

Starting price: $2,449 per person (plus port taxes and fees)

Cruise length: 7 to 18 nights

In May of 2024, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 vessel will offer three different transatlantic crossings of various lengths. Choose from a seven-night sailing from Brooklyn, New York , to Southampton, England; a nine-night sailing to Hamburg, Germany ; and an 18-night round-trip sailing that departs from Brooklyn and crosses the Atlantic twice on the way back to its starting point. This unique combination of itineraries lets you cross the sea and tailor your trip to how long you want to be away from home.

The 18-night itinerary is especially interesting, since it lets you depart from the United States and arrive back in Brooklyn in the end with stops in both England and Germany, as well as plenty of sea days in between. Luxury cruise line Cunard is known for its elegant design, lush amenities and upscale feel, and the Queen Mary 2 is one of the line's most luxurious ships. Highlights on this exclusive vessel include the Royal Court Theatre, a casino, gala evenings, an onboard spa and a vast library. The Queen Mary 2 holds up to 2,691 guests with 1,173 crew to cater to your every need.

Seabourn Cruise Line

Date: Departs March 24, 2024

Departure port: Miami

Starting price: $5,949 per person (plus port taxes and fees)

Cruise length: 21 nights

Seabourn is offering a 21-night transatlantic cruise from Miami on Seabourn Quest in March 2024 that offers a diverse range of ports of call before ending its voyage in Las Palmas in Spain's Canary Islands . Departure from Miami is followed by nine days at sea. Then, you'll enjoy multiple stops in the Canary Islands – including Santa Cruz de La Palma and San Sebastián de La Gomera – as well as stops in Praia and Mindelo the Cape Verde archipelago.

This journey with Seabourn makes it possible for travelers to see some of the most beautiful and remote tropical islands in the world. The Canary Islands are known for their white sand beaches , volcanoes and lush greenery; similar landscapes can also be found in Cape Verde's coastal towns and villages. Seabourn Quest, a smaller ocean vessel, accommodates just 229 guests.

MSC Cruises

Date: Departs Nov. 8, 2024

Departure port: Southampton, England

Starting price: $769 per person (plus port taxes and fees)

Cruise length: 16 nights

The MSC Virtuosa from MSC Cruises is repositioning from Europe to the Caribbean in November 2024, which gives travelers the chance to enjoy a lengthy transatlantic crossing with plenty of unique ports. This sailing departs from England with eight sea days plus stops in France, the Azores of Portugal, St. Maarten , Antigua and Barbuda, and Martinique . The ship ends its journey in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

The MSC Virtuosa is a larger cruise vessel that boasts an impressive grand promenade with a LED dome ceiling, dedicated clubs for children and teens, an onboard spa, a lavish casino and the luxurious MSC Yacht Club section of the ship. This vessel holds a maximum of 6,334 passengers at once.

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Princess Cruises

Date: Departs July 5, 2024

Departure port: New York City (Manhattan or Brooklyn)

Starting price: $4,098 per person (plus port taxes and fees)

Cruise length: 31 nights

Princess Cruises also offers its share of transatlantic sailings on various vessels. Its 31-night crossing from New York to Barcelona, Spain , on Island Princess in July 2024 is jam-packed with exciting destinations to explore. This lengthy transatlantic voyage has only 13 sea days with planned stops in Canada's Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England, Spain, Portugal and Morocco before the journey ends in Barcelona.

This intriguing sailing experience with Princess takes passengers to eight different countries in the span of a month. Island Princess is a nice ship for a long sailing because of its smaller size, with just 2,200 passengers and 900 crew. But the ship is also large enough to have a huge selection of included and specialty dining options, a Vegas-style casino, a sports court, a large central atrium for gathering, and several pools and hot tubs to enjoy.

Celebrity Cruises

Date: Departs April 11, 2024

Departure port: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Starting price: $760 per person (plus port taxes and fees)

Cruise length: 12 nights

Celebrity Cruises is offering a 12-night sailing on Celebrity Equinox in April 2024 that starts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida , and ends in Lisbon, Portugal – making it possible for travelers to enjoy eight relaxing days at sea. What's interesting about this sailing is its stops along the way, which include the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda; Porta Delgada in Portugal's Azores archipelago; and Porto in mainland Portugal.

The Celebrity Equinox accommodates a maximum of just 2,852 passengers at once, so this Celebrity vessel is a solid choice for travelers who want just the right size ship instead of a smaller vessel or a megaship. There are also plenty of onboard features to keep you happy and entertained as you float across the Atlantic Ocean, including The Casino, The Lawn Club with outdoor games like bocce ball and croquet, The Martini Bar, the adults-only Solarium and more.

Royal Caribbean International

Dates: Departs Oct. 24, 2024

Departure port: Barcelona, Spain

Starting price: $876 per person (plus port taxes and fees)

Cruise length: 14 nights

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is hosting a transatlantic voyage in October 2024 that departs from Barcelona, Spain, and ends in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This vessel will make stops in Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, Cartagena and Málaga in Spain, then spend eight days at sea. After that, enjoy a day in Nassau in the Bahamas before the cruise drops passengers off in sunny Florida.

Interior staterooms on this Royal Caribbean sailing start at just $876 per person (plus port taxes and fees), which works out to around $60 per night, per person. The Oasis of the Seas megaship can hold a total of 6,771 guests and 2,109 crew, so it's an enormous vessel – to put it mildly. This size may not be ideal for travelers who want a more intimate cruising experience, but it's perfect for cruisers who want plenty of space to spread out and endless activities to take part in. Oasis of the Seas boasts 20 different restaurants and cafes, 11 bars and lounges, a variety of pools and whirlpools, a rock climbing wall, the AquaTheater diving and entertainment venue, mini-golf, a casino and plenty more.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Holly Johnson is a professional travel writer and cruise expert who has covered family travel and cruises for more than a decade. She has cruised more than 40 times across most of the major cruise lines in destinations throughout the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East. Johnson used her personal experience and research expertise to curate the itineraries for this article.

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Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 in New York.


  • 90 YEARS AGO

1st Transatlantic Pax Flight

The very first passenger flight over the atlantic.

Crowd at Dixie Clipper departure from Port Washington, June 1939

Photo by Betty Trippe: Crowd at Dixie Clipper departure from Port Washington, June 1939

The dixie clipper.

June 28th, 1939 was a big day, not just for Pan American, but for commercial aviation. After years of on-again, off-again negotiations, public prognostication, and the long-promised prospect of a new epoch for global travel, the first flight with paying passengers took off to cross the Atlantic.

The big new Boeing B-314, NC 18605 Dixie Clipper left Port Washington on Long Island, bound for Lisbon and Marseilles by way of Horta, the Azores – via the so-called transatlantic “southern route.” Onboard were 22 paying passengers. Some had paid for the privilege years earlier.

1940 Pan Am Dixie Clipper Pilot ROD Sullivan, center

The trip was the culmination of a burst of activity over the previous five weeks, which had seen the dispatch of five airmail-only proving flights. The Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA – forerunner of today’s FAA) had required these proving flights as part of the process inherent with their “Certificate of Convenience and Necessity” to Pan Am allowing the start of transatlantic service on May 12th 1939.

These first runs were followed by an “inspection” trip for twelve members of the print and broadcast press on June 17th on the Atlantic Clipper.

Pan American was also starting a “northern route” transatlantic air service – again as airmail-only flights at first – to the British Isles, via Newfoundland and Ireland, on June 24th. Plans called for operating twice-weekly services to Europe, with one flight each on both the “northern” and “southern” routes.

View of Manhasset Bay from the Dixie Clipper & two Pan Am Stewards onboard the first passenger flight to cross the Atlantic, June 1939. Composite of images from Passenger Betty Trippe's personal photos.

It was an exciting time for Pan Am, and for Americans. When the Yankee Clipper flew over the New York World’s Fair with the first load of airmail bound for Europe on May 20th, there was a radio hook-up between plane and ground. With a crowd of thousands listening in, Capt. Arthur LaPorte exchanged words with the dignitaries below, while the big Boeing circled above. When the brief exchange ended, the crowd cheered wildly as the plane flew off towards Europe.

The flight of the Dixie Clipper carrying the first paid passengers on June 28th marked the beginning of what was expected to be the start of a new era. Now anyone – if they had the fare – could fly across the Atlantic. The concept had great power to fire the imaginations of ordinary people, as well as marketeers who could see the value of being identified with this new dimension of modern life.

Pan Am Ad Ediphone detail

Detail of Edison Company ad using the occasion to promote its Ediphone recorder: “The log of the Dixie Clipper passengers will be Voice-written by Ediphone. Their impressions during this historic flight will be recorded as they are having them, on the new desk Ediphone which Pan American Airways has installed for passengers’ convenience.  In other words, “ a secretarial service as modern as the Dixie Clipper.”The Ediphone’s use aboard the Clipper dramatically demonstrates its place in modern business and professional life.  It is literally quick as though in recording thought. One simply picks up the Ediphone receiver and talks. No button-pushing. No waiting for a second person. No limitations of time or place. Busy, important people are adopting this modern method for streamlining their work.”

We are fortunate to have these pictures taken by Betty Trippe, who flew as a passenger on that flight. She also captured her impressions in her diary. It was an image of luxury aloft that survives to this day when travel by Clipper is recalled:

“At dinner . . . everyone was in high spirits and we enjoyed gay and interesting conversation. The tables were set with white tablecloths. The dinner was delicious and beautifully served. Some contrasted this trip with the days of sailing ships which took two or three months to cross the ocean . . . yet we were crossing in twenty-four hours . . . Captain (R.O.D.) Sullivan came down from the control room to smoke a cigarette and visit with the passengers. He was a grand person and inspired real confidence by his cool cheerful manner. Everything seemed so routine and matter-of-fact that we almost lost sight of the fact this this was first airplane flight to carry passengers to Europe.”  (From  Pan Am First Lady by Betty Stettinius Trippe;  1996, Paladwr Press, MacLean VA).

Fine Dining aboard Pan Ams Dixie Clipper June 1939 First transatlantic passenger flight

Fine Dining aboard the first transatlantic passenger flight, photo by Betty Trippe

Despite the wonder and seeming normalcy of the new transatlantic passenger service there were clouds looming over the horizon that would soon impact everything about it. One can understand why Betty Trippe was so taken by the novelty and excitement of her flight on the Dixie Clipper. But perhaps in her private thoughts she might have also understood the purpose of at least one of her fellow passengers. He was “Wild Bill” Donovan – soon to head America’s secret intelligence service, the OSS. Donovan was making use of the fastest means available to get to Europe. It would be only 63 days later that Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, and two days after that, the war in Europe was on, and would last for six more years. By its end, nothing about those brief first days of transatlantic passenger flight would be the same

But while they lasted, they inspired an indelible image of romantic air travel that persists to this day.

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Atlantic crossing: When’s the best time to go?

Yachting World

  • November 11, 2021

When it comes to an Atlantic crossing there are clearly defined weather windows. But how flexible can you be and what challenges are you like to face? Weather Guru Chris Tibbs reports.

cross atlantic sailboat

An Atlantic crossing or Atlantic circuit has often been seen as a year-long adventure, crossing the ocean in late November or December to the Caribbean , with a return to Europe starting in May.

There are good reasons for this timetable, the overriding one being the hurricane season. This runs from the beginning of June through to the end of November. Hurricanes can happen outside of the ‘official season’, but they are rare – although the last few years have all seen named storms in May.

By departing towards the end of November, with the bulk of the crossing in December, we maximise the Caribbean season, often coming back to Europe after Antigua Race Week in May.

The Caribbean winter season now begins with two major events starting in January; the RORC Transatlantic Race, and for this year an additional January departure for the ARC. Both are scheduled to depart early January from Lanzarote and Gran Canaria respectively.

cross atlantic sailboat

Not much to split them? Using reanalysis data and routing software the routes in green show late November departures and those in red January

Interestingly, for the actual crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, statistics show that the wind tends to become stronger as we get into January and February – so there may be some truth in the Christmas trade winds that we hear about starting to blow around Christmas and lasting well into the following months.

Article continues below…

cross atlantic sailboat

What downwind sails should you have for an Atlantic crossing?

What downwind sails should you buy for an Atlantic crossing or cruising beyond the Caribbean? This is one of the…

cross atlantic sailboat

Chris Tibbs on a dream Atlantic crossing and a heavenly Caribbean winter

There is only one adjective that adequately describes our transatlantic crossing with the ARC last year and the season of…

When departing the Canaries the prevailing wind direction is from north through to east-north-east. These are the trade winds found on the eastern side of the semi-permanent high pressure which we know as the Azores high. The wind blows from this direction for 55-65% of the time with little variation from November to March. However, averages do not tell us everything and we do get a number of days when the Canaries are affected by low pressure passing close to the north.

Winter winds

This is important for a pleasurable passage; few people enjoy headwinds when supposedly on a downwind passage or race. Near the Canaries the wind is between south and west for around 10% of the time in December and higher at 14% in January. That is not a huge difference and the variability between years makes it hard to make firm predictions.

There are lots of statistics from different sources and although they roughly agree the older pilot charts and routing charts tend to indicate a higher incidence of trade winds, while winds derived from newer satellite observations show more variability.

cross atlantic sailboat

Harry Scott leaving the Canaries.

When looking at reanalysis data we see an even greater variation in the wind patterns, and this is consistent with a greater variability in the weather which we expect with climate change.

Additionally, if the wind becomes south-westerly, the average strength tends to increase from November and December through to February. This is an indication of deeper winter depressions passing closer to, and affecting the Canary Islands.

On the way across there will remain a small chance of south-westerly winds which decreases the further south and west you get; mid-Atlantic adverse and light winds are generally linked to the tail of cold fronts splitting the Azores high or more rarely areas of low pressure.

When to go?

To compare conditions between months, I ran some weather routing for a late November and an early January departure. This was from the Canaries to St Lucia using 11 years of reanalysis data from 2010-2020 departing in late November and early January. By using the polars from a cruiser-racer production boat some of the results were quite surprising.

The earlier departures gave a greater range of routes with the January departures slightly closer to the direct route and to the south; this reflects the expected stronger winds (from historical data) with shorter courses following closer to the great circle route.

However, the main surprise came with the timings as the late November departures were on average 10 hours faster than the January ones. This didn’t make a great deal of sense because historical data, as well as anecdotal evidence from the Caribbean, suggested the later crossings should have stronger and steadier trade winds.

But by looking at the routes and weather patterns a little more closely, I found that on four of the January routes there was low pressure in the central and eastern Atlantic that was further south than usually expected and impacted on the first part of the route. This gave moderate to strong headwinds and a slow start to the passage which was followed by light winds until the trade winds filled in after the lows had moved away.

cross atlantic sailboat

An unusually large low in January, completely disturbing the trade winds

So a January passage on a ‘good’ year should, given long term average conditions, be faster with stronger wind particularly on the latter part of the passage. But, rather significantly, there is a greater chance of low pressure affecting the Canary Islands and delaying the start if cruising, or giving a period of beating if racing.

Planning our sailing is rarely as simple as deciding a date on which we are leaving. Something that should be taken equally seriously is the weather expected on the passage to the Canary Islands. This is more important when heading south from the UK and north-west Europe, although it must also be taken into consideration when departing from the Mediterranean.

Head south early

The usual advice is to get south as early as possible, as an easier passage will be had in September rather than leaving it until November or December. If crossing the Bay of Biscay, once into September the likelihood of gales increases, as does the probability of south-westerly winds.

In September pilot charts indicate that gales in northern Biscay are likely 3% of the time, which increases to 7% in October and 9% in November. We also get a significant increase in south-westerly winds; this reflects the passing of lows to the north-west which tend to pass further south during autumn and winter.


Classic tradewind setup for an Atlantic crossing. Photo: TimBisMedia

There are some breaks in the weather as cold fronts rattle through veering the wind to the north-west and occasionally to the north. As the season progresses so does the likelihood that the Portuguese trade winds will fail, giving a beat south down the Portuguese coast only picking up the trade winds south of the latitude of Gibraltar.

As we’ve seen from the start of races from France in the autumn, there can be a high attrition rate before the yachts have even left Biscay. It’s not that you can’t cross Biscay in any month, but the later it’s left the longer the time between weather windows and the shorter the weather windows tend to be. This can lead us to make choices based on necessity rather than prudence.

Once south of Portugal we should get into the start of the trade winds – but we still need to watch for lows further south than normal.

While most yachts arrive in the Canary Islands having had a good sail, there are always a number that get caught out and end up beating for some of the way – usually yachts that have left it late and are on a tight schedule. This is also true for yachts leaving the Mediterranean and it’s not uncommon for yachts to have to wait in Gibraltar for strong westerly winds to diminish.

Whether intending to start your transatlantic in November or wait until later, I prefer to see boats south of Biscay well before the end of September and would not be far behind if leaving from the Med.

A crossing in January will generally have stronger winds, but there’s a greater chance of headwinds particularly when getting away from the Canary Islands. Whenever you decide to cross, getting to the Canaries early is important and the later you leave it to get south the more chance there is of having to wait for a weather window.

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photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

Crying Myself to Sleep on the Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

Seven agonizing nights aboard the Icon of the Seas

photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

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Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET on April 6, 2024.

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MY FIRST GLIMPSE of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, from the window of an approaching Miami cab, brings on a feeling of vertigo, nausea, amazement, and distress. I shut my eyes in defense, as my brain tells my optic nerve to try again.

The ship makes no sense, vertically or horizontally. It makes no sense on sea, or on land, or in outer space. It looks like a hodgepodge of domes and minarets, tubes and canopies, like Istanbul had it been designed by idiots. Vibrant, oversignifying colors are stacked upon other such colors, decks perched over still more decks; the only comfort is a row of lifeboats ringing its perimeter. There is no imposed order, no cogent thought, and, for those who do not harbor a totalitarian sense of gigantomania, no visual mercy. This is the biggest cruise ship ever built, and I have been tasked with witnessing its inaugural voyage.

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“Author embarks on their first cruise-ship voyage” has been a staple of American essay writing for almost three decades, beginning with David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” which was first published in 1996 under the title “Shipping Out.” Since then, many admirable writers have widened and diversified the genre. Usually the essayist commissioned to take to the sea is in their first or second flush of youth and is ready to sharpen their wit against the hull of the offending vessel. I am 51, old and tired, having seen much of the world as a former travel journalist, and mostly what I do in both life and prose is shrug while muttering to my imaginary dachshund, “This too shall pass.” But the Icon of the Seas will not countenance a shrug. The Icon of the Seas is the Linda Loman of cruise ships, exclaiming that attention must be paid. And here I am in late January with my one piece of luggage and useless gray winter jacket and passport, zipping through the Port of Miami en route to the gangway that will separate me from the bulk of North America for more than seven days, ready to pay it in full.

The aforementioned gangway opens up directly onto a thriving mall (I will soon learn it is imperiously called the “Royal Promenade”), presently filled with yapping passengers beneath a ceiling studded with balloons ready to drop. Crew members from every part of the global South, as well as a few Balkans, are shepherding us along while pressing flutes of champagne into our hands. By a humming Starbucks, I drink as many of these as I can and prepare to find my cabin. I show my blue Suite Sky SeaPass Card (more on this later, much more) to a smiling woman from the Philippines, and she tells me to go “aft.” Which is where, now? As someone who has rarely sailed on a vessel grander than the Staten Island Ferry, I am confused. It turns out that the aft is the stern of the ship, or, for those of us who don’t know what a stern or an aft are, its ass. The nose of the ship, responsible for separating the waves before it, is also called a bow, and is marked for passengers as the FWD , or forward. The part of the contemporary sailing vessel where the malls are clustered is called the midship. I trust that you have enjoyed this nautical lesson.

I ascend via elevator to my suite on Deck 11. This is where I encounter my first terrible surprise. My suite windows and balcony do not face the ocean. Instead, they look out onto another shopping mall. This mall is the one that’s called Central Park, perhaps in homage to the Olmsted-designed bit of greenery in the middle of my hometown. Although on land I would be delighted to own a suite with Central Park views, here I am deeply depressed. To sail on a ship and not wake up to a vast blue carpet of ocean? Unthinkable.

Allow me a brief preamble here. The story you are reading was commissioned at a moment when most staterooms on the Icon were sold out. In fact, so enthralled by the prospect of this voyage were hard-core mariners that the ship’s entire inventory of guest rooms (the Icon can accommodate up to 7,600 passengers, but its inaugural journey was reduced to 5,000 or so for a less crowded experience) was almost immediately sold out. Hence, this publication was faced with the shocking prospect of paying nearly $19,000 to procure for this solitary passenger an entire suite—not including drinking expenses—all for the privilege of bringing you this article. But the suite in question doesn’t even have a view of the ocean! I sit down hard on my soft bed. Nineteen thousand dollars for this .

selfie photo of man with glasses, in background is swim-up bar with two women facing away

The viewless suite does have its pluses. In addition to all the Malin+Goetz products in my dual bathrooms, I am granted use of a dedicated Suite Deck lounge; access to Coastal Kitchen, a superior restaurant for Suites passengers; complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream (“the fastest Internet at Sea”) “for one device per person for the whole cruise duration”; a pair of bathrobes (one of which comes prestained with what looks like a large expectoration by the greenest lizard on Earth); and use of the Grove Suite Sun, an area on Decks 18 and 19 with food and deck chairs reserved exclusively for Suite passengers. I also get reserved seating for a performance of The Wizard of Oz , an ice-skating tribute to the periodic table, and similar provocations. The very color of my Suite Sky SeaPass Card, an oceanic blue as opposed to the cloying royal purple of the standard non-Suite passenger, will soon provoke envy and admiration. But as high as my status may be, there are those on board who have much higher status still, and I will soon learn to bow before them.

In preparation for sailing, I have “priced in,” as they say on Wall Street, the possibility that I may come from a somewhat different monde than many of the other cruisers. Without falling into stereotypes or preconceptions, I prepare myself for a friendly outspokenness on the part of my fellow seafarers that may not comply with modern DEI standards. I believe in meeting people halfway, and so the day before flying down to Miami, I visited what remains of Little Italy to purchase a popular T-shirt that reads DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL across the breast in the colors of the Italian flag. My wife recommended that I bring one of my many T-shirts featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, as all Americans love the beagle and his friends. But I naively thought that my meatball T-shirt would be more suitable for conversation-starting. “Oh, and who is your ‘daddy’?” some might ask upon seeing it. “And how long have you been his ‘little meatball’?” And so on.

I put on my meatball T-shirt and head for one of the dining rooms to get a late lunch. In the elevator, I stick out my chest for all to read the funny legend upon it, but soon I realize that despite its burnished tricolor letters, no one takes note. More to the point, no one takes note of me. Despite my attempts at bridge building, the very sight of me (small, ethnic, without a cap bearing the name of a football team) elicits no reaction from other passengers. Most often, they will small-talk over me as if I don’t exist. This brings to mind the travails of David Foster Wallace , who felt so ostracized by his fellow passengers that he retreated to his cabin for much of his voyage. And Wallace was raised primarily in the Midwest and was a much larger, more American-looking meatball than I am. If he couldn’t talk to these people, how will I? What if I leave this ship without making any friends at all, despite my T-shirt? I am a social creature, and the prospect of seven days alone and apart is saddening. Wallace’s stateroom, at least, had a view of the ocean, a kind of cheap eternity.

Worse awaits me in the dining room. This is a large, multichandeliered room where I attended my safety training (I was shown how to put on a flotation vest; it is a very simple procedure). But the maître d’ politely refuses me entry in an English that seems to verge on another language. “I’m sorry, this is only for pendejos ,” he seems to be saying. I push back politely and he repeats himself. Pendejos ? Piranhas? There’s some kind of P-word to which I am not attuned. Meanwhile elderly passengers stream right past, powered by their limbs, walkers, and electric wheelchairs. “It is only pendejo dining today, sir.” “But I have a suite!” I say, already starting to catch on to the ship’s class system. He examines my card again. “But you are not a pendejo ,” he confirms. I am wearing a DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL T-shirt, I want to say to him. I am the essence of pendejo .

Eventually, I give up and head to the plebeian buffet on Deck 15, which has an aquatic-styled name I have now forgotten. Before gaining entry to this endless cornucopia of reheated food, one passes a washing station of many sinks and soap dispensers, and perhaps the most intriguing character on the entire ship. He is Mr. Washy Washy—or, according to his name tag, Nielbert of the Philippines—and he is dressed as a taco (on other occasions, I’ll see him dressed as a burger). Mr. Washy Washy performs an eponymous song in spirited, indeed flamboyant English: “Washy, washy, wash your hands, WASHY WASHY!” The dangers of norovirus and COVID on a cruise ship this size (a giant fellow ship was stricken with the former right after my voyage) makes Mr. Washy Washy an essential member of the crew. The problem lies with the food at the end of Washy’s rainbow. The buffet is groaning with what sounds like sophisticated dishes—marinated octopus, boiled egg with anchovy, chorizo, lobster claws—but every animal tastes tragically the same, as if there was only one creature available at the market, a “cruisipus” bred specifically for Royal Caribbean dining. The “vegetables” are no better. I pick up a tomato slice and look right through it. It tastes like cellophane. I sit alone, apart from the couples and parents with gaggles of children, as “We Are Family” echoes across the buffet space.

I may have failed to mention that all this time, the Icon of the Seas has not left port. As the fiery mango of the subtropical setting sun makes Miami’s condo skyline even more apocalyptic, the ship shoves off beneath a perfunctory display of fireworks. After the sun sets, in the far, dark distance, another circus-lit cruise ship ruptures the waves before us. We glance at it with pity, because it is by definition a smaller ship than our own. I am on Deck 15, outside the buffet and overlooking a bunch of pools (the Icon has seven of them), drinking a frilly drink that I got from one of the bars (the Icon has 15 of them), still too shy to speak to anyone, despite Sister Sledge’s assertion that all on the ship are somehow related.

Kim Brooks: On failing the family vacation

The ship’s passage away from Ron DeSantis’s Florida provides no frisson, no sense of developing “sea legs,” as the ship is too large to register the presence of waves unless a mighty wind adds significant chop. It is time for me to register the presence of the 5,000 passengers around me, even if they refuse to register mine. My fellow travelers have prepared for this trip with personally decorated T-shirts celebrating the importance of this voyage. The simplest ones say ICON INAUGURAL ’24 on the back and the family name on the front. Others attest to an over-the-top love of cruise ships: WARNING! MAY START TALKING ABOUT CRUISING . Still others are artisanally designed and celebrate lifetimes spent married while cruising (on ships, of course). A couple possibly in their 90s are wearing shirts whose backs feature a drawing of a cruise liner, two flamingos with ostensibly male and female characteristics, and the legend “ HUSBAND AND WIFE Cruising Partners FOR LIFE WE MAY NOT HAVE IT All Together BUT TOGETHER WE HAVE IT ALL .” (The words not in all caps have been written in cursive.) A real journalist or a more intrepid conversationalist would have gone up to the couple and asked them to explain the longevity of their marriage vis-à-vis their love of cruising. But instead I head to my mall suite, take off my meatball T-shirt, and allow the first tears of the cruise to roll down my cheeks slowly enough that I briefly fall asleep amid the moisture and salt.

photo of elaborate twisting multicolored waterslides with long stairwell to platform

I WAKE UP with a hangover. Oh God. Right. I cannot believe all of that happened last night. A name floats into my cobwebbed, nauseated brain: “Ayn Rand.” Jesus Christ.

I breakfast alone at the Coastal Kitchen. The coffee tastes fine and the eggs came out of a bird. The ship rolls slightly this morning; I can feel it in my thighs and my schlong, the parts of me that are most receptive to danger.

I had a dangerous conversation last night. After the sun set and we were at least 50 miles from shore (most modern cruise ships sail at about 23 miles an hour), I lay in bed softly hiccupping, my arms stretched out exactly like Jesus on the cross, the sound of the distant waves missing from my mall-facing suite, replaced by the hum of air-conditioning and children shouting in Spanish through the vents of my two bathrooms. I decided this passivity was unacceptable. As an immigrant, I feel duty-bound to complete the tasks I am paid for, which means reaching out and trying to understand my fellow cruisers. So I put on a normal James Perse T-shirt and headed for one of the bars on the Royal Promenade—the Schooner Bar, it was called, if memory serves correctly.

I sat at the bar for a martini and two Negronis. An old man with thick, hairy forearms drank next to me, very silent and Hemingwaylike, while a dreadlocked piano player tinkled out a series of excellent Elton John covers. To my right, a young white couple—he in floral shorts, she in a light, summery miniskirt with a fearsome diamond ring, neither of them in football regalia—chatted with an elderly couple. Do it , I commanded myself. Open your mouth. Speak! Speak without being spoken to. Initiate. A sentence fragment caught my ear from the young woman, “Cherry Hill.” This is a suburb of Philadelphia in New Jersey, and I had once been there for a reading at a synagogue. “Excuse me,” I said gently to her. “Did you just mention Cherry Hill? It’s a lovely place.”

As it turned out, the couple now lived in Fort Lauderdale (the number of Floridians on the cruise surprised me, given that Southern Florida is itself a kind of cruise ship, albeit one slowly sinking), but soon they were talking with me exclusively—the man potbellied, with a chin like a hard-boiled egg; the woman as svelte as if she were one of the many Ukrainian members of the crew—the elderly couple next to them forgotten. This felt as groundbreaking as the first time I dared to address an American in his native tongue, as a child on a bus in Queens (“On my foot you are standing, Mister”).

“I don’t want to talk politics,” the man said. “But they’re going to eighty-six Biden and put Michelle in.”

I considered the contradictions of his opening conversational gambit, but decided to play along. “People like Michelle,” I said, testing the waters. The husband sneered, but the wife charitably put forward that the former first lady was “more personable” than Joe Biden. “They’re gonna eighty-six Biden,” the husband repeated. “He can’t put a sentence together.”

After I mentioned that I was a writer—though I presented myself as a writer of teleplays instead of novels and articles such as this one—the husband told me his favorite writer was Ayn Rand. “Ayn Rand, she came here with nothing,” the husband said. “I work with a lot of Cubans, so …” I wondered if I should mention what I usually do to ingratiate myself with Republicans or libertarians: the fact that my finances improved after pass-through corporations were taxed differently under Donald Trump. Instead, I ordered another drink and the couple did the same, and I told him that Rand and I were born in the same city, St. Petersburg/Leningrad, and that my family also came here with nothing. Now the bonding and drinking began in earnest, and several more rounds appeared. Until it all fell apart.

Read: Gary Shteyngart on watching Russian television for five days straight

My new friend, whom I will refer to as Ayn, called out to a buddy of his across the bar, and suddenly a young couple, both covered in tattoos, appeared next to us. “He fucking punked me,” Ayn’s frat-boy-like friend called out as he put his arm around Ayn, while his sizable partner sizzled up to Mrs. Rand. Both of them had a look I have never seen on land—their eyes projecting absence and enmity in equal measure. In the ’90s, I drank with Russian soldiers fresh from Chechnya and wandered the streets of wartime Zagreb, but I have never seen such undisguised hostility toward both me and perhaps the universe at large. I was briefly introduced to this psychopathic pair, but neither of them wanted to have anything to do with me, and the tattooed woman would not even reveal her Christian name to me (she pretended to have the same first name as Mrs. Rand). To impress his tattooed friends, Ayn made fun of the fact that as a television writer, I’d worked on the series Succession (which, it would turn out, practically nobody on the ship had watched), instead of the far more palatable, in his eyes, zombie drama of last year. And then my new friends drifted away from me into an angry private conversation—“He punked me!”—as I ordered another drink for myself, scared of the dead-eyed arrivals whose gaze never registered in the dim wattage of the Schooner Bar, whose terrifying voices and hollow laughs grated like unoiled gears against the crooning of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

But today is a new day for me and my hangover. After breakfast, I explore the ship’s so-called neighborhoods . There’s the AquaDome, where one can find a food hall and an acrobatic sound-and-light aquatic show. Central Park has a premium steak house, a sushi joint, and a used Rolex that can be bought for $8,000 on land here proudly offered at $17,000. There’s the aforementioned Royal Promenade, where I had drunk with the Rands, and where a pair of dueling pianos duel well into the night. There’s Surfside, a kids’ neighborhood full of sugary garbage, which looks out onto the frothy trail that the behemoth leaves behind itself. Thrill Island refers to the collection of tubes that clutter the ass of the ship and offer passengers six waterslides and a surfing simulation. There’s the Hideaway, an adult zone that plays music from a vomit-slathered, Brit-filled Alicante nightclub circa 1996 and proves a big favorite with groups of young Latin American customers. And, most hurtfully, there’s the Suite Neighborhood.

2 photos: a ship's foamy white wake stretches to the horizon; a man at reailing with water and two large ships docked behind

I say hurtfully because as a Suite passenger I should be here, though my particular suite is far from the others. Whereas I am stuck amid the riffraff of Deck 11, this section is on the highborn Decks 16 and 17, and in passing, I peek into the spacious, tall-ceilinged staterooms from the hallway, dazzled by the glint of the waves and sun. For $75,000, one multifloor suite even comes with its own slide between floors, so that a family may enjoy this particular terror in private. There is a quiet splendor to the Suite Neighborhood. I see fewer stickers and signs and drawings than in my own neighborhood—for example, MIKE AND DIANA PROUDLY SERVED U.S. MARINE CORPS RETIRED . No one here needs to announce their branch of service or rank; they are simply Suites, and this is where they belong. Once again, despite my hard work and perseverance, I have been disallowed from the true American elite. Once again, I am “Not our class, dear.” I am reminded of watching The Love Boat on my grandmother’s Zenith, which either was given to her or we found in the trash (I get our many malfunctioning Zeniths confused) and whose tube got so hot, I would put little chunks of government cheese on a thin tissue atop it to give our welfare treat a pleasant, Reagan-era gooeyness. I could not understand English well enough then to catch the nuances of that seafaring program, but I knew that there were differences in the status of the passengers, and that sometimes those differences made them sad. Still, this ship, this plenty—every few steps, there are complimentary nachos or milkshakes or gyros on offer—was the fatty fuel of my childhood dreams. If only I had remained a child.

I walk around the outdoor decks looking for company. There is a middle-aged African American couple who always seem to be asleep in each other’s arms, probably exhausted from the late capitalism they regularly encounter on land. There is far more diversity on this ship than I expected. Many couples are a testament to Loving v. Virginia , and there is a large group of folks whose T-shirts read MELANIN AT SEA / IT’S THE MELANIN FOR ME . I smile when I see them, but then some young kids from the group makes Mr. Washy Washy do a cruel, caricatured “Burger Dance” (today he is in his burger getup), and I think, Well, so much for intersectionality .

At the infinity pool on Deck 17, I spot some elderly women who could be ethnic and from my part of the world, and so I jump in. I am proved correct! Many of them seem to be originally from Queens (“Corona was still great when it was all Italian”), though they are now spread across the tristate area. We bond over the way “Ron-kon-koma” sounds when announced in Penn Station.

“Everyone is here for a different reason,” one of them tells me. She and her ex-husband last sailed together four years ago to prove to themselves that their marriage was truly over. Her 15-year-old son lost his virginity to “an Irish young lady” while their ship was moored in Ravenna, Italy. The gaggle of old-timers competes to tell me their favorite cruising stories and tips. “A guy proposed in Central Park a couple of years ago”—many Royal Caribbean ships apparently have this ridiculous communal area—“and she ran away screaming!” “If you’re diamond-class, you get four drinks for free.” “A different kind of passenger sails out of Bayonne.” (This, perhaps, is racially coded.) “Sometimes, if you tip the bartender $5, your next drink will be free.”

“Everyone’s here for a different reason,” the woman whose marriage ended on a cruise tells me again. “Some people are here for bad reasons—the drinkers and the gamblers. Some people are here for medical reasons.” I have seen more than a few oxygen tanks and at least one woman clearly undergoing very serious chemo. Some T-shirts celebrate good news about a cancer diagnosis. This might be someone’s last cruise or week on Earth. For these women, who have spent months, if not years, at sea, cruising is a ritual as well as a life cycle: first love, last love, marriage, divorce, death.

Read: The last place on Earth any tourist should go

I have talked with these women for so long, tonight I promise myself that after a sad solitary dinner I will not try to seek out company at the bars in the mall or the adult-themed Hideaway. I have enough material to fulfill my duties to this publication. As I approach my orphaned suite, I run into the aggro young people who stole Mr. and Mrs. Rand away from me the night before. The tattooed apparitions pass me without a glance. She is singing something violent about “Stuttering Stanley” (a character in a popular horror movie, as I discover with my complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream Internet at Sea) and he’s loudly shouting about “all the money I’ve lost,” presumably at the casino in the bowels of the ship.

So these bent psychos out of a Cormac McCarthy novel are angrily inhabiting my deck. As I mewl myself to sleep, I envision a limited series for HBO or some other streamer, a kind of low-rent White Lotus , where several aggressive couples conspire to throw a shy intellectual interloper overboard. I type the scenario into my phone. As I fall asleep, I think of what the woman who recently divorced her husband and whose son became a man through the good offices of the Irish Republic told me while I was hoisting myself out of the infinity pool. “I’m here because I’m an explorer. I’m here because I’m trying something new.” What if I allowed myself to believe in her fantasy?

2 photos: 2 slices of pizza on plate; man in "Daddy's Little Meatball" shirt and shorts standing in outdoor dining area with ship's exhaust stacks in background

“YOU REALLY STARTED AT THE TOP,” they tell me. I’m at the Coastal Kitchen for my eggs and corned-beef hash, and the maître d’ has slotted me in between two couples. Fueled by coffee or perhaps intrigued by my relative youth, they strike up a conversation with me. As always, people are shocked that this is my first cruise. They contrast the Icon favorably with all the preceding liners in the Royal Caribbean fleet, usually commenting on the efficiency of the elevators that hurl us from deck to deck (as in many large corporate buildings, the elevators ask you to choose a floor and then direct you to one of many lifts). The couple to my right, from Palo Alto—he refers to his “porn mustache” and calls his wife “my cougar” because she is two years older—tell me they are “Pandemic Pinnacles.”

This is the day that my eyes will be opened. Pinnacles , it is explained to me over translucent cantaloupe, have sailed with Royal Caribbean for 700 ungodly nights. Pandemic Pinnacles took advantage of the two-for-one accrual rate of Pinnacle points during the pandemic, when sailing on a cruise ship was even more ill-advised, to catapult themselves into Pinnacle status.

Because of the importance of the inaugural voyage of the world’s largest cruise liner, more than 200 Pinnacles are on this ship, a startling number, it seems. Mrs. Palo Alto takes out a golden badge that I have seen affixed over many a breast, which reads CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY along with her name. This is the coveted badge of the Pinnacle. “You should hear all the whining in Guest Services,” her husband tells me. Apparently, the Pinnacles who are not also Suites like us are all trying to use their status to get into Coastal Kitchen, our elite restaurant. Even a Pinnacle needs to be a Suite to access this level of corned-beef hash.

“We’re just baby Pinnacles,” Mrs. Palo Alto tells me, describing a kind of internal class struggle among the Pinnacle elite for ever higher status.

And now I understand what the maître d’ was saying to me on the first day of my cruise. He wasn’t saying “ pendejo .” He was saying “Pinnacle.” The dining room was for Pinnacles only, all those older people rolling in like the tide on their motorized scooters.

And now I understand something else: This whole thing is a cult. And like most cults, it can’t help but mirror the endless American fight for status. Like Keith Raniere’s NXIVM, where different-colored sashes were given out to connote rank among Raniere’s branded acolytes, this is an endless competition among Pinnacles, Suites, Diamond-Plusers, and facing-the-mall, no-balcony purple SeaPass Card peasants, not to mention the many distinctions within each category. The more you cruise, the higher your status. No wonder a section of the Royal Promenade is devoted to getting passengers to book their next cruise during the one they should be enjoying now. No wonder desperate Royal Caribbean offers (“FINAL HOURS”) crowded my email account weeks before I set sail. No wonder the ship’s jewelry store, the Royal Bling, is selling a $100,000 golden chalice that will entitle its owner to drink free on Royal Caribbean cruises for life. (One passenger was already gaming out whether her 28-year-old son was young enough to “just about earn out” on the chalice or if that ship had sailed.) No wonder this ship was sold out months before departure , and we had to pay $19,000 for a horrid suite away from the Suite Neighborhood. No wonder the most mythical hero of Royal Caribbean lore is someone named Super Mario, who has cruised so often, he now has his own working desk on many ships. This whole experience is part cult, part nautical pyramid scheme.

From the June 2014 issue: Ship of wonks

“The toilets are amazing,” the Palo Altos are telling me. “One flush and you’re done.” “They don’t understand how energy-efficient these ships are,” the husband of the other couple is telling me. “They got the LNG”—liquefied natural gas, which is supposed to make the Icon a boon to the environment (a concept widely disputed and sometimes ridiculed by environmentalists).

But I’m thinking along a different line of attack as I spear my last pallid slice of melon. For my streaming limited series, a Pinnacle would have to get killed by either an outright peasant or a Suite without an ocean view. I tell my breakfast companions my idea.

“Oh, for sure a Pinnacle would have to be killed,” Mr. Palo Alto, the Pandemic Pinnacle, says, touching his porn mustache thoughtfully as his wife nods.

“THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S your time, buddy!” Hubert, my fun-loving Panamanian cabin attendant, shouts as I step out of my suite in a robe. “Take it easy, buddy!”

I have come up with a new dressing strategy. Instead of trying to impress with my choice of T-shirts, I have decided to start wearing a robe, as one does at a resort property on land, with a proper spa and hammam. The response among my fellow cruisers has been ecstatic. “Look at you in the robe!” Mr. Rand cries out as we pass each other by the Thrill Island aqua park. “You’re living the cruise life! You know, you really drank me under the table that night.” I laugh as we part ways, but my soul cries out, Please spend more time with me, Mr. and Mrs. Rand; I so need the company .

In my white robe, I am a stately presence, a refugee from a better limited series, a one-man crossover episode. (Only Suites are granted these robes to begin with.) Today, I will try many of the activities these ships have on offer to provide their clientele with a sense of never-ceasing motion. Because I am already at Thrill Island, I decide to climb the staircase to what looks like a mast on an old-fashioned ship (terrified, because I am afraid of heights) to try a ride called “Storm Chasers,” which is part of the “Category 6” water park, named in honor of one of the storms that may someday do away with the Port of Miami entirely. Storm Chasers consists of falling from the “mast” down a long, twisting neon tube filled with water, like being the camera inside your own colonoscopy, as you hold on to the handles of a mat, hoping not to die. The tube then flops you down headfirst into a trough of water, a Royal Caribbean baptism. It both knocks my breath out and makes me sad.

In keeping with the aquatic theme, I attend a show at the AquaDome. To the sound of “Live and Let Die,” a man in a harness gyrates to and fro in the sultry air. I saw something very similar in the back rooms of the famed Berghain club in early-aughts Berlin. Soon another harnessed man is gyrating next to the first. Ja , I think to myself, I know how this ends. Now will come the fisting , natürlich . But the show soon devolves into the usual Marvel-film-grade nonsense, with too much light and sound signifying nichts . If any fisting is happening, it is probably in the Suite Neighborhood, inside a cabin marked with an upside-down pineapple, which I understand means a couple are ready to swing, and I will see none of it.

I go to the ice show, which is a kind of homage—if that’s possible—to the periodic table, done with the style and pomp and masterful precision that would please the likes of Kim Jong Un, if only he could afford Royal Caribbean talent. At one point, the dancers skate to the theme song of Succession . “See that!” I want to say to my fellow Suites—at “cultural” events, we have a special section reserved for us away from the commoners—“ Succession ! It’s even better than the zombie show! Open your minds!”

Finally, I visit a comedy revue in an enormous and too brightly lit version of an “intimate,” per Royal Caribbean literature, “Manhattan comedy club.” Many of the jokes are about the cruising life. “I’ve lived on ships for 20 years,” one of the middle-aged comedians says. “I can only see so many Filipino homosexuals dressed as a taco.” He pauses while the audience laughs. “I am so fired tonight,” he says. He segues into a Trump impression and then Biden falling asleep at the microphone, which gets the most laughs. “Anyone here from Fort Leonard Wood?” another comedian asks. Half the crowd seems to cheer. As I fall asleep that night, I realize another connection I have failed to make, and one that may explain some of the diversity on this vessel—many of its passengers have served in the military.

As a coddled passenger with a suite, I feel like I am starting to understand what it means to have a rank and be constantly reminded of it. There are many espresso makers , I think as I look across the expanse of my officer-grade quarters before closing my eyes, but this one is mine .

photo of sheltered sandy beach with palms, umbrellas, and chairs with two large docked cruise ships in background

A shocking sight greets me beyond the pools of Deck 17 as I saunter over to the Coastal Kitchen for my morning intake of slightly sour Americanos. A tiny city beneath a series of perfectly pressed green mountains. Land! We have docked for a brief respite in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. I wolf down my egg scramble to be one of the first passengers off the ship. Once past the gangway, I barely refrain from kissing the ground. I rush into the sights and sounds of this scruffy island city, sampling incredible conch curry and buckets of non-Starbucks coffee. How wonderful it is to be where God intended humans to be: on land. After all, I am neither a fish nor a mall rat. This is my natural environment. Basseterre may not be Havana, but there are signs of human ingenuity and desire everywhere you look. The Black Table Grill Has been Relocated to Soho Village, Market Street, Directly Behind of, Gary’s Fruits and Flower Shop. Signed. THE PORK MAN reads a sign stuck to a wall. Now, that is how you write a sign. A real sign, not the come-ons for overpriced Rolexes that blink across the screens of the Royal Promenade.

“Hey, tie your shoestring!” a pair of laughing ladies shout to me across the street.

“Thank you!” I shout back. Shoestring! “Thank you very much.”

A man in Independence Square Park comes by and asks if I want to play with his monkey. I haven’t heard that pickup line since the Penn Station of the 1980s. But then he pulls a real monkey out of a bag. The monkey is wearing a diaper and looks insane. Wonderful , I think, just wonderful! There is so much life here. I email my editor asking if I can remain on St. Kitts and allow the Icon to sail off into the horizon without me. I have even priced a flight home at less than $300, and I have enough material from the first four days on the cruise to write the entire story. “It would be funny …” my editor replies. “Now get on the boat.”

As I slink back to the ship after my brief jailbreak, the locals stand under umbrellas to gaze at and photograph the boat that towers over their small capital city. The limousines of the prime minister and his lackeys are parked beside the gangway. St. Kitts, I’ve been told, is one of the few islands that would allow a ship of this size to dock.

“We hear about all the waterslides,” a sweet young server in one of the cafés told me. “We wish we could go on the ship, but we have to work.”

“I want to stay on your island,” I replied. “I love it here.”

But she didn’t understand how I could possibly mean that.

“WASHY, WASHY, so you don’t get stinky, stinky!” kids are singing outside the AquaDome, while their adult minders look on in disapproval, perhaps worried that Mr. Washy Washy is grooming them into a life of gayness. I heard a southern couple skip the buffet entirely out of fear of Mr. Washy Washy.

Meanwhile, I have found a new watering hole for myself, the Swim & Tonic, the biggest swim-up bar on any cruise ship in the world. Drinking next to full-size, nearly naked Americans takes away one’s own self-consciousness. The men have curvaceous mom bodies. The women are equally un-shy about their sprawling physiques.

Today I’ve befriended a bald man with many children who tells me that all of the little trinkets that Royal Caribbean has left us in our staterooms and suites are worth a fortune on eBay. “Eighty dollars for the water bottle, 60 for the lanyard,” the man says. “This is a cult.”

“Tell me about it,” I say. There is, however, a clientele for whom this cruise makes perfect sense. For a large middle-class family (he works in “supply chains”), seven days in a lower-tier cabin—which starts at $1,800 a person—allow the parents to drop off their children in Surfside, where I imagine many young Filipina crew members will take care of them, while the parents are free to get drunk at a swim-up bar and maybe even get intimate in their cabin. Cruise ships have become, for a certain kind of hardworking family, a form of subsidized child care.

There is another man I would like to befriend at the Swim & Tonic, a tall, bald fellow who is perpetually inebriated and who wears a necklace studded with little rubber duckies in sunglasses, which, I am told, is a sort of secret handshake for cruise aficionados. Tomorrow, I will spend more time with him, but first the ship docks at St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the capital, is more charming in name than in presence, but I still all but jump off the ship to score a juicy oxtail and plantains at the well-known Petite Pump Room, overlooking the harbor. From one of the highest points in the small city, the Icon of the Seas appears bigger than the surrounding hills.

I usually tan very evenly, but something about the discombobulation of life at sea makes me forget the regular application of sunscreen. As I walk down the streets of Charlotte Amalie in my fluorescent Icon of the Seas cap, an old Rastafarian stares me down. “Redneck,” he hisses.

“No,” I want to tell him, as I bring a hand up to my red neck, “that’s not who I am at all. On my island, Mannahatta, as Whitman would have it, I am an interesting person living within an engaging artistic milieu. I do not wish to use the Caribbean as a dumping ground for the cruise-ship industry. I love the work of Derek Walcott. You don’t understand. I am not a redneck. And if I am, they did this to me.” They meaning Royal Caribbean? Its passengers? The Rands?

“They did this to me!”

Back on the Icon, some older matrons are muttering about a run-in with passengers from the Celebrity cruise ship docked next to us, the Celebrity Apex. Although Celebrity Cruises is also owned by Royal Caribbean, I am made to understand that there is a deep fratricidal beef between passengers of the two lines. “We met a woman from the Apex,” one matron says, “and she says it was a small ship and there was nothing to do. Her face was as tight as a 19-year-old’s, she had so much surgery.” With those words, and beneath a cloudy sky, humidity shrouding our weathered faces and red necks, we set sail once again, hopefully in the direction of home.

photo from inside of spacious geodesic-style glass dome facing ocean, with stairwells and seating areas

THERE ARE BARELY 48 HOURS LEFT to the cruise, and the Icon of the Seas’ passengers are salty. They know how to work the elevators. They know the Washy Washy song by heart. They understand that the chicken gyro at “Feta Mediterranean,” in the AquaDome Market, is the least problematic form of chicken on the ship.

The passengers have shed their INAUGURAL CRUISE T-shirts and are now starting to evince political opinions. There are caps pledging to make America great again and T-shirts that celebrate words sometimes attributed to Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” With their preponderance of FAMILY FLAG FAITH FRIENDS FIREARMS T-shirts, the tables by the crepe station sometimes resemble the Capitol Rotunda on January 6. The Real Anthony Fauci , by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., appears to be a popular form of literature, especially among young men with very complicated versions of the American flag on their T-shirts. Other opinions blend the personal and the political. “Someone needs to kill Washy guy, right?” a well-dressed man in the elevator tells me, his gray eyes radiating nothing. “Just beat him to death. Am I right?” I overhear the male member of a young couple whisper, “There goes that freak” as I saunter by in my white spa robe, and I decide to retire it for the rest of the cruise.

I visit the Royal Bling to see up close the $100,000 golden chalice that entitles you to free drinks on Royal Caribbean forever. The pleasant Serbian saleslady explains that the chalice is actually gold-plated and covered in white zirconia instead of diamonds, as it would otherwise cost $1 million. “If you already have everything,” she explains, “this is one more thing you can get.”

I believe that anyone who works for Royal Caribbean should be entitled to immediate American citizenship. They already speak English better than most of the passengers and, per the Serbian lady’s sales pitch above, better understand what America is as well. Crew members like my Panamanian cabin attendant seem to work 24 hours a day. A waiter from New Delhi tells me that his contract is six months and three weeks long. After a cruise ends, he says, “in a few hours, we start again for the next cruise.” At the end of the half a year at sea, he is allowed a two-to-three-month stay at home with his family. As of 2019, the median income for crew members was somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000, according to a major business publication. Royal Caribbean would not share the current median salary for its crew members, but I am certain that it amounts to a fraction of the cost of a Royal Bling gold-plated, zirconia-studded chalice.

And because most of the Icon’s hyper-sanitized spaces are just a frittata away from being a Delta lounge, one forgets that there are actual sailors on this ship, charged with the herculean task of docking it in port. “Having driven 100,000-ton aircraft carriers throughout my career,” retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writes to me, “I’m not sure I would even know where to begin with trying to control a sea monster like this one nearly three times the size.” (I first met Stavridis while touring Army bases in Germany more than a decade ago.)

Today, I decide to head to the hot tub near Swim & Tonic, where some of the ship’s drunkest reprobates seem to gather (the other tubs are filled with families and couples). The talk here, like everywhere else on the ship, concerns football, a sport about which I know nothing. It is apparent that four teams have recently competed in some kind of finals for the year, and that two of them will now face off in the championship. Often when people on the Icon speak, I will try to repeat the last thing they said with a laugh or a nod of disbelief. “Yes, 20-yard line! Ha!” “Oh my God, of course, scrimmage.”

Soon we are joined in the hot tub by the late-middle-age drunk guy with the duck necklace. He is wearing a bucket hat with the legend HAWKEYES , which, I soon gather, is yet another football team. “All right, who turned me in?” Duck Necklace says as he plops into the tub beside us. “I get a call in the morning,” he says. “It’s security. Can you come down to the dining room by 10 a.m.? You need to stay away from the members of this religious family.” Apparently, the gregarious Duck Necklace had photobombed the wrong people. There are several families who present as evangelical Christians or practicing Muslims on the ship. One man, evidently, was not happy that Duck Necklace had made contact with his relatives. “It’s because of religious stuff; he was offended. I put my arm around 20 people a day.”

Everyone laughs. “They asked me three times if I needed medication,” he says of the security people who apparently interrogated him in full view of others having breakfast.

Another hot-tub denizen suggests that he should have asked for fentanyl. After a few more drinks, Duck Necklace begins to muse about what it would be like to fall off the ship. “I’m 62 and I’m ready to go,” he says. “I just don’t want a shark to eat me. I’m a huge God guy. I’m a Bible guy. There’s some Mayan theory squaring science stuff with religion. There is so much more to life on Earth.” We all nod into our Red Stripes.

“I never get off the ship when we dock,” he says. He tells us he lost $6,000 in the casino the other day. Later, I look him up, and it appears that on land, he’s a financial adviser in a crisp gray suit, probably a pillar of his North Chicago community.

photo of author smiling and holding soft-serve ice-cream cone with outdoor seating area in background

THE OCEAN IS TEEMING with fascinating life, but on the surface it has little to teach us. The waves come and go. The horizon remains ever far away.

I am constantly told by my fellow passengers that “everybody here has a story.” Yes, I want to reply, but everybody everywhere has a story. You, the reader of this essay, have a story, and yet you’re not inclined to jump on a cruise ship and, like Duck Necklace, tell your story to others at great pitch and volume. Maybe what they’re saying is that everybody on this ship wants to have a bigger, more coherent, more interesting story than the one they’ve been given. Maybe that’s why there’s so much signage on the doors around me attesting to marriages spent on the sea. Maybe that’s why the Royal Caribbean newsletter slipped under my door tells me that “this isn’t a vacation day spent—it’s bragging rights earned.” Maybe that’s why I’m so lonely.

Today is a big day for Icon passengers. Today the ship docks at Royal Caribbean’s own Bahamian island, the Perfect Day at CocoCay. (This appears to be the actual name of the island.) A comedian at the nightclub opined on what his perfect day at CocoCay would look like—receiving oral sex while learning that his ex-wife had been killed in a car crash (big laughter). But the reality of the island is far less humorous than that.

One of the ethnic tristate ladies in the infinity pool told me that she loved CocoCay because it had exactly the same things that could be found on the ship itself. This proves to be correct. It is like the Icon, but with sand. The same tired burgers, the same colorful tubes conveying children and water from Point A to B. The same swim-up bar at its Hideaway ($140 for admittance, no children allowed; Royal Caribbean must be printing money off its clientele). “There was almost a fight at The Wizard of Oz ,” I overhear an elderly woman tell her companion on a chaise lounge. Apparently one of the passengers began recording Royal Caribbean’s intellectual property and “three guys came after him.”

I walk down a pathway to the center of the island, where a sign reads DO NOT ENTER: YOU HAVE REACHED THE BOUNDARY OF ADVENTURE . I hear an animal scampering in the bushes. A Royal Caribbean worker in an enormous golf cart soon chases me down and takes me back to the Hideaway, where I run into Mrs. Rand in a bikini. She becomes livid telling me about an altercation she had the other day with a woman over a towel and a deck chair. We Suites have special towel privileges; we do not have to hand over our SeaPass Card to score a towel. But the Rands are not Suites. “People are so entitled here,” Mrs. Rand says. “It’s like the airport with all its classes.” “You see,” I want to say, “this is where your husband’s love of Ayn Rand runs into the cruelties and arbitrary indignities of unbridled capitalism.” Instead we make plans to meet for a final drink in the Schooner Bar tonight (the Rands will stand me up).

Back on the ship, I try to do laps, but the pool (the largest on any cruise ship, naturally) is fully trashed with the detritus of American life: candy wrappers, a slowly dissolving tortilla chip, napkins. I take an extra-long shower in my suite, then walk around the perimeter of the ship on a kind of exercise track, past all the alluring lifeboats in their yellow-and-white livery. Maybe there is a dystopian angle to the HBO series that I will surely end up pitching, one with shades of WALL-E or Snowpiercer . In a collapsed world, a Royal Caribbean–like cruise liner sails from port to port, collecting new shipmates and supplies in exchange for the precious energy it has on board. (The actual Icon features a new technology that converts passengers’ poop into enough energy to power the waterslides . In the series, this shitty technology would be greatly expanded.) A very young woman (18? 19?), smart and lonely, who has only known life on the ship, walks along the same track as I do now, contemplating jumping off into the surf left by its wake. I picture reusing Duck Necklace’s words in the opening shot of the pilot. The girl is walking around the track, her eyes on the horizon; maybe she’s highborn—a Suite—and we hear the voice-over: “I’m 19 and I’m ready to go. I just don’t want a shark to eat me.”

Before the cruise is finished, I talk to Mr. Washy Washy, or Nielbert of the Philippines. He is a sweet, gentle man, and I thank him for the earworm of a song he has given me and for keeping us safe from the dreaded norovirus. “This is very important to me, getting people to wash their hands,” he tells me in his burger getup. He has dreams, as an artist and a performer, but they are limited in scope. One day he wants to dress up as a piece of bacon for the morning shift.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE TITANIC (the Icon of the Seas is five times as large as that doomed vessel) at least offered its passengers an exciting ending to their cruise, but when I wake up on the eighth day, all I see are the gray ghosts that populate Miami’s condo skyline. Throughout my voyage, my writer friends wrote in to commiserate with me. Sloane Crosley, who once covered a three-day spa mini-cruise for Vogue , tells me she felt “so very alone … I found it very untethering.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes in an Instagram comment: “When Gary is done I think it’s time this genre was taken out back and shot.” And he is right. To badly paraphrase Adorno: After this, no more cruise stories. It is unfair to put a thinking person on a cruise ship. Writers typically have difficult childhoods, and it is cruel to remind them of the inherent loneliness that drove them to writing in the first place. It is also unseemly to write about the kind of people who go on cruises. Our country does not provide the education and upbringing that allow its citizens an interior life. For the creative class to point fingers at the large, breasty gentlemen adrift in tortilla-chip-laden pools of water is to gather a sour harvest of low-hanging fruit.

A day or two before I got off the ship, I decided to make use of my balcony, which I had avoided because I thought the view would only depress me further. What I found shocked me. My suite did not look out on Central Park after all. This entire time, I had been living in the ship’s Disneyland, Surfside, the neighborhood full of screaming toddlers consuming milkshakes and candy. And as I leaned out over my balcony, I beheld a slight vista of the sea and surf that I thought I had been missing. It had been there all along. The sea was frothy and infinite and blue-green beneath the span of a seagull’s wing. And though it had been trod hard by the world’s largest cruise ship, it remained.

This article appears in the May 2024 print edition with the headline “A Meatball at Sea.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

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