It seems a long ways off from now (five months until November) but the time will fly and lately I’ve been putting a lot of thought into my participation in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC)). For those who don’t know, the ARC is the most popular way for yachts to cross the Atlantic and has been for the past 25 years. It starts in late November from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with about 230 yachts crossing the Atlantic to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. This is a traditional route has been used for centuries as the trade winds push you along from just off Africa in a straight line over to the Caribbean. The 2800 nautical mile passage takes on average between 14 and 30 days to complete.
It’s a big deal to do something like this and most sailors dream of an Atlantic crossing for years. For me, it’s become something I would really like to do sooner than later. I’m fortunate to be in good health and have the time to take something like this on. Not that I’m that old but you never know what is around the corner in life and my attitude has always been to take advantage of whatever I can when I have the opportunity. I’m also very lucky to have a wife who supports my activities!
When I first heard of sailing a personal yacht across the Atlantic I thought it would be a real challenge, possibly some of the most difficult sailing one could accomplish. However, it appears that aside from large atlantic rollers, nightly rains squalls and the possibility of the wind dropping off and becalming you… it should be fairly easy if not boring (check back in late Nov to see how we doing!).
Crewing the Journey
- Are they compatible with each other?
- Do they have the experience necessary to handle their shifts safely?
- Can/will they help with cleaning and maintenance?
- Are they non-smokers and light drinkers?
- Do they have diets that aren’t too hard to accommodate?
Supplies and Planning
As far as preparing the yacht for such an undertaking, thought should be given to issues of fuel, water, food and spare parts. On the surface this may seem simply but, for example, having a nice water-maker doesn’t exempt you from wondering what you would do if it broke down during the 2-3 week voyage. You will need to maintain a charge on the electrical system so every day you will be using some fuel to run the generator or motor. Are your fuel tanks large enough to handle the timeframe of a journey like this or should you bring some extra fuel along?
Thinking about food issues, you need to think about a menu for the entire time (plus a fudge factor), take into account the likes/dislikes of the crew, shop for the supplies and prepare as much as you can in advance to make meal-time easy. But what about if the freezer or fridge breaks down en-route? Should you be depending on cold items that much or should you consider bringing along some dehydrated food as well? Should you bring along a spare fridge compressor? Having all your cold food go bad one week into the voyage sounds like a pretty tough deal to me.
FedEx and DHL won’t deliver to the middle of the Atlantic so what kind of parts should be brought along to ensure that you can handle common issue like alternator belts, filters, oil, macerator pump for the toilets, recharge kits for life jackets (they’ve been known to ‘go off’ in heavy rain!). How about spare halyards, snatch blocks, pulleys, etc., etc. Where do you stop? What can’t you live without for 2-3 weeks at sea? What would turn a fun trip into a life-threatening situation?
I’m an old Eagle Boy Scout and the motto is Be Prepared. That means be ready for anything so now you know that my yacht will be as ready as I can make it for any calamity I can anticipate.
What about the (extremely) rare possibility of having to abandon ship mid-Atlantic? Have you trained sufficiently for getting help coming your way (i.e. VHF and SSB radio skills at using the DSC)? Do you have an Ocean rated life-raft and does everyone on-board know how to deploy it (and get in it which is an article in itself!)? Do you have a ditch bag ready-to-go with handheld VHF, GPS and PLB along with signaling mirror, flares, etc.?
How about first aid? I took some training years ago from the Red Cross and Boy Scouts of America but what about if I get hurt? Does anyone else have some skills to help me? It’s not enough to have a first aid kit, but you need to have the skills to use it. A great company in the UK specializes in medical support for long-ranging yachts and I’m working with them, Medical Support Offshore , on a good solutions for our journeys.
Radio, EPIRBs, etc.
OK, so you get to the point where things go “terribly pear shaped” (as my Aussie cousin Murray says) and you are half-way across the Atlantic? A VHF radio has the range of 20 nm on a good day. This is where the Long Range Certificate comes in handy. Being trained in using a Single Side Band (SSB) radio could literally mean the difference between life and death. This technology has been around a long time and just plain works… Having a Sat Phone (like the iSatPhone from Inmarsat) is a good choice as well but if you are into long-range, offshore journeys, it still pays to have a SSB on-board. During the ARC, all 200+ yachts will be in touch with each other and on-shore weather and rescue facilities through the use of the ‘old’ technology. We got one too on the yacht and have been trained in it’s use.
So you see some of the things running through my head five months out from departure. I’m sure to think of more in the coming months but the “wheels are already turning” on making sure at least these issues are thought through. Feel free to comment if you have some other thoughts on this adventure.