We had no idea what it would be like sailing across the Atlantic. Boy, were we in for a trip of a lifetime! We crossed with 200+ other boats organized by the World Cruising Organization with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) – Las Palmas to St Lucia. Let me fill you in with all the details.
Onboard we had the following crew sailing across the Atlantic:
Aside from my husband, Simon (British), and our five-year-old daughter, Sienna (British-American) and me (American) we had four other crew members (all pictured above):
- Eve Parker, a lovely 21-year-old New Zealander with only a couple of months of sailing experience.
- Andrew Meadows, a hometown friend of mine, who is a 37-year-old American with no sailing experience.
- Kenny Jones, a super funny 41-year-old American who owns a catamaran and has been sailing full time for the last couple of years. He also has a history of chartering bare boats.
- Murray Basingthwaighte, a very resourceful 58-year-old British/New Zealander with a lifetime of sailing experience. Murray is also a full-time sailing cruiser and currently based in the Mediterranean.
The one thing I didn’t mention in the previous articles was how amazing the pre-journey (and now post) activities have been in both Las Palmas and St Lucia.
The World Cruising Club, organizers of the ARC, are amazing people. For over 200 boatloads of people, they set up parties for weeks before the event and weeks after the event. For three weeks I went to a party or event every day/night. We planted trees, enjoyed educational seminars, had meals, experienced local entertainment and more. My daughter went to a kids club every day enjoying dingy sailing, a trip to the beach, science museum, the pool, and many other activities.
Just yesterday, my family and crew helped to plant 1000 trees here in St Lucia – I’ll have to write a whole article on that, but let me tell you about the crossing first!
Many people choose sailing across the Atlantic (2,800+ miles) before or after the ARC rally instead of with it.
Some people aren’t interested in the social aspect and many feel the rally price is prohibited. I have to say that the money we spent to cross with ARC has been well worth every penny. The ARC helped to provide us with valuable information, enabled us to meet new friends, assisted with safety and security checks and provided an amazing variety of events to mix and mingle with hundreds of like-minded people. Our experience of the World Cruising Club has been nothing short of fantastic – a 10 out of 10.
That aside, let me tell you what it’s like to sail 2,800 miles across an ocean on a 56’ sailboat with five adults and one five-year-old.
And the race has begun!
Sailing Across the Atlantic day 1
The rally started off with Britican being amongst many other boats at the start line (see picture above). Thankfully many of the 200+ boats held back. We were right up on the line before the starting cannon went and I felt there were too many boats in one spot for my comfort.
The swell was so large that it took extreme concentration to make sure we didn’t hit another boat. We were all yelling to Simon, at the helm, as to what boats were where. Talk about stress city!
Fortunately for us, we crossed the start line without any bumps or bruises.
We had a military ship fire a canon to get us started (Above is a picture of the ship going out before the race started). The buzz in the air was tense excitement.
I think I stopped breathing on a few occasions.
After a couple of hours, the boats started spreading out more and more. We spent a few hours neck and neck with one particular boat so the time seemed to go quickly. Eventually, however, by nightfall, I was amazed at how quickly we lost sight of most contenders.
From the start, we had high seas and high winds with a very substantial swell.
The wind was blowing over 40 knots and at times we were sailing at over 10 knots (see the swell and 10.3-knot speed in the above picture). We were all happy that the journey started, but the first day was not relaxing.
All us crewmembers were being tossed all over the place and all sorts of problems came flying at us!
We had an accidental jibe or sometimes referred to as a ‘crash jibe,’ that pulled one of our safety rail stanchions over (bent). An accidental jibe is when the boom swings violently from one side of the boat to the other. When sailing with the wind behind you, if the boat is incorrectly positioned, wind can get on the wrong side of the sail, or a swell can cause the boom to shift.
If the wind hits the mainsail from the wrong direction, BAM, the whole boom shifts sides and there’s a terrible crash sound while the boat shutters in dismay. Although we had a rope fastened to prevent the jibe, it couldn’t contend with the power of too much wind hitting the sail. The boom pulled the jibe preventer so hard that it bent our stanchion.
Aside from our accidental jibe, our compass was discovered to be off by 50 degrees.
Fortunately, we had our backup navigation system on an iPad and noticed that we were heading for Africa instead of the Caribbean. After thinking things over during our sleep, we woke the next day and decided to look at the compass control. We realized our new camping gas grill was leaned up next to it causing magnetic errors. At the last moment, the grill was tucked away without consideration of the compass. (Later on, during the trip we laughed about our compass issue but at the time it wasn’t funny).
TIP: If your compass gets out of whack it can often be down to something metal that’s too close to the compass control box. Our box is located under the aft bed. I’ve heard stories of knitting needles causing issues, so with compass issues, start with a good look around before doing anything else.
More problems sailing across the Atlantic?!
Our AIS, a position reporting system, went down leaving us blind to seeing boats on the plotter (other than using the naked eye)! Of course, we always use our eyes to navigate but AIS comes in hand by giving information about when another boat will cross our path and how close we’ll get to it. (The picture above shows AIS working – you can see all the boats in the harbor before the race started. When it went down, we couldn’t see any boats on the plotter).
When avoiding ships this information is very valuable.
Unbelievably, at the same time, our daughter Sienna puked, we accidentally jibed, had to bring down a pole, change our jibe preventer, all the boat alarms went off (we went off course), AIS went down, the compass was found to be off and the seas tossed us around like tiny specks of dust on a windy day. There were so many issues that I couldn’t even consider how I thought or felt – we were just working together to get the boat going in the correct direction as safely as possible.
By nightfall, we could still see around 10 to 15 boats.
Eventually, everything felt manageable considering the heavy conditions.
Fortunately for us, we heeded the advice from one of the ARC seminars on provisioning to make our lunch and dinner ahead of time for day one. If we didn’t have quick food to grab I’m not sure if we would have eaten.
For lunch, we had sandwich meats (ham, salami, etc.) on fresh baguettes that I purchased from the bakery before leaving. I made the sandwiches up before we left and boy did they come in hand. Instead of having to mess around on our first day, I just went down to the galley, grabbed the bag of pre-made rolls and handed them out.
Kenny, who was on dinner duty, also made his meal before we left. It was supposed to be a chicken curry but the chicken was off. The final meal became an excellent vegetable red Thai curry using curry paste and coconut milk.
When sailing across the Atlantic food tasted excellent.
During the evening on day one, Eve fell out of bed and ended up in the hallway. Kenny helped her get off the floor and put her lay cloth up (a lay cloth is a strong piece of material that has ropes so to create a wall at the edge of the bed)! It took Eve a while to figure out what happened – she lifted her head up in a daze wondering why she was on a floor. We all laughed about it the next day.
Unfortunately, I had a fall too.
During my night watch, I fell out of the cockpit seat. I then hit my head on the corner of the companionway. It happened so fast. One moment I was sitting on the seat with my legs stretched out and the next I was on the floor. Afterward, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to die of a brain clot…I found it hard to be positive in such strong conditions. We were being tossed all over the place and my mind was spiraling more to the negative side.
But…after all is said and done, we survived day one!
Would you rather read this article in book form (paperback or Kindle)? Our Atlantic crossing is in my book ‘Changing Lifestyles – Trading in the Rat Race for a sail around the world!‘ The book is almost 400 pages long. It details our life on land before we sold up and sailed away. Also it covers our transition from living on land to living at sea, our voyage around the Mediterranean, Atlantic Crossing and our sail up the Caribbean. It’s a great book for anyone that has ever dreamed of sailing around the world.
What’s Next in our Sailing across the Atlantic series?
- In the next article, discover how we decided upon a watch schedule, what we ate, the tasks we assigned everyone and who we managed to speak with that was around us and more: Transatlantic Crossing
- The previous article is Sailing Across The Atlantic Ocean From Gran Canaria – it’s a post I got uploaded hours before we left.
- Click here for a general overview of our Atlantic Crossing