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  • Writer's pictureDieter Peschkes

Preparation for a Trans Atlantic crossing

A trans Atlantic crossing east to west using the trade winds is one of the biggest adventures in sailing. Often a crossing is the culmination of years of planning and preparation.

Every year Oceantrax undertake Atlantic crossings in both directions. In this blog we look at crossing east to west, often regarded as the easier crossing with stable trade winds.

What Time of Year to Cross?

The biggest factor influencing the time to undertake an trans Atlantic crossing is Hurricane season.

This runs from the beginning of June to the end of November. Hurricanes can occur outside of the official season but it is rare, however in recent years named storms have become more frequent in May.

To maximise the Caribbean season, many yachts depart mid to late November with the bulk of the crossing underway through early December, making full use of the seasonal trade winds.

Which Route?

Although there are no ‘fixed’ routes there are loosely three options,

· Northern route: Las Palmas to Antigua

· Middle Route: Las Palmas to St Lucia

· Southern Route: Canary Islands to Cape Verde to Grenada

The Northern Route

There is greater chance of unsettled weather on this route, especially on the first half and the trade winds are less likely to be as consistent or as strong as further south.

At the beginning and end of the season there is possibility of tropical storms moving across the route on a NE track. The southern edges of weather systems further to the north can bring unsettled weather.

The Middle Route

This is the most popular route and involves heading S-SW from the Canaries before heading more or less due W to the Antilles.

Most yachts will try to get down to 20°N and 25°W, although this is dependent on weather and a lot of yachts will cut the corner more towards 30°W. This will bring you in to more consistent trade winds, warmer weather and a stronger west going current.

From around 20°N you can take a rhumb line towards your destination in the Caribbean.

The Southern Route

Canaries to the Cape Verdes is an easy ride with the wind on the quarter for much of the way.

The Cape Verdes break-up the crossing nicely, the provisioning is good and options for refuelling and taking on water are also good, although repair facilities are limited.

From the Cape Verdes to the Antilles the trade winds blow consistently and combined with the west going current provide a quick crossing.

Join an Organised Event?

Rallies, such as the ARC, are becoming an increasingly popular way of crossing the Atlantic and for a first crossing they can make it less daunting knowing that there are other vessels nearby. These rallies also offer many social events providing the opportunity to meet other boat owners and crew which can lead to a wealth of information.

There are still hundreds of boats each year that make the crossing independently. Often Yachts planning to make the crossing will find themselves in the same marinas and form an informal SSB net before departing to stay in touch and inform each other of weather developments and progress.

Boat Preparation

Starting at the bottom, inspect keel bolts for signs of corrosion and possible leaks. Check all seacocks are free moving and suitable wooden bungs are tied close to the fitting.

Ensure the bilges are clean, this makes it easier to spot potential leaks and trace to the source.

Engine service should be up to date and enough spares carried to allow several fuel and oil filter changes if required, along with belt changes and impellor changes. If you do not need them on your crossing they will be used when you next service your engine. At this point it is also worth making sure you have any spares that may be hard to find in the Caribbean. Check you have the tools required to change these items. Some impellors require a special tool to change, so make sure you have a tool to reach that one awkward bolt that every engine has.

It is also worth having various lengths of fuel hose, water pipes and hose clips in case of failure. Consider spare fresh water pump and bilge pump.

And of course the essential cable/zip ties which every boat should carry, it’s amazing what you can fix with these!

Try to have all the appropriate manuals that will have part numbers and instructions on how to diagnose problems. Also many manuals will have sections in other languages which may come in useful when trying to explain a fault in some areas.

Steering failure is one of the most frequent problems experienced on ARC boats make sure the spares and tools you carry are suitable. Start by taking a look in the steering compartment and investigate for signs of wear, frayed cables, loose mounts, and in the case of hydraulic steering dribbles of oil; these are warning signs of potential steering failure. For cable steering consider having a spare cable and ensure you can fit it out at sea.

Check your Autohelm ram. Check for loose bolts and dust building up below the ram, as this can be a sign of wear. Depending on the age of the unit you may want to change the ram. Remember this crossing may be the most use your auto will have for years.

Check for play in rudder bearings, once again clean the compartment as it makes it easier to see signs of wear and possible coming problems.

Check the emergency tiller. Is it easy to get to in a rush? Does it fit? Has something been mounted in the way of the arm which does not allow it full movement.

A complete inspection of the rig is essential. Most insurance companies will insist on new wire around every 10-12 years. Ask a rigger’s advice on spares. Most can supply emergency rig repair kits, or can advise where to buy online to suit your rig.

Thoroughly check your running rigging and have plenty of spare line to jury rig repairs. Check stitching in sails especially around stress points; consider adding reinforcement in these points. If you do not have a third reefing point consider adding one.

Check for chafe points and adding reinforcement or revising your set up to reduce or eliminate these. Label clutches in the cockpit area with luminous stickers so reefing at night is easier and carry a sail repair kit, extra snatch blocks and sail repair tape.

Set up an easy to use boom preventer as you will be doing a lot of downwind sailing!

Oceantrax has a downloadable pre delivery checklist that can also be used to check and prepare for a trans Atlantic crossing.


Although a trans Atlantic crossing may be daunting with plenty of preparation and planning it can also be an enjoyable and highly rewarding experience.

If you feel you need help or advice Oceantrax can provide a skipper or experienced crew to assist on your crossing.


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