Yachting World Editor Elaine Bunting provides her top tips for a smooth crossing
1. Costs: these will be higher than you think regardless of your yacht. Everyone always asks about budget, but few people tot up theirs honestly. Eating out is one of the most expensive aspects of cruising, especially in the Caribbean, and gear service costs are high. Don’t forget, too, that your yacht will need a refit after you return to Europe.
2. Shore support: logistics support from home makes life much easier. Tasks include co-ordinating crew changes and spares, and managing communications. Keeping a crew at sea in touch with the real world is as important as keeping those at home informed about life on board.
3. Take it steady: don’t go all-out at the beginning of a crossing. It usually takes around three days for a crew to find their sea legs and settle into a routine. Be kind to your crew during this time – and also your boat. It will be fully provisioned, fuelled and watered and that amounts to tonnes of extra displacement. The increased loads on gear and rigging are significant, so throttle back.
4. Prepare for gear failure: Be prepared for key equipment to fail because sooner or later it probably will. If it’s gear you normally rely on, like an autopilot or watermaker, have a contingency or a workable plan to do without. Autopilot failure will start to put a small crew under strain by robbing everyone of rest time. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to make sure most or all of your crew are decent helmsmen downwind in following seas. If not, spend some time on passage tutoring them.
5. Spares: assume any piece of equipment that can go wrong will and plan your spares list carefully. Getting professionals to install equipment for you is not always good value – if you do it yourself you will have a better understanding of how to effect a repair.
6. Chafe: the real enemy at sea. Identify chafe points on sheet runs, the top of the halyard and through the spinnaker pole and protect as needed. If flying a spinnaker, move the halyard every few days.
7. Provisioning: involve the crew in the shopping list and the shopping, then they will have less reason to complain later. Cabbages last ages and are great in salad. Bananas go ripe all at once and you’ll soon be sick of them. Have a butcher vacuum-seal meat to help preserve it or get a machine and do it yourself before freezing. Take no cardboard packaging on board to avoid importing cockroach eggs.
8. Fuel: it’s difficult to have too much, even in a sailing boat. If going further than the Caribbean, carry some jerrycans – fuel is often a taxi-ride away from the shore.
9. Safety: don’t be afraid to wear lifejackets and use lifelines and always use them at night and in bad weather. If in doubt, play it safe. Drum into crew never to leave the cockpit to go forward when no one else is awake. And think about safety below decks too; for example, the risk to crews wearing shorts while handling pans of boiling water. Discourage crew from peeing over the side: there are no recorded cases of men falling overboard while using the heads.
10. Keep your head in the yacht: In some seasons an Atlantic crossing is quick. In others it’s slow. The weather varies quite a bit, especially early in November and early December, when the tradewinds can be elusive. So if you are fixated on a certain arrival day, you’ll be set up for disappointment before you even leave.
A sailing passage is not a liner service, so kick back, enjoy the experience, bring a few books and maybe go on a digital detox to enjoy time out from the deadlines that shape daily life on shore.
And whatever you do, don’t let your crew book flights immediately after your estimated ETA – nothing sours the atmosphere on board more than a single stressed person who is on a deadline and champing to be on land.
Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Yachting World
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