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Crossing the Atlantic in a sailing boat

It had been a long time coming. My original plan was as follows: fly from Madrid to Gran Canaria, join a  (to be found) sailing yacht that participates in the ARC rally, arrive on the other side of the Atlantic ocean by the 20th of December, spend Christmas in the Caribbean. 

I arrived safely and happily at the other side of the Atlantic ocean on the 10th of March. A near three months difference. Finding a suitable boat departing from Cape Verde proved to be surprisingly easy, despite that “everybody” warned that the season would be over. A friend and I had the chance to be able to be picky and select the nicest yacht out of 3 without making any boat-searching effort. Two German gentlemen, my friend and I were the entire crew for the crossing of the Atlantic ocean in an 11 meter sailing boat.

The captain had never crossed the Atlantic ocean either, so everybody was tense and nobody knew what and how much we needed to buy. As a safety measure we decided to “overstock” a bit on food. Thijs weer hectic, and the day after carnival I literally had to run towards the ship in order to be on time for our departure.

I guess it took several days to realize what I was doing. The first two days we still saw land and other boats, but then it became quiet. Just the ocean, the sky and the four of us. Once a day we were joined by a single bird, we saw dolphins and a whale, loads of flying fish, but nothing else that indicated that the world around still existed. This lasted for 13 out of 17 days: total Zen.

We were four persons and had 2 hour shifts. This means that you’ve got to steer the boat for 2 hours and then have a 6 hours break and that for the entire day. After sunset we rotated the shifts so once every 4 days you’d have only one shift in the dark.

Experienced sailors warned me that crossing the Atlantic ocean can be boring. In addition, my iPad (also my eBook reader) ran out of batteries during the second day. Without possibilities to recharge (nor printed books) I feared for the worst boredom ever. Fortunately we had a great time, despite/because the ship was “dry” (no alcohol on board), except for one bottle of wine when we were half way. We sailed by hand, meaning no autopilot and only used paper maps (with GPS). The night shifts were especially amazing: full moon, up to 6 meter high waves and alone at the rudder with the rest of the crew asleep. For the entire trip we had the wind exactly from behind, which to the inexperienced ear might sound like a good situation, but this means that you have to watch continuously for dangerous jibes, which is tiring and exciting at the same time. Fortunately, I didn’t get seasick, which was a big relief, as the trip would have been very long otherwise.

Inevitably, during each of my shifts, I’d have at least one of them: a “freak” wave. Coming out of nowhere, a gigantic wave would pick up our tiny boat and do with it as it pleased. It served as a reminder that the ocean, and not me was in charge of what was happening.

I have some experience in steering small open boats (none, with the ship size we were sailing), so I especially enjoyed the sportive sailing parts with stronger winds and high waves. Facing backwards, trying to steer as little as possible and anticipate the waves and wind was my favorite part. 

Those of you who are familiar with my cooking skills might be surprised that I participated actively  in the cooking (no, not just doing the dishes). It is surprisingly difficult to cook on the ocean and more than once we had to pick our almost ready dinner from the floor.

Crossing the Atlantic in a sailing yacht proved to be one of the highlights of my trip. Highly recommend for anybody with an interest in sailing or a ‘different’ kind of holiday. The cost? 75 euros for the entire 17 days trip (food, fuel, etc. included). Just do it.


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