A Late West To East Atlantic Crossing

Question:

westtoeast I am a fairly experienced Swedish sailor;  however, I have never “crossed the pond”. We have decided to buy a MacGregor 65. There are several for sale at good prices in the US, but very few in Europe.

We will miss the most appropriate season [to cross the Atlantic]. Hence, I want to ask your advice about the best routes during August, September or October. The [four] crew all have extensive ocean experience.

If we can postpone, when is the end of the hurricane season?

Answer:

Let’s start with the last question first: These days there are frequently hurricanes around well into November, so waiting will not increase your safety.

Since you will be transiting at the height of the hurricane season I think the best routeing would be the great circle from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Ireland. This route is the shortest by far and has the added advantage of being as far as possible from the typical hurricane spawning grounds south of 25 degrees north latitude.

On this route, even if there are no hurricanes threatening (if there are you should not leave), you must be prepared for at least one full gale and possibly a multi-day storm. That is in August. Once September comes, the frequency and severity of dangerous weather goes up substantially. And in October, the North Atlantic that far north is simply no place for a yacht.

So much for how to cross. But I think there is a bigger question to be answered here: Should you try this crossing at all?

This would be a potentially tough passage in the strongest and best fitted-out offshore boat. The MacGregor 65, while a very interesting boat that has made many good passages, is a light weight, relatively inexpensive fibreglass boat with a large cockpit and lots of big ports in the cabin.

(Note that I have not done an in-depth evaluation of the MacGregor 65’s construction, and that I’m not casting aspersions of a general nature on the boat’s strength or seaworthiness. Nor am I one of those traditional boat owners that automatically consigns a light boat to the junk category. In fact I like light boats and kind of like the MacGregor 65. However, my guess is that it was not designed or built to cross the northern North Atlantic in late summer or fall.)

You need to ask yourself if this is the boat to be aboard in the full storm or possibly hurricane force conditions (with or without a hurricane) that might occur on your passage and which could go on for several days producing truly mountainous seas? As you think about that question, do not forget that this is the time of year and part of the ocean where the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II got hit by a 90-foot (27 meter) wave.

Further, the boat will be new to you and with this schedule you will have only a few months to get to know how to sail her safely, find and fix any defects, and fit her out properly for such a voyage.

Based on the above, I would recommend that you buy your boat, enjoy cruising and getting to know her in coastal waters this summer, and then lay-up in the US or Canada before crossing the Atlantic in May or June next year via the Azores and possibly Bermuda; a longer, but much safer way home.

If, despite the above, you decide to attempt this, I would suggest, at the very least, fitting storm boards to the ports and reducing the volume of the cockpit, as well as buying, fitting and learning to deploy and recover a Jordon Series Drogue. On the safety gear list just some of the things you will need are: survival suits, a good life raft, storm sails, and the best cold weather clothing and foul weather gear money can buy.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • John May 9, 2010, 2:58 pm

    The questioner has written directly to us indicating that he thinks I was too negative about the MacGregor 65′s suitability for this passage. I would be the first to admit that I’m no expert on the boat.

    Does anyone else have any insights into the boat or general thoughts on this question and my answer that might help the questioner make a good decision? If so, please leave a comment.

    Reply
  • Westbrook May 10, 2010, 1:48 pm

    I know nada about the MacGregor 65′, other than she has a good Scotch name and her picture looks lovely.

    But, I have bought (at different times) two used cruising sailboats. My experiences suggest a significant shakedown cruise before attempting an Atlantic Crossing. Plus time to acquire the safety gear and do the refitting that John recommends.

    Reply
  • Julian May 12, 2010, 6:29 am

    I too aren’t all that familiar with the MacGregor 65.

    I don’t doubt that an experienced sailor could get the boat across the pond, even in a nasty storm. Sure, the boat might get bounced around a fair bit, or a rogue wave may possibly turn it upside down and break its mast (that’s the gamble you take crossing the Atlantic at that time of year in a big, light boat).

    But at the end of the day, the questioner would probably get his new boat across and then enjoy a long and comfortable time coastal cruising in her.

    Reply
  • jesus December 10, 2010, 9:25 pm

    This boat is not suited for the passage at this time of the year. Do not attempt to do this. First use it coastaly, then refit it completely with strong gear. Buy the best. Be prepared. I have done this cruising 3 times and have talked to people doing it out of season. Very bad stories, broken masts, etc.
    cs

    Reply
  • Steve November 15, 2012, 11:25 am

    I, too, agree that a late crossing west-to-east in a Macgregor 65 would not be recommended: this is a light, go-fast boat intended for weekend racing in relatively protected waters. I was aboard one once in open water with c. 4′ to 6′ seas and was surprised at how she was knocked around. (I’ve done 6 Atlantic crossings, in boats ranging form a 33′ Moody to an 85′ square-rigger to a 46′ catamaran.) Practice with her in the US East Coast, then lay her up for teh winter and come back in the spring.
    -Steve

    Reply
  • Wally Morrison February 2, 2014, 3:26 pm

    I too want to make the crossing from Nova Scotia( Halifax) in 2015. I am a first timer for the crossing. My planned route is out of Halifax and up the east coast of Nfld., then to the tip of Greenland, then to Iceland and then to Ireland to cross the channel to France. My boat is a T29Tylercraft. I plan on sailing around the north Atlantic this summer between the coasts of Labrador and Greenland as a way to get the boat and myself ready for the crossing the following summer. If anyone has any comments or suggestions ,please let me know. I welcome any repliesT hanks, Wally Morrison.

    Reply
    • John February 4, 2014, 1:29 pm

      Hi Wally,

      You don’t mention your experience, so maybe you already know this, but do keep in mind that the voyage you are planning via, or even just to, Greenland is a very challenging one where you will be exposed to risks from ice and extremely violent weather. I don’t know anything about the T29Tylercraft, but that’s a very small boat to take into the areas you are talking about. You need to be sure that you and your boat are up to the challenge of handling a multi-day storm force winds at sea, particularly since the small size and therefore slow speed of your boat will make it difficult to make any of the crossings without at least one gale.

      Reply
  • CaperAsh April 21, 2014, 10:46 am

    I know nothing about the boat or making Atlantic crossings (though would love to make one one day), but from their website, a quote:

    “Professional delivery captain Don Ross writes the following: “After logging over 30,000 miles delivering the MacGregor 65 and comparing it to the numerous other cruising yachts I have delivered, I find the MacGregor 65 to be the best cruising yacht on the market…I spent 5 days in a North Atlantic gale, surfing down huge rollers, and hitting speeds over 20 knots. It was incredible to be sailing that fast, but the 65 was right at home. My crew and I just hung on and enjoyed a record breaking 7 day 14 hour passage from Bermuda to Horta (in the Azores)”
    http://www.macgregor26.com/macgregor70/home/home.html
    This is the page for the Mac 70, but the quote is about the 65.
    (They have their first 70 for sale right now for $250,000.)

    Reply

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