Q&A: Maine To Ireland In June

Question: I am a 46 year old professional in fairly good health and in good shape. I am wanting to reverse the steps of my great-great-grandfather, sailing from Belfast, Maine to Bantry Bay, Ireland. I plan to leave June 3rd, 2011. What is my best/safest route? What time frame should I use? I have calculated sailing/motoring at an average of 7 knots (I am planning to buy a Macgregor 26M)?

Answer: There are basically two options:

  1. The Great Circle Route with possible stops in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. This is by far the shortest, but is likely to be much more stormy and very foggy. It also exposes you to ice risk. Given your inexperience, I would not recommend it. It does however have the advantage that if you need to, you can always bug out before even leaving North America since you will be close to land for the first few days.
  2. A much longer route is via Bermuda and the Azores. However, it will be warmer with no ice risk and a much reduced chance of gales and no fog after the first couple of days. Also, if you need to after the first day or so, you can always bail out by going into a port on Cape Cod.

Seven knots is optimistic, very. I would guess that in the Macgregor, 3 to 4 knots average over a trans-Atlantic would be more realistic. Morgan’s Cloud is 56’ long and a fast boat, that has won her class twice in the Bermuda race, skippered by an experienced offshore sailor with a lot of ocean racing under his belt, but even so, short handed we generally only manage an average of 7 knots for a passage, and that with the help of a big inboard engine and a long range under power.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

17 comments … add one
  • Jen Dec 25, 2012, 12:15 am

    Hi – I’m planning my first transatlantic sail, eastbound, for Spring 2013. I’d like to leave as early as is prudent – I’ll leave from Connecticut and my destination is Sweden and it’d be great to have as much time as possible to sail that area in the summer and still have time to get south a bit before fall. Looking at the pilot charts, gale frequency in May for the fairly direct route (towards Fastnet or Pentland Firth, on the Pilot Charts, for example), even doglegging south of the grand banks, is much higher than in June, and the ice extent also very close to the route (apparently near 43 degrees lat in May 2012). Does this mean that the only safe route to Europe in Spring is via the Azores? I will be singlehanding, and although I have confidence in my boat and have sailed offshore in gales, I do not want to go looking for trouble and am committed to making this as safe a passage as possible, although the extra mileage may cut down my time up north once over there. I’ll keep researching and reading and poring over your site but would appreciate any advice you may have.

    • John Dec 26, 2012, 11:12 am

      Hi Jen,

      One addition to my last comment. Don’t even think about making landfall at the Pentland Firth. It is one of the most dangerous tide rip and overall areas in the world. A fisherman from the area told me that when he was a boy learning to fish, his father had told him “boy, fear God and the Pentland Firth”.

      If you are not used to tidal waters and the attendant dangers, a landfall anywhere in that area (west coast Scotland, Orkney, Shetland can be very challenging. Might be better to make landfall in Ireland and then work up the Irish sea learning about the areas as you go.

  • PETER Dec 25, 2012, 2:57 am

    I made a transatlantic from Norfolk to Cowes in 2001. I left mid June and stopped in the Azores( July 4) and Ireland. No problem …but I had one crew.
    Singlehanded, I would recommend carefully working east in May to Nova Scotia/Newfoundland watching the wx. Then, by June, I would depart Cape Race in clear weather and go north of the UK to Sweden.
    This is the shortest distance and you avoid the English Channel…very dangerous for a single hander.
    I would like to know more about your boat and it’s equipment before commenting further.
    Also I have done a fair amount of single handing and would strongly recommend you get at one dependable crew. It will make a difficult passage a lot more viable.
    Peter

  • Jen Dec 25, 2012, 8:42 pm

    Thanks for the response – I have a 1979 Allied Seawind II (31.5ft ketch, fiberglass) that’s been repowered with a Yanmar 3GM30F. I agree about avoiding the Channel, as well as another person making the trip much easier. Perhaps picking up crew once I get to Europe would be a viable option if I don’t take someone for the long passage. The equipment on board is pretty minimal now, including simply Aries self-steering, electronic autopilot, GPS, EPIRB, VHF and basic safety gear like fire extinguishers and PFDs. I’m planning on getting an immersion suit, offshore liferaft (brand?), radar if I can afford it, and hopefully AIS and/or SSB. She holds 60gal fresh water, so I was hoping to get away without a watermaker (solar still for emergencies?), and 50gal diesel. I was also considering getting a solar panel setup to help charge the battery banks without the main engine, although the upgraded 80amp alternator seems to charge very quickly anyways. Happy to hear any (and all…) thoughts. Thanks again,
    -jen

    • John Dec 26, 2012, 11:04 am

      Hi Jen

      Sounds like a great adventure that you have planned. There is one piece of important information that I would need before commenting in depth and that is the level of your experience? This is by far the most important variable that will determine whether or not you have a safe and enjoyable voyage. You will find more on that and the passage, as well as single-handing across the Atlantic, in this post. Make sure you read the comments to the post too, lots of good information there.

      A couple of thoughts on your boat: The Seawinds are, I believe, great boats and strongly built. But your boat must be at least 30 years old and could be as much as 45. You mention a new engine, but the key areas that need to be really well checked out are the rudder and the rig. On the rudder, I would look long and hard at the gudgeons and pintals and on the rig, I would guess that if it has not already been done, the chain plates should be replaced.

      Scott, are you out there? Anything else you can think of that should be checked on the Seawind? (Scott circumnavigated in one back when the world was young.)

  • Jen Dec 26, 2012, 2:09 pm

    Hi John and thanks so much for the response –

    Although I am probably nowhere near as experienced as most people on this forum, especially with this size boat, I have been sailing on tall ships since 2003 and work as an officer (I have my 100 GRTinland/150GRT NC mates license) aboard traditionally rigged educational vessels sailing from Maine to the southern part of the eastern Caribbean. I’ve been bosun and engineer aboard those ships, as well. While I know (truly) that those 130-180ft wooden vessels are their own world, it is my dream to sail my own boat across the ocean (something I’ve never done on a tall ship either, however). As far as sailing my Seawind, it is pretty new to me, I’ve been living aboard for 5 months so far and sailing it as much as possible in the LI Sound. I did get a chance to take it out in a few strong fall breezes before decommissioning but really have only singlehanded for a few trips from one end of the sound to the other and back (longest time alone underway consecutively 32 hrs or so). I’m hoping the sail to NS/Newf will provide valuable enough experience, especially with any new equipment, that I’ll be ready enough to attempt the crossing. I’ll read the “Sanity” posting and comments now, though…

    My boat is 33 yrs old and was just hauled out – the rudder looks good, and the rig is 4-5 yrs old and looks solid, although I will spend considerable time this spring inspecting it. The chainplates themselves look new enough (I think also 4-5 yrs old, replaced by the previous owner, whom I am in contact with) but I’ll consider them carefully. The deck hardware including lifeline stanchions needs rebedding as do the hatches, for sure.

    Thanks thanks thanks,
    -jen

    • John Dec 26, 2012, 8:20 pm

      Hi Jen,

      Thanks for the information. After thinking about it a bit, I think I would recommend the southern route via the Azores, or even Bermuda, and on to Bantry Bay in Ireland. It is longer than the route via Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, but it is a lot less stormy and much warmer with no fog and ice to worry about. Since this will be your first ocean passage in this boat, and your first in a small boat, I really think that the comparatively easy (in early summer) crossing to Bermuda is the way too go as a shake down.

      As for trying to get to Sweden in time to have plenty of the summer lleft. I would put that aside. Remember that the most dangerous thing on a voyaging boat is a calendar. I think you will find that getting across the Atlantic, including fixing all the things that will go wrong with a new-to-you-boat and learning the intricacies of sailing around the British Isles will be enough challenge for one summer. Plan to be ready to head for Bermuda in late May and be out and heading for the Azores in late June. If you make Sweden before mid-September I will be both surprised and impressed! My point being, give yourself time to enjoy the journey across without the pressure of a deadline, which will make every delay and setback seem like a disaster.

  • Jen Dec 26, 2012, 4:53 pm

    No for the Pentland Firth, got it! If there’s anything I’ve learned sailing in New England, it’t to listen to the locals, especially the fisherman. I do need to research the best route/landfalls. The PF is simply on the pilot chart as a place to point at, but landfall in Ireland certainly makes more sense. Coastal sailing in a new area is always more than a little intimidating to me and I’ll be digging up some crew for those portions of the trip, perhaps. Any recommendations for literature/sites regarding sailing in that area (Ireland, north of the UK/Scotland)? Your cruising guide to Norway seems like a prerequisite.

    Happy holidays, by the way!
    -jen

  • Nicolas Dec 27, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Jen
    The Scottish Islands by Hamish Haswell-Smith is superb in every sense. Approaches & reefs, harbors & anchorages, towns & communities, history & archaeology, natural history.

  • Paul Mills Dec 28, 2012, 8:48 am

    Hi Jen,

    I know the west coast of Scotland pretty well. I agree with Nicholas re Haswell book, a real treasure. Imray and Clyde cruising club do good pilot guides and reeds is an excellent almanac.

    My thought would be to aim for gap between Ireland and Islay and then u have lots of options…. . We will be in Ardfern by then and would happily share info, help with a pit stop etc, etc.

    Lots of people leave their boat in Scotland after a crossing and cruise like you plan, and then carry on next year…. Avoiding late crossing back and having time to explore…. .

    Happy to chat more off forum if that would help.

    Final thought, get a crew if you can, it’s a hard thing closing an unknown shore in a new continent in bad weather after a long crossing….

    Paul

    • John Dec 29, 2012, 9:32 am

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for offering to help on this. I have only sailed on the west coast and Irish sea once and the islands to the north twice, so it’s great to have an opinion from someone who really knows it well.

      And I agree completely on getting a crew member if possible. This is particularly a good idea because the difficulties of sailing in UK waters, that you lot take for granted having been brought up with it, can come as a very nasty shock to a voyager from the much more benign waters of the east coast of North America—we don’t have anything remotely as dangerous as the Merry Men of Mey or the Old Hag of Corryvreckan.

  • Olianta Apr 20, 2017, 5:05 pm

    I know this “thread”” is 5 years old but I think that my question is relevant to the OP question. My boat Furia (Luffe 37.09) will participate in this year Ostar/Twostar race. She will be sailed double handed (Twostar) by two close friends of mine, both good sailors and racers http://rwyc.org/ostar/competitors/ I am not going to be part of the crew because I am not a racer, even not that much experienced sailor and this will be a tough race, not just a tough passage. However. I will be onboard on the return crossing with one of my friends sailing her back to Europe double handed. Our return destination will be Denmark and we are planning to do this at the end of June/beginning of July (if all works fine with the race).
    with starting port Newport. We are not planning to stop neither in NF (we do not intend to apply for Canadian visas), nor in Scotland unless we are forced to. We cannot carry much fuel (60 lt tank + 60 in jerrycans) which is enough for 4-5 days if there are calms. What would be your advice regarding the first part of the journey from Newport and your overall comments regarding this route, provided the boat (though proven as good
    sailor in so far two Atlantic crossings) IMO is not made to be an ocean going vessel. So far we have not experienced gale force in the Atlantic (only in the Med). We are aware that it will be a cold and wet passage on this boat but we are determined to do I. The other option is via the Azores but I am afraid that if choose this one I will divert to Gibraltar and the Med and will forget about going to the Baltic.

    Kind regards
    Rumen

    • John Apr 21, 2017, 8:27 am

      Hi Rumen,

      You will find a my detailed analysis of that route here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2008/05/18/route-for-west-to-east-atlantic-crossing/

      And much more in the posts in this category: https://www.morganscloud.com/category/north-atlantic/

      • Rumen Apr 21, 2017, 12:48 pm

        Thank you John,

        I read this analysis some time ago but have forgotten it. It is very useful.

        Rumen

    • John Apr 21, 2017, 8:29 am

      Hi Rumen,

      One other thing, since, as you point out, you will almost certainly experience some heavy weather I would suggest reading our Heavy Weather Tactics online book and implementing the recommendations: https://www.morganscloud.com/series/heavy-weather-tactics/

      • Rumen Apr 21, 2017, 12:50 pm

        Hello again John,

        I have also read a lot of heavy weather literature including your articles (will reread them) but IMO unless you experience it yourself you are a little bit nervous about how much your boat and you can take in.

        • John Apr 22, 2017, 7:32 am

          Hi Rumen,

          Good point. I would take it a step further and say that we are always a little bit nervous about how much our boat and we can take, regardless of experience. Or to put it another way, anyone who is not frightened by the sea is too much of a damned fool to go to sea.

          Your concern and planning does you credit and will stand you in good stead.

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