The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Q&A: Trans-Atlantic Singlehanded

Question: I’m at a point in my life when it’s time to live the dream that I’ve had since childhood and that’s to sail across the Atlantic single handed. I’m a complete beginner to sailing.

I’m currently doing a skipper’s course which will take me up to advanced cruising, coastal navigation and radio operation, although blue water cruising is not included since I’m based in Montreal.

I know it’s an achievable dream but I need to put some reality to it, your help and advice will be greatly appreciated. Where do we start; my guess is boat selection? My plan is, as I will be working in Boston next year, to get a boat to live on and get as many hours sailing as I possibly can. I’m not after a big boat, 24 to 27 feet will do, but obviously sea worthy.

Answer: Your project will be a substantial challenge but, nonetheless, we think it is doable.

While boat selection will be important, I think the first and most important order of business is to map out a program that will give you the experience and confidence to make your voyage both safe and enjoyable, not an ordeal. I think the key to this will be for you to get as much experience as possible in conditions like those you will face on your crossing. While the course you are doing in Montreal and living on a boat in Boston will provide a start, both areas have much more benign conditions than those you are likely to face in the North Atlantic, even in summer.

First off, we would suggest working toward a British Royal Yachting Association Yacht Master Offshore certificate. Although you can take the courses leading to this qualification in the USA, we would recommend doing them in UK waters where you will get exposure to the strong tides and more challenging weather that you will face toward the end of your trip. There are many good UK sailing schools that provide intensive residential courses leading to the Yacht Master.

After, or possibly concurrently with, the above, it would be a very good idea to do at least one substantial offshore trip on another boat before setting off on your single handed voyage. The bottom line is that there is just no way to know what it is really like offshore without going there. There are several ways to do this, including just hanging around the docks in places like Newport when boats are looking for crew for the annual fall migration to the Caribbean. However, the problem with this approach is that you might end up going to sea with an inexperienced crew or on a poorly prepared boat. A better, albeit more expensive, approach might be to do a crossing on a boat that takes paying crew. We can recommend Hamish and Kate Laird on Seal or John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal on Mahina Tiare.

The other advantage of all this is that it will expose you to several different boats; experience that will be invaluable when the time comes to pick and fit out your own boat.

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