Q&A: North Atlantic Crossing, East To West, In Fall

Question: I’m planning an east to west crossing via the northern route from the UK to Canada. Ideally I would like to do this in August or September and without stops. My boat is a Hallberg Rassy 46. What do you think?

Answer: I would strongly recommend against this passage, at that time of year. The distance from Scotland to Newfoundland direct is 1700 miles. Since it is likely to be mostly to windward with plenty of heavy weather I’m guessing that in your 46 foot boat it will take you at least 17 days and maybe more. In August or September your chances of getting hit by an extra-tropical storm—a hurricane that has turned into a huge and powerful mid-latitude storm as it tracks north—with nowhere to run to are unacceptably high.

If you must take this route non-stop, I would suggest a June departure to reduce the above risk. Even then, it will be a tough trip with the added sting of ice bergs and fog when you get to the Grand Banks.

The other option would to make the trip in short hops via Faroe, Iceland and Greenland. This trip has substantial challenges of its own and is about 500 miles longer but has the advantage that if an extra-tropical storm does develop, you can hole-up to let it go by. If you decide on this option, you still want to plan it so that you will be in Newfoundland before the end of August when the weather in the North Atlantic takes a substantial turn for the worse.

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Meet the Author


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.

10 comments… add one
  • charlie Berridge Sep 16, 2013, 11:54 am

    Hi. I’m writing a book that involves a fishing boat (probably two masts and an engine) three crew sailing from Madeira to Sao Miguel (the Azores) and then it’s forced to head across the Atlantic to USA/Caribbean. It’s 1917 and August. Can this be done and if so describe route, time, conditions etc etc. many thanks for help.

    • John Sep 16, 2013, 2:16 pm

      Hi Charlie,

      I’m sorry to be harsh, but since you are, I’m assuming, writing a book for profit, I suggest that you do your own research, or pay a qualified researcher to do it for you. I would suggest you start with Jimmy Cornell’s excellent books on ocean routing. A paragraph or two from me will not give you the understanding that you need to make your book believable.

  • David B. Zaharik Mar 6, 2018, 5:03 pm

    I am contemplating sailing east to west from the Med to Bermuda. Then perhaps the ICW to Florida then across to the Bahamas…. I can’t for the life of me figure out when the best time of the year would be considering hurricane season… is it possible to do while avoiding hurricane season and not etting kicked to death crossing the semi-north Atlantic?

    • John Mar 7, 2018, 8:27 am

      Hi David,

      The Med to Bermuda can be done in the late spring, early summer, with little Hurricane risk, and after the winter storms have died down. The key to a good passage is routing around the Bermuda-Azores high. See our weather online book for more on routing generally.

      However, once in North America the only way to really reduce hurricane risk is to be north of Cape Cod for the hurricane season.

      We are considering a product that would, for a fixed fee, provide a Skype consultation with me to discuss these kinds of questions that require answers that are too detailed and specific to one person to be practical in the comments. Let me know here if that would be of interest.

      • David B. Zaharik Mar 7, 2018, 11:07 am

        Thanks John.
        I would be interested in that option once I get my boat. I have ordered a Boreal 47 and it won’t be ready to launch until March 2019 so I have some time. The enquiry was more for inquisitiveness and future knowledge. I suppose I could sail to Bermuda in late spring, then spend the summer season exploring the east coast north of Cape Cod and make my way south after hurricane season. So many options.

  • David Zaharik May 2, 2019, 9:31 pm

    Well the boat is launched and I just got the go ahead from my insurance at half the price of going the trade wind route to go north to Scotland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland…. where can I get info on this route? I was thinking of heading north from France in May and June, crossing to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland in July and arriving in Maine in late August… am I crazy? LOL… The boat was built for it and the legs are short (relatively speaking) but I have NO knowledge …

    • John May 3, 2019, 7:36 am

      Hi David,

      I don’t generally recommend that route as a first time high latitude experience. The tricky bit, particularly west bound is getting around the south tip of Greenland, or through Prince Christian Sund. That said, the best resource is the RCC guide: https://rccpf.org.uk/pilots/136/Arctic—Northern-Waters

      • David Zaharik May 3, 2019, 11:32 am

        Thanks John, I suppose my naiveté is showing through which I don’t mind… I sooner be alive humble and naive then brazen, drown and frozen. We’ll be spending a week sailing with Colin at month end and perhaps he will help talk me into the trade wind crossing. 🙂

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