Trans-Atlantic Single-Handed Sanity Check


Question [Edited for brevity]: I’d like to move my boat, a 50’ Hinckley Yawl, from Mt Desert, Maine to Mallorca, Spain and “do” the Med for 12-18 months. I’ve been thinking about single-handing her across; from Maine direct to Gibraltar.

The boat is in good condition but 33 years old, I am in good condition but more than twice the age of my boat.

I’ve never done a transatlantic but have passaged from Maine to Bermuda and St. Thomas as crew on other people’s boats a couple of times and I have single-handed my boat up and down the coast of Maine.

I’d appreciate your opinions regarding the above and would welcome any suggestions that you may have.

Answer: Well, I can’t tell you whether you and your boat are ready for this voyage, only you can know that. But what may help you decide is if I tell you what I would do in the same circumstances.

First off, two issues jump out at me:

  • You have never skippered a boat on a multi-day offshore passage, single handed or fully crewed.
  • You have never taken your boat that you plan to do this in offshore.

While plenty of people have successfully single-handed across the ocean in the same situation, I favour more of a stepping stones approach. (You can read more about my apprenticeship here.) So what I would do is start off by sailing the boat to Bermuda with at least two crew (total three). Then, if I was still feeling confident, I would carry on from there single-handed.

The bottom line is that no amount of coastal cruising will find the chinks in a boat’s armour like a crossing to Bermuda will, and the same goes for the skipper. With this plan, if those chinks appear, you will have help to deal with them and the trip itself won’t be that long. Also, in all likelihood, the leg to Bermuda will be the toughest so you will have help for that.

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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 18 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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