Q&A: 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.

What do you, our readers, think? Am I being too timid here? Please leave a comment?

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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.

83 comments… add one
  • Jonathan Dec 22, 2015, 10:52 am

    John, did you ever hear again from Pat Kelly. Did he do the trip? One of the most valuable parts of blogs for me is reading the conclusion to an issue posed, something we rarely hear.

    • Pat Kelly Dec 23, 2015, 7:11 pm

      Hi Jonathan
      Yes, I did do the trip – On the deck of a SevenStar freighter from Newport, RI to Palma, Mallorca. Family and friends convinced me that a single-handed transatlantic voyage from Maine to Mallorca in a 35 year old boat for a 72 year old with health issues (who takes so many pills that he rattles like a dice-box ) may not be a wise choice. Frankly, I was ready to do it but if anything went adrift, I could not bear to hear those four little words from my wife and daughter: “I told you so”. Nonetheless, I had a great time cruising the Balearics before the VAT/importation clock ran down and had to leave the EU.
      Here’s a link to a little movie I made on one of these cruises:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezs99KTqNlwFeb 2, 2013 – Single-handing a Hinckley 50 yawl from Palma de Mallorca to Cabrera and back in January.

      • Jonathan Dec 23, 2015, 8:29 pm

        Pat, Thanks for the reply. I’m relieved you didn’t sail away, never to be heard from again ;-)) Glad you had a nice cruise, hope to get there myself someday. Sidebar question: How did you like Seven Seas? Overall satisfactory? Would you use again? That is the Lift On Lift Off boat, yes? Thanks.

        • Pat Kelly Dec 24, 2015, 10:02 am

          Hi Jonathan
          Administratively, both SevenStar and Dockwise were attentive and efficient. One problem with SevenStar was that boat transport is not their primary source of cargo income. They may tell you a date but could be 10 days later as they load in other ports like Pt Everglades, Savanna, Bayone, etc. For me this wasn’t a problem; Newport is a great town and I partied and made quite a dent in my bar bill at the New York Yacht Club while waiting.

          I shipped my boat over to Mallorca using SevenSeas and back to the US using Dockwise. On SevenSeas the boats are on the deck (well secured). With Dockwise (ship sinks and you float on and get secured (underwater divers), then they close the gates and blow ballast). Both of these methods have problems: With the on-deck systems, the engines are aft but the salt spray covers the boats (the degree of which depends on weather and sea-state). With the float on/ float off ships the engines and exhaust are forward, boats aft and when you get to your destination your boat is covered with black soot from the engine exhause.

          With salt spray (as with SevenStar) the salt that covers the boat can easily be hosed off with fresh water when you get to your destination. With the Dockwise system, the black soot is a problem and requires a major cleaning. When I got back to Newport I brought my boat over to the Newport Shipyard and set the gals to work over there. They did a good job (for $400 and I gave them a $100 tip) and it took a full day. But even months later, back in Maine, I still could find bits of black soot in various nooks and crannies on deck.

          Bottomline (in my opinion) – go with on-deck transport rather than float on/float off.

          Hope this helps.

          Pat Kelly

  • Jonathan Dec 24, 2015, 10:21 am

    Excellent review. Thanks very much.

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