I cross over: how to prepare an atlantic crossing
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Crossing the Atlantic is a dream, but even preparing to live the dream can be daunting. For anyone embarking in a “deep water” adventure, months and weeks before the departure might be stressful. There is an endless list of work, while combining job and family life, and the clock seems to speed up as the day of departure approaches.
Get the right boat preparation is essential to enjoy the cruise and relax; a good way to face the storm of tasks and bring a bit of order and concentration is to subdivide efforts into smaller segments. Formulated: divide the big problem into smaller ones, and face them one by one.
The rule number one is: set a date for departure. Nothing focuses the mind more than a deadline. Having an appointment will immediately make the adventure more real. This is the project we have been contemplating for years, writing down a date on the calendar makes it a specific plan and, saying to family and friends that we’re leaving on that specific day, will leave less room for slipping.
Let’s try building a time schedule based on the context of a six months countdown; this requires a good level of former experience and examines the key areas of preparation for the boat and the crew.
Even if the boat is new, it will be necessary to inspect all sea inlets and sketch their position; this will help inform new crewmembers later. Change corroded or not easy to move fittings and remember to add wooden caps, suitable for the size of the potential hole, tied up near the fitting.
While you are in the bilges and cabinets, clean everything up and take the opportunity to empty and order cabinets. Catalogue the spare parts of the boat, register model and series numbers of key systems and create a stowage plan: numerate the cabinets and try to group things logically during the stowage.
Meanwhile, night work is to read all user manuals of the main nautical systems. It could be useful to download the website of the producer or create digital copies to keep in backup on a USB drive.
Pay particular attention to lists of recommended spare parts and consumables, without forgetting the links: tubes, clamps and pumps. What type of pumps do you have for bilge and fresh water? These might be difficult articles to get on the other side of the world, so they should be a priority.
The wheelhouse is often the most neglected boat system, until something goes wrong. The steering system will work very hard because, in an oceanic crossing, you will be sailing more miles in few weeks than you could sail in a few seasons. The boat will also be heavier, charged with fuel, water, food and equipment.
How is our wheelhouse system made? Let’s make sure that spare parts and tools you carry are suitable. Look at the gavotte and verify any sign of wear, frayed cables, loose supports and oil drips: these are danger and potential failure signs.
Autopilot pistons exercise great strength, so let’s check all fixing bolts and all components. Have I mentioned reading the manual? Great, keep in mind that it is easier to do it sitting in a comfortable armchair ad home rather than in the middle of a storm.
For older boats, it can be useful to uninstall the shovel to inspect the bearings; clean up the compartment before finishing the inspection since it make it easier to find wear signs in the future. For boats with rope steering, it is necessary to have a spare cable (possibly in Dyneema) to use in case of emergency.
Now, before ticking wheelhouse off the list, bring out the emergency bar and let’s see how to install it; you could find out that it does not fit at all or that the piece is still in the basement of your former house.
Check and double-check
A complete inspection of the rig is vital and it is best not to think about it as a cost, but more as an insurance. A good rigger may share their knowledge; think about it as an opportunity to learn.
For standard boats with braided rigging, the majority of insurance company will require the remake every 10-12 years. This is the right moment to put it on budget, and then sleep more comfortably during the crossing. Ask the rigger for advices on the spare parts; there are emergency repair kit. This is a very frequent failure during the crossing, better schedule the verification and keep high daily controls while navigating.
In the engine compartment, look at the supports – make sure they are not loosened – belts, signs of oil leakage and corrosion. If you do not know how to change the oil and filters, it is time for you to learn, because we are the only engineers during the crossing.
Do you know how to change the impeller? It may be useful having a special key, make sure you have it; check the tension of the transmission belts and add them to the list of spare parts. Let’s get the engine serviced professionally and write down maintenance intervals in the boat register.
Dealing with energy in the open sea is one of the main area of concern for many navigators and electricity on board is often seen as an obscure art. Calculate the power consumption in amperes and multiply it for the average period of time provided for the operation of each element. It is therefore possible to reach a total for the expected energy consumption in a period of 24 hours.
Generally, the majority of standard boats has insufficient battery capacity for a crossing, so take into account an update as part of the preparation, especially if the batteries are coming to the end of their useful life. The money spent in this area before going to sea is a great investment and will make you save a lot of stress. Another advice is to add some solar panels to the system; even hydro-generators and wind turbines are interesting, although they will increase the budget for the refit.
Clean water and fuel tanks well and calculate the volumes; then verify that indicators work fine. Make sure to know the actual fuel consumption and optimum speed to plan fuel demand.
Let’s start the inventory by looking at what we have, the conditions and the sails’ and rigging’s age. Your sailmaker will clean and inspect and, where necessary, will substitute the seams. I recommend adding a third hand of reefs to the mainsail, and strengthening the stress points. We check the rubbing points and add some reinforcement patches if necessary; we make the reefs system easy to use, especially during the night, marking points in halyards. Organize the repair kit of the sails and add some useful objects such as shackles for fabrics, adhesive Dacron and tape for spinnaker.
For oceanic navigation are necessary smaller and more manageable headsails. It is a good idea to embark a sail plan with a high-cut, which improves the forward vision. Downwind are always a point of discussion. Crossing the Atlantic with a monohull, downwind in the trade winds, means that having a spinnaker pole for the sail plan will be good, since you will be spending a lot of time sailing on white sails. Let’s check if our system is suitable and consider adding a track to the mast to keep him armed at rest. Assemble a cable of the boom: crossing the Atlantic is a round of rock ‘n roll and it would be better to avoid an involuntary jibe (yes, the jibe is already involuntary by definition).
Ready to leave
One could be tempted to add many new equipment for the crossing, but I firmly believe it is better to focus on the basics, or the time will slip away and you will not be ready to leave. A golden rule should be to avoid important installations reached three months before departure. Use that time to familiarize yourself with the equipment while you still have the construction site and assistance at hand. Let’s verify the effect of the new equipment on energy consumption and on battery management.
Equipment for the tropics
Hand on the wallet and think about where to sail and for how long. The choice of specific equipment will depend on this. For example, is the dinghy big enough? Did you think about how to throw and get it back, maybe with a crew of two people? Maybe it is time to consider adding davits or a hoist for outboard engine? An awning for the cockpit is a good idea, as well as increase ventilation through the boat.
The important point is to understand which equipment you have and to know how to use it properly. Make sure that the equipment is stowed or correctly assembled and that all items requiring maintenance are upgraded for the duration of the crossing.
Make a stowage plan of the security equipment and place a laminated copy that the crew can refer to, maybe from the navigation station. Also, think about the emergency test; do you or the crew need a refresher training or retraining?
Lastly, remember to stay focused on the reason you are doing all this preparation. Keep in mind the tropical sunset you have been dreaming about from your cockpit. You will get there and learn to relax when you will finish the work list and you will start enjoying the cruise.
Fair wind, see you at sea.
Six months to go
- Quit the job. If you do not do that, you won’t pass this list!
- Evaluate all major boat systems: hull, rig, engine and sails
- Check the electrical power
- Plan the installation of any new equipment
- Review training and documents
Three months to go
- Test all installed systems to make sure they work as they should
- Organize the spare parts
- Calculate the fuel consumption
- Compass verification, navigator electronic calibration and autopilot
- Clean all the tanks
- Planning the medical kit
- Maintenance and updating of safety equipment
1 month to go
- Do a navigation test, include a night crossing
- Try different sail plans, tertiary, try new sails
- Circulate the crew briefing
- Personal planning (property, banking, insurance)
- Plan your menu and buy non-perishable foods and dry products
1 week to go
- Load fresh/frozen food
- Do the final laundry
- Fill fuel and water tanks
- Start checking the weather forecast daily
- Briefing on crew safety covering emergency equipment and procedures
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