Trans-Atlantic Lessons

Southerly 42RST - "Distant Shores"

Trans-Atlantic Lessons

Which Route to Take?

Old time advice is to “head south until the butter melts” then point the bows to the Caribbean. Nowadays with margarine and other spreads this can be tricky ;- A more reasonable strategy is to head south-west from the Canary Islands until you pick up the trade winds and choose a latitude to head along. The reason for all this is that you are quite likely to encounter head winds or calms around the Canaries and you want to save time and fuel by getting to the favourable winds as soon as possible. Our choice was for the traditional “Southern Route” where we sailed south to roughly 19 degrees North and 30 degrees West (19N 30W) then headed west along 18-19 degrees latitude. 

Weather Forecasting Options 

Before we set sail from the Canary Islands we had access to the internet from The Sailors’ Bar on the waterfront in the Las Palmas marina in Gran Canaria, so we were able to get a 1-week forecast to cover the first week of the trip to just past the Cape Verde Islands which are south of the Canary Islands. We used Windfinder and Weatheronline to get detailed wind predictions. 

At sea we used our Icom 802 Marine SSB to speak with other sailors at sea on the Westbound Cruisers net on 8188 USB at 1300 UTC to receive and share weather information, and also to speak with Herb Hilgenberg on 12,359 USB at 2000 UTC who gives incredibly detailed forecasts from his home in Burlington Ontario Canada to sailors around the Atlantic. Alas Herb was on a well-deserved vacation for the first part of our trip so we did not pick him up until Day 13. We also gave position reports and passed messages home through the Mississauga Maritime Net, a Ham radio net that meets daily on 14,122.5 at 1230 UTC, so were in touch with the world although physically isolated at sea. 

Miles Run 

Our daily runs were quite impressive especially at the start of the trip when we had good winds. Unfortunately we ran out of wind with just 700 miles left to go and slowed down a lot. We were conserving our remaining fuel for the landfall. Here is the table of our 24-hour runs. Note: Our log shows more miles run than this – the table is just of miles made good from point to point over each 24-hour period. The actual track we travelled is longer. 

  • Day 1 – 163 nm 
  • Day 2 – 167 nm 
  • Day 3 – 172 nm 
  • Day 4 – 148 nm 
  • Day 5 – 142 nm 
  • Day 6 – 160 nm 
  • Day 7 – 165 nm 
  • Day 8 – 164 nm 
  • Day 9 – 143 nm 
  • Day 10 – 139 nm 
  • Day 11 – 150 nm 
  • Day 12 – 129 nm – Winds astern less than 10 knots for a week 
  • Day 13 – 125 nm – Spoke to Herb – SouthBound II 
  • Day 14 – 121 nm 
  • Day 15 – 124 nm 
  • Day 16 – 91 nm 
  • Day 17 – 115 nm 
  • Day 18 – 80 nm – Arrived at English Harbour, Antigua 

We finished in just under 18 days and were all quite proud of “Distant Shores” - she did a great job!! 

Sailing Rig 

Part of the reason we wanted to have the two roller furling sails on “Distant Shores” was so we could run twin headsails when we sailed downwind. My plan was to pole the smaller jib up to the windward side using our downwind pole, and to use the genoa to the leeward side held. Since we just carry one pole, I planned to put a block on the end of the main boom and use it as a second pole. The main boom can be pushed out to the spreaders and held forward with a preventer. I am happy to report that this rig works quite well with the wind astern. We set this up in the trade-winds and used it for most of the Atlantic crossing. We flew it day and night for days on end. There were a number of light wind days when we could fly this in the rolly conditions we had when you would not have been able to fly a spinnaker. And because it was so well tied off we didn’t worry about it at night as we would with a spinnaker, which requires more tending to. In the event that the wind piped up and we wanted to reef, a single person on watch could easily roll away some of the genoa. In the event that the wind came around to the beam we could roll the self-tacking job away and just leave the pole out in position. This meant that whoever was on watch could handle the operation all by themselves even at night and didn’t have to venture up to the fore-deck. 


In 50,000 miles of sailing Sheryl and I have always sailed with just the 2 of us on board. This is the first major passage that we have done with 4 people on board to share the watches and it made a big difference. Having the extra sleep was wonderful and it was great to have the company as well. We did a system of 3 hours on watch during most of the day and 2-hour watches from midnight to 6. Wayne and Angie took watch together so we divided the day into three watch teams. 

When you sail with just two people on board there is a real battle to get enough sleep. After your watch you quickly hop into bed and it seems you have just fallen asleep when its your watch again, especially in the wee hours. In bad weather you may be awakened to help with a sail change and lose even more sleep. We always found we slept on our off-watches, even during the day just to try to catch up making it lonely for the person on watch. Short-handed passage-making can be a bit of an endurance test, and although we got into the rhythm of long passages it was always a huge relief to get ashore and have a true sleep at the end. This passage was completely different! Although it was still tough to wake up for my 0200 midnight watch, I then had a 5 hour sleep until 0900 to recover and was able to get up then and enjoy the day and the company aboard. 

Crew Choices 

We had a wonderful passage with Wayne and Angie as extra crew. If you plan to pick up crew for a long passage I can’t stress how important it is to carefully choose compatible crewmembers. It can be a long time on a boat trapped with people you may not get along with! Wayne and Angie were perfect and we all got along great. On the last day Angie said she was almost hoping to just continue sailing rather than make landfall since she was having such a nice time. They were both so considerate, cheerful, helpful, and experienced that it was a joy to have them on board. This, our 4th transatlantic passage, was a pleasure rather than an endurance test. We ate well, slept well, spoiled ourselves with luxurious showers thanks to our Schenker watermaker, enjoyed lots of laughs and storytelling, and all had a wonderful time learning what a safe comfortable boat our new Southerly 42RST is for long-distance passage-making.