Dag 13: Crossing the Atlantic - our best advice

Jan Morten Ruud
Sun 6 Dec 2009 13:27
Dear readers,
we have 10 meter/sec wind and three meter high waves in our back, we're doing 8 knots per hour and it's less than 500 miles left. Life could be a lot worse. Last night we had plenty squalls but slalomed in between them all. Great practise for the olympics!
Today we are proud to present a special article called "Crossing the Atlantic - Our best advice" We've had a nice quiet night with plenty of time to brainstorm, so here it is:
1. Put security first.
Listen. You're going to spend at least two weeks in the middle of a 4000 meter deep ocean. Most of the time you will not see any other boat. If you need help, there is a chance that you may receive it in time. And there's a chance that you may not. The Atlantic ocean had no money-back guarantee and there is no ombudsman or regulatory authority that you can complain to when things go wrong. So in order not to risk your own and others lives, put security first. This means at least three things:
* Make sure that the integrity of your boat is high. And based on our experience with this years' ARC, this primarily means a solid rig and a solid rudder. Of all the boats that have left the rally so far, we think all of them have done it due to rig or rudder problems. So get it professionally checked and fixed before you go.
* Get the necessary equipment and learn how to fix critical stuff. We're not going to go into details (lots of books do), but you have to have proper security equipment. And other spares to maintain boat integrity. And you have to know how these things work and how to fix them. Oh - we're actually going to go into one detail: Get and wear an EPIRB. This morning (in full daylight) we lost a plastic item about the size of a human head in the water. After 20 seconds or so it was not possible to see it anymore. An EPIRB will send your exact position for two days or so and allows a much more effective search and rescue operation should you fall into the water.
* Develop and follow rules for personal behavior on board. For example: Always clip onto the security line when going onto the foredeck. Always wear a life vest in the cockpit after dark. Always hold onto something when you're moving inside in the cabin when it's wavy.
* Learn and practise rough weather sailing. Believe us - you will experience it......
2. Define why you want to go and make sure that the crew have the same objectives.
Your reason for going will determine pretty much everything else except security. We can imagine lots of reasons for going: You want to win the race, you want to experience something spectacular with friends and family (yes - count us...), you want to cross in a careful manner because you willl continue around the world (yep), you want to perfect your "yoga under heavy waves" skills, you want to test recipes for your coming book on boat cooking, you want to see if you can fly all your different sails in one day. God knows. But this matters hugely because it will determine crew selection, food & menu choices and route tactics. For example, let's say you have a day with heavy waves that are not going exactly in your optimal direction. Somebody who wants to win the race would want to cross the waves in a damn-the-torpedos kind of fashion. Somebody else would sacrifice a few miles for more comfort. And if you have the two of them on the same boat then you're in for a conflict-ridden trip.
3. Take it easy the first couple of days.
When the race started, we saw one boat returning after an accident around the start line. And how sad it must be to amage your boat in order to gain a few seconds in a three-week race. We crossed the start line 10 minutes after the start and had the whole area to ourselves. And take it easy after the start also. Chances are, you have some new gear mounted that you need to test and understand. Or you have some gear that you think you have tested but not really in Atlantic conditions. Or you have some old gear that needs to get used to Atlantic conditions before you go all in. Or you have some new crew that do not know everything about the boat. Or you have crew that have not sailed for a while (which is likely if you hail from north Europe).
4. Learn to surf.
Chances are that you will have three meter high waves coming in from the back quite often. These waves contain plenty of energy that can give you speed and stability if you learn how to work with them. It took us one week to realize that if you
* Pull out your mainsail all the way.on one side
* Pull out your Genoa most of the way on the other side and fix it to the Spinnaker boom
* Pull out your "tack sail" (a small foresail) to the same side as your mainsail and tighten it (and a million thanks to the good people at Escape for this advice)
then Ronja would simply zoom along!
5. Treat others like you want to be treated.
Listen to VHF Channel 16 and the working channel. Period.
When others need help and you are able to (or think you are able) to help, then offer help. Period.
And share informations, tips and advice with other boats. (Which is what we have just done:-)
Your affectionate crew aboard S/Y Ronja wishes all readers sunshine and fair winds. Comments to this blog entry, especially from others who have crossed or are in the process of crossing the Atlantic, are especially welcome.
Coordinates:   W52.36.497., N17.06.896

Distance totalt current rute: 2720 Nm
Sailed distance last 24 hours: 172,4Nm
Sailed distance since start: 2287,4Nm
Distance left (current route to St. Lucia):