A Milestone Atlantic Crossing
A delivery aboard a new Nautitech 542 catamaran provides an experienced monohull sailor with fresh air—and fresh impressions.
A manic thrumming and the unmistakable sound of rushing water firmly held my attention. My head snapped to port as the lee bow dug in and the stern skidded down the face of the following wave. Water sheeted up both sides of the port lee hull in a great arc. The bow began stuffing itself into the next wave, a wall of water approaching. Looking around, I saw that our wake was a great froth behind the twin hulls as the next steep wave came clipping up from behind. Clearly it was time to slow this racehorse down.
It was 2300. I’d left Boston, then arrived just a few hours ago at Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, where Greenboat 1, our Nautitech 542, had anchored only long enough to pick me up. The other five crewmembers had had a long trip from Brest, France, to the Canaries, and three of them were recovering from wicked coughs.
Because I was still on U.S. Eastern Standard Time and had drunk too much caffeine, I’d volunteered to take the first watch on our Atlantic crossing. While I’ve sailed monohulls all my life, a large catamaran was a new experience for me. I’d been toying with the idea of getting the crew up to put in a second reef in the giant square-headed main when a gust hit as we were surfing at 15 knots down a wave face. The autopilot wasn’t yet properly tuned for downwind sailing, and it slewed the boat to starboard. In the middle of a pitch-black night with 3,000 nautical miles still to go, I was clearly getting my baptism and first good lesson along the learning curve of becoming a multihull sailor.
I grew up living aboard and cruising on sailboats. My wife, Jen, and I make our home aboard Lyra, our 44-foot Reliance ketch, with our two girls, ages 8 and 3. With lots of cruising and bluewater deliveries under my belt, I eagerly anticipated my first opportunity to cross the Atlantic under sail. My brother, Jesse, had overseen the assembly of this Nautitech 542 and, as captain, was now delivering it from England to the Caribbean for the winter. My mother, Troid, would be aboard, and it would fulfill her lifelong dream to cross the ocean with her family. Wisely subscribing to the rule that the mother-in-law gets what she wants, Jen agreed that I should join the crew. By getting on the boat in Gran Canaria, I’d only be away three of the six weeks required for the whole delivery. Before we knew it, it was late November, and I was on my way.
When a gray dawn arrived after that first night, it finally sunk in that I was aboard a first-class ride. The sleek Nautitech is a beautifully built vessel, designed with the plumb racing bows, low cabin house, and powerful rig of a performance cruising catamaran. With short keels on each hull and good-size rudders, the boat responds immediately to a touch of the wheel. The boat has four staterooms, each with a head and shower, crew bunks to starboard forward, a refrigerator and freezer, a 40-gallon-per-hour watermaker, and a 10-kilowatt Panda generator. Alternative power is supplied to lithium-ion batteries via six solar panels on the cabin house and a D400 wind generator. The spacious galley has a butane range top and separate oven that would turn out some of the most amazing meals I’ve eaten under way.
Our course took a gentle curve west-southwest from Gran Canaria for a few days, then hovered around due west for the remainder of the crossing. The days merged into one another, broken only by changes in our easy watch schedule and one night when we transited a low-pressure system. As daylight drew across the sky behind us, we’d often put up the gennaker, which would kick up our average speed by a couple of knots. Troid would make pancakes or eggs and bacon for those who wanted breakfast. The three fishing lines would be streamed and the genset run for an hour, along with the watermaker.
Our crewmates were entertaining: Fritz regaled us with tales of how he joined the Army at the age of 30 (when he was married with kids) to become a competition sharpshooter; Amanda practiced her classical music on the mandolin in the saloon; if we caught a mahimahi, Ken made us sushi or a curry for lunch. Often we’d read on the trampolines, deck seats, or in our bunks. A board game might be going in the saloon. About an hour before sunset, we’d gather for one of Ken’s fabulous dinners and rehash the day or discuss our progress to date. We had access to GRIB files via the satellite phone, and Jesse would update us on expected conditions and what to do if anything came up.
As night fell, we’d go to red lights only to preserve our night vision. We’d usually slow the boat down by reefing or dropping the gennaker by 2200 so that the off-watch crew could sleep and we’d have more margin for error if conditions changed quickly. If any rain squalls were in the vicinity, we’d use the radar to dodge them whenever possible.
As a professional sailor on an unfamiliar boat, I was up and down with every changing condition and sail change. I soon learned that if the sound of the bow wave reached my level on the top crew bunk, the boat was pushing hard. Jesse is a conservative captain, and I was aboard as an experienced hand, so I’d often pop up to see if any sail changes were required. As often as not, the crew on watch would roll their eyes and send me back to my bunk. If the main needed to be reefed or the gennaker deployed or taken in, we’d don our harnesses and take care of it.