A Milestone Atlantic Crossing
A delivery aboard a new Nautitech 542 catamaran provides an experienced monohull sailor with fresh air—and fresh impressions.
Crossing an ocean on the trade-wind routes has always intrigued me. Too often, Jen and I have found ourselves beating to windward or in a vicious current-driven chop. Would the trades prove to be as idyllic as our cruising friends insist? Almost. This was the Atlantic Ocean, after all. We left Gran Canaria with a nice, 25- to 30-knot tailwind to push us south, so the timing seemed right.
Once we left that weather system and truly hooked into the trade winds, the wave period comfortably lengthened, and the breeze moved directly aft. It might vary a few degrees or knots from sunrise to sunrise, but it was remarkably constant. We had time to get used to the motion and sounds of the boat and to establish a rhythm to moving around. Every day or two, we’d pull the weather GRIBs and see if our course needed to be adjusted.
There’s a magic to being offshore when you’re headed toward the tropics. The days steadily grow warm, clear, and humid, but not uncomfortably so. Crisply transient white wave crests on the startlingly deep, yet ever-changing blue of the sea meld with the elemental sound of rushing water and a touch of breeze on the skin. Once, in the heat of the day and 1,200 miles from shore, we stopped for a swim. A boat length away from the catamaran, I took a breath and dove under. As I spiraled slowly to the surface with my bubbles, details of both hulls were clear in the distance: the canoe shape, the keels, each rudder. Looking down, I saw rays of sunlight narrow to infinity somewhere far below, the bottom invisible more than a mile down.
Each sunset differed from the one the evening before. There might be a blaze of orange and pinks across the sky, or it might seem that we’d skate forever over a molten ocean, leaving no trace of our passage but the ripple of wake, surrendered in moments to rollers coming from the direction of Africa. Night comes quickly in the tropics. First a few planets show; then, within a few short minutes, the hazy streak of billions of stars light the heavens. In the dark, we could often find a pinpoint of swiftly moving light—a satellite overhead. It was our only reminder of human ingenuity other than the vessel itself, faithfully carrying us to the New World. And there were meteors, sometimes dozens of falling stars over the course of a watch. Some blinked out almost immediately, while others left a trail of green or red halfway across the sky as they obliterated themselves in our atmosphere.
After the first night, we only saw the lights of one sailboat for a brief time until we were within a day of the Caribbean. Over a two-week period, we saw a total of three ships, two of which crossed our path on a tangent as we approached the islands. Even the ubiquitous blinking lights of planes were notably absent on our route.