A Milestone Atlantic Crossing
A delivery aboard a new Nautitech 542 catamaran provides an experienced monohull sailor with fresh air—and fresh impressions.
Halfway through the passage, we encountered the top of a low-pressure system that stretched from Iceland nearly to the equator. We’d add a day to the passage if we altered course south to try to dodge it. We’d also encounter three days of light air if we took that route, perhaps adding two more days to the passage. After some discussion, the crew agreed with Jesse that it’d be best to punch through the front along our rhumb line. It was a reasonably ugly night, with steady 35-knot winds from the southwest—forward of the beam—until we plowed into the cold front.
We had some noisy and sleepless hours from about sunset until my 0200 watch as conditions changed. When I came on deck, Greenboat 1’s twin Volvos were pushing us faithfully westward at 9 knots, and the wind had mostly died as it clocked around on our bow. The Simrad broadband radar performed well, allowing us to dodge squalls as we pushed through. By the time I left the helm at dawn, the wind had shifted to the northwest, which told us that we were through the worst of it. I gained an appreciation for the warm and dry captain’s chair inside the main cabin: As rain and occasional spray coated the boat, I fiddled with the knob on the autopilot to steer around any weather cells in our path.
Two days later, we were on a glorious starboard reach and surfing along on 12- to 14-foot following seas. We hand-steered most of the day for the sheer fun of it. We sailed the boat a little bit overtrimmed at 6 or 7 knots. The helmsman watched the wave sets and the breeze to pick both a good steep wave and a well-timed puff. Once the wave was selected, a quick turn to port set us square to the wave face. If all went well, the boat began to surf, and the speed would tick up toward 12 knots. Now it was time to carve to starboard to bring the wind forward. If all continued to go well, the apparent wind would increase and the sails would suddenly be properly trimmed for our course—and away we’d go at speeds in the high teens.
Catamarans are spacious and comfortable. Unlike our boat back home, they have shallow draft, which permits gunkholing. With six of us aboard, there was space enough for each of us to find some privacy, and with a full shower in each of the four heads and a watermaker that could keep up, we were living in the lap of luxury.
Still, I found that the sailing took some getting used to. Greenboat 1 loads up so quickly with relatively small changes in conditions that in cruising mode, we intentionally didn’t sail it nearly to its potential. With its triangular rig (two shrouds and a forestay), the main can only be sheeted part way out before the giant full battens fetch up against the shrouds. Thus I had to learn to play the traveler rather than let the mainsheet run. However, Greenboat 1 always responded well to the helm, which let us bear off from the wind when required, giving us time to make adjustments. Monohull sailors may also find it difficult to adjust to the motion of the boat: It took me most of a week to be able to cross the cabin without looking like I’d just walked out of a bar.
That said, the crossing was a fantastic experience, and in many ways it embodied sailing at its finest. There was time to enjoy nature, my family, and the physical act of sailing the boat. I looked forward to talking with Jen every third or fourth day for a moment on the satellite phone, and I found it rewarding to learn how to get a fix with a sextant. I found no need for all the warm clothes I packed; I could layer up just fine with a few shirts under my foulies. Without my music library on my phone, I wouldn’t have slept nearly as well in my crew-cabin bunk, with the noise of water rushing by the hulls. I brought my own comfortable harness with one stretch lanyard and one standard, and I was glad I did.
Somehow, there weren’t enough books and games aboard. Next time, I’ll bring several decks of cards and a book of game rules. Keeping up with cleaning and organization aboard was good for crew morale. We ate too much chocolate; we didn’t bring enough. After my 3,000-mile Atlantic crossing, bluewater sailing aboard our ketch with Jen and the kids seems much more attainable. I can’t wait to share a crossing and the anticipation of landfall in new places with them.
CW contributor Green Brett is a licensed captain and delivery skipper who offers his own boat for charter out of Newport, Rhode Island. This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Cruising World.