What is the best boat for crossing the Atlantic? Ali Wood asks the owners of two catamarans and two monohulls sailing the North Atlantic to the Caribbean
Best boat for crossing the Atlantic
For many boat owners, the ‘ideal boat’ is determined by the local cruising area.
Your boat is your home, classroom and office.
A decent day’s sailing is no longer the priority.
This ‘dream’ requires a different kind of boat altogether, one that can get you across an ocean safely, but be comfortable enough to live on.
You might need to buy a boat for this very purpose and sell it afterwards. Perhaps you’ll need to rent out your home and sell your possessions.
If you’re resourceful you don’t necessarily have to be rich.
“A bluewater adventure is typically a four to five year project,” says Jeremy Wyatt of the World Cruising Club, organisers of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).
“You don’t want to use the 35ft yacht you sail around the Solent in, but nor do you want to pay marina fees in Northern Europe for a 45ft catamaran. It’s becoming more common for people to buy a bigger boat for the ARC and then sell it afterwards.”
The average size boat taking part in the ARC today is 48ft, and in the past three years, the share of multihulls has increased from 15% to 26%.
Buy sensibly: Best boat for crossing the Atlantic
Jeremy advises against buying a brand new boat for an ocean crossing. You can spend the same amount again fitting it out, and you’ll be unlikely to get the money back when you sell it.
Let the first owner splash out on the kit and you can reap the benefits (albeit with a few inevitable repairs).
With this in mind, we visited sailors in Gran Canaria and Grenada to find out why they chose the boats they did – from two cruising catamarans built 34 years apart to a Bavaria that needed work, and a high-spec Hallberg-Rassy.
From: Virginia Beach, USA. Sailing: Circe, a 48ft Hallberg-Rassy
This is my first sailing boat, other than a little catamaran I sailed around the bay in, and a few small fishing boats.
You could say we bought our last boat first! That said, I’ve sailed a lot.
I grew up in Panama, sailing a 72ft schooner with the Sea Scouts, and we’ve chartered in the Caribbean.
I’ve also done the Salty Dawg Rally from Norfolk, Virginia, to Antigua three times, and from Panama to Mexico.
My wife, Julie and I like the idea of safety in numbers, which is why we chose to do the ARC for our first transatlantic.
When we did the ARC Baltic, the staff made everything so simple, including going into Russia which, of course, we couldn’t do now, and we’ve kept in touch with the group we sailed with.
As for the boat, we decided on a Hallberg-Rassy for the safety aspect – we felt there was enough proof of them being seaworthy.
Though we were looking for a 46ft model, this 48 popped up at the same time in Germany. She’s a 2005 model.
The owner had bought her new and sailed her around the world once, and then the rest of the time just in the summer.
We bought the boat in 2017 and sailed to Ellös on the island of Orust in Sweden, which is where they’re made; there are several boatyards in the area who are experts on the model.
We got some work done – I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time – and returned to Europe every summer, except during the Covid-19 lockdown, to sail.
We did the ARC Baltic in 2019 and loved it, which is why we wanted to go with the ARC for the transatlantic.
Cruising around Europe, we met a lot of rain and wind, so were glad we chose the hard top.
Not all models have this, but it’s amazing the difference it makes. In bad weather, if you sit on deck, it’s howling, but as soon as you go under the cover it all quietens down. It’s truly amazing.
Everything on deck can be controlled from the cockpit area, and the additional bimini – which we had made – encloses the whole aft deck.
You can sit and have dinner in there. It’s very nice!
I have a bank of 10 house batteries, which is plenty, and the solar panels keep us charged.
The boat is so well kitted out that my daughter, an environmental consultant, moved on board for the summer and managed to work.
If she had a meeting we’d get up early and sail into a port.
Our two Orange SIM cards for Spain and Portugal worked beautifully, and mobile reception was fine.
There’s loads of storage on this boat. We’ve got heating and air-conditioning, a microwave, a Vitamix, a toaster maker; we’ve got it all and are looking forward to doing the voyage!
From: Bergen, Norway. Sailing: Lomvi, a Bavaria 38
My partner Line is a veterinarian. Our doctor, Ingrid, doesn’t arrive until we stop at Cape Verde, so if we get sick before then, it’s rough treatment!
Line and I are sailing with our three-year-old son Hjalmar and friend Nikolas. Hjalmar was just six months old when we bought our Bavaria 38, Lomvi.
She was built in 2003 and named after a North Atlantic seabird, a ‘guillemot’ in English.
We live on board, which has given us plenty of time to practise sailing over the long summer holidays – though we weren’t that experienced at first, and tore the genoa in strong winds in the fjords.
Lomvi is our first boat, but I crewed on the ARC Europe in 2013.
The experience stayed with me, and later when Line and I drove a tiny car to Mongolia, we got the idea to sail across the Atlantic.
That was three years ago. I was doing my PhD in economics, and this trip was the carrot that kept me going.
We left Norway the day after the defence of my doctorate.
Lomvi was the biggest, nicest boat we could afford on our budget. Actually, she was right at the top of our budget, but she was also the only boat available, and we had just a week to move out of our flat!
I was on paternity leave, so we just did it. I’ve been surprised by how well she sails and how safe the boat feels.
There’s a huge community of Bavaria owners and Facebook forums where you can ask anything… which is just as well as we had to basically make an ocean sailing boat out of one kitted out for weekend cruising.
Safety is a priority. We put netting up around the boat and bought an engine fire suppression system.
We can’t afford to employ anyone, so we’ve done a lot of YouTubing and trying out things for the first time.
We upgraded the batteries to lithium and the charger, and I welded the frame for the solar panels.
I’d never done welding before, but my father-in-law had the tools and I learnt from watching videos. It’s not cracked yet!
I’ve been really pleased with the solar panels. Between those and the 400Ah of lithium batteries, we’ve never had to worry about electricity.
That said, we don’t have a fridge or use a lot of power – we need the power for the autopilot. I have no technical background.
I’ve spent four years in an office so DIY is a completely new universe.
I bought a 10-year-old Spectra watermaker. Bought new, they’re super expensive, so I was keen to refurbish an old one.
That’s really been a challenge trying to make it work! I completely disassembled and then reassembled it.
I spent hours in correspondence with Spectra technical support (who were great by the way).
There are so many things you have to read up on, but slowly I’m starting to understand them – how to fix leaking toilets and things like that.
I haven’t enjoyed it all – I’ve cried in frustration during the process. DIY has its ups and downs but when you fix something it’s worth it, and if it breaks at sea I’ll have a better understanding.
I was so happy when we made our first litre of water!
With the solar panels, we can sail for four to five days without running the engine to charge the batteries, even if it’s completely overcast.
I’m glad I made the frame at the back. Some of the other people on the ARC have mounted their solar panels on the sprayhood or deck and they’re having trouble with the shadow from the sails.
Our friends and family pitched in to buy us the gennaker as a PhD finishing present.
It wasn’t on our must-have list, but I’m so happy now we have it.
We sail with it a lot, and it makes light wind sailing super enjoyable, allowing us to sail higher.
Hjalmar has adapted so well. He climbs all over the boat but has learnt to hold on to things.
He doesn’t like being on deck in bad weather, but is very happy down below in rough seas.
We said to ourselves, if he doesn’t like sailing, it will be a deal-breaker, but fortunately he does!
It’s been going surprisingly well, although I must download some new films for him on the tablet as he’s watched Winnie the Pooh a hundred times! It’s been nice being together as a family.
Before now, we’d been busy with work, sending him to kindergarten, and spending only a few hours in the afternoon when you’re tired and trying to get tea ready.
This way we have a lot more time together now.
We’ve been nicer parents, nicer to be around. It’s been very good for us all.
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From: London/Holland Sailing: Navisana, a Nautitech 46 Open
In 2000, I started planning my first extended cruising trip… and did it 10 years later.
This will be my second trip, and this time my partner, Jessy, and I are planning to take a three- to five-year sabbatical to hopefully sail the world.
When I prepared for my first round-the-world trip I was working in Silicon Valley, San Francisco.
I owned an old Beneteau First 38. It didn’t have any of the cruising gear on it; just two small batteries; the house bank was 55Ah.
It was during the financial crisis and I couldn’t sell her, so instead I spent two years turning her into a cruising boat.
With my girlfriend at the time, we sailed down to Mexico, spent six months there and made our way to Australia.
It took around 14 months. It was a great trip; the best time of my life, but still I felt that the boat wasn’t a proper cruising boat.
She sailed really well – I have always owned performance boats – but I was thinking, next time I’m going to buy the right boat in the beginning.
When I started planning for this trip I had my heart set on the 45ft range of older cruising boats – Hallberg-Rassys, Oysters – but then I started thinking about the tropics and how for that kind of sailing, a catamaran is the right boat.
In the South Pacific, and when you’re at anchor, it’s hard to find completely calm anchorages; they’re always a bit rolly, but with a catamaran it stays flat and you can go right inshore.
Even Skip Novak, who owns only monohulls, insists that catamarans are best for a tropical circumnavigation.
It took me 23 days to cross the Pacific, and we were heeled all the time – eating and sleeping at an angle. It’s not a big issue for me, but Jessy is a relatively new sailor.
I’m dragging her on this trip, with a free ‘opt-out any time’ card, so I need to make sure it’s comfortable!
I’ve chartered a lot of catamarans and there are two camps – you’ve got the Lagoons, Leopards and Fountaine-Pajots, which are optimised for interior space, but don’t sail easily in light airs.
You need 15 knots to really get them going. They’ll be fine in the ARC, with the tradewinds behind, but in Asia and the Med, you’ll have the engine running a lot.
Then there are the Outremers – daggerboard boats with narrower hulls.
They’re higher performance, but on an ocean crossing most owners have to slow the boat down to make it comfortable in the waves.
They’re weight sensitive – which prevents you from taking all the cruising gear you want – and more expensive, so for a circumnavigation that wasn’t right for us.
In between these camps you have Nautitech and Seawind catamarans, which don’t have daggerboards.
They don’t point as well as the Outremers, but they do have a lot of space, perform well and are a great compromise.
We can do all our night and day watches from the nav station inside the boat, which is one of the things I love about Nautitechs.
You can turn the seat to face forward to give full 360° visibility and you are totally protected from the elements.
The downside is that it’s harder to see the stars at night, so we have to drag ourselves outside and put on lifejackets and tethers for that.
I don’t like sitting on a pedestal. I like a boat where you feel you’re sailing, and you can feel the pressure on the rudder when steering, which is another reason we went with Nautitech, and their two aft helms that are directly connected to the rudders.
My first three boats were 20 years old, and my fourth six years old, so a brand new boat was a departure for me!
I’d have preferred to have been the second owner because the first one has to deal with all the build issues, but I couldn’t find a second-hand Nautitech 46 Open.
This is hull number 165 and we’ve had no major build issues after a year. I’ve had to add a lot of equipment.
A new catamaran like this would be great for weekend sailing, but it’s different if you want to go round the world in it.
We’ve added 2,000W of solar power, and changed the batteries and setup to lithium.
We also added a 100l/hour watermaker, downwind sails and upgraded the anchor.
After sailing from Europe and crossing the Atlantic with the ARC we are now getting ready to cross the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia.
We are very happy with our decision to get a new Nautitech catamaran.
From: Essex, UK Sailing: Ciel Bleu, a Fountaine Pajot Maldives 32
At 32ft, Ciel Bleu is the smallest boat in the ARC+ fleet, and also the oldest catamaran; she was built in 1988.
Funnily enough, the biggest catamaran, Elsie 1, is also a Fontaine Pajot, a brand new Samana 59.
I used to work in IT and my partner, Dawn, worked in a school.
When I retired I got to the point in my life when I had the freedom to go cruising. I suggested to Dawn we cross the Atlantic.
She wasn’t keen, but agreed to join us for short hops from our home in Paglesham, Essex, to the Canaries.
When a crewmember dropped out, she decided to stay on for the whole trip, together with my friend, Shaun and nephew, Stephen.
Other transatlantic sailors we met en-route to the Canaries were dismissive of us doing the ARC+.
They made us feel we’d turned up for a cycle race with training wheels on, but I’m so glad we’re doing this with other boats.
We’ve made so many friends in the fleet. It’s a really good community, and we’ve got a lot out of it. I’ve had to spend a lot of money to kit her out – around £15,000 to £20,000.
The watermaker alone cost £5,000, but it would be the same with any other ocean-going boat.
The cost of rally fees on top are pretty small in comparison.
Back home we sail on the East Coast, where I’m a member of the Roach Sailing Association.
It’s a very small club; a group of very hands-on people.
My father owned a boat and I’ve been fiddling with them all my life.
I previously owned a Wharram Tiki 28 catamaran but we wanted more space for our adventure. I narrowed the search down to two options: a Farrier-designed folding trimaran (a boat I’d still love to own), or a Fountaine Pajot Maldives 32.
We settled for the latter, which we found in Langstone Sailing Club by Hayling Island.
She’d been fully refurbished to a standard that surpassed the original build.
At 32ft long, Ciel Bleu falls in the 10m category when berthing in a marina, and is 17ft 6in wide.
There aren’t many small cruising catamarans around like her because the market swiftly moved upwards when they grew in popularity. Fountaine Pajot stopped making the Maldives 32 in 1991.
With a single 9.9hp outboard Ciel Bleu is a really light boat – just 3 tonnes; the lightest by far on the rally.
Twin diesels on a catamaran this size would increase the displacement considerably, adding weight where you don’t want it and compromising the sailing performance.
Ciel Bleu is tiller-steered, and for long passages we use a tillerpilot. Hand-steering downwind on a cat you swerve all over the place, so you realise what a good job it does.
The problem, though, is in a rain shower or heavy spray, water travels past the ram and upsets the electronics.
The first sign is the display steaming up so I had to buy a cover and make a waterproof sleeve, which did the job.
Many sailors (including myself) would favour a traditional blue water cruiser over a lightweight catamaran for ocean passages because of its seaworthiness in bad conditions.
If a traditional heavy displacement blue water cruiser could be seen as a half-full glass bottle bobbing in the water, then Ciel Bleu is more akin to an empty egg box floating upon it.
The biggest worry is a capsize. This can happen when the boat accelerates down a wave too fast and trips over itself at the bottom.
To mitigate this, I’ve got a 4ft drogue to stream behind the boat on a bridle and 150ft of warp.
One good thing about Ciel Bleu is that she’s lined with foam and has watertight compartments in each bow and large foam blocks in her sterns which, coupled with unballasted keels, renders her buoyant even if full of water or upside down.
Even if we had to take to the liferaft, you’d stay with the boat and provisions.
Although she has a lot of space inside, the light displacement and lack of a deep bilge means there’s not a lot of space for fuel and water on long passages.
I had to add additional tanks last winter. I’ve always loved multihulls.
I like the space, the trampoline, and having room for a dinghy on the back, plus you can play Scrabble every night and drink full cups of tea, not ones that are two thirds full.
Once you start catamaran sailing it’s hard to go back!
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