Small sailing vessels
Many privately-owned sailing vessels cross the Atlantic, to spend a sunny sailing season either in the Mediterranean or Caribbean or as part of their around the world voyage. It is a big thing for them and attracts all sorts of seamen and women: young ‘pirate’ dudes who have escaped the rat race, adventure couples, retirees, families, groups of friends, and single older sailors. The largest share of the captains is between 50 – 65 years old. It’s the group that has the time and money resources to sail. All sorts of nationalities make the crossing, with the French and Swedish seeming to dominate the fleet. By crewing on a small sailing yacht, you’ll be involved with every aspect of seamanship and sailing. You will learn a lot for sure. Many boats choose to stop in Cape Verde or the Azores, and often don’t have tight schedules.
Boats come in all sorts of shapes and materials. Hulls are made from steel, wood, aluminium, and today mostly of fibreglass. 90% of the boats crossing the ocean is bigger than 36ft, with most of them measuring around 44ft. (14m). A smaller yacht could also be perfectly ocean-worthy. I’ve seen boats of 26 ft. crossing the pond. Some adventure people row across the Atlantic. In 2017 someone even Stand Up Paddled (SUP) across the Atlantic. Being on any boat is a luxury compared to that. Six people (out of 100) I interviewed in my book crossed the Atlantic on a boat smaller than 36ft. and all of them would like to do it again. This year we also have Nadiem, Ocean Nomads member who’ll sail across in his little sailboat.
Both monohulls and catamarans cross the Atlantic. Catamarans are generally faster, more spacious, and rock less. On the flip side: they can flip! If they do, it’s a major challenge to come up again. Don’t worry, this is extremely unlikely. Having seen hundreds of boats planning, preparing and making the crossing, I estimate that roughly 70% of the boats that cross are monohulls.
Many larger yachts cross the Atlantic as a ‘delivery’, where a boat needs to be taken from point A to B. Boats have to be moved across the ocean for a new charter season, for the private owner who will hop on board again on the other side, or because someone bought it on the other continent.
Usually paid and professional crew do these types of deliveries. As an amateur crew member you can be a cheap extra set of hands.
A yacht is a ‘superyacht’ when it is over 24 metres (79ft.). These are big yachts. They often have generators running every day to keep fridges and freezers going. They load up thousands of litres of fuel and water, and are less dependent on the wind. As such, there is less risk and generally more comfort. These trips often run on a tight schedule, so there won’t be much flexibility for stops along the way (like in Cape Verde or the Azores). In most cases, there will also be more people on board (five-eight people compared to three-five on smaller vessels).
Crossing on a big boat like this is faster, less adventurous, and more comfortable. The crew are often younger, and some live and work permanently on the boat. Many of them have crossed the Atlantic Ocean numerous times and are therefore less excited about it than the average ‘yachtie’. Timelines are tight and there’s often not time for island exploration. Usually, you are expected to work hard. Also it’s not unusual that superyachts don’t even use the sails to prevent damaging, and have the sails tip /top for when the owner comes on board.
If you would rather not have the pre-crossing adventure or spend too much time searching for a boat, and/or if money is not an issue, you can book a charter ocean passage. Charter trips are organised on all sorts of boats: small, big, monohulls, catamaran, and racing boats.
Numerous racing yachts cross the ocean reaching boat speeds up to 35 knots! In addition to professional crew, spots are sold and you can sign up for a wet and speedy adventure guaranteed.
A charter trip costs between €2,000 and €10,000. An organized trip like this could be advantageous if you’re on a tight schedule. It’s more likely to leave on the planned date. At the same time, the time schedule could be a disadvantage. What if the weather window is not ideal to leave? In many cases, though not always, everything is taken care of such as provisioning and cooking, so you wouldn’t have to figure out much yourself. Charter organisation needs to comply with a lot of safety requirements and check ups to legally carry out the voyage. This assures some safety but still you need to do your homework if it’s a safe ride.
Another consideration of booking this type of passage is that you won’t know your shipmates. When you search the adventurous way, you have the opportunity to meet the other sailors before you commit to joining the crew. On a chartered passage you’re stuck with whoever else has booked the trip, even if you don’t like them.
Every year numerous tall ships sail across the Atlantic, like the Stad Amsterdam or Oosterschelde, and this year also SV Twister :). I haven’t experienced this (yet!) but sailing across on a large traditional boat must be spectacular. Many young people work on the tall ships. You could either try that or buy yourself a passage.
I wrote the above in my book, a friend of SV Twister reached out to me. Long story short, this year 2022/2023 I, with Ocean Nomads, am organizing a trip across the Atlantic, Caribbean sea, and back across the Atlantic, and I’ll finally experience this way of sailing across also. For the East to West Atlantic crossing there is 1 spot left for a female. For West to East Atlantic Crossing, we still have space, as well as for the sailboat travel leg 1 sailing Netherlands to Madeira.
Sail Boat Ferries
There are no sailing ferries (yet), although boats are being built for this purpose. At the time of writing, Voyagevert is conducting feasibility studies to construct the fastest and largest sailing catamaran for a ferry service as a sustainable alternative to flight for transatlantic travel. Also Fair ferry is looking into it.
Another kind of ferry are the cruise ships. More and more cruise ships cross the Atlantic to do the season on the other side. They need relocation and spots on board are sold as ‘repositioning cruises.’ It’s often cheaper than airfare and your house rent combined. One option that is cool, is ‘Nomadcruise,’ an Atlantic crossing for entrepreneurs and digital nomads.
These floating cities are not an environmentally friendly way to cross. It takes around eight days and a lot of noise to cross with a cruise ship. Data on emissions is remarkably difficult to find. Some sources state that an average cruise ship at sea emits more, and less filtered, smoke than one million cars combined each day. In a one week trip, a large cruise ship generates ten backyard swimming pools of blackwater (raw sewage), and 40 more swimming pools of greywater (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry and galleys). They also generate large volumes of oily bilge water, sewage sludge, garbage and noise.
More cargo ships cross the Atlantic than sailboats. This is a non-sailing ship option that can take you across. Cargo ships usually rent out a few cabins to passengers. This costs a few thousand euros. Travelling with a cargo vessel can be a good alternative if you want to cross the ocean, don’t like sailing, and do not want to fly. Prepare to be surrounded by engine noise. Crossing on a cargo would take one to two weeks. Depending on the weather, cargo and size, cargo vessels run between 15-25 knots.
There are also sailing cargo Atlantic crossing possibilities out there. ‘Tres Hombres‘ is a 32 metres Schooner transporting traditional goods like rum and chocolate between the Caribbean and Europe. Timbercoast is a 1920 built 43.5m Schooner that transports goods like coffee and gin. Both ships welcome crew on board helping out with this sustainable way of transporting goods.
“What kind of boat are you joining?” This was the first question most people asked me when I told them I was going to cross the Atlantic Ocean by sail. At the time, I knew nothing about boats, and thought “Does it matter? I just want to make the passage!” Having sailed across on four completely different boats, I know now that the type of boat determines large part of the experience. Not just because of the boat, but because of the tasks and people involved with that type of boat.
My preference used to be to crew on a smaller monohull sailboat of 40-44ft – basic, but adventurous and on these boats I’ve met the coolest captains. Monohulls are more fun to sail. It’s easier to ‘feel’ the boat as opposed to a catamaran. It’s kind of like a scooter versus a quadbike. Smaller boats generally allow for more exploring and socialising time around the harbour- since there’s usually less work to be done. That said. Having sailed SV Twister now last summer, I’m super excited to do an offshore passage on a vessel like her (36 meter & +100 year old), to get more the community feel of the whole adventure, to be able to move on the vessel, and to have more faces to talk to, and more people to learn from.
At the end, it’s the people who make the trip! In my survey amongst 100 Atlantic ocean Crew & Captains who have done it, almost everyone answered to the question: “what would you do different, if you’d go again?” “I’d take more time to find the right vessel, with like minded and value sharing people.
Finding a boat is the easy part, finding the right and safe vessel aligned with your vibes and values, is the main challenge.
How to find a sail boat ride across?
Here’s what I have created for you to help you get out there, happy, safe, and meaningful.
It’s that time of the year again where many head south and west to follow the sun, catch the tradewinds, and realize ocean dreams.
Travelling an ocean on someone else’s sailing boat, or taking a stranger on board, is not a straightforward endeavour. To be ready to expect the unexpected, careful investigation and preparation is essential. Four Ocean Crossings and 30.000 Miles of boat hitchhiking on dozens of vessels, as well as organizing crew for +10 different trips now, I figured out a few things, and keep learning:).
Here are the latest waypoints to ocean adventure, fun & impact:
Join the ‘Sailing Across the Atlantic’ Theme month on the ON Network HUB (Every August) where the community shares stories, q&a’s, resources, and connections to help you sail across. Learn more.
Join me on the ocean or Caribbean Sea!
Hope to see you on, in, and near the sea
Ps. If any of the above has helped you, I’d love to hear so! Make a comment, leave a review on @oceanpreneur or @oceannomads.community, fill out the big Atlantic Ocean Crew survey