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Alexander Lang

Hi I'm Alex. In the daytime I'm a programmer in my own company. But after the sun sets I turn into a film making, ocean sailing, running outdoor nerd. Enjoy.
Feb 6 '11

How to sail across the Atlantic

I hated piano lessons. Especially my weird teacher who would draw even weirder shapes on paper telling me that was the music. When I was 9 years old I cut a deal with my mom which resulted in me not becoming the next Mozart and my parents having to pay lots of money for all sorts of weird rubber clothes. I became a member of the local sailing club.

In retrospective, everything went fast from there: racing on dinghies in my teens, first sailing trip on tiny boats when I was 16, first trip on the Baltic sea on a 28ft yacht in 2001, got license to be allowed to sail said yacht in 2003, numerous sailing trips in the Mediterranean, Baltic Sea and even Australia, finally in December the decision to sail across the Atlantic. I guess crossing an ocean is for a sailor what is the marathon to the runner. You can run around in the the fields (go on week long sailing trips in the Mediterranean) forever, and it’s amazing every single time, but there’s always that itching to go on a longer run. Of corse there are ultra marathons (sail around the world) and triathlon with the Ironman (sailing around the world non stop and single handedly), but like most people I’ll start … err… small. The Atlantic is the closest ocean for me, not too many issues with piracy (actual pirates with weapons, not the ones sharing movies on pirate bay), and the gulf stream keeps it warm.

Basically sailing across the Atlantic is easy: You acquire the necessary licenses (you need 3), buy a boat (new from ~120,000€, but you can easily pay 2-3 times the price), add another 20,000 for gear, find 3 other people (optional) and go. The easiest way to do that is to take part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), an event that draws over 200 boats every November to the Canaries, from where they will sail the ~3000 nautical miles to the Caribbean. The advantage of the ARC is that you are not all alone on the ocean, so should anything happen there’s a chance someone will be around in a radius of 200 miles. You also get some additional training and seminars in advance. And a big party. November is about the best time to cross from east to west, using the trade winds near the equator to blow you across with wind from behind. A typical 40 foot yacht will run an average of 5 knots (nautical miles/hour), crossing the finish line after a bit less than three weeks.

The biggest catch for me in this beautiful picture is that I won’t be anywhere near having a spare 140k€ anytime soon (despite greatest efforts with upstream and cobot). Luckily there is a way around that and it’s called crewing. Those guys who have bought the big boats need crew to help them sail across.

Typical ARC yachts are between 30 and 50 feet long, for which you would want a crew of at least four people - as you won’t find any marinas or cozy bays on the Ocean you have to sail around the clock in shifts. I have to say though that sailing isn’t an as dangerous and demanding challenge as it used to be maybe 60 years ago. Most of the grunge work of steering a straight course is left to the autopilot. Food keeps fresh in the fridge, a desalinator produces fresh water for the (sometimes even hot) showers, there are “real” toilets, a gas stove, electricity (kept up by solar panels, generators, water or wind turbines) powering computers and numerous instruments…. the list of gadgets you can mount onto your boat is endless. Oh, did I mention Internet access via satellites? iPad integration? For safety you have weather data, radar, satellite based emergency systems, personal positioning beacons in case you go over board, life rafts in case you have to abandon your ship - once again the list is endless.

Coming back to the topic of getting onto one of those gadget carriers, there are a number of websites to help bring owners and crew together. The ARC website for example has a forum section dedicated to crew finding. Crew seekers is a site that lets you find a crew or a boat for all kinds of purposes, but they charge $100. A free alternative is sailing networks. While these sites greatly simplify the process of finding and contacting people, the real work begins when trying to figure out whether you are willing to put your life into the hands of this and this skipper and boat, if these people will form a working crew, if their expectations align (some boats are quite competitive, others just participate for the fun of it).

When landing a position as crew all you typically have to pay for is flights, food and fuel. All in all I hope this will amount to not more than 1,500-2,000€, which is not too bad for a 3 week adventure I will remember for the rest of my life.

So far I am already in contact for the 2011 ARC with one guy who has bought an XC45 after selling his company. In addition I’m trying to contact other owners, should I not be amongst the lucky ones ending up on the crew list for this one. In the event that I don’t find a boat, some sailing schools/charter companies (for example participate in the race and you can pay (a hefty 3000€) to sail on their boats.

Until then it’s still a long time. The sailing magazines have only just started publishing their articles on the 2010 event.

Sometimes, my mom still tells me how much she would like me to have continued playing an instrument, but to be honest - I never looked back^^.

  1. alex-io posted this
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