Crossing the Atlantic on a Catamaran with the ARC
When cruising sailors talk about crossing the Atlantic Ocean, there are a few things they’re all sure to mention: they ate, they slept, they sailed. But in many ways, the similarities end there, and the individual stories unfold with their own cast of characters, each pledging the ancient fraternity of the trade winds in their own unique ways. If you catch these cruisers on the other side, while memories of the Atlantic are still fresh in their minds, that’s when their sea stories are best, which is why we joined the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia one week before Christmas.
Two hundred and eighteen boats participated in the 2013 running of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), sailing from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, in between 10 and 31 days. Of those 218, 25 were multihulls. Of the 25 multihulls, no two had crossings that were exactly alike. Skippers ranged from first-time ocean-crossers to professional delivery captains; crew ranged from a newborn child to seasoned salts; boats ranged from a 62-foot Gunboat to a 38-foot Lagoon. But one common thread wove them all together: they had just crossed the ocean on two hulls.
The crew of Jade, an Admiral 38, sailed into Rodney Bay just before 0400 on December 14, where they were greeted by the ARC welcoming committee, rum drinks in hand. When I met them, it was just past noon that same day, and they were still basking in the thrill of the crossing. I asked how they were. “Hungover!” they responded, beaming. “And we still haven’t showered!” Alex Hannell, the father and skipper, sat at the helm, shirtless with a cigarette in hand, looking content and in his natural habitat, his tanned skin leaning against the white leather of the helmseat, his eyelids half-mast with a mix of pride and fatigue.
His wife, Michelle, was so spunky, you’d never guess she just spent 20 days at sea. She energetically played mother to her adorable blonde children scurrying around the decks as well as hostess to the stream of people coming aboard to welcome and congratulate them. She was eager to talk about her journey—almost as if she couldn’t believe it had all turned out so well.
“For a long time, Alex tried to convince me to move onto a sailboat. But every time he took me out on a monohull, the boat would heel, and I would start crying. Instantly. I did not want to sail on a sailboat, much less live on one that was sailing around the world. I couldn’t imagine looking after our 6-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter in these conditions.
“Then, with a grin, Alex brought home an article called ‘The Top Ten Reasons I Got a Catamaran.’ Reason #1: ‘My wife likes it,’ and I agreed to give it try. We went for a weekend sail on a cat, and within 10 minutes, I knew I was going to be able to live aboard. I knew I could handle the movement, and that the kids would love it. I thought I may end up loving it too.”
The couple spent three years occasionally sailing Jade in Turkey before Alex finally convinced Michelle to cast off the lines. They joined the ARC in part so their kids could meet friends in the Kids’ Club, and they were pleasantly surprised at how well the kids did during the crossing. They adjusted to life aboard and entertained one another with Legos, an advent calendar and plenty of sibling bickering. “If you’re not panicking, they’re not panicking. If you say aloud that it’s an enjoyable experience, they believe it’s an enjoyable experience. And at some point, you begin to believe what you’re saying,” said Michelle.
Photos by Tim Wright/Photoaction.com
The Flexible Flyers
For Gerry and Wendy Addis, the ARC was all about being flexible—adjusting their plans and their sails to meet the needs of their Fountaine Pajot Lipari 41, Duplicat, and their crew. Though they’d sailed extensively along the U.S. East Coast, the Med and the Intracoastal Waterway, this, they said, was their defining sail.
The Addises, a talkative pair of long-time sailors from England, had planned to sail the ARC with a crew of four, but one became ill in Las Palmas and bowed out, and another learned of a family death just two days into the passage. The Addises diverted to Mindelo, in the Cape Verdes, to get that crewmember on a plane and then stayed a few days to rest and refuel. “Come to think of it, we inadvertently did the ARC+, and I’d do it again!” said Gerry. (The ARC+ is a new sister rally that includes a stopover in the Cape Verdes before sailing to St. Lucia.)
Once the crew was sorted and the bows were pointed west again, Duplicat met its next challenge: power consumption. Gerry and Wendy had planned to rely on a 380-watt solar panel bank and a steady flow from the generator to supply the 80 amps they estimated they’d use each day. In reality, with the mainsail shading them for much of the voyage, the solar panels captured only a trickle charge. The battery, now three years old, held only 70 amps and the DC watermaker demanded 30 of those amps daily. Finally, just two days from St. Lucia, the generator died without explanation. The Addises were happy to sneak into St. Lucia before they ran out of options.
They also had to adjust their fuel expectations. “The builder said we’d make 900 miles at 5 knots. But, fully loaded, we were nowhere near that efficient. With 400 liters, we made just 510 miles,” said Gerry.
Finally, they had to adjust to the boat itself. “I’ve been a monohull and powerboat owner for 35 years,” said Gerry. “But we fancied the idea of a cat, of tucking into creeks to dry out in lovely little places, of being at anchor without rolling, of having space to spread out.” And Duplicat did not disappoint. Underway, four people lived comfortably (and with privacy), and her motion was smooth. “At one point, we were going 16-17 knots and I decided to shower. I only knew we were bouncing because I saw a wave come as high as my little porthole. On a monohull, I would have skipped the shower.”
The most interesting part of Duplicat was her running rigging. A lifetime racer, Gerry wanted to be able to regularly fine-tune things from the helm, so he led all lines aft (including the asymmetrical spinnaker halyard, the reefing lines and the main and jib sheets) and used line separators to keep things tidy. To tweak foresail shape, he configured a bowsprit with a tack that adjusts both vertically and horizontally, allowing him to position the headsail—in the case of the ARC, primarily the Code 0—optimally before the breeze. Finally, he installed webbing between the helm station and the starboard lifeline so that even if he had to reach the one line outboard of the helmstation—the starboard bowsprit adjuster—he could do so without getting swept aft. The whole system worked and serves as evidence of a sailor who has spent years tweaking boats.
Photos by Tim Wright/Photoaction.com
Amid the myriad boats lining the docks in Rodney Bay, Like a BrEEZE stood out for her size—61ft long and 37ft wide. She is hull #1 of the new Ocean Explorer C-60 designed by Germán Frers. Built in Jakobstad-Pietarsaari, Finland, by OQS-Ocean Quality Systems Ab, in the same yard as Nautor’s Swans, she is a cocktail of technology and luxury, and her crew was having a ball getting to know her.
“For us, the ARC wasn’t a race—it was about learning to sail our new boat,” said the boat’s professional skipper, Raul Normak. Raul has run catamarans for several years, but said the Explorer is like nothing he’s ever experienced. “There is something like 20 computers, 40 pumps and three touchscreens on board. This is not just sailing anymore.”
After a tour of the boat, I had to agree: she is both impressive and complex. The dual outboard helms are recessed so that the skipper’s eyes are nearly level with the side decks. From there it’s impossible to see the opposite bow, but Raul assured me this can be done via the FLIR camera (complete with night-vision) mounted on the masthead. A panel of 18 buttons at the helm control the boom, the lights and the davits; the curved carbon dagger boards lift up at the push of a button; a sewage treatment system cleans all water before discharging it overboard; and halyard and reefing lines are led to a small cockpit forward of the saloon.
Inside there’s lots of headroom, and each berth is individually styled, with its own set of matching linens, wall panels and cabinetry. The engine room is bigger than many Manhattan studio apartments and is accessed through two full-length doors along its outboard side. The massive galley, designed by Raul, who is also a trained chef, includes a dishwasher, icemaker and large island. The saloon table lowers electrically to create another full-size berth.
From there, Raul planned to spend the winter in the Caribbean and the summer in the Med getting to know the boat. Rest assured he and his crew will do so in comfort.
There was nothing easy about Jan Bon’s first Atlantic crossing, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying it. He and six friends took 13 ½ days to sail his new-to-him 2005 Catana 471, Easy Rider, to St. Lucia. Though he’d sailed for years, his crew were mostly novices, so crisis management fell to Jan. “We didn’t have set watches,” he said. “Everyone just helped out. Then one morning I looked outside and saw a tanker 300 meters away. I had to remind the crew the importance of paying attention.” He let out a small laugh, shook his tanned, bald head and said, “That cost me a few grey hairs, but don’t worry! I just shaved them off.”
There were issues with the electronics. The AIS had not been installed properly, rendering it useless, and the GPS broke “about 200 times,” each time making that horrible beeping sound that so tortures sailors.
There were also issues with the rigging. At sea, the crew discovered the spinnaker halyard was secured improperly and the furler was configured wrongly. “We lost half a day rerigging that.” Then one night the main halyard parted a foot above the head of the mainsail and disappeared into the mast. Having never lost a line in a mast before, Jan had no clue how to retrieve it, so they spent another day with crew dangling from a bosun’s chair, fishing for the old halyard, rigging a new one, and getting bruised and beaten up in the big seas.
There were laughable moments. “I should have made a grocery list in Las Palmas, because my guys came back with three yogurts, two apples and about three tons of chicken. Oh, did we eat some chicken.”
And there were harrowing moments. “Just 24 hours off Las Palmas, the waves were enormous, chasing us down. It was pitch dark when a tiny boat blazed by, then another, then another. Because of our speed, our broken AIS and the massive waves, they disappeared quickly, but it was bizarre to think about where they came from and terrifying to think what could have happened had they taken a slightly different course.”
Sitting in the warmth of St. Lucia, Jan was visibly thrilled to have the crossing behind him. His beautiful Czech wife and three young kids met him in Rodney Bay, and the plan was to spend one month cruising, one month working, and so on, as long as they could sustain it. “I just want my children to be in the warmth!” he said with a big smile. “Down here, they spend hours jumping on the trampoline. We go spearfishing, diving, biking, surfing, swimming, and they’re always outside. This is exactly the life I want for my family.”
Photos by Tim Wright/Photoaction.com
“I took five years of prep leading up to this, collecting ideas for back-ups. We have a back-up to every back-up—an exit strategy for every possible failure. Autopilot dies? We have an extra. Fridge failure? GPS failure? No problem. Anything can happen out there, but you’re responsible for how you react. If something rips, if something breaks, it’s merely a matter of hours before we fix it, because we’re that prepared.” —Rainer Van Beckum, Germany
“Back when I was courting Edith, I wanted to introduce her to sailing, so I took her out on a Laser. I told her to sit in front of the mast and hang on. She was screaming the whole time, and I thought she was loving it! Turns out those were screams of terror—who knew!—and she threatened to never go sailing again. But my life dream is to live on a sailboat, so I didn’t give up. Over the years, I’d bring my sailing friends around to inspire her, but they would just tell tall tales (you know how sailors can be), and she got even more terrified.
“Finally, I went sailing with this Swiss couple who were more cautious than I ever dreamed of being, and I realized that part of sailing was making other people comfortable, especially non-sailing people. I invited Edith to try sailing again, this time on a catamaran with this couple, and she thought it was kind of nice. And here we are: I got to live aboard and she got a catamaran!”
Patrick Heini and his wife, Edith, “my boss” as he lovingly refers to her, spent 20 years sailing and chartering with their son and daughter. After each trip, Patrick took extensive notes about what he liked and didn’t like about the boats, always with an eye toward a boat he could live on. “When I stepped aboard Allure,” a Fountaine Pajot Salina 48, “I knew within 30 seconds that I’d found my boat. It was like my 20 years of research was finally paying off.”
The couple purchased Allure in La Rochelle, France, and Patrick started tinkering. He converted the forward starboard berth into a workshop, complete with an emergency bunk, a deep freezer and several shelves of tools and workspace. He retrofitted a washer/dryer unit into the adjacent head and built shelves into galley cabinets to house different sized items. He and Edith moved the small storage bench from the main saloon table to the nav station and replaced it with a larger handmade storage bench.
Then he started tinkering outside. Using a kit, Patrick laid out a dozen vacuum tubes side by side on top of the cabin and covered each with a solar panel so that the sun energizes the vacuum tubes, which in turn transfer energy to the water tank and create clean-energy hot water. To improve his solar power, he placed solar panels on a large “box” aft of the cockpit, then put the whole box on a pair of springs and hinges so it can open 45 degrees and aim more directly at the sun. This also created a massive storage space for things like bikes and scuba gear.
It’s obvious that Patrick’s work is not done. As he led me around Allure, his spry movements a testament to a lifetime of fitness, he’d look at each project with a twinkle in his eye, then squint, as if he were entering Nutty-Professor mode and thinking, “This could be better.”
“Throughout the crossing, visibility was good, so we didn’t need the AIS to see if others were around. In 15 days, we saw four ships and five yachts. But AIS gives you a great deal of confidence. When I trained to be a Yachtsmaster, we didn’t have AIS or chartplotters so I know I could sail without one, but why? You could walk to the shops, but why, when you have a car?” —Phillip Wright, Australia
The Family Affair
They were two days into a four-and-a-half day calm when the crew of Havachat started going stir crazy. It began with a game of cards, which turned into whale-watching, which led to a mid-ocean swim, which resulted in the saloon being transformed into a full-blown puppet theater. “I thought we had a bulletproof plan to sail south and turn right. But then we used up all of our 900 liters of fuel, turned right, and those darn trade winds still eluded us!” said Pete Maslen, skipper on board the Privilege 515 Havachat.
This wasn’t the last challenge that Pete and his crew of four experienced on the crossing. With the Parasailor spinnaker flying, they made 217 miles the first day out of Las Palmas and 209 the second day, before the wind and waves got massive and the Parasailor blew out. That’s when the wind died. And the stir-craziness set in.
But Pete didn’t mind being patient. For him the ARC was a means to an end—a delivery to the Caribbean where he would meet his wife, Melanie, and their four children, ages 14, 15, 17 and 18. The family hails from Australia where, thanks to the remote outback, “distance learning” is not unusual. Melanie had been given years of school curriculum on thumb drives and planned to act as mother, first mate and homeschool teacher as they sailed around the world.
“It’s important for us to have our children meet people from other cultures,” said Melanie. “At home, they’re constantly leashed to their cell phones, but here, they have no choice but to interact, to play. They’ve discovered books! They just finished a two-day game of Monopoly! They play on the SUP, go scuba diving, waterski behind the dinghy, windsurf and just hang out, like kids should.”
From here, the plan is to transit the Panama Canal and sail slowly back to Australia. Life on board is comfortable, with four berths, four heads, a dishwasher and a genset. “Boats are complicated, and I didn’t want to raise my kids in a complicated place. I feel safe here—she’s big, heavy (22 tons) and the layout works for a family,” said Melanie. In addition to the spacious living quarters (Pete and Melanie share a home office in their master stateroom), Pete also did some clever retrofitting by moving the dinghy aft to create an uninterrupted transverse passageway, a trick that the manufacturer is starting to incorporate into other models.
Havachat is aptly named. As we sat in the cockpit chatting, all four of the Maslen children came over to introduce themselves. They looked like younger versions of Pete—long and lanky, strawberry blonde with big grins and a smattering of freckles. Our conversation was (pleasantly) interrupted at least six times as friends came and went, just...chatting. And when I asked Pete about his experience in Las Palmas he said, “In theory, it’s a great place to prepare. But there’s so much chatting to be done! We were docked behind Aurora and we had a whale of a time, but they sure did make it hard to focus!”
Tom and Allen have a tradition: every time the longtime friends do something significant together, they get a tattoo to commemorate it. Allen showed me his ARC 2013 tattoo, a piratical pattern of anchors and script on his arm, and said, “I’ve never done something like this before, and I doubt I’ll ever do it again, so what a way to remember it!”
Tom, Allen and the crew of the Catana 42 Skara Brae were the only Scots in the ARC, and they were sailing in partnership with YES, an organization fighting for Scottish independence in 2014. They were Scottish in all the best ways. Whereas most offshore crew swear off drinking on the ocean, Skara Brae’s report in St. Lucia was that the food provisioning was fine, but they ran out of “beer, wine, whiskey and cigarettes. Can you imagine?”
The first-time ocean-crossers had an impressive go of it, making it to St. Lucia in 14 days and finishing in second place (on corrected time) in the multihull division. But it was no easy going. Somewhere in the middle, the watermaker malfunctioned, leaving the crew with funky-tasting drinks. Then, sailing dead downwind with a preventer on the main, the breeze kicked up and the crew decided to reef. But the preventer was too tight, so they tried to heave-to to sort it all out. Just then the breeze snapped the mainsail straight out of its track, shredding 10 cars to pieces. “We sent four guys up the mast, one after the other, to rework the cars,” said Tom. “Just when we’d fixed the main and set the spinnaker, 10 knots became 20, became 30 and boom! The spinnaker blew. We sailed under the genny and the jib the rest of the way.” And they still came in second.
Tom’s son Scott said, “The amazing thing is that you get to the other side and despite all the pain and drama, all you can think about is how great it all was, how you just want to do it again.”
Photos courtesy of Skara Brae