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Gear for an Atlantic Crossing

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If your ideal ocean-crossing boat is a tough long-keeler with a short, stout cutter rig, bulletproof scantlings and a minimum of complicated equipment with its associated potential to fail, you are in the minority. A visit to the starting or finishing points of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) will soon reveal what the most popular bluewater boats are these days—and the aforementioned attributes don’t figure highly among them.

The entry list for ARC 2019 read like a Who’s Who of production boatbuilders—Bavaria, Dufour, Beneteau, Jeanneau, Hanse, Moody, Elan, Lagoon, Fountaine-Pajot, Leopard, Bali, Catana—few of whose boats are aimed expressly at ocean-crossing sailors. Builders who market their boats as having bluewater credentials tended to be higher-end, with representation from the likes of Amel, Discovery, Swan, Oyster, Contest, Southerly, Hallberg Rassy and Sunreef. These boats also tended to be much larger than the average.

If this proves that you don’t need a boat built to go around Cape Horn in order to successfully and safely cross an ocean, what then do sailors who buy boats designed and built primarily for coastal cruising do to prepare them for the rigors of the Atlantic?

The answer, in many cases, seems to be surprisingly little. I walked past one gleaming Bavaria that looked as though it had just hit the water for the first time, with no visible modifications, and had it not been for the ARC battle flag I wouldn’t have believed it had just crossed an ocean. Arches of all sizes and descriptions were ubiquitous among the sub-45ft boats; they carried mostly solar panels and davits for the tenders that were stowed on deck for the ocean passage and provided anchor points for cockpit awnings, full biminis being rare on European boats. Notable among the bigger boats was a general lack of aftermarket modifications—if your boat is big enough to carry a powerful generator and you have the tankage and budget for lots of diesel, why sully the pretty lines of your boat with arches, solar panels and the like?

Many smaller boats had rows of jerrycans strapped to the lifelines, carrying diesel, water or both. Watermakers were common, but if budget is a question then there are better things to spend your money on.

Rig modifications were rare, at least on the boats I saw. Many of the bigger boats had Solent rigs, with a small self-tacking jib carried inside a large lightweight overlapping genoa, that was offered as standard or as factory options. Once again, I was amazed at the number of in-mast furling systems carried on boats as small as 38ft. Also common on boats over 50ft were electric furlers, while many later-model cruisers down to the 40ft range sported electric primaries.

It was a fast ARC, with the easterly trade winds filling in quickly and decisively. Many of the cruising-class boats ran down the trades under the time-honored cruiser’s rig of reefed main and poled-out headsail, while others with racing-minded crews flew easily handled asymmetric spinnakers most of the way.

The fastest monohulls—including some hard-core racers like Volvo 65s—covered the 2,800 miles from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in 13 days. Impressively, a 55ft production Marsaudon TS5 catamaran made it in 11 days. For more on the kinds of boats making Atlantic crossings these days, go to worldcruising.com

March 2020

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