How to prepare your sailboat for an ocean crossing.
It finally appears that this terrible pandemic is loosening its hold. We at Sailing Oceania have never stopped hoping, we have always continued to prepare the boat for our main adventure, to participate in the most famous regatta organized for boaters across the Atlantic Ocean. ARC awaits us next November if things go well. We have four berths onboard Oceania that we have not yet assigned. Contact us from the appropriate link, including a contact number, if you are interested in participating.
I made the first crossing on the Northeast trade winds route at 19 years old, in 1984. It was then called Transat des Alizée, organized by Guy Plantier, a Parisian doctor. He was able to attract fleets of holiday navigators around him eager to spend a winter in the Caribbean. For the French, it is quite easy. They have two splendid islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique, which are DOM, France overseas departments, where they can go without even a valid document for expatriation. After the 20th place of the Joy, a Sun Fizz 40 feet Jeanneau, we added some experience, the right boat and a great crew of great friends and family, and the first victory came with Juno, a ULDB 50 designed by the Californian architect Bill Lee, which crossed the finish line first in 1987. In 1995 it was the turn of Msabu. She is a Vallicelli 65, also an Ultra Light Displacement Boat, already protagonist as Nastro Azzurro at the Columbus Regatta in 1992. Our record at the Transat des Alizée that year lasted a lot. In all of these crossings, I have always actively participated in the preparation of the boat. Today, preparing Oceania, I am reviewing my past knowledge. Some is still valid, but there is a constant need for updates. Something done for the Pacific crossing that we did last June is already outdated, especially in the technological field!
Following, I will cover some topics on how to start preparing your boat and what you need to do if you want to go sailing in the Ocean. I will go a little point by point a sort of short-form, but if you are thinking of embarking in an ocean sailing, contact me! I will be happy to have a chat.
The first thing to tackle is the rigging, especially if so far your boat is a standard boat that you have used just for holidays. You will need a spinnaker pole, I know it is less and less used, but it will make you comfortable when reaching or running. Get one! Another important and very useful thing is a preventer. We have one with friction, but also a simple hoist to attached with a carabiner to the gunwale does its job very well. It will hold the boom in place, preventing it from hitting the wave and avoiding the damage of an unwanted jibe. Bring some lead rings. They are always very practical and convenient. The shrouds last: if the boat is more than ten years old, it is still a good idea to have them inspected by a competent rigger and possibly redo them, especially if they are in a rod.
During the ocean crossing, you will have mostly stern winds, and you must have the necessary sails. Depending on your ambitions and your ability, you can only use white sails or even gennakers. Oceania is a standard boat, a cutter armed with a second stay in the bow that carried a buckled staysail. I modified it with a new furler and a catamaran-style self-tacking T-sheet system. With a lot of wind, it will undoubtedly simplify the maneuvers. I will, therefore, replace the main Genoa with a new, slightly fatter and lighter sail to approximate a code zero I am thinking to use in light winds. The mainsail must have anti-wear reinforcements at the height of the spreaders where it will rest for most of the time. For a mainsail that is a few years old, it is good to have it repassed by a sailmaker: tell him you are going to the tread winds and they will know what to do! It would be good to have a gennaker, but a traditional spinnaker is also appropriate. I will not have any onboard Oceania, just a gennaker but I used them in the past. We had one we used to call Bigtin that was very useful! It was a 3 oz. flat-as-a-board spinnaker that made us safely surf and fly with high winds!
Halyards and sheets
You must have good halyards to cross the Ocean. The gennaker especially works and wears a lot. Having a spare halyard to be able to replace a worn one, is a good idea. It is also good to have spare blocks to equip an emergency halyard outside the mast. Masthead pulleys are a weak point. In our last Pacific crossing in 2019, they all broke, creating many halyard problems so I suggest having them checked and replaced with new ones. The sheets also work very hard, and it is good to have plenty of Teflon tape to wind them up where they mostly wear out, such as on the clews or in the spinnaker pole. Try to have with you a series of spare blocks, the openable ones[CM1] for example are particularly useful. You will often find yourself inventing solutions to small problems impossible to predict a priori. Do a couple of inspections of the equipment every day to prevent breakages.
[CM1] It is essential to accurately check all the mechanical parts, starting with the bushings and the keys. Then the steering cables that must be replaced at the slightest hint of wear. The autopilot must also be well check. You will use it a lot. On small crewed boats, a wind vane helm can be the right choice. I have never used it, but I know it can be very helpful and comfortable.
Today onboard, everything works with electric power. During a crossing, the highest consumption will come from the watermaker, the fridges, and from the autopilot. Having a well-sized battery bank is essential. Onboard Oceania, energy comes primarily from solar panels, which, however, are limited in the Ocean by two factors. First, the crossing takes place in winter with short, low sun days and second, in the afternoon the panels end up in the shade behind the sails. Wind turbines also do not perform well running with little apparent wind. Having a generator is a good thing to deal with emergencies, but running the engine, perhaps equipped with an improved alternator also does its job. You also need to remember the gas supply, two 3kg camping gas bottles should suffice.
I will not tell you much about this because I will write the next article on this very subject. Essentially, more than 20 nautical miles from the coast, it is unthinkable to have internet connection via 4G LTE. So in the Ocean, the two technologies that work offshore will have to be used. These are the traditional short waves and the satellite. I will talk about both of them in detail in a specific article. Essentially short waves are very low cost, zero if you are radio amateur, but a satisfactory use requires specific expertise. The satellite is for everyone, but traffic costs a river of money. IridiumGo is an exception. That costs about US$ 100 monthly, but on the other hand, it is … well, we’ll talk about it!
You must get to know yourselves well! Life on board in confined spaces requires industrial quantities of tolerance and a sense of humor, and even a good dose of self-irony is good to have! I have seen more than one case of brawls aboard in the past that often ended badly. Those who come on our boat must know how to adapt, know how to live with little privacy, eat what comes in their dish. The night is often long and initially quite cold. In the so-called squalls belt, approximately the last 500 miles, you usually have to maneuver often to cope with sudden changes in the wind. It is tiring and tiring. We have always done three-hour shifts in pairs. Onboard Oceania we think we will have 6-8 people, which should allow some tranquility.
I hope I have given you a starting point on what you will need to do on your boat before embarking on an ocean crossing. However, there are an infinite number of details that depend on your particular situation. If in doubt, get in touch!
I have deliberately left out some important topics because they will soon be the subject of specific articles. We will soon talk about communications and weather, both are my passion, but also about water and food, that onboard lead inevitably to the watermaker and the galley supplying, both essential subjects when you are in the Ocean. Get back soon and fair winds!
See Also ARC Ocean Crossing
[CM1]Di nuovo stesso concetto, “the openable ones for example are particularly useful”