Just because you set sail across the Atlantic doesn't mean you are going to
make it to the other side without hitting the wall. In the 2005 ARC,
two yachts didn't even make it halfway across the pond before incapacitating
We watched the start of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers in Las Palmas,
Canary Islands. Nearly two-hundred and thirty yachts sailed out of the
breakwater at the appointed time to start their date with destiny. Las
Palmas harbor had swarms of yachts milling about waiting for
the starting gun. I had never seen so many mega yachts and mini yachts
sailing in a regatta, and I had never seen so many yachts getting ready to
sail into the jaws of misery and destruction.
The ARC leaves the Canary Islands on its appointed date to sail, and it's up
to the weather routers to safely get the yachts across the Atlantic.
This year Tropical Storm Delta was churning up the seas making the direct
route to the Caribbean unpleasant, if not frankly dangerous. We
visited the ARC website to follow the intrepid sailors on their journey
west, and the first week of the trip was not a picnic. It was as rough
as a cob with squalls and miserable headwinds thrown off Tropical Storm
The website showed the actual tracks of each yacht as it sailed across the
Atlantic. Many tracks optimistically cut the corner heading west soon
after leaving the Canaries, but within a few days, most sailors had turned
south toward the Cape Verde Islands. Sailing into big seas and strong
headwinds is expensive because you blow outf sails and break
expensive gear, and most cruisers don't have deep enough pockets to support
that style of sailing. The Maxi ocean racers blast their way to
windward in high winds and turbulent seas, but the rest take the path of
But even the maxi yachts are not invulnerable. Take a look at the
large black Oyster yacht sitting in Cape Verde without a mast. Yachts
of this size and caliber usually zip across the Atlantic leaving the rest of
us wallowing in their wake, They aren't supposed to have problems,
because their crews are paid to keep every piece of gear in immaculate
condition in a state of one-hundred percent readiness. But sometimes
things don't work out the way they are supposed to. The
transatlantic chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and
unfortunately, one of the links wasn't as strong as it was supposed to be on
When we arrived in the Cape Verde Islands, we saw the Oyster anchored in Mindelo
harbor without its mast, and we wondered how the owners would put humpty dumpty
back together again. Shipping a new mast to the Cape Verdes and
rigging it would be a major challenge. Not impossible, but I reckon
you would have to fly in the personnel and equipment to do the job. It
sounded like it would require buckets of cash and definitely be less fun
than a barrel full of monkeys. We left Mindelo without knowing the
answer to the Oyster's dilemma.
We sailed for sixteen days across the Atlantic to arrive in Barbados.
Two days after our arrival, a freighter anchored behind Exit Only in
Bridgetown. Imagine our surprise when we looked at the ship and saw
the Oyster lashed down as deck cargo on the freighter. The Oyster
actually made a transatlantic voyage in a week on the deck of a ship.
Now that's how to make a fast transatlantic run. Why didn't I think of
On the aft deck of the same ship there was another ARC yacht that hit the
wall during the transatlantic crossing. The were sailing west of the
Cape Verde Islands when their "keel box" started to leak. They didn't
know how bad the leak would become, and so the crew was taken off the yacht
on to a passing freighter. On a ballasted monohull yacht, a bad leak
can sink the boat in just a few minutes. So I can understand why they
wanted get off the yacht to have safe passage back to land on a freighter.
They sent a salvage vessel to recover the yacht in case it remained afloat.
Fortunately, it didn't sink, and it was towed into Mindelo where it was put
on the same ship as the dismasted Oyster.
What lessons can you learn from these experiences? First, you have to
take a transatlantic passage seriously. No matter how much money you throw
at your yacht, one weak link can still stop the most seaworthy vessel in its
tracks. Rigging problems are especially tricky. You often can't
detect a problem until the moment disaster strikes. Second, monohull
yachts will always be a worry because small leaks can become big leaks that
quickly sink the boat. That's one of the reasons we sail in a
catamaran. A single leak in a catamaran can be messy and expensive,
but it's rare for it to sink the yacht. Third, setting sail on a
schedule regardless of the presence of tropical storms is a bad idea.
That's why we don't join regattas that cross oceans departing on
predetermined dates. Leaving port in the face of questionable weather
causes sailing disasters around the world
So what's a person to do? Become an armchair sailor and leave the
adventure to someone else. I don't think so. I have only one
life, and I am not going to waste it making bun prints in the sands of
gave me the ability to dream, and the goal of my life is to live my dreams,
even though with every dream, there comes a parcel of problems.
The day my problems cease will be the moment they put me in the ground, and
the preacher says his final Amen. Until then I'll try to not hit the
wall as I sail on the ocean of my dreams.