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Top 10 tips for Sailing Across the Atlantic as Crew

Travelling an Atlantic Crossing on someone else’s sailing boat is not a straightforward endeavour and an adventure to be taken lightly. Finding a boat is one thing, finding the right boat, crew and captain match is what makes all the difference. There are some things to be mindful of. I’ve met too many people that thought to ‘just’ hop on a boat do an Atlantic Crossing. Unsurprisingly many of them did not succeed in having a pleasant experience. On the Atlantic ocean, you live, work, eat, leisure together for weeks. Non-stop. It’s like camping in the wild with a bunch of strangers. Only you can’t walk away… Inform yourself, research and prepare. It’s part of the fun! 

Four times I have now sailed as crew across the Atlantic. Another time I left a boat before setting sail. So many lessons learned. Here are a few.

My ten tips for crew looking to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

atlantic crossing

  1. Have your WHY clear

Do you want to gain sailing experience? Learn as much as you can? Go from A to B? Just be away from all of it? Or simply chillax on anchor in pretty bays? Search accordingly.

  1. Be Confident or Start small

    Be confident you’re ready for an ocean passage.  You owe it to yourself, captain, and fellow crew. If you’re not sure about the full Atlantic Crossing, start with a trip near shore or a short passage to figure out if an ocean passage is for you.

  2. Know the bearings

To be ready to expect the unexpected, careful investigation and preparation is essential. Learn about the passage, seasons, distance, destinations, weather, costs, and tasks involved. This will help you find a ride at the right time and place. 

Map of Atlantic Crossing Sailing Routes. Originally published in Ocean Nomad – The Complete Atlantic Sailing Crew Guide

  1. Be flexible with time, place and money

Sailboats deal with seasons, routes, weather, breakage, and all sorts of variables. By thinking about scenarios in advance makes it easy to peacefully change course and comply with Captains’ calls.

  1. Be 100% happy and confident on with whom you’re jumping on board

Research the boat, captain, and crew carefully. The people you share the adventure with either make or break the experience. Realise that anyone can buy a boat without experience or license. Exchange loads of messages, ask questions, and talk to each other on the phone, preferably with video. Meet-up, fix things together and go for a test sail. Don’t let your eagerness to make a trip override your instinct and judgment. Be 100% sure. Find a safety and happiness assessment checklist and questions list in Ocean Nomad.

  1. Always talk to the captain

    When assessing the options and figuring out if a boat is a good match, talk to the captain. Not (only) the owner, another crewmember, relative, manager or passenger. The captain is the decision maker and the one that knows the boat best so you want to know about him/her and his/her plan.

  2. Be clear on intentions, expectations, and agreements.

Know what the captain is expecting from you. What are you expecting from the captain and the Atlantic crossing? It makes it easier for you to prepare, anticipate, and avoid misunderstandings. Talk about budget and agree in advance about which costs are shared.

  1. Pack light and thoughtful

You don’t need much at sea. As a general rule, if you can live without it, leave it at home. Storage space is worth gold on board. If you have already committed to a boat (and are sure about it!) before leaving your home base, ask what’s already on board, so you don’t have to bring it. Less is more; less is more; less is more! Find an ocean packing checklist and considerations in Ocean Nomad.

  1. Provision carefully

Captains usually have their hands full preparing the boat, so it’s likely that as crew you will be part of the provisioning team. A well-fed crew is a happy crew, so properly organise, plan and execute provisions for the boat. Your health and happiness for the next few weeks depends on it. A big part of your contribution (or destruction!) to a healthy ocean starts with the packing and provisioning preparation. I dedicated a full chapter to this in Ocean Nomad.

The veggies provisioned for the Atlantic Crossing. Shop Local.

  1. Make it meaningful

As users of the ocean, it’s our responsibility to become part of the solution, not the problem. When we plan, prepare and make conscious decisions, we can minimise our negative footprint and maximise the benefits for the place we visit and for the planet as a whole. Find out what you can do as crew to contribute to a healthier ocean.

Taking microplastic water samples on the Atlantic Crossing

  1. Bonus tip! Don’t book a return ticket 😉

An Atlantic Crossing  goes hardly as planned. Avoid stressing the captain because you have a plane to catch. Above all, chances are you’ll be hooked and you want to keep going. 

At the end it’s common sense, follow your instinct and one big adventure! But being well informed and prepared is key for a happy, safe, and meaningful experience. That’s why I wrote Ocean Nomad, to connect more of you to the ocean, happy, safe and meaningfully! Enjoy & Ahoy!

“A highly organized and helpful book with routes, ports, websites, and even some of the bars you should hang-out or go duckwalking to find your ride. Clear thinking and attention to details make Ocean Nomad useful to any captain or crew for an ocean passage. Her passion for conservation and sustainability offers insight into a ‘vagabond’ lifestyle that is also socially responsible.” – YachtingWorld

This content has originally been published in YachtingWorld.

 

Download a copy or print version of Ocean Nomad here  The Complete Atlantic Crew Guide: Catch a Sailboat Ride & Contribute to a Healthier Ocean.

 All proceeds of Ocean Nomad go into ocean conservation projects.

Have you sailed across the Atlantic? I’d love to hear about your experience! Take part in the big Atlantic Ocean Crew & Captain Survey.

Have you read Ocean Nomad? I would LOVE to hear how the book has helped you to make the dream happen and if it has left you with any questions, let me know so I can incorporate answers for the next edition! Thanks for leaving a review on Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads, or Bol.com

Do you have specific questions for me? Or would you like me to help you decide if it’s a good match or not?
Have a Virtual Coconut with me. Or become a VIPatreon and I’ll support you to the best I can.

 

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Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean: What’s it like?

What’s it like sailing across the Atlantic

What’s it like? Here’s a snapshot from one of my 4 Atlantic Ocean sailing experiences:

“Someone is pinching me. ‘Suzanne Suzanne’ Watch time! Wow, I come out of a deep sleep. It takes me some moments to realise where I am and what’s happening. I’m going from left to right in my bed. It’s night, and I hear water sounds. Right, I’m in the middle of the Atlantic, and at 3 AM I’m next on watch. I have 15 minutes to get ready. And I have not finished sleeping. I’m exploring the bed with my hands to find where the head-torch has ended up this snoozing session. I perform acrobatic skills to get over Kerstin who is crashed between me and the bed exit. Oh yeah! I manage not to put my feet in her face this time. I step on the floor and get thrown against the wall by the rocking of the boat. Shit, I hope I didn’t wake up Sam and Steve who are attempting sleep in the next cabin.

I put the red light on of my torch and make a bathroom stop. With one foot in one corner, and the other one in the opposite, and while leaning against the wall, I smash three drops of water in my face to wake up. I wipe my face with the towel that is in use now for a week and has been more on the floor than on the hook. I can’t be bothered. All right, one step closer to being ready for watch. Before I went for my snooze, I had put my wet weather gear ready on the hook so I wouldn’t wake my fellow crewmember up. The hook is empty; the floor is full. I get down on my knees and try to collect my gear. I explore the floor for my pants, sweater, jacket, socks, hat and life jacket. I think I have all the items. Next challenge: put it all on without waking up others and getting too many new bruises. With my oversized foul weather gear, three-kilo life jacket on my shoulders, and torch on my forehead I feel ready to go to the moon. The previous watch boiled water in the kettle. I make some tea. 15 minutes and six new bruises later, I arrive in the cockpit.

‘Wind is around 15 knots. There is one boat at three o’clock. Clear skies. Many shooting stars. That’s it.’ The previous watch briefed and they’re off to bed. I make another tea because the one I made fell over.

This is the start of the watch.

The Atlantic Ocean sailing experience is not only sunshine, dolphins next to the bow and happy days. If you sail across (as crew), you should be ready to adapt and work. Sailing across the Atlantic is not a holiday. There is always work to do, especially while preparing, and as a crew member you share the responsibility to keep the boat going safely.

That said, within the challenge, there will be days that come close to perfection! Sunrises, sunsets, pods of dolphins around the boat, gazing far into the galaxies, having deep conversations, and getting closer to yourself and nature for an extended period of time. It’s a ticket to paradise with the adventure of a lifetime. It’s an experience you will never forget, and a great story to tell your grandkids. Here’s a video impression 🙂

 

My favourite experiences while crossing the Atlantic

It’s hard to pick a favourite moment out of all the memorable experiences I have had on the Atlantic crossings.

  1. The moment we set sail out of Las Palmas. New friends were making noise and waving goodbye. After weeks of dreaming, searching, preparing, it’s finally happening!
  2. The moment we saw lights when we were approaching Cape Verde after six days on the open sea. It was the first time I ever sailed into a country.
  3. Shooting stars, fluorescent plankton discos in the waves, the sound of breathing dolphins followed by the splash from a jump.
  4. Jumping into the middle of the ocean
    Being on watch, just me, a pod of dolphins, and the sunrise.
  5. Celebrating my birthday in the middle of the Atlantic. My fellow crew even arranged jumping dolphins on the horizon… And chocolate cake!
  6. The moment I set foot in Tobago, found a fresh coconut, and ate fresh vegetables!
  7. The moments behind the wheel with 18 knots of wind, no autopilot, all sails up, feeling the boat and just steering course by that bright star I picked from the sky.
  8. The moment I woke up with the smell of pine trees, after days and days of only ocean breeze. Land Ahoy!
  9. Both times I crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s a spectacular passage, seeing where and how the different seas and continents come together.
  10. The moment I woke up on land and realised that I had disembarked “The Bounty,” just before sailing out for the Atlantic. What a life-saver.

Would you be up for an Atlantic Ocean Sailing Experience?

Read the full stories about what’s it like to sail across the Atlantic and how (and how not!) you can sail across the Atlantic too, as crew in “OCEAN NOMAD: the Complete Atlantic Sailing Crew Guide – Catch a Ride & Make a Difference to a Healthier Ocean.” I wrote the book I wish was out there when I wanted to get into sailing a few years ago but had no idea where to start. Enjoy and ahoy!

Atlantic Ocean Sailing Experience


Yachting World

“A highly organized and helpful book with routes, ports, websites, and even some of the bars you should hang-out or go duckwalking to find your ride. Clear thinking and attention to details make Ocean Nomad useful to any captain or crew for an ocean passage. Her passion for conservation and sustainability offers insight into a ‘vagabond’ lifestyle that is also socially responsible.”

Edwin Butter Captain & Boat Owner S/V Grace for Ocean Conservation

“It is part of my ship’s articles: I want every crew member to read it before they step on board! Not just because it is packed with tips for both captain and crew, but also because it gives a clear insight in the minds of hitch sailors. This is more than a ‘if-you-can-dream-it-you-can-do-it/-if-you-just-put-your-mind-to-it-it-will-happen”

Paulina from Paulina on the Road

“I loved reading about the boat hitch hiking adventures and how Suzanne does sensitization work about our oceans. So much that she inspired me to try the boat hitchhiking thing as well. From the first moment I read her writing, I knew that I wanted to do the same! I just loved reading with how much passion she realizes her dream step by step. When we were full of doubts if it was the right thing to do, I returned to what she wrote and re-convinced myself that it was all for the best. And it worked out! We sailed from Canary Islands to Cape Verde. There we spent one month looking for a boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We finally found one and went from Cape Verde to Barbados. Suzanne has been a major source of inspiration and information!”

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What can you throw over board when sailing the ocean? Part 2. On the Ocean

The discussion comes up on every boat setting sail for the ocean. How are we going to deal with waste?  Is it better to throw glass and tin in the ocean or dump it on a little island? What is actually recyclable? How to dispose waste on the other side? Are there recycling facilities in the Caribbean?

I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean 3 times now. I learned a lot on how and how not to do things! I especially saw and learned about the importance and decline of the ocean! Here’s what I learned in the waste department. Surely the intentions of the sailors and yachtsmen are to take best care of the environment. We all love the ocean. And we like to keep it healthy so we can keep exploring this beauty forever! We also love visiting the islands and waste management facilities may be non-existent.

How to deal with waste when sailing across the ocean?

In Part 1. On Shore, I discussed ideas to minimize your footprint as a sailor while still on shore. With conscious provisioning you already reduced your negative impact bigtime.

Now you’re out there. What to do with the waste that you are creating? Here’s Part 2, for once you’re sailing out there.

What can you throw overboard?

  • Organics (food). This can go overboard 12 miles out of the coast. Make sure you do this well ahead before arrival to the Caribbean. Food can bring unwanted bacteria and insects to an island and change the whole ecosystem. Fruit peels can float around for years since it doesn’t get biodegraded at sea on how it does on land.
  • Nothing else but coconut shells goes overboard. The ocean is not a dumping ground. Things might sink and go deep. It won’t be gone. So no glass, no cans, no cardboard, no cigarettes and no paper should go overboard. And definitely no plastic. Never throw anything overboard that doesn’t decompose quickly in water.

Can you throw glass overboard in open sea? NO. It sinks, but never ever disappears.  Yes, it’s made of sand but glass as for what we have created it would never appear in nature like it. We add things for functionality and colour. 50% – 80% of glass is recycled. This is great because it saves a lot of resources and raw materials to make glass from scratch. Leave your glass for recycling.

Can you throw cans overboard in open sea? NO. it sinks, but cans often have a plastic coating. Also, this is a welcome material to be recycled. It does not take many resources to process aluminium into new cans, containers, or maybe even a boat! It does take a lot of resources to extract new raw materials from the earth.

I took my mermaid fins and explored the bottom of the sea. This is what it discovered:


Plastic? No. no. NO! Never ever disappears.

Cigarettes? No! Loaded with chemicals.

Chewing gum? No Chewing gum is plastic.

Cardboard and paper towels? If it’s untreated paper, then it’s ok to throw overboard. If it’s white or has any sort of ink on it, it’s not ok! Almost all paper and cardboard is treated (with ink, UV coating, foils, glues, polymers). White paper towels are treated with chlorine which is a dangerous toxic for your own and the ocean’s health. It should not go overboard. Cardboard usually has ink on it, which is a kind of plastic. This includes the label of a teabag, which is full of ink.

Tea bags? No. They have plastic in it.

Can you throw cans over board when sailng? Nope!

Many pilots, guide books, articles and sailor forums say that tins and glass jars can go overboard in deep seas. After all, they sink and are made from natural materials, right? Accordingly, many sailors do this. However, these articles are usually written from a practical perspective, not from an environmental one. Re-using and recycling can be very practical on board too!  Bottles and tins have been found in the deepest trenches ocean trenches with the brand names and logos still readable.

Considering the critical state the ocean is in, every item that does not come from the sea should not be tossed in. Glass and tins are much more valuable on land than at the bottom of the sea. Recycling uses fewer resources than extracting new materials from the ground. These materials simply do not belong in the ocean. The ocean is not a dumping ground. If you wouldn’t eat it or put it on your skin, why should the living organisms in the sea have to deal with it? Your waste might sink into the deep, but it won’t be gone.

No glass, no cans, no cardboard, no cigarettes and no paper should go overboard. And definitely no plastic! Never throw anything overboard that doesn’t decompose quickly in water. Even fruit peels can take years to biodegrade at sea. They are valuable to land as compost. Do the best you can to close the loop and contribute to the circular economy.

 So how to process the waste on board when sailing?

Here are some ideas:

  • 3 buckets/ containers in the galley:
    • One for organic waste. Several times a day you can throw it overboard (Be wind aware;)!)
    • A bag or basket for recyclables
    • If you do well the waste bucket is the last that gets full!
  • Rinse waste with saltwater to avoid smells and the introduction of invasive species when disposing of in a new destination. Especially meat, cheese and dairy packaging should be rinsed well.
  • Once full get it out of the galley and into a storage container. It helps to separate plastic, tins, cardboard, and glass right away into different bags. Unfortunately, cans, bottles, and jars are not being reused but at least recycled. So far cans and bottles are preferred crushed (Greening the Caribbean).
  • Make an ashtray (you can simply tape a bottle to the boat). Cigarette buts can be tossed in there.
  • Reuse tin cans and glass containers where you can. If you plan to go to remote islands, don’t crush them and you can make someone happy with it. In the Caribbean, it’s preferred to be delivered crushed.
  • In the galley:
    • Cut non recycle plastic (film, bags and thin wrappers) into small pieces to reduce the volume. But in general, if you have place to get it on board, you have place to store it until you can dispose of it properly.
    • Have all organics dumped overboard 12 miles before arriving at the island. You don’t want to bring anything invasive into an island.

Read more about Contributing to a Healthier Ocean in Ocean Nomad, the adventure travel guide to the ocean, for the ocean.

Have you sailed across the Atlantic? Then I’d love to hear from you! I’m now updating the big Atlantic Sailing survey. Your experience will help the next passage makers for a safe and conscious passage. Check it out here.

What are your ideas on processing waste on board on a sailing vessel?



Sail Cruising Books

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The Hitchhikers Guide to the Atlantic Ocean | Ocean Nomad

No boat, no much budget and no real sailing experience but a dream to make a big sailing trip!
Here’s a few waypoints that already help you tackle an Atlantic Ocean Crossing – as Crew.

Read more