How to cross the Atlantic in small leaps

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If a nonstop crossing of the Atlantic to the east seems daunting, perhaps there is another option, which offers shorter periods at sea and spectacular scenery, but brings its own challenges …

A crossing of the Atlantic is – and rightly so – considered an epic. A crossing to the east, often even more. But by following the sailors of yesteryear, on what is pleasantly called the Viking Route, it is possible to go from tropical Florida or the metropolis of New York to Europe with less than a week at sea. at any time.

That’s not to say it’s an easy option. A voyage to the high latitudes of the North Atlantic requires respect and serious preparation to navigate remote areas with increased risk of severe weather and sea ice. But the rewards can be spectacular.

Alberto Duhau sailed with his Hylas 63 Shaima from Florida to the Mediterranean one summer, heading north along the eastern seaboard of the United States, across the North Atlantic via Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland, then south to the ‘Europe via the Faroe Islands. Here is how he did it:

Photo: James Mitchell

1 Newfoundland south of Greenland

In July, the high pressure is generally centered just southwest / west of the Azores with ridges extending southwest / west towards Bermuda. There is a weak high pressure area over Greenland, with depressions generally over northeastern Canada (from Baffin Island to northern Quebec) and near Iceland.

North of the Azores High, the prevailing winds are westerly / southwesterly for much of the way to Iceland. The wind is generally stronger south of the rhumb line and lighter in the north. July offers the lowest probability of gales, but at times stronger lows develop and move east / southeast from eastern Canada.

2 Greenland to Iceland

The main concern for this passage is the northeast wind near Cape Farewell of Greenland. If the Greenland high is stronger than normal, beware of northeast winds along the southern coast of Greenland in excess of 25 to 30 knots.

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Expect light conditions east towards Iceland. If south of the rhumbline there is a better chance of stronger westerly / southwest winds, while a northerly route is more likely to encounter northeasterly / easterly head winds.

Packing the Sails, North Iceland

3 Around Iceland and the Faroes

Touring Iceland in late July and early August is the optimal time with the least threat of a gale, but you may have to wait a bad windy day or two to get a window.

The harshest weather is associated with low pressure passing to the west, northwest or west, which means that the strongest winds are from the southwest, west and northwest. .

Avoiding North Atlantic Storms and Ice

Alberto Duhau enlisted the advice of expert meteorologists before his trip to the North Atlantic. He knew the trip was possible under good conditions, but wanted a second opinion on the times.

Research has found that the region’s quietest weather historically occurs between mid-July and the first 10 days of August. However, the established conditions can extend from the end of June to the end of August. Fall develops earlier as you move north, so it’s usually a good plan to turn south by the second half of August.

Duhau also contacted well-known shipping support High Latitudes for assistance with routing ice between Newfoundland and Iceland. Founder and experienced pilot Magnus Day joined the crew for this part of the cruise.

“Ice is possible anywhere from Nova Scotia up to about 150 miles south and east of Cape Farewell,” Day warns. “All ice should be considered dangerous for small vessels. “

Ice charts are available from the Canadian Ice Service (glaces-glaces.ec.gc.ca) and the Danish Maritime Authority (dma.dk) and are useful as a guide, but should not be relied on. Radar is also a useful tool, but it may not pick up even large chunks of ice under certain conditions.

Ice in the Labrador Sea will generally be thicker along the coasts of Newfoundland and Greenland. Commanders’ Weather recommends heading due east to approximately 45 ° W, then turning north.

Magnus Day largely agrees. “A good tactic to reduce the chances of encountering ice is to move offshore to outside the marked area of ​​ice, then more or less parallel to the axis of the Labrador Sea to that it is adjacent to your destination, before turning square again towards the shore. “He recommends the automobile if the wind is light.

Day’s other top tips include:

  • Have one or more crew members outside on deck with special attention to the ice at ALL times.
  • Ideally, have two crew members rotating on each shift – one on the deck visually surveying while the other watches the radar and brews coffee, etc. Roles should be swapped as regularly as every 15 minutes to help maintain alertness levels.
  • Ask passing ships if they have seen ice locally. Likewise, when you are at the port, talk to the locals and ask them what they have seen recently and if there are any local areas that collect ice cream.
  • The crew should be dressed to stay outside in freezing temperatures with wind and waves on deck for long periods of time. Think about how you can provide shelter for them on the bridge.
  • Never let your guard down. It only takes a piece of ice to poke a hole in your hull when you fall from a wave.

Expert advice for ice regions

Commanders’ Weather has been advising sailors on the optimal weather route for over 25 years. Their expert meteorologists have provided forecasts for cruisers and racers, including the SailGP circuit, Olympic sailing teams and ComancheAtlantic record in 2016. See meteocommands.com

In addition to piloting, High Latitudes has the expertise to plan itineraries in the two polar regions, obtain the necessary environmental permits, offer logistical support and work on modifications to accommodate an ice yacht. See highlatitudes.com


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