How To Cross the Atlantic, Routes and Timelines (with maps)


Before the time of ocean liners and airplanes, crossing the Atlantic used to be a great adventure that took a long time to complete. Nowadays, it’s very different; it’s still a great adventure, but the time it takes to complete has changed.

Here’s how long it takes to cross the Atlantic on various types of boats.

Type of boatDecadeRouteTimeAverage speed
Knots
Average speed
MPH
Catamaran2010Canaries or Cape Verdes to the Caribbian2-3 Weeks9-10 Knots10.5 – 11.5 MPH
Trimaran2010Canaries or Cape Verdes to the Caribbian2-3 Weeks9-11 Knots10.5 – 12.7 MPH
Monohull2010Canaries or Cape Verdes to the Caribbian3-4 Weeks6-8 Knots7-9 MPH
Ocean liner (Queen Mary II)2010New York and Southampton, England6-8 Days30 Knots35 MPH
Sail17006-12 weeksN/A
Other
Ocean Liner1830New York and Southampton, England17 Days
Ocean Liner1880New York and Southampton, England9 Days22 Knots25 MPH
Airplane2010London – New York8 Hours478 Knots550 MPH
Table comparing time to complete an atlantic crossing.

Looking at this table we can clearly see that the time it takes to cross the Atlantic has decreased exponentially. som big developments were of course the steam engine that allowed for bigger and much faster ships to travel the Atlantic while also bring in a lot more load.

If we look at the Sailboats in this list, we can see that the more hulls you have the faster it goes (if you want to know more about how that works, check out this article)

There is not a significant difference in time to complete between the catamarans and the trimarans in the short run, but in a circumnavigation of the world, the difference can be huge.

A monohull on the other hand is slower, this is mainly due to the amount of drag this type of hull has.

This table compares different types of boats under the same conditions and adds an airplane as a point of reference.

Atlantic in Record Time

Here are the records for the fastest crossings of the Atlantic in a Sailboat.

Crewed
TimeBoat NameHullYearSpeed
5d 14h 21min 25s Comanche Monohull201621.44 knots (39.71 km/h)
3d 15h 25min 48sBanque Populaire V Trimaran200932.94 knots (61.00 km/h)
Single Handed
4d 11h 10m 23sSodebo UltimTrimaran201728.35 knots (52.50 km/h)

The 2880 Nautical miles(5330 Km) long route starts at Ambrose Light in New York and finishes on an imaginary line between Lizard Point and Ushant of the coast of England

As you might have noticed, there aren’t any numbers for catamarans since the classes are divided between monohulls and multihulls. Since trimarans (three hulls) are faster than catamarans (two hulls), there is no real point in racing a cat.

What you also may have noticed are the ridiculously high speeds these boats are doing. Bear in mind that these are racing boats optimized for speed and made do smash world records.

There’s a big difference between the 28 knots a racing trimaran will make and the 9 knots a cruising catamaran will.

What Type of Sailboat do you need to cross the Atlantic?

Crossing the Atlantic can be done in almost any sailboat or ship. As a matter of fact, it has already been done in small rowboats and open catamarans, so everything is possible.

If your question is what boat should i use to get a somewhat comfortable and safe trip, well, then we have something to talk about.

Choosing between a monohull or a multihull has more to do about personal preferences. Some people really like the stable platform of a catamaran, and others dont think it’s a real way of sailing and wants to be heeling over to its side to fully get that true sailing experience.

For me? Catamaran every day, speed, and comfort, but I’m also not a purist sailor in any way. I’m an adventurist, and the boat is merely a way to experience adventures.

The size I would say matters, bigger usually means its safer and can handle bigger waves, although it might be harder to handle on your own I something happens to you or your crew mid-sea.

Most people seem to cross the Atlantic with a boat in the 35 -45 ft spectrum, which fulfills both requirements!

If you interested in digging deeper into what sized boat you should get, check out my article on Best Sized Catamaran for Ocean Sailing

Other aspects you might consider are the size in terms of space onboard, how many people are you doing the passage with, the more people, the easier operating the boat will be. This assumes you have a well-trained crew that you know well.

And what are you going to do once you get there, is it the end of your trip or is the beginning. If you’re doing everything just to cross the ocean and then get someone else to bring it back, that’s one thing. But if its the start of a long adventure, the requirements are different. You are going to want more space for scuba gear, and other toys.

I do think the most important aspect is that you have a seaworthy boat that it’s capable of withstanding weeks on end with sailing in many times rough conditions.

This means that your equipment spent has to be the most expensive and handy, but it needs to be in good condition, and you need to be able to handle your great in every weather.

What Gear Do You Need to Cross the Atlantic?

Not including your average stuff when sailing, such as life vests, etc. There are some great that you might not be on your every day say m still that could be of high importance during such a formidable sail as this.

  • Life raft
  • Emergency food
  • HF ready
  • Radio
  • Satellite comms
  • Storm drogue ( want to know what it is and how it works, read this)
  • Spare parts(tiller, sails, etc.)
  • Entertainment

Different Routes to Cross the Atlantic

Westward Route: Europe to the Caribbean

According to Jimmy Cornell, a well-known sailor and circumnavigator that has made his own research on the subject, Las Palmas is one of the biggest ports of departure for sailboats crossing the Atlantic.

Around 75’% of the sailboats that arrive in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands will depart for an Ocean crossing.

Getting to The Canary Islands, you should not be in a hurry; there are many very beautiful places en route. o matter where in your you are coming from there

are goods stop well worth a visit.

Coming from the north of Europe, you have France, Spain, and Portugal. Entering from the Meditteranean, you have Italy, Croatia, Greece, and so many other interesting places that you shouldn’t miss unless you’re on a very tight schedule.

Once you reach Las Palmas, you can either go straight towards the Caribbean island of Barbados, or you can do a stop along the way at Cap Verde.

Planing a Stop on Cap Verde

A stop at cap Verde makes sense in many ways; for one, it makes the transatlantic trip more manageable by dividing it into two sections.

The second reason is that it gives you the possibility to stock up on fuel and water that you might have used more then you thought. Since cap Verde is well developed when it comes to receiving boats doing this type of passage, there is no technical expertise on the island.

From Cap Verde, you can also take a direct flight to Portugal and onwards if the need arises.

Even though you might not plan to stop here, the recommendation is to at least plan your sailing, so you pass close to the islands, so if something happens, you can head to Mindelo port and fix it.

Another good reason why you would go close is that the further south you go, the better chance you will have of catching those sweet tradewinds that will take you safely and enjoyably to the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Westbound Route On a Catamaran

Sailing west is the preferred option for any sailor and especially if your on a boat that doesn’t sail perfectly upwind, such as a catamaran.

Sailing west and using the tradewinds is perfect on a catamaran, the sail will be faster and more comfortable than a monohull of the same size.

Looking at the 2019 ARC ( Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), a 55ft french catamaran outclassed the 65 ft professionally sailed monohull with a 10-hour lead. All this while doing yoga on board, something that I can promise was not happening on the monohull.

The stable platform of a catamaran with the wind on your stern makes sailing west on a transatlantic passage perfect for Catamaran.

Want to know why Catamarans are faster than Monohulls? Read this

Eastbound Route: The Caribbean to Europe

Coming back to Europe, I would argue that the same principles are still valid: to stop at or pass by islands close enough to have the option of going into port if need, and using the tradewinds to your advantage.

Considering this, most people leave the Caribbean from Tortola, Britsh virgin islands, or St Marteen. These make great starting points for the eastward journey since they are the last point where there is plenty of fuel, spare parts, and food for the long and sometimes arduous trip back to Europe.

Though it is not necessary, many sailors make a halt at Bermuda; this is a good start to fix anything broken or wait for the right weather before your head of to the next part of your trip.

The Azores, the same goes here, you can skip it, but staying close to it adds safety and comfort if needed, and I would also stop by just to enjoy the islands. Its a beautiful place and good for a few days of low-intensity cruising.

If you still have some energy left after the trip from Bermuda, one option is to head for a place called Horta. The place is well remembered for its hospitality towards sailors heading towards Europe.

Once you have refueled on diesel and energy, it is time to head for northern Europe. This is usually done by sailing north until the 45th latitude and then heading east.

When is The Best Time to Cross The Atlantic

Choosing a route has a lot to do with your intended purpose of the trip, are you going for a speed record, then going more north might be an option, and accepting the risk might be ok for you and your crew.

If you are going west but more interested in doing it safely and are able to spend a little more time out at sea, then the southern routes mentioned above with a departure date around November and December.

Going west on your way to the Caribbean, you’ll notice the days are getting warmer and longer; this is because going west, your also traveling south towards the equator where the days and nights are equally as long be it summer or winter.

This weather window is to avoid the hurricane season in the Caribbean that ends in late November, these are the main risk and must be considered in your plan.

What Is The Best Route For an Atlantic Crossing

Taking into consideration the information above with trade winds, the possibility of breakdowns, and the collective knowledge of the area.

The best route for a westbound Atlantic crossing is from Las Palmas (on the Island of Gran Canarias) to Barbados Via Cap Verde. The best route going east is from St Marteen to the Azores Via Bermuda.

This is, of course, based on the assumptions we have discussed above, and it might not apply to your skillset or aim of the crossing.

Can You Cross the Atlantic Single Handed?

Yes, you can definitely cross the Atlantic on your own. As a matter of fact, many do every year. Of course, this demands more of the sailor since there is nobody to ask about advice or to consult underway.

Neither is there anyone that will help you with handling sails or maintenance while underway; because of this, it is more dangerous and more difficult to solo sailor sail short-handed as it is also called.

The usual way is to either bring a crew of your own, recruit a crew from the port of exit, or find one online via crewseeker.net.

Is It Dangerous?

Sailing big oceans are never a hundred percent safe. This is why it is an adventure if it was absolutely safe, where would the attractive and the excitement lie?

Looking at the data, there aren’t many accidents happening, and of those, there are even fewer that are deadly or leaves the crew injured for life.

There are also ways to make it safer; we have discussed boat size and crew skills; other route selection factors are vital. It might not be the quickest to cross the Atlantic, but the southern route seems to be a safer bet.

Prepare yourself, your crew, and the boat, and the chances for accidents will still be there, but they will be small and manageable.

How Lonely Is Crossing The Atlantic?

Spending two-three weeks in the middle of the ocean can definitely be lonely, but it can also be the absolute opposite. If you’re sailing with a crew, you will share the same small space with everyone else, always bumping elbow. If the weather is rough, you may all be a little tired, which also adds to the group dynamics.

But even if you would get sick and tired of your crew, there are ways to call back home. You might have a Satellite phone, which is expensive by the minute but a lovely way to hear the voice of a loved one back at land. Much better than a text message through Email.

Sending emails has been a pretty straight forward process since the SSB radio started to be utilized. This type of radio is very simplistic and has good reception up to thousands of miles.

The nice thing with this radio is that it allows for data traffic, which means not only are you able to receive weather updates, but you can also contact your family through Email.

Can You Get Rescued If Something Goes Wrong?

Yes, there might not be a coast guard or anything nearby, and you might be way out to sea, but there is help to get. Since every ship is listening to some set of frequencies, usually, the first step is to call for a Mayday on that channel.

If you’re not getting anyone’s attention, then they might still see you on the AIS, Automatic Identification System, which makes anyone around you know where you are.

Many times the crossing is done together with a lot of other vessels; this gives comfort as they might also be able to help in case of emergency.

If all this fails, you probably also will have your EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which is a gadget that can be activated through certain triggers such as water, tilt angle, or manually activated.

Once activated, it sends an emergency signal at different frequencies and relays the information back to shore for someone to come help you.

Gabo

Owner of CatamaranFreedom.com. A minimalist that has lived in a caravan in Sweden, 35ft Monohull in the Bahamas, and right now in his self-built Van. He just started the next adventure, to circumnavigate the world on a Catamaran!

Recent Posts