Deciding to Sail East or West
When setting out to plan this trip about three years ago, I did some soul searching and decided that one of my personal goals was to sail across an ocean. I reasoned that if I didn’t do this now, when I had quit my job, sold everything, and thrown myself headfirst into sailing, then when would I realistically make this happen?
With the U.S. settled as a launching point to simplify the boat buying process, my co-captain, Travis, and I then had to decide: Do we sail west across the Pacific or do we sail east across the Atlantic Ocean? Many, many hours of research later, we learned that there is no right answer, but that the decision would come down to trade winds, distances, and timing.
Heading west from California, the first landfall is the island group of the French Marquesas, which are almost 4,000 miles away, depending on your route. A typical sailboat takes around five weeks of constant sailing to reach their remote but beautiful shores. Heading east toward Europe, however, you have both Bermuda and the Azores as rest stops en route, with the entire trip taking around three to four weeks (3,500 miles) to the Strait of Gibraltar, with the culturally rich cruising grounds of the Mediterranean just beyond. Although we wavered between the two choices, in the end Travis and I settled on sailing the Atlantic, as this would allow us to cruise the Caribbean for the first four months, which has earned a reputation as being some of the best cruising grounds in the world. This route also had the added benefit of giving us the option of simply continuing sailing “down the chain” if we didn’t think that either Bueller or ourselves were up to the task by the May 9th departure date from Virgin Gorda, BVI, when roughly 200 other boats would be pushing off into the blue yonder. (ARC Europe itinerary)
Change of Plans
As Travis and I continued to ramp up the preparations for this trip in the second half of 2014, he did some soul searching of his own and let me know that it was unlikely that he would want to be on-board for the Atlantic crossing. He wasn’t opposed to me doing the crossing on our yet-to-be-acquired floating home, but he decided that it likely wouldn’t be his cup of tea and, if I still wanted to pursue the crossing, then he would rather take a break from the sea and rejoin me on the other side. This meant that I would need to find three additional crew members that common sense recommended and our boat insurance required.
As we have sailed from Florida towards our kick-off point in Virgin Gorda over the last four months, Trav and I have met sailors who have crossed numerous oceans but we have also met others who wouldn’t dream of setting sail across a mass of water as big as the Atlantic. We have had a number of rum-fueled talks with some salty dogs who chose to “jump the pond,” and we discussed what crew they had aboard, how they timed their sleeping shifts, the weather they encountered, and many other aspects that can keep a skipper up at night.
Well, as you might guess from our /location page and the fact that I actually have internet to submit this post, we are not in the middle of the ocean. We eventually made the decision to call off the Atlantic crossing. Part of this decision was finding the right crew. Although we had two crew members committed to cross with me and we could have reached out to findacrew.com or other similar sites to find our last man, it would have been quite the gamble to ask a stranger to sail and live with us in such close quarters for more than three weeks straight. In the end, though, the larger factor was that I just didn’t feel like I was properly prepared for the crossing. The more I sailed, the more I realized how much I had to learn, that I’m relatively young (especially compared to fellow sailors), and that there would be many more opportunities to cross another time if I simply kept in touch with the sailors I’d already met during the journey. Thus, with a heavy heart, I dropped the news to my potential crew that making the jump just wasn’t in the cards.
Although it was hard to pass up sailing the Mediterranean, there are plenty of other incredible cruising grounds at our fingertips, and thus any disappointment was quickly replaced with anticipation for the other islands of the Caribbean that we had yet to explore. With Bueller floating peacefully in the mountainous coves of the BVIs, Travis and I dusted off Plan B, where we continue sailing down the chain of the Caribbean with the eventual goal of reaching Grenada by July 1st. This date marks the halfway point of our trip and, more importantly (especially to our insurance agent), it marks the “true” start of hurricane season.
Like many of the fellow sailors we’ve met along the way, our boat insurance technically requires us to be south of Grenada by July 1st, which implies that we must be in either Trinidad or Tobago by then if we want coverage for any potentially catastrophically named storms. But we have heard that many sailors set up shop in Grenada and monitor for bad weather, as it is unlikely for a hurricane to hit this island, and if a storm does develop, it is only a 70 mile sail south to Trinidad and Tobago.
Given all of this, our current plan is to spend a few weeks in Grenada in late June/early July before sailing south to both Trinidad and Tobago, where we will likely haul out Bueller for an overdue coat of new antifouling paint, as she’s currently growing a beard faster than an Austin hipster during SXSW.
Hurricane Season and Beyond
The last question that we still need to answer both to ourselves and to potential crew is where we plan to be from August through the end of the year. As much as I would love to sail with the strong easterly trade winds back up the Caribbean chain to see the many islands that we either skipped or didn’t have time to savor, we are tempted to go with the road less traveled.
There is a lot more research to do regarding weather patterns, favorable anchorages and friendly cruising routes, but at the moment our sights are set on the western horizon towards Columbia and Central America to see their beautiful coastline, focus on improving our Spanish, and learn how to dance salsa rather than simply eat it. One tack at a time, though, as we still have two months to go before we reach the end of our eventful 2,300 mile voyage through the Caribbean.