How Long Does it Take to Sail Across the Atlantic?

How Long Does it Take to Sail Across the Atlantic?
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It took Christopher Columbus 5 weeks to cross the Atlantic ocean in 1492, from Canaries to Bahamas.

Today, sailing across the Atlantic takes about 14 to 25 days. Racing boats can do it in under 10. For an average sailboat it depends on the boat type, weather conditions, sailing skills and your route.

One of the main routes is Canaries or Cape Verdes to the Caribbian which is east to west route. It’s probably the most enjoyable. How long will this route take? Usually takes about 20 days to sail this route.

The cost to sail the Atlantic depends entirely on you. Main expense would be boat if new, and it would cost anywhere from a few thousands used, to tens of thousands of dollars. Fuel would cost you a lot but if you learn how to maintain diesel engine and navigate properly you could save thousands of dollars.

Before sailing the oceans consider gaining some experience in shallower Atlantic waters, or in freshwaters of the Great Lakes, such as sailing the Lake Michigan.

As for daily expenses, if you’re drifting in waters for month and longer, in a cheaper place it may cost you at least $100-$200 per week per person in a cheaper area, $200-$500 in a bit more expensive place. Usually about $1000 to $2000 is enough for a month.

If you’re planning to cross and you’re not sure if you’re ready, then I must stress that the most experienced sailors, like the famous instructor and former British national champion Steve Sleight, suggest that you get some experience sailing a couple different models of each type so you can decide what fits your needs best, before you attempt transatlantic sailing.

It’s not something you just “do”.

There is some planning and training involved. Prior experience in blue waters is paramount.

Atlantic Sailing Routes
Transatlantic Sailing Routes

How Long It Takes Through Some Popular Routes?

The trade winds are probably one of the most popular ones for sailing across the Atlantic. They are called trade winds because they were used by early traders. This crossing has not been nicknamed the “milk run” for nothing, and it’s often the most trouble-free passage of all.

It is usually also the most enjoyable.

From the occasional visits of cetaceans and guest appearances of flying fish, to the large number of ocean birds you are likely to be very pleased with the trade wind routes.

One of the main routes across the Atlantic is Canaries or Cape Verdes to the Caribbian which is east to west route. On occasions, the trades become established almost as far north as the Canaries, but in other years it may be necessary to go much further south to find the trades.

Atlantic Sailing Trade Winds
Trade Wind Routes (in nautical miles)

On the east to west route, you can go from Canary Islands or Cape Verde Islands. To reach those it would take you up to a couple of days depending on your location. From Canaries you would continue to Cape Verde (5-8 days), or go straight to Barbados which is 1900 NM long. The Canary Islands to the Windward Islands in the Caribbean is roughly 2700 NM distance (16-21 days).

On the west to east route, boats usually go to Bermuda. From the British Virgin Islands to Bermuda it’s 830 NM (5-9 days sailing). From Bermuda to the Azores it’s 1900 NM long (14-17 days sailing). From Antigua to the Azores it’s 2300 NM long.

How long does this route across the Atlantic take? About 12-20 days sailing.

Depending on where you’re going to when leaving the Azores it’s about 700 NM long (4-8 days sailing) to the west coast of Portugal. It will take an additional 3-10 days if you’re going to the UK, or to the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

A monohull of between 30-40 feet (10-13 metres) covers an average distance of 100 Nautical Miles a day. A 50+ feet monohull or catamaran averages 150 – 200 Nautical Miles a day. It all depends on the boat, winds and your sailing skills.

What’s the Fastest Time To Sail Across Atlantic?

The record has been achieved in both ways – from west to east and from east to west.

Crewed sailing is a bit faster than single-handed and so the world record for a crewed boat is 3 days 15 hours and 25 minutes, by a French skipper called Pascal Bidégorry in 2009.

The challenge to sail solo across the Atlantic may be even bigger than crewed (read below for how skippers sail transatlantic solo). The world record for single-handed sailing across Atlantic is being held by French skipper Thomas Coville, achieving this in 4 days 11 hours, in 2017.

Most of these records are achieved in racing trimarans, or racing catamarans which are specially designed to set oceanic records. If you’re attempting to sail you probably shouldn’t compare your boat to these types.

Which type of boat should you compare to? Read below.

What’s the Fastest Route?

The fastest route is from West to East. This route is the fastest as it follows the prevailing westerlies. These are prevailing winds from west to east in the middle latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees latitude (picture “the westerlies”).

westerlies sailing across atlantic
The westerlies (blue) and trade winds (yellow and brown)

This is the route which is the most popular among skippers. The crossing is made from Ambrose Light of New York to an imaginary line linking Lizard Point in Cornwall to French island Ushant.

Distance is around 2,880 nautical miles (3.310 mi, 5,330 km).

What Kind of Boat Is Needed to Cross the Atlantic?

If you’re wondering what should the length be, experienced skippers will say that there are more important factors to consider than length when choosing a boat to go offshore; design, build quality, condition, stability, sail plan, size of holding tanks, number of crew – these are all more important factors than LOA (Overall Length).

Just about any boat can be fitted out for the task assuming you have plenty of time and money. And experience. You may think that you need a tank to cross the Atlantic but that’s not true. Thanks to modern technology you can sail 24 foot sailboat and do it, like this Moore 24.

But are you experienced enough for this?

What kind of boat you sail depends on what are you most proficient with. Sailors have sailed the world successfully in both monohulls and catamarans. They each have benefits and drawbacks, and there is no “perfect” type of boat.

What about a few good ones?

A good solid boat would be Albin Vega 27, which has a reputation as a bluewater cruiser. It is a solid sailboat for crossing the Atlantic and it has cruised around the world on many occasions. It was used by Matt Rutherford in his successful 314-day, 27,077-mile solo circumnavigation of North and South America which was officially completed on 18 April 2012.

Cape Dory 28 has proven herself offshore capable and is another good choice for transatlantic voyage. Dufour 29, Vancouver 28, Westsail 28 are all fantastic sailboats for crossing the Atlantic.

The key is to inform yourself, plan and gain some experience. Get the best bang for the buck when it comes to the condition of the boat. You may find a sailboat with great reputation for cheap but if the previous owners haven’t maintained her, she’s a poor starting place.

Don’t just assume that simply by reading this article you can get into your boat, point east (or west) and start sailing across the Atlantic ocean. No, I want you to be well prepared before you achieve this. Go and learn more about sailing, especially if you’re a beginner.

If you’re looking to gain more experience, then crewing on a shorter multi-day passages is a great way to figure out if offshore sailing is for you.

transatlantic sailing waves

How to Actually Cross the Atlantic?

Generally, the main steps you need to do before you cross the Atlantic are:

  1. Plan your budget
  2. Plan your timescale for the trip
  3. Decide which route will you go through
  4. Decide who will join you
  5. And make sure you and your crew are a self-sufficient unit

When it comes to budget, if you have a well-paid career or you have savings then your decisions on the budget will be very different than to those of a 20 year old who may do it on a meager budget. You need to plan your budget for: a) buying the boat and equipment, b) ongoing running costs and c) your daily needs and extras like inland travel and emergency situations.

When it comes to timescale for crossing the Atlantic, if you have a tight schedule then your decisions and plans will differ wildly than of those who have the time to drift the waters for as long as it takes.

Decide which routes you may be heading. Are you heading for the trade winds with no intention of higher latitudes? Who are you bringing on this voyage – think about all the aspects of sharing a boat with other people.

Whether you plan to sail the Atlantic as a couple, have an entire crew, or if you’re intending to take children – you should plan accordingly.

Test your self-sufficiency level. Answering questions like “What if[insert scenario]?” will test your ability to cross  and force you to prepare better. It will test your level of self-sufficiency, which means your level of looking out after yourselves. If you think there could be problems with something, solve it. It’s better to be well prepared than to face the problems whilst on passage.

Solo Transatlantic Sailing – How Do They Do It?

Yes, you can do it solo or with a crew.

You can do it, but the risks are higher if you go solo, for many reasons. Professional sailors train themselves fully before attempting this, for example, they train themselves to keep a watch through the night, which means training yourself to wake up every 10-15 minutes to an alarm.

But not only this, you need to be self-sufficient, be able self-rescue and be ready for all kinds of scenarios. If you’re not prepared to the fullest, and you’re going solo across Atlantic – you’re gonna have a bad time.

There are many dangers awaiting and all the different angles must be covered.

You are responsible for your own safety. No one is required to help you. That being said, rescuers will go incredible distances to offer assistance. However, that assistance may take 8 weeks to arrive if you are in a particularly remote location in the Atlantic.

You may injure yourself and require assistance in the middle of the ocean, and you’re all alone.

Take this example, one skipper in the Vendee Globe accidentally bit his own tongue off when the boat crashed down a wave while he was inside. He had to sew it back on himself. There’s something to think about.

Your first aid kit must be appropriate for how far you will be from the help. Be prepared to perform minor surgery on yourself, set your own broken bones, and have a healthy supply of antibiotics.

Point being, it takes a lot of courage and preparation, but far from it being impossible. Sailors are doing it daily, obviously it’s achievable.

Sailing with a crew gives you strength and stability especially if you’re new. For the first few trips, experienced sailors would recommend a crew, as I do to. A few trips with a fully crewed boat will give you experience to go on your own some day.

When will that be? I ask myself that question every day. It’s possible, very possible, but the experience beforehand is invaluable.

Train. Learn. Plan. The time will come.

Some info and Pictures: “Transatlantic Sailing Routes” and “Trade Wind Routes” : Jane Russell – RCC Pilotage Foundation_ The Atlantic Crossing Guide

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