Atlantic Crossing #2 (an introduction)
Updated: May 20
Nearly 6 months have passed since we embarked on our first Atlantic crossing, the east-to-west passage documented in earlier posts on this blog. Now we find ourselves in the midst of final preparations for our second crossing, this time west-to-east to escape the Caribbean hurricane season and to get back to the Mediterranean for the summer sailing season.
We've been told the east-to-west Atlantic "tradewind" route in November/December is the best trans-oceanic passage one can make (steady and predictable tailwinds the entire way) and that the return voyage is more like "real" sailing, with variable winds, more sail changes, storms, doldrums, etc. So while we are now more experienced sailors, we have similar levels of apprehension and excitement as with the first crossing.
We plan to depart St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on or about Sunday, April 24, 2022 depending on weather and boat and crew readiness. The full passage is nearly 4,000 miles as a crow flies, but we intend to break it into the 3 segments shown below - in part to see new places, and in part for crew changes. There are lots of variables, but if all goes well we should be in Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean by the end of May.
THE CROSSING Atlantic Ocean weather patterns this time of year typically look like the wind chart below. There are east-to-west tradewinds blowing just north of the equator, shown by the red arrows that pass under the pen in the photo. These are the winds we sailed with from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. The winds then hit the continental Americas and bend north (the upward pointed blue arrows to the left of the pen). We'll travel north-to-northeast from St. Thomas to take advantage of these winds more northerly winds, as well as the Gulf Stream current that runs that direction at 1-2 knots. Then as we get further north, the dominant winds tend to be west-to-east so we will turn more easterly from Bermuda. The yellow blotch by the pen tip is called the Azores high, which is a fairly permanent high pressure system this time of year that parks over that part of the Atlantic. The chart, of course, is highly simplified. What we actually expect is a wide variety of winds, including a series of low pressure systems flowing eastward off the North American continent and out over the Atlantic which is one factor leading to less predictable conditions for this particular route.
Megan put up with 4 middle-aged men as crew mates for the first crossing. She was amazingly tolerant, and now has a good idea of what to expect from a husband a few decades from now! So for this crossing, we're going with an all female crew -- except for Dale, who will have to deal with that dynamic. It should be a great combo. Dale and Megan are the continuity, serving in their Captain/First Mate roles just as with the first crossing. Dale's sister, Kari, who had no interest in joining the first crossing, somehow was enamored by the idea of the west-to-east crossing after hearing the stories from her husband, Dan, who sailed on that passage. Kari will sail the entire way from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Gibraltar, and has lined up 3 separate friends, who will each join for one of the segments: Andrea Murrill for the USVI to Bermuda segment, Siri Anderson for the Bermuda to the Azores segment, and Wendy Auldrich and a last minute addition of Kay Strauss (Bio TBD) for the Azores to Gibraltar segment. That makes for a minimum of 4 people on the boat at any one time, which is a good number for sharing the burdens of galley duty, night watch schedules, etc. See below for short bio on each crew member.
Dale and Megan Simonson (Captain and First Mate)
The inseparable sailing pair, the father/daughter duo are going at it again with another crossing to add to their sailing resumes.
Kari Simonson (Safety Chief)
Fun fact: Kari never had any interest in sailing across the Atlantic! Yet, here she is writing a crew bio the day before departure. Chalk it up to her piqued interest after Dan’s trip and her niece, who wanted some fellow women on this crossing. Plus, after years of adventures involving whitewater kayaking and canoeing, traveling in Asia, and jumping horses, she realized she has become utterly boring lately. She’s excited to face some new challenges and see some new places - getting to spend time with her favorite big brother is a bonus! Hopefully, some of the knowledge she gained sailing on her Dad’s boat 15+ years ago will resurface. If nothing else, she’s always loved weather, water, and the color blue, so this trip should be a good fit!
Andrea Murrill (Chief Photographer)
Andrea is at home in any and all outdoor environments and loves traveling and adventures. She is a graduate of NOLS Semester in the Southwest and has her MFA in Photography. These two skills have taken her from artist residencies in Greece and Ireland to exploring over 25 national parks. Andrea is an avid camper and road-tripper. With Minnesota as her home base she has driven to Alaska, Nova Scotia, Key West, and California. She grew up living summers on the Whitefish Chain sailing the family sunfish. Helios is a huge upgrade and adventure Andrea has always dreamed of embarking on. Andrea is grateful for the support of her husband and two teenage sons.
Siri Anderson (Live "Virtual Assistant")
Siri Anderson's love affair with sailing began in Bayfield as a fourth grader on her friend's boat, the Blue Dolphin. Her love grew with experiences in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Zanzibar, on the Charles River in Boston and in San Francisco Bay. She is looking forward to adding her upcoming crossing between Bermuda and the Azores, on the fabulous Helios, to her sailing resume. For the last decade she has nurtured a 23' Sonar (SoGnar) housed in Grand Marais. Siri volunteers with the Youth Sailing Program on Lake Nokomis. During Minnesota's much-too-long off-season, she serves the Great State of Minnesota as a professor at Bemidji State University. Siri notes she was given her name loooooong before cell phones were invented. She welcomes the chance to answer any questions you may have, but gives no guarantees on out-smarting the other Siri you may know.
Wendy Auldrich (Cruise Director)
Wendy lives in Minneapolis with her husband, daughter and dog. Although she brings almost no sailing experience to this expedition, she is excited to learn a lot and help with whatever unskilled tasks she can. She has a sense of adventure, and can’t believe how lucky she is that Kari asked her to join her, Dale and Megan on this expedition. She likes to ski, bike, read and play games. Wendy has spent quite a bit of time canoeing and kayaking, but almost exclusively on fresh water, so an ocean voyage will be a big change, as will going without seeing shore for an extended time. She's a little worried about going through Wordle withdrawal, but is confident she can survive if her shipmates will humor her and play games with her occasionally. She really hopes they don’t get lost at sea, otherwise she might miss her daughter’s high school graduation. She thanks Dan, Christine, Jonno and others who are not on this this leg of the trip but are helping in lots of ways.
Jeff (Chief Flotation Officer)
As a last minute addition to the Helios crew, Jeff brings untold knowledge of floatation, ocean currents, and local sea life. Prior to joining Helios, he was drifting between fishing jobs with no clear destination in life, so he’s happy to have been hauled aboard. He’s hopeful that his ability to greet every morning with a smile on his face will offset his generally taciturn nature. Jeff’s excited to get to know the Helios crew, and feels his easy going, non-complaining attitude will be the perfect addition to this challenging leg of the crossing!
Kay Strauss (Chief Hygiene Officer)
My only experience with sailing was crew on a 13 ft Cub boat on a lake in Wisconsin, At the age of 12. I did grow up on a lake and swam doggy paddle (didn’t like to put my face in the water) for many hours. These days my adventures are the occasional amusement park with my family. The most heroic thing I do is assist ( occupation, dental assistant) with a dentist and save teeth. My goal for this trip is to not fall in the ocean and return Eric's PFD in good repair. I am not much for hobbies or regular exercise. I am thankful to my husband for seeing how significant this trip is for me.
Christine Simonson (Honorary Crew in Abstentia/Mission Control)
Christine continues to be the sanest among the group, enjoying the casual day sails and calm night sails, but not crazy about sailing non-stop for weeks on end with no land in sight. After many days of straight sailing, she likens the boat to a never-ending amusement park ride she can't step off of. Christine was aboard Helios until April 12, taking time the last few days to prepare the boat for the crossing before flying home with Dale for a respite and to help prepare meals to freeze and send back with Dale and Megan. She will act as "mission control" from land and can provide any pertinent information to the crew and their families. Additionally, Christine will be helping her daughter, Lindsey, move back home from college for the summer and spend time with her Mom. While she won't be on the boat physically for those 4 weeks at sea, she'll be there in spirit. She will plan to rejoin Helios once the boat has arrived Gibraltar.