We are still in the midst of our 3-month break-in trip before the big event of our first Atlantic crossing, but are already making our way to the starting point of the Canary Islands. Here's a brief view of what's to come with the 3,000+ mile crossing....
We are participating in an organized crossing of the Atlantic Ocean called ARC+. It consists of about 100 sailboats and is arranged by The World Cruising Club (www.worldcruising.com) which was founded in 1986 with the launch of the first such rally. ARC stands for Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and runs every November to support sailors who want to transition east-to-west from the Mediterranean to the warmer waters of the Caribbean for the winter.
There is the original ARC, which follows a direct line from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, to St. Lucia in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. And there is the modified ARC+ that we will join which first detours south from Las Palmas to Cape Verde - a small island nation off the coast of Senegal, Africa. From Cape Verde, we'll then turn west to Grenada (map above).
The actual crossing begins November 7, 2021 with all of the ARC+ boats departing Las Palmas together. Although the event has not yet started, we have already found good value in signing up for the rally given that the World Cruising Club has provided a tremendous amount of preparation guidance. For a reasonably nominal fee, we've benefited from an ARC website with robust content, a 200-page ARC+ participant's handbook, and a series of over a dozen weekend webcasts this past winter on preparation topics such as life rafts, satellite communications, weather forecasting, and mast climbing techniques. Once the fleet comes together in late October in Las Palmas, there are also additional seminars and a number of social events to build community among all the participants.
Global weather patterns produce the steady and predictable east-to-west trade winds near the equator at this time of year (graphic below) It's a pattern that sailors have taken advantage of for centuries and that we hope will repeat itself at least one more year! The expectation is for 15-25 knot tailwinds and a large, but gentle-following ocean swell (1-3 meters) to carry us across.
The first 850 nautical mile leg to Cape Verde should take about 5-6 days. Following a few-day layover there, we then expect the remaining 2,200 nm leg to Grenada to take 12-15 days. Although we're part of a 100+ boat fleet, after the first day or two at sea it's unlikely there will be other boats in site. Reassuringly, other boats should generally be within VHF radio range, and the ARC organization keeps tabs on everyone's position and sends daily email weather forecasts that we can pick up via our Iridium satellite phone.
The three of us (Dale, Christine, and Megan) are the primary crew for our year aboard Helios, but we have a change-up planned for the Atlantic crossing. The one sane member among us (Christine) is choosing to fly back across the Atlantic instead of sailing across, so she will be our honorary crew member in abstentia. Double-handing the crossing with just Dale and Megan has some adventurous appeal, but a smidgen of good judgment and the marine insurance actuaries (who charge a hefty premium for only 2 crew, and won't underwrite a single-handed crossing) suggested otherwise. So we went on the hunt for additional crew. Here's the full team...
Dale Simonson (Captain)
Given the prescient nickname of "Skip" and "Skipper" as a kid growing up, Dale was destined to captain a boat someday. His boating history is a mishmash of canoeing, day-sailing, wind surfing, rowing the length of the Mississippi River, bareboating on family vacations, sailing on his parents' 43-foot sailboat, and taking a half-dozen ASA sailing courses. He has learned a lot over the past two months aboard Helios, and has infinitely more to learn, This trans-Atlantic passage holds an indescribable allure akin to those who climb a mountain just because it's there.
Megan Simonson (First Mate)
As the photo implies, the ever-attentive 18-year-old Megan is the perfect first mate for staying alert at the helm! In truth, much of the credit for this year-long adventure goes to Megan for prodding her parents to take the plunge now so she could partake during a gap-year before university. She has been a godsend onboard, handling any task with confidence and competence while learning far more than she yet realizes in life-skills relevant to her future. Her trademark quirk is a gravitational pull to the sun, so you can typically find her relaxing in a patch of sunlight on the boat.
Dan Ratliff (Chief Engineer)
Dan is happiest when he's on the water. His fondest memories involve sailing as a kid on the Minneapolis city lakes and in college at UW-Madison, whitewater kayaking and rafting on extended river trips out west, and canoeing in the BWCA and Canada. He anticipates that this trip will be much like other expeditions. There will be lots of hard work and feeling outmatched, punctuated with sublime nature experiences. There will be camaraderie, negotiation and laughter. He looks forward to the technical challenges and improvised solutions, the trepidation and triumph. He's most excited to drag a line behind Helios and see if he can't put some fresh fish on board! Dan gives special thanks to his wife and two kids for supporting this crazy idea of an enjoyable adventure.
Erik Severin (Chief Everything)
Erik is the kind of guy who will take on any task / any challenge with enthusiasm and ingenuity. His insatiable curiosity and engineer's mind is expected to serve the team well during the crossing. Erik has been sailing since he was a kid, from Snark Sunflowers to Lasers to windsurfers. As an adult he upgraded to keelboats and joined club races in California, from San Pedro to Alameda. Recently, he owned his own small coastal cruiser, and has completed the American Sailing Association’s courses up to AS104 on Lake Superior. This will be his first ocean passage and he is a bit nervous but very excited… a healthy combination.
Jonno Woutat (Chief Shipwright)
Every boat's crew should include a retired violin maker like Jonno. Expectations are high for him to keep the crew's guitars and ukuleles in fine condition throughout the passage, As a bonus skillset (one which hopefully is unneeded), Jonno more recently worked for 7 years as a shipwright at Great Northern Boatworks restoring Cris-Crafts and other boats and is currently building a 20-foot Caledonia yawl. His sailing experience includes years of canoeing, day-sailing, and crewing around Cape Cod and the British Virgin Islands. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), Jonno brings a gourmet's mindset to the journey, already suggesting some tantalizing dishes and hell-bent on catching a big Tuna or Mahi off the back of the boat.
Christine Simonson (Honorary Crew in abstentia)
Christine is either the sanest among the group, or simply lacking the call-of-the-sea gene that is inexplicably drawing the others to do the Atlantic crossing. Christine will stay aboard Helios until November 6, the day before our ARC+ departure, helping to prepare meals for the crossing, and other pre-departure activities. She'll then take a flight home to spend time with her mother and with her daughter Lindsey. While she won't be on the boat physically for those 3 weeks at sea, she'll be there in spirit. And the crew will be thinking of her daily as they dine on her wonderful pre-made meals.