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  • Kari Simonson

Crossing the Atlantic vs. Coastal Cruising

As a lucky family member who’s had the opportunity to join Helios for both an Atlantic crossing and cruising the Greek Islands, I thought I’d write a post about the similarities and differences between the two types of sailing broken down into different categories.



The crossing was so relaxing because most days were spent reading and napping, with just a little meal prep and a few conversations about navigation mixed into the day. During the storms we spent a lot more time discussing weather and possible routes, but we still had lots of down time once the decisions were made and the sails were set. When we reached a port, we’d have a whirlwind of activity trying to re-provision, do laundry, and, if time, sightsee, but we spent very little time on land.


Cruising the Greek Islands was, by comparison, exhausting! It seems ironic to say that when the crossing had night watches, but there was just so much happening each day in Greece. Mornings typically started with an early workout, followed by pulling anchor, discussing destinations for the day, sailing, and then setting anchor or pulling into a marina, which I always found to be stressful. And then there was shore time! Sightseeing, shopping, eating out, taking buses and taxis - whew! It was all so fun and I didn’t want to miss any of it, but I was definitely ready for bed pretty early most nights.



It was amazing to travel so many miles using wind power! However, much of the time we would just set our sails and the autopilot, and then they would stay in that position for an entire day or even longer. While someone had to keep a casual eye on the helm during the day, and obviously keep an eye during night watch, we didn’t spend as much time thinking about sailing as you’d assume. It just became the normal state of being, which I found relaxing.


Sailing between islands creates a constant shifting of winds that requires a lot more concentration that being out on the open ocean. Also, instead of just sailing in a mostly straight line for hundreds of miles, there was a lot of turning while working our way between islands. So, counterintuitively, I felt like cruising required a lot more changes to the sails and paying attention to the navigation station to figure out our route and also to avoid rocks and other boats. On the other hand, sailing was usually only a couple hours a day, so it felt like more of an ‘event’ each day compared to the crossing.



Really, the only choice of exercise during the crossing was lifting weights. While I convinced myself to workout at least 30 minutes most days, sometimes it was tough to motivate! Honestly, many days I worked out only because there was simply nothing else to do. The few days when it was calm enough that we could paddleboard, or we were in port and could go for a run, were a nice change from the weights routine.


Cruising, by comparison, offered a new location every day, with new activities to choose from. Whether swimming to shore for an early morning run, paddle boarding around the next point, or climbing Mount Zeus, the variety made it easy to motivate. Granted, workouts had to happen early in the day or it got too hot, but the sunrises were beautiful and there were so many fun places we explored. While cruising, the workout was often the highlight of the day!



We had every kind of weather from hot and sunny to so cold that I was wearing long underwear, fleece, and foul weather gear. Even when in port, we had hot and sunny in Bermuda and Gibraltar, while the Azores were cool, drizzly, and damp. While on the water, though, it never was uncomfortably hot because of the constant breeze, there were no bugs, and I had no allergies.


Greece was the same exact weather every day. While I was fortunate to miss the extreme heat wave earlier in the summer, it was still hot and sunny every day. Even while sailing, there were days that were just hot, and when we were anchored or in a marina with even less breeze, it could be oppressive at times. It was a huge help to have the air conditioner on in the cabins for an hour at night when the generator running for making water and charging the batteries. There were definitely bugs, but oddly, I still didn’t have allergies. Apparently, I’m not allergic to the plants in Greece.


I honestly cannot say which type of sailing was my favorite. There were pluses to both, and not really any noticeable minuses to either. Even the daily weight lifting on the crossing wasn’t really a chore because it was the most amazing view of beautiful ocean in every direction while you were doing it. And the heat during the cruising wasn’t too bad because you could always just jump into the beautiful Aegean to cool off. Perhaps the ultimate sailing trip would be doing a crossing with more time for exploring land at the waypoints!


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