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Sailing Across the Atlantic: My Experiences Sailing From the Canary Islands to the Caribbean

We’re finally crossing the Atlantic to sail to the Caribbean!

It’s taken us two and a half months of pretty much non-stop work.

I bought a 36-foot catamaran that only ever did coastal cruising and I guess I underestimated just how much more you need to cross the Atlantic.

Naive, I know, but if I would have known beforehand just how much work and money would have been involved I would have never done this, so I guess in this case my naivety was a good thing!

In those 2 and a half months we did sail the boat from La Linea in Southern Spain to Gran Canaria. So the boat has been tested and I got to experience what it’s like to be out at sea for several days on a boat that looks quite sizeable in a marina but feels tiny out at sea!

Note: If you’d like to know more about all of our preparations to get the boat ready to sail to the Caribbean, please go to my Instagram account. Under highlighted stories you’ll find the selection called ‘’Buying a Boat’’. This shares all the ups and downs of buying this boat and fixing her up.

Anyway, today we set sail to St Lucia!

In this article I want to share my personal experiences as a novice sailor, sailing across the Atlantic.

Later on, I hope to get Matt, who is skippering the boat, to write a more practical article with tips for crossing the Atlantic. But for now, you’re stuck with just my points of view and a day-by-day report of what happened while sailing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean.

I hope you’ll find it both an entertaining and helpful article!

Sailing Across the Atlantic: The Highs and Lows

Day 1 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

sailing into the sunset on day one of crossing the Atlantic
Sailing into the sunset on our first day crossing the Atlantic

It’s going to be just the three of us – myself, Matt, and my good friend Emma – sailing across the Atlantic.

With four cabins I hoped to be at least a crew of four, but it turned out more difficult to find reliable crew than expected. We had some issues with crew we found online, but I’ll spare you the details.

Today our adventure starts!

We woke up early to get to the fuel dock, got 140 liters of diesel (both for those days without any wind and to be able to recharge our batteries on days the solar panels aren’t producing enough), and made some final preparations.

By the time we were done, it was somehow 11AM (so much for leaving early) and started to rain.

I wish I had a proper bimini (a sun shade) to hide under now! But that’s one of many projects still left on our to-do list…

Thankfully the rain didn’t last too long and the rest of the day and night offered us light winds. We sailed along at about 5 knots.

Day 2 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

me feeling cold and nauseous sailing to the Caribbean
I’m feeling cold and nauseous on day 2 of sailing to the Caribbean

Cold, nauseous, and sleep-deprived…

That sums up how both myself and Emma are feeling today!

And it’s been over 15º Celcius (59º Fahrenheit) most of the time, the wind is less than 20 knots, and if you add up all of my naps I’ve slept over 8 hours.

Which makes me feel even worse about feeling like this! 🙁

I thought I’d deal with it better after the 7 days at sea to sail from Southern Spain to Gran Canaria.

Apparently not…

The waves should get less, or so Matt says, and of course we should just get used to being out at sea…

But, for now, this makes me not enjoy this day!

Day 3 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

 

Today is so much better!

I really enjoyed my watch (6am-10am). Lots of stars, bioluminescence behind the boat, a few shooting stars and I saw the International Space Station pass overhead.

The weather is sunny now and the water is calmer as well today which helps me feel a lot better.

Day 4 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

cooking while sailing across the Atlantic
Cooking on a moving boat definitely takes some getting used to!

Matt woke me up at night to watch dolphins swimming around the boat through bioluminescence. Quite cool to see!

My night watch was quiet, and I’m really starting to feel less nauseous and less groggy which makes me a lot more capable to do things.

I had a long list of tasks for during this trip, from reading books and fixing little things around the boat to work-related things I can do offline. Up until now I’ve just been feeling too queazy and groggy to do anything though, but I’m optimistic that that will change soon.

Emma is still feeling sick most of the day which means Matt and I are covering her tasks, and that is not really helping the atmosphere.

We should have some really calm days coming up though so I’m hoping we all get to enjoy those.

Day 5 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

me reading a book while sailing the Atlantic
There is plenty of time to read books while crossing the Atlantic

It’s like trying to sleep on a rollercoaster!

The wind increased a lot last night which made it quite a bumpy ride. But, it also made us speed up a bit, which was very welcome.

Still, on average we don’t seem to do much more than 5 knots (9.26 kilometers or 5.75 miles per hour).

Emma is feeling better, which is great, and I am generally feeling good although quite sleepy which means I go from watches to naps, to cooking, eating, and napping again…

I did finally start reading a book though. And I hope I’ll be able to finish quite a few books I’ve had lying around unread for too long.

Day 6 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

solar panels on our 36ft catamaran
Our recently installed solar panels

During the 10 weeks of almost non-stop work it took us to get this boat ready for her Atlantic crossing, I have definitely wondered why I’m doing this.

Can’t I just be normal, buy a house and settle down?

But as I am standing here on my watch at 6 am, looking at the stars, listening to the waves… I know exactly why I’m doing this.

I’m doing this because I need adventure. I need to not know what my days will look like two weeks from now.

And this trip gives me exactly that. I have no idea what the next few months will look like. Or the next few years for that matter.

I might love living on a catamaran in the Caribbean, learn to sail well, and keep doing it for years. Or I might start to miss the comforts of home and decide to sell the boat and return.

But no matter what, I’ve got some interesting adventures coming up and that’s why I do this!

And yes, my seasickness is clearly gone, the weather is getting warmer, I’m having more energy, so I am really starting to enjoy being here, out at sea, surrounded by nothing but water…

And then the solar panels stopped working!

That would mean that for the next two weeks we’d each be hand steering for up to 8 hours a day and that we risk losing all our electronic navigation tools…

It makes you realize how easily things can change from comfortable to really bad!

But, thankfully the issue turned out easy to fix. One of the cables had chafed through because of the constant wave action. So Matt used a part of the shore power cable to replace that and THANKFULLY it worked!

Day 7 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

sunrise while sailing across the Atlantic
I loved watching the sunrise while crossing the Atlantic

From my least favorite part of the day to my favorite part.

My alarm goes off at 5.30 am every morning. And I know, that’s a very nice watch to have, getting to see the sunrise every day.

Still, I really don’t like it when that alarm goes off, I get dressed in the dark to not lose my night vision and then try to splash some water in my face and brush my teeth in the dark while the boat is moving all over the place… It keeps making me just a bit nauseous again each morning.

But then I go up on deck where I take over from Matt who always has coffee ready. Today he even made pancakes!

And then, as he goes to sleep, it’s just me, the stars, bioluminescence behind the boat, and the sound of the waves…

Slowly over the next few hours the sun starts coming up.

Standing there behind the wheel in the dark is my favorite time of the day. It’s when I have time to think about life and remind myself that I am sailing across the Atlantic on not just any yacht, but on a yacht I own!

When I was 17 I moved abroad for the first time (to Spain) and ever since then, I seem to have been choosing less traditional paths.

For years people asked me when I’d get a “real” job. And there have definitely been times I wondered if I wasn’t wasting my chance of a “real career”.

But here I am, with a business that generates (a modest) passive income even while I’m in the middle of the Atlantic without internet, on a yacht that is paid for by money I made running my own business… I guess my less traditional path wasn’t all that bad of a choice!

Day 8 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

marking our course on a map
Every day I’d mark our course on a map

One week has passed, probably two more weeks to go.

I guess until now I was secretly hoping we might sail from the Canary Islands to Saint Lucia in under 20 days.

We are still doing around 5 knots average and at this speed, there is no way we’ll make it to St Lucia any sooner than in 21 days.

The days are all starting to look the same a bit. On the one hand that is a good thing. It means we all have formed our routines (when we eat, nap, and have our different watches) and seem comfortable with that.
But at the same time I have never been a fan of routines and knowing exactly what my day will look like doesn’t help me get up in the morning.

But, I shouldn’t complain. If these dry, sunny days with moderate wind and no major issues on the boat continue until we get to St Lucia, we should count ourselves lucky!

Day 9 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

online tracking of vessels crossing the Atlantic
Fleetmon.com turned out to be the best way to track us while we crossed the Atlantic

See day 8 😉

Really today was no different from yesterday.

Apart from me having a bit of a stomach ache. Nothing major, but it did make me think more about our hygiene on board… We wouldn’t all want to get sick at the same time.

We all try to use as little water as possible (yes, we have a watermaker, but that requires A LOT of electricity and of course it could break…). And that might mean we are not as hygienic as we normally would be.

I generally use hand sanitizer instead of water and soap to wash my hands before I cook food. But is that good enough? We do our dishes using seawater and we have very short and infrequent showers…

I’m sure we’ll be fine and more than anything it’s just a great way to realize how much I have been taking water for granted!

Day 10 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

baking while crossing the Atlantic on a catamaran
I really started enjoying cooking and baking during the Atlantic crossing

Matt warned me that cooking and baking, which I’m not normally all that interested in, would become one of our main pass times during the Atlantic crossing.

And he was right.

I guess we are lucky that the weather is ok and the boat is behaving well, so we have a lot of downtimes.

Today we tried making flapjacks (something I’d never heard of)… but we might need some more practice 😉

I’ve been spending a lot more time cooking than I normally would, and although I can’t wait to eat out again, it is a nice way to pass an afternoon at sea.

Matt even tried fishing for a minute, but quickly lost interest.

So my tip for sailing across the Atlantic: even if you don’t think you’re into baking, bring some flour and other basic ingredients anyway! You’ll probably end up happily using them.

Day 11 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

autopilot on a 36ft catamaran
This autopilot wasn’t quite powerful enough for our 36ft catamaran

In the middle of the night the autopilot failed. It overheated and turned itself off.

Admittedly, this has happened before, on our sail from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. Still, not a good thing either!

So far the wind had been quite strong and we were only using the jib. But now that the wind has started to die down we switched to the larger genoa and for some reason, the autopilot struggles with that.

So, in the dark Matt took the genoa down and put the jib up again. And we went from 6-10 knots down to about 4 knots…

The weather seems to be getting even calmer though, so we’re trying the genoa again for a bit. And if it calms down further it might even be time to run the engines tomorrow.

Oh, we also finally saw dolphins! While on the trip from Gibraltar to Gran Canaria we saw marine life (dolphins, turtles, and even a whale!) pretty much every day, on this trip we’ve spotted hardly anything so far. So this was a nice treat!

Day 12 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

making water as we sail across the Atlantic
The first cup of water we made while crossing the Atlantic

Today it was finally calm enough to use the watermaker.

We had barely tested our brand new watermaker so I was a little worried it wouldn’t work, and then our water reserves for the rest of the trip would all of a sudden be quite limited!

But, barring a few minor leaks, it worked perfectly.

It’s good to get a chance to realize how much of a luxury freshwater really is… and Matt and I were both surprisingly excited to see our first few liters of water coming out of the watermaker.

And now that we know we have enough water, we can also finally have nice, long(ish) showers without worrying about using what might be our limited supply of drinking water. That feels great after 12 days!

Because the wind and the waves have finally calmed down we decided to put up the spinnaker. We’d never even taken the spinnaker out of the bag before, so we had no idea what it would be like. Slightly smaller than we hoped (a gennaker really) but still helped us going around 6 knots with minimal wind.

Oh and we saw a whale! He, or she, swam around the boat for hours.

Day 13 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

a whale swimming past our sailboat
Seeing wildlife is a very welcome change from only seeing water for days

We’re still followed by one or more (we aren’t sure if it is just one or perhaps several) whales, which is nice entertainment.

Other than that it’s been a calm day. There is barely 10 knots of wind so even with both the spinnaker and the genoa up (goose winged) we struggle to do 5 knots.

So, a lazy day. I spent most of it reading my book, we baked a cake and made chapatis for dinner (I’ve honestly never done this much cooking and baking in my life!).

We also finally fixed the boom, which broke loose on day two (the gooseneck pin broke).

Day 14 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

 

Today has been another calm day.

We decided to run the watermaker again. It’s surprising how much more water we use now that we feel more confident we can make more!

In the morning we were visited by a group of dolphins and because we were going so slow I decided to put my Gopro on a selfie stick and hold it underwater. That created some cool footage of the dolphins swimming in front of our boat!

Day 15 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

doing some boat maintenance
Doing some boat maintenance on calmer days

Another uneventful day.

And in many ways of course that is good, because it means nothing broke and nothing bad happened to the weather.

But, we are clearly all getting a bit bored, are very much ready to get to the Caribbean, and therefore also a little more easily irritated.

And since we are only doing about 4 knots at the moment, with no signs of the weather changing soon, it is starting to look like it might take us more than 3 weeks to sail from Gran Canaria to St Lucia…

Day 16 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

rain on the window during a squall
Hiding from the rain

Today we encountered our first squall (a sudden violent gust of wind or a localized storm, generally with rain).

Matt had been telling us about these since before we even set sail.

Apparently, on any Atlantic crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean they are a thing to expect, and to look out for.

Thankfully our first squall only dumped rain on us for about 10 minutes and wasn’t too windy. But they can come with high and changing winds, which can make them dangerous.

Other than that it was another uneventful day, with little wind.

Oh, Matt did teach me how to whip the end of ropes and how to splice ropes. Two terms I’d never even heard of! I love learning these things though, and now my goal for the rest of this Atlantic crossing is to whip all the rope ends…

Day 17 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

me learning to whip and splice ropes
Learning to whip and splice ropes

To get hot water for the shower we have to run the engine. And although I have two bathrooms, only in one of them the hot water works.

Or I guess I should say worked…

We ran the engines for an hour today, which feels bad anyway, burning diesel just so that we can have a hot shower… And then it didn’t work.

We haven’t been able to figure out what it is yet. So I guess that means cold showers for the rest of the trip, which isn’t too bad since it’s warm enough outside. But, it also means that once we get to St Lucia we’ll have to start looking for a way to fix this, and quite possibly replace it by something that doesn’t require running the engine every time anyone wants a shower.

Other than that the day was slow. We decided to change our watches again (we’re spacing out the 4 hour time change between the Canary Islands and St Lucia), I enjoyed using my new skill of whipping ropes and I made a surprisingly tasty Indonesian soup. Yes, cooking is really such an important part of this trip, mainly because there is little else to do…

Day 18 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

2 flying fish on our boat
Having flying fish land on deck is common during Atlantic crossings

The temperature had slowly been going up each day from the day we left, but today was an extraordinarily warm day.

And that just helped me realize we are actually getting close to the Caribbean!!

There is still little wind so it might take another 5 days, but we will get there.

I continued whipping some ropes, Matt taught me a different splicing technique and we discussed some of the plans we have to further improve the boat once we arrive.

The boat will be an ongoing project, that’s for sure, but with a Caribbean island in the background that doesn’t sound all that bad!

Day 19 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

sailing with the spinnaker up
We used our spinnaker regularly while sailing to the Caribbean

The wind picked up last night which means we’ve managed to cover quite some distance.

But this is where it’s a shame that we only have one real sailor on board. Everything falls onto Matt, who barely gets any sleep.

With the wind picking up the spinnaker was doing great. But that sail isn’t made for too heavy winds, plus the autopilot was starting to overheat again because of all the twists and turns the boat was doing… And then Matt wants to stay on top of things because he’s the only one who can make a good decision about when the spinnaker needs to come down, the mainsail can be added, or we’d better switch to the genoa.

Matt has sailed across the Atlantic seven times before, including on his own once, so I know he’s fully capable of doing this. But, there have been many days where he barely got 3 or 4 hours of sleep. And with more experienced sailors on board we could have definitely sailed a bit faster.

So, although I’d say I’ve learned quite a bit in the last few months, I definitely need to learn a lot more to become more useful on the boat!

Day 20 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

a handful of seaweed
We saw a lot of seaweed while crossing the Atlantic

We again covered a good distance today and it looks like we’ll be in St Lucia within 3 days!

Meanwhile, we’ve been sailing through large amounts of seaweed (sargassum) for days and days now and I’ve started to wonder how normal this is.

Matt says he has seen patches of floating seaweed on his previous Atlantic crossings to the Caribbean, but never in these quantities.

Is this an effect of global warming? I wish I had internet to find out more…

Note: I did research it later. If you want to know more about what’s called the great Atlantic Sargassum belt and its recent increase, there are interesting scientific articles, this being one of them.

Day 21 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

broken forestay
That’s where our forestay broke

We’ve got less than 200 miles left to go. On a journey of more than 2700 miles that feels like we are pretty much around the corner.

So, we’ve started talking in detail about the first things we’re going to do in St Lucia.

Eat a delicious local roti, enjoy a beer on some beautiful beach. And enjoy some of the comforts of the marina, such as spacious, hot showers and washing machines (I’m definitely running out of clean clothes by now!).

And internet of course, after 3 weeks without any form of communication other than a VHF radio, access to the internet will be strange!

But then, all of a sudden, we heard a loud bang.

The forestay broke!

This is one of the metal wires that holds the mast up. And it also holds our jib, which is one of the sails we use the most.

What a scare! So close to St Lucia, convinced we’d get there in less than 2 days…

We’ve slowed right down to put as little pressure on the mast as we can, and Matt has stabilized it with several halyards.

At the moment we’re sailing with a reduced genoa, but thankfully we also have about 100 liters of diesel remaining, so we can always motor to St Lucia if we have to.

It’s late now, I’m going to try to get some sleep, but this is definitely not how I expected this trip to end!

Day 22 of Sailing Across the Atlantic

me reading a book on the nets while crossing the Atlantic
On calmer days the nets were a nice place to hang out

The last few days I have had a lot of mixed feelings about arriving.

Of course I am really looking forward to finally being in the Caribbean and to exploring St Lucia.

But at the same time, I enjoyed the simplicity of life at sea. With relatively calm weather life seemed so simple. And not having the stresses that work, internet access, social obligations, etc. bring, felt quite nice.

I was worried I would get bored or very anxious to have internet again to check if my business is still doing ok… but I didn’t.

Of course today things do feel a bit different. The forestay breaking reminded me again of how many things can go wrong. And of how many things still have to be fixed on this boat.

It’s true, owning a boat is not cheap! And I know I am very lucky that Matt is a boatbuilder who can pretty much fix anything himself, but still, sometimes it feels a bit too much like a never-ending project.

So yes, this has tainted my feelings about arriving a little bit, because once again we’ll have to research where to get different boat parts to get our old girl fixed…

But, she’s hanging in there and we should arrive by tomorrow afternoon!

Day 23 – Arrived in Saint Lucia

our catamaran after we sailed to the Caribbean
We did it! We sailed to the Caribbean island of St Lucia

We’ve made it!

It took us longer to sail across the Atlantic than we expected and of course I was gutted that the forestay broke, but all in all, it was such a great experience.

And oh it feels great to set foot on land again now.

Time to enjoy the Caribbean!

Sailing Across the Atlantic From the Canary Islands to the Caribbean – Final Thoughts

1. Why Didn’t We Sail to Cape Verde first?

I’ve been asked this a lot. Yes, going to Cape Verde first does break up the Atlantic crossing a bit. But it also adds extra time to your crossing.

We left the Canary Islands in mid-January, which was much later than we hoped so we decided we just wanted to get to the Caribbean as quickly as possible.

But, to catch the tradewinds you have to sail south first, which gets you quite close to the islands of Cape Verde. So, if you are thinking about sailing across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands and love the idea of exploring an extra destination, then I see no reason not to stop in Cape Verde first.

Plus, I’ve spoken to many other sailors who did sail to Cabo Verde first and they have all been positive about it.

2. Why Did We Sail to Saint Lucia?

In all honesty, I don’t have a good answer.

Before setting sail to cross the Atlantic we knew we’d still have further repairs and upgrades to do. Saint Lucia has more facilities for that than nearby St Vincent & the Grenadines, which was the destination we really wanted to sail to.

Saint Lucia also has a modern, lively marina (Rodney Bay Marina) which we thought might be a good place to start after three weeks at sea.

But, in hindsight, I would pick a different location.

If you know you’ll have to do work on your boat, then St Maarten is a better location with more facilities and easier shipping of parts from the USA. Both myself and Matt have lived in St Maarten before, so the been-there-done-that feeling kept us from considering this as a destination. 

Barbados according to Matt has less to offer sailors, but it is the shortest distance across the Atlantic, so if I could do it again I might have sailed to Barbados instead.

And If you just want to start your Caribbean sailing experience in one of the most beautiful places, with many different islands to explore, then start in Saint Vincent & the Grenadines.

Also Read: What Sailing in Saint Lucia is Like – A Review of All Anchorages

That’s It, We Made It Across the Atlantic!

This Atlantic crossing is nicknamed the milk run because it’s about as easy as an ocean sailing passage can get.

So my experiences of calm days, lots of time spent reading, cooking, and napping are quite standard.

But as an inexperienced sailor, I am happy it was that ”easy”. And of course it doesn’t mean there are no risks involved and you should definitely prepare for this properly.

But as I said before, I hope I can get Matt to write an article soon with his much more knowledgeable advice about how to prepare for an Atlantic crossing.

If you want to see more pictures and videos of our Atlantic crossing or want to keep following what my old catamaran and I are up to, follow me on Instagram where I share stories almost every day (if I’m not sailing somewhere so remote that there is no internet).

Also Read:

 
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a collage of me sailing across the Atlantic Ocean

Sanne Wesselman

Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing.
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this website to share "the good, the bad and the ugly" of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.

4 thoughts on “Sailing Across the Atlantic: My Experiences Sailing From the Canary Islands to the Caribbean”

  1. WOW! I am in awe of what you have achieved! Having never spent time at sea, I have heard that it takes a while to develop your “sea legs”. Does it work in reverse? When you landed in St. Lucia, did you have to get back your “land legs”.

    Reply
    • Thanks Mike! 🙂
      And yes, it took some time to develop my sea legs, and then back on land it took a while (a few hours) before it stopped feeling as if the ground was moving under my feet. lol.

      Reply

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