For generations, the completion of a transatlantic crossing has been considered the rite of passage to call oneself a sailor. Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean is a popular choice for sailors and adventure-seekers alike due to the beauty and challenges you encounter along the way.
In centuries past, it could take months to sail from Europe to America, or vice versa. But how long does it take to sail across the Atlantic, today?
Well, the short answer is typically between 3 – 4 weeks. However, this is just an estimate, and the exact time taken will depend on a few key factors, including:
- Boat type
- Route selection
- Sailing conditions
Let’s discuss this in a little more detail.
How Long Does It Take to Sail Across the Atlantic?
As with most open-ocean sailing, there is a need for intense planning. And this is ever-more crucial when embarking on a transatlantic journey. If you’re merely planning to jump on a cruise ship, then this probably doesn’t apply to you.
However, sailors may take months or even years to meticulously plot the best and safest route across the Atlantic.
As with most open-ocean sailing, there is a need for intense planning. And this is ever-more crucial when embarking on a transatlantic journey.
Planning ahead will give you a much clearer indication of your expected arrival at your destination, but as is customary in sailing, nothing is a certainty.
Here are the major factors to consider when working out how long it will take you to sail across the Atlantic:
1. Boat Type
The most obvious consideration to include is the vessel you’ll be using in your journey. You’ll need to factor in the speed that you’re likely to be able to achieve with it.
Professional racing teams can complete the trip in less than two weeks, while some Outremers and Sailwinds have been reported to have taken a little less than three weeks from start to end.
Based on that trajectory, production and charter catamarans that possess broad-beamed hulls will likely take several weeks at least.
2. The Route
Next, the captain will need to provide a conclusive sail plan. This will include timescales and allocation of tasks through the voyage. Factors that will influence the schedule include sailing hours, rotation of captains, duty allocation, etc.
Having a larger crew will allow for better rotation of work and will therefore reduce the need for constant stoppages.
The area size of the Atlantic is 106.5 million km², and each route varies in distance, affecting the total time to complete the trip.
Crossing the Atlantic is usually done via 2 major routes:
Northern Atlantic Passage
This route runs from the West to the East and generally starts in the US before heading to the Caribbean. After that, the next target is Bermuda which marks the start of the longest stretch of the journey, heading to a volcanic archipelago and autonomous region of Portugal known as the Portuguese Azores.
From there, you’ll be in the final stretch, on your way to the Portuguese mainland, which is usually a dock in Lisbon.
- Caribbean to Bermuda – 5 to 8 days
- Bermuda to Portuguese Azores – 14 to 17 days
- Portuguese Azores – 4 – 7 days
Southern Atlantic Passage
This is perhaps the more popular of the two routes because it tends to be slightly faster. The Southern Atlantic passage generally starts in Portugal, heading southeast to the Canary Islands just off the coast of West Africa. From there, the route heads to Cape Verde and the Windward Islands in the Caribbean.
- Portugal to Canary Islands – 5 to 7 days
- Canary Island to Cape Verde – 5 to 8 days
- Cape Verde to Windward Islands – 12 to 16 days
Most experienced boat captains give themselves and their crews an allowance of an additional 4 – 10 days when plotting their journey to account for any unforeseen situations such as breakdowns.
3. Sailing Conditions
When you’re out in open waters, you are very much at the mercy of several uncontrollable elements. Even the most experienced sailors have been known to delay a voyage due to unfavorable conditions, which do not just slow the progress but can also be downright dangerous and reckless to attempt sailing through.
When you’re out in open waters, you are very much at the mercy of several uncontrollable elements.
4. Weather Conditions
Planning the voyage well ahead of time should be the most important item on your priority list. Thankfully, technological advancements have made it possible to get an indication of the weather conditions or forecasts for a reasonable period into the future.
Naturally, this can change rapidly. However, planning your trip during optimal weather conditions will significantly speed up your progress and reduce any risks too.
5. Water Currents
Another key factor is the changing water currents during the different seasons and times of the year. Sailing against heavy currents or wave directions can easily slow smaller vessels down. Depending on the height and force of the waves being encountered, wind can quickly become an additional issue that you may be faced with.
6. Hurricane Season
The Atlantic Ocean is known for its notorious hurricane season. According to the National Hurricane Center, the Atlantic hurricane season starts in June and tends to fizzle out toward mid-November. During this period, you are far less likely to see many boats (aside from commercial vessels) making the crossing.
7. Trade Winds
These winds are caused by the hot air that rises from the tropical regions that cools down as it reaches higher altitudes, such as the North and South Poles. When combined with the Coriolis Effect, the result is the creation of winds that are measurable and predictable. This is especially helpful to understand as sailing into a heavy trade wind will slow your progress significantly.
The transatlantic crossing is one of the greatest adventures known to man. Second in size only to the Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean serves up its own share of challenges for its potential conquerors to overcome.
The Northern and Southern Atlantic routes are the 2 major pathways across the vast body of water, with each touching base at several exotic locations along the way. These trips usually take around 3-4 weeks by sailboat, but as discussed above, there are a lot of variables that come into play.
Anyone considering making the journey should take the time to conduct in-depth planning of their resources, work schedules, as well as the external factors that influence the trip to ensure that they can complete it successfully and safely.