We can do this! Can we?
I’ve only been getting into sailing myself for the past couple of years, thinking about all this is still very abstract and a bit overwhelming. I’ve done a couple of longer passages before, but there are so many things to plan out for an Atlantic crossing. You read and learn things you never thought you will ever need (or want) to know. Sometimes you don’t know which of the 42 things on the todo list to tackle next, and the next day you are full of excitement, because you finally figured out what this acronym means that you’ve been wondering about for days now.
While wrestling what electronics we would want to add (that’s been an adventure in itself, more on that soon!), trying to understand at least something about our power installation (wait, how much do I need to run that new autopilot?!) and prepare to work on everything as soon as the weather permits. You’re starting to think about the strangest things at dinner (how much meat does a person eat per week?) and you constantly convince all of your friends to come and visit you on the trip (that’s if you manage to get all of the things figured out in time to actually go)!
Time stops while you sail. You live by the weather more than anything else, you leave when it gets light out, you wake up for steering shifts, sleep anytime and anywhere you can. Plenty of friends want to come by on the way to the Canary Islands, across the Atlantic, or in the Caribbean. Of course they all have jobs and want to drop in for a quick vacation (booo! you should all stay a month at least, maybe two, ok?). But also Mateńka can’t really be sailed alone (although it has happened before!), company will be a good thing to have along the way. So I’ve been trying to come up with a schedule for the next year, which is not an easy task. Thinking about places you’ve never been before, anticipating where you’d want to stay (or not), plan in enough time for passages, downtime, repairs and the unpredictable weather.
Step One: get to the Canary Islands!
While we came back from the Mediterranean to Poland two years ago, we’ve already seen a bunch of places that are on the route from Poland towards the Canary Islands. We’ve taken the reverse path though the Baltic and North Sea, the Bay of Biscay and Portugal. But going further south from Portugal is completely new territory. Funny how people say crossing the Bay of Biscay is the hardest part about getting across the Atlantic from northern Europe. Since we’ve done this before, it takes the mystery out of the situation a little – the rest should be a piece of cake now, right?
On to new territories: people seem to leave from Portugal or Spain, maybe stop in Madeira, straight on to the Canary Islands. Does it make sense to aim for this little island in the middle of the ocean? Is there nothing to see in Morocco? Our dad went all along the Moroccan coast in 1987. Which route to pick? So many options – ahhhhh! Yeah, ok, I get it, the Canary Islands are probably nicer to cruise around, so people prefer to hop there directly. Ok, decision #1: plan in enough time, for various options, to decide this later on. It makes sense to have plenty of time in the Canary Islands, adds some extra downtime to prep the Atlantic crossing (because surely we won’t be able to figure everything out in advance anyways). Solid plan so far!
Step Two: get to the Caribbean!
So let’s say we make it to the Canary Islands, and cross the Atlantic (I’m purposefully skipping over the details of this part, plenty on that to come later) – so then we are actually in the Caribbean, yay!! And now what? Between the 23-million different islands, each its own country, different languages, tiny airports, visa requirements etc. – what do we actually want to see and do there? What do people want to visit? Will they be able to fly there for a reasonable price? From the US maybe, but also friends from Europe?
After spending weekends, nights and more weekends on google. Reading peoples stories about cruising up and down the Caribbean. Asking pretty much everyone who came to mind I could ask for advice and recommendations. Roping people into creating spreadsheets with me collecting all possible information. Things are slowly starting to make sense. The Caribbean is a popular cruising territory, there is plenty of information to find online (once you are ready to wrap your head around it). The more you read the more accustomed you get to the area, places, routes. Stories start to repeat and even though you have never been there before, you start to recognize the various places.
Sailing conditions are fairly stable in the Caribbean, with steady wind. We need to get out of there before the hurricane season in May sometime (ok, that sounds doable!). That gives us about 4 months between arriving just before xmas in December and leaving again in May. The Grenadines and British as well as US Virgin Islands seem like popular destinations, along Antigua and Martinique. We’d probably need to hit a bigger city to re-supply every 3 or so weeks, preferably something people can fly in and out of then too.
Ok, decision #2: after landing in St. Lucia we go south, check out the Grenadines and Grenada. Make our way back north, Martinique, Antigua, etc – sounds like a good start. Then we’ll go on to the BVI’s and USVI’s. On the way Montserrat? Kitts and Nevis? Saint Martin? Sure ,why not. Do we have time for more? Can we (do we want to) sail to the Bahamas? Cuba? Or the US? Our dad spent a lot of time in Cuba in 1987 (granted they were not going back the same season) maybe that’s too far for us to be able to do in this limited timeframe? Alright then, a reasonable decision #3: we will not go any further west and sail to Bermuda from the BVI’s, to be ready to depart for our second Atlantic crossing again from there.
Step Three: get back to Poland!
We need be out of the Caribbean by May to avoid hurricane season, to then head back to Europe via the Azores. Between Bermuda and the Azores, is about a 1800nm stretch of Northern Atlantic. They say is not quite as calm as the Southern route, but after having tackled one Atlantic crossing, we can surely figure out a second one, maybe? (todo: route back home needs some more thought).