Sailing the Atlantic is a magical experience and on many a yachter’s bucket list. 

It should be on yours, too. 

However, when it comes to crossing the mighty Atlantic Ocean, a clearly defined weather window is at play. As such, it is best to choose wisely exactly when your dream of setting sail on these exciting blue waters should take place.

Here are a few pointers on when best to experience this incredible voyage.

When To Go?

Often seen as a year-round adventure, an Atlantic circuit in November or December from Europe to the Caribbean, with a return around May is the norm. 

There are two good reasons for this: one being the timetable of the hurricane season, which runs from early June through late November. The second is the trade winds, which we’ll get to in a moment.
While hurricanes can happen outside this window, it is rare; although recent years have seen increasing storms in May. Many a return journey eastward to the European continent occurs after Antigua Race week in May, while the Caribbean winter season starts with a major event in January: the RORC Transatlantic Race, which departs from Lanzarote.
Planning a Trans-Atlantic sailing is rarely as simple as deciding on a date to leave. Rather, particular attention should be paid to the overall wind trends, especially when heading south from the UK or northwest Europe, and also when leaving the Mediterranean.
The standard advice is to head south as early as possible, as an easier passage can be had in September rather than when leaving later in November or December. If one is crossing the Bay of Biscay, for example, September will likely see the increase of gales and southwesterly winds.

Winter Trade Winds Of The Atlantic

Choosing the best time to go heavily relies on the trade winds: a factor that can ultimately hinder your voyage or help you sail along smoothly.

These trade winds are most likely to be favourable between November and February. The easterly winds and Mid-Atlantic trade winds allow sailors to cross with more ease during this period.

You may be wondering why it’s best to sail during the winter months (won’t it be cold?), but in reality, Atlantic waters are also warmer during this period, with temperatures reaching 82.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lots of statistics about trade winds and exactly when are the best dates to make the journey can be researched and regurgitated, but we won’t state them here; it’s just going to change slightly the next year anyway.

The bottom line is that variations in wind patterns year-over-year make it nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy.

Therefore, it is crucial for sailors to use trade winds to their advantage whenever possible and have the flexibility to adjust sailing times as needed. The voyage can be more successful the more you take advantage of favourable winds.

Trade winds are predictable in that they blow in the same direction because of the Earth’s rotation (what some refer to as the Coriolis Effect.) The ocean’s currents move in the same direction, thereby offering good sailing.

The Northern Passage (West to East)

Like any other route, this is dictated by trade winds and you want them to work in your favour. 

Sailing from the Americas to Europe, you’ll first want to sail to the Caribbean to reach Bermuda, which typically serves as the main point of departure when heading to Europe. 

Why? Because this location offers the best windward winds. 

From there, most sailors head to the Portuguese Azores, then to the Portuguese coast, and then to the final destination.

The Southern Passage (East to West)

Just as with the Northern Passage, you’ll first need to reach your point of departure by sailing southeast, and the best point of departure is the Canary Islands just offshore from Western Sahara. 

Then set sail to Cape Verde, offshore from Dakar, Senegal, before heading into open waters westward towards the Caribbean.

How Long Does it Take To Sail The Atlantic?

For many, imagining the sheer vastness of the Atlantic Ocean is the most intimidating factor. Generally, it takes about three to four weeks to sail across. However, expert sailors have been known to shave that down to two weeks with a bit of luck, some shortcuts, and a fast sailing boat. A proper wind pushing you along is key.
But for most pleasure sailors, this isn’t a race. It’s all about the experience and enjoyment of sailing on open waters. The reality is that you should carve out at least one month to make the journey safely. In many cases, you’ll be exposed to changing weather and the trade winds.

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