Hopscotching to Europe: A 4000-Mile Sailing Adventure

Don Snelgrove, owner of the sloop Himmel out of Crownsville, MD, shares details of preparing boat and crew for a 4000-mile sailing adventure across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Goal
One step at a time. That’s what I told myself, six years ago, after we purchased our 2001 Dehler 39-foot sloop Himmel. Let’s learn to safely cruise her. Let’s try some Wednesday evening races on the Severn River after we gather together a crew of interested sailors. Perhaps, then, a Chesapeake Bay race. If things go well, we could look at participating in an offshore race. And that was about the limit of planning/dreaming… Flash forward now to 2017 as we begin preparations for sailing to Europe and the Mediterranean in the spring/summer of 2018. 

Team Himmel is preparing to cross the Atlantic. Photo by Allen Cook/photoboat.com

Why sail across the Atlantic? I think all of our crew would say: “We haven’t yet done it, and it represents the next step in truly experiencing and enjoying offshore sailing.” 

Himmel will take part in the World Cruising Club/ARC Europe rally where several dozen boats will hop-scotch to Bermuda, the Azores, and then Portugal, completing an Atlantic crossing. We’ll then depart the rally and spend six weeks sailing to ports in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. By then, we’ll have run out of time (and the wife’s kitchen pass!), and as the hurricane season approaches, we’ll put Himmel on a freighter bound for the East Coast. 

The Boat
How do we prepare the boat for a four-thousand-mile trek? World Cruising Club provides a detailed list of safety requirements for the voyage at worldcruising.com. The requirements logically focus on preparing the boat for heavy weather, offshore communication and navigation, man overboard precautions, and other emergencies. We are taking advantage of the great marine support here in the Annapolis area to get Himmel ready for the voyage. Because she is now 16 years old, we are having Jimmie Cockrell and crew at The Rigging Company replace the standing rigging this winter.

Himmel. Photo by Allen Clark/photoboat.com

To simplify our efforts when the winds really start to blow, Himmel will receive a Dyneema inner forestay to handle a staysail made by Chuck O’Malley at Chesapeake Sails. Thus, we’ll simply furl up the genoa and raise the staysail when the winds exceed 20 knots. If the winds become stronger, we have a storm jib and a storm trysail that we can employ. I also recommend having a mainsail with three reefing point options; we have used the third reef more than I would have expected in past offshore passages. It reduces the mainsail down to about 50 percent of its original size and is great when the wind is blowing over 20 to 25 knots.

Peter Kennedy at Peter Kennedy Yacht Services recently installed our AIS system and will upgrade our older chartplotter. All three of the vendors mentioned above have done great work on Himmel in the past, and they have gained our trust with their knowledge and attention to detail.

We purchased a new eight-man life raft at this year’s U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. It made sense to own one instead of paying $500 per month for an extended rental. And having an eight-man raft will work for our future full-crew offshore races.

The Crew
So, the boat will be ready. What about our crew? How do you prepare the people for such a long voyage? The longest leg will be Bermuda to the Azores, about 1850 miles which is about 12 to 13 days nonstop on Himmel. Our crew will consist of myself, Mike Snelgrove (our son), Ken Shuart, Dave Malfroy, and Bodo Wolters. Fortunately, Himmel has completed two Annapolis-Bermuda Races, two Annapolis-Newport Races, and a Marblehead to Halifax Race, totaling six-thousand offshore miles. These races have been a big help in confirming that we get along well together, know the fastest sail configurations, and simply learning Himmel’s quirks. 

Each spring we accomplish a Saturday/Sunday sea trial where we practice man overboard drills (day/night, with spinnaker up/down, engine working/not working), no steering, no rudder, rig all storm sails, and try out different sail configurations. This year will be no different as we check out the new Himmel upgrades.

Team Himmel

The Future
We hopefully will have the boat and crew ready, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made. What do we eat for the long passages? Can we turn off the fridge once the cold/frozen items are consumed and save some battery power? Himmel has no battery-charging devices other than the engine because we keep her lean and mean for our racing. But having no solar panels nor wind generator works against us on a long transatlantic passage. 

How do we manage water consumption so that the 105 gallons in Himmel’s tanks will last for two weeks? What watch schedules should we keep? Can one person be assigned to a watch? Traditionally in our offshore races, we assign four to a watch with two watches. With this cruising passage, we can settle back and not worry about getting the last tenth of a knot out of the boat, so one to two on the watch can certainly work.

Some other tasks are still in the works: obtaining insurance for the ocean passage, how we will communicate with friends/family while underway, and what specific ports we’ll call on in Morocco and Spain. But these are fun tasks...

The anticipation is growing as we get Himmel and crew ready for what hopes to be a very memorable voyage. We’ll keep you posted on our progress! 

by Don Snelgrove