Speed While Crossing an Ocean

We picked up a third crew member to cross the Atlantic with us. This is his first ocean crossing and something that he has always wanted to do. He is a very competent sailor who knows his stuff (a huge improvement over the previous crew member). His background is in racing, meaning that he can trim and squeak out every last knot available. When he is approaching hull speed, he will imagine that there is still more power available and continue to trim. He obsesses over every tenth of a knot, making the boat sail as fast as possible.

This makes for fun and spirited sails over short distances, but this philosophy is very different from ocean crossing.

In ocean crossing, the goal is to get to the other side of the ocean with everything still working and as comfortably as possible. This means sitting back and relaxing as the sails and wind carry you from Point A to Point B. You are not going to be moving as fast as possible, but you are moving comfortably. This comfortable moving is what ocean cruising is all about. The trip is going to be several weeks, and if we wear ourselves out in the first day, we will be dead from exhaustion by the time we make our distant landfall. Instead, sailing comfortably is our goal, that way we arrive at the next destination rested and ready to explore!

This difference in philosophy came up when I saw a storm system forming. A massive thunderhead had been billowing up behind us with massive clouds climbing high into the sky. At this point, the system was only developing but I knew to keep my eye on it as it could start to come our way with devastating consequences.

All of a sudden, the massive cloud formation turned into an anvil cloud with the horn extending right over our boat. The cloud became so thick that it blocked out the sun! Instantly, I knew it was time to reef down. We were full sail with our Main, Staysail, and Jib flying; soon we would be only the staysail and trysail.

The concept of putting up the trysail in light airs perplexed our racing friend. "The winds are light, we can just switch the sail when the winds get here." I responded with, when the winds hit, no one wants to go up to the mast and wrestle with sails. The day was drawing to an end and the sun would be setting soon. Changing from full-sail to storm-sails is one thing, but doing it in the dark on a moonless night is completely different! To be safe, we simply set the storm sails and waited for the weather to reach us.

Our speed went from 5 knots to 4 knots. This meant that for every hour that we waited as the storm approached, we would theoretically lose 1 nautical mile of travel. That may sound like a significant loss in distance made good in a short course, but we are traveling 2800+ miles! 1 mile is 0.000357% of the journey, so not a significant issue to me, who is a comfortable cruiser and not a racer.

Late that night, the winds finally came, and we may have lost a theoretical 5 or so miles, but who cares! When the winds hit late at night, we were ready and relaxed. There was no drama caused by the boat pitching and rolling, instead the off-watch crew didn't even know it occurred.