Sailing the Atlantic Passage: Timing, Preparation, and Safe Routes

Since we plan to start in the Mediterranean for our circumnavigation, we research and explore multiple ways and starting points. Our current favorite is Malta - our Catamaran has his home port here. But, let's start with the route. We always favorite Gibraltar, it's not far to catch the trade winds, and we can easily hop from Gibraltar over Casablanca, Las Palmas to Tenerife.

Leopard 42 | (c) Leopard Catamarans
Leopard 42 | (c) Leopard Catamarans

The allure of the Atlantic Ocean has captivated sailors for centuries. Whether motivated by the thrill of adventure, the promise of new lands, or the sheer love of sailing, crossing the Atlantic is a rite of passage for many. But how do you ensure a safe and successful journey? This guide will walk you through the best times to embark, necessary preparations, and the most recommended routes.

Best Time for the Atlantic Passage

Timing is crucial for an Atlantic crossing. The ideal period to embark on the voyage is between November and February. This period aligns with the trade winds, which can assist sailors in a smoother journey. The hurricane season, which runs from June to November, is a period to be avoided due to its unpredictable and potentially dangerous weather conditions.

Starting Points

One of the most popular starting points for the Atlantic passage is around the Gibraltar region. Some preferred locations include:

La Línea de la Concepción: Just north of Gibraltar, this town provides a perfect stopover to prepare and gather last-minute supplies.

Ceuta: Situated on the North African coast, opposite Gibraltar, this Spanish enclave serves as another great starting point, offering a unique blend of European and African cultures.

Choosing Your Route

There are a few well-trodden paths for crossing the Atlantic, and your choice will often depend on your starting point, destination, and the time of year.

The Traditional Route

Starting from the Canary Islands or Cape Verde, this route takes advantage of the northeast trade winds, propelling you westward towards the Caribbean. 

The Northern Route

This route is often favored by those departing from Northern Europe, sailing via the Azores and then westward.

Our route - 3800 nm

Our relaxed route

The route from Gibraltar to Tenerife, passing by Casablanca, is our one to embarking on the Atlantic crossing. Here's a brief overview:

Gibraltar to Casablanca, Morocco

Departure Point: Gibraltar lies at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. You can refuel, gather provisions, and check all your systems here before heading out into the Atlantic.

Route: Depart from Gibraltar, sailing southwest out of the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean. It's a relatively straightforward route, but keep an eye out for significant shipping traffic exiting and entering the Mediterranean.

Arrival Point: The port of Casablanca is a major port in Morocco and provides an opportunity for a short stopover. You can anchor a bit offsite and use the dingli to get to the port for customs.

Casablanca to Tenerife, Canary Islands

Departure Point: Leaving Casablanca, ensure you've checked the weather windows and are aware of any currents or conditions that might affect your sail to the Canary Islands.

Route: Set a course due southwest. Depending on weather conditions, you might opt to stay closer to the coast for shelter, or venture further out to sea to take advantage of prevailing winds. The North Atlantic High is a dominant weather factor here. Its anticyclonic nature means winds will generally be coming from the north/northeast, making it a downwind route.

Arrival Point: Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, is a popular stopover point for yachts preparing to cross the Atlantic. It offers good marinas and anchorages. Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a commonly used port on the island.

Tenerife, Canary Islands to Guadeloupe, Caribbean

We use this route, since we depart from Europe and arrive in Europe, as European its the easiest way to deal with customs and immigration.

Departure Point: Start from one of the marinas, like Marina Santa Cruz or Puerto Deportivo Radazul. Ensure your boat is provisioned, fueled, and in good repair for the long ocean passage.
Weather tip: Check weather forecasts and get a good grip on the North Atlantic High and any developing low-pressure systems.

Initial Route Heading Southwest: Set a course heading southwest from Tenerife. The goal in the initial phase of the passage is to sail south until you reach the latitude of the Northeast Trade Winds, which blow from the northeast. 

Catching the Trade Winds: Once you've reached around the latitude of 20°N, you'll typically start to feel the effects of the Northeast Trade Winds. From here, you'll set a more westerly course. The trades should push you consistently towards the Caribbean. Your route will be largely determined by the strength and direction of these winds. 

Approaching Guadeloupe: As you get closer to the Caribbean, start adjusting your heading to aim for the north of Guadeloupe. The island of Guadeloupe has two main islands: Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre. Pointe-à-Pitre, the main city and port, lies between them and is a popular point of entry.

Arrival Point: Guadeloupe, Caribbean: Depending on where you want to make landfall, Pointe-à-Pitre is a good starting point with facilities for international yachts. Remember to adhere to all customs and immigration protocols when arriving in Guadeloupe.

Monitor for North Atlantic weather systems. Be particularly cautious of any signs or forecasts of tropical storms or hurricanes, especially during the Atlantic Hurricane Season from June to November. Depending on the boat, weather, and route taken, the journey can typically take 14-21 days, but it's essential to provision for longer in case of light winds or any other delays. The North Atlantic Current and associated eddies can influence your passage, so keep an eye on current charts.

Points to Consider

Weather Windows: Depending on the time of year, you might experience variable weather conditions. Typically, the best time for this route would be in the autumn, in preparation for an Atlantic crossing in the late autumn to winter.

Currents and Tides: The Canary Current, which is a southwestward flowing current, can aid you on your route towards the Canary Islands.

Hazards: Be cautious of fishing nets and vessels, especially off the coast of Morocco. 

Duration: Depending on your vessel's speed and the prevailing conditions, the leg from Gibraltar to Casablanca can take around 2-4 days, and the sail from Casablanca to Tenerife might last around 5-7 days.

Always ensure you have up-to-date charts, and regularly check weather forecasts to stay informed of changing conditions. Safe sailing!

Essential Preparations, Safety

  1. Vessel Inspection: Ensure your boat is sea-worthy. Check the hull, rigging, engine, and all equipment. Have spare parts with you, most notable additional ropes, v-belts for the generators and engines, tools, screws - all those things which can make a difference between a relaxing or stressful passage.
  2. Stock Up: You'll be at sea for a long time. Stock up on non-perishable foods, water, diesel, medicines, and other essential supplies. 
  3. Setup a NAS: Yes, this sounds old-school in times of Netflix and co. - but there's no way to stream during a passage. Maybe Starlink might be an option, we haven't tested yet. We use a Synology NAS with a media server stack, we copy all of our DVD and CD's to have some entertainment during the weeks. Yes, we buy DVD and CD's, just to have some with us. 
  4. Route Planning: Always have an updated maritime chart and plan your route. Tools like GPS and radar are essential, but having traditional navigation tools and knowing how to use them is crucial. It's always better to have nautical maps handy, and know how to work with them.
  5. Communication: Ensure you have a working radio system and consider investing in a satellite phone. We have always two satellite phones (rugged, IP65 cert) and / or IridiumGO!, Starlink Maritime is also a good choice.

An Atlantic crossing can take anywhere from 3 weeks to a month, depending on the weather, your vessel's capabilities, and the route taken. While the voyage is generally safe for well-prepared sailors, the sheer duration of the trip means you must be prepared for any eventualities. Regular vessel checks, maintaining constant communication, and keeping an eye on weather updates will ensure a safer journey.


The Atlantic passage remains one of the most sought-after journeys for sailors. While it's an adventure of a lifetime, adequate preparation and knowledge are paramount. Remember, the ocean, with all its grandeur, deserves respect. Equip yourself with the right tools, knowledge, and mindset, and the Atlantic will reward you with memories to last a lifetime. Safe sailing!