What thoughts lead a person to attempt to climb Mount Everest or swim the English Channel? Motivation aside, the fact remains that some people simply cannot resist the challenges of nature," says Captain Mike Beach. "Inevitably, those challenges become entwined with the desire to test one’s own mental and physical fortitude – in fact, the personal determination and strength become part of the necessary equipment. So it is the case that people often decide to sail their boats across the Atlantic Ocean," he adds.
Unlike climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel, crossing the Atlantic Ocean was once an essential and often desperate undertaking. Elementary oceanographic understanding and unsound knowledge of what waited ahead filled these early trips with apprehension and mystery. In the 21st Century, the trans-Atlantic crossing no longer carries the mystique that it once did, but it still proves a significant accomplishment in most lives. In the summer of 2000, Mike accepted an invitation to skipper a 1999 Hunter 410, with its owner and a third crew member, from Miami to the Canarie Islands and back again in the fall. Mike planned a route from Miami to Bermuda, Bermuda to the Azores, the Azores to Gibraltar, Gibraltar to Madeira and finally to the Canaries. He would ride the Gulf Stream on the eastern crossing and then ride the trade winds from the Canaries into the Caribbean region. From there he would island hop back to Miami.
The vessel Sundancer was purchased by owner Ray Holiday from Florida Yacht Charters & Sales in Miami Beach, Florida. The electronics included a Raytheon RL70 Radar, a Raytheon 398 GPS, a Raytheon Autohelm 6000, depth, speed and anamometer. In order to accommodate Nobeltec 5.0 navigation software for a laptop PC, the instruments were switched from Sea Talk to NMEA data language. Through the laptop below and the radar on deck, it is possible to access all of the navigational data. "This proved a very clever design, making navigation easy from the helm or from below," Mike says.
During his experiences working in popular cruising grounds such as the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas, Mike likes the Hunter 410 for many reasons, but mostly for its comfortable cruising ability. "The draft is ideal, power consumption is good, water supply is ample, fuel supply is good, and plenty of room remains for additions," he comments. But he did wonder how the winged keel Hunter would perform as a blue water boat.
Two critical concerns were sailing downwind on the Seldon backstayless mast for long periods of time and installing the ICOM 710 single side band radio that Ray had purchased, anticipating its necessity for their journey. "Despite the lack of a backstay, which would normally act as a working antennae for the SSB, we were able to mount a standard 26-foot SSB antenna to the outside of the cockpit using the unique Hunter arch for support. This let the antennae hang aerodynamically from the stern at a 45-degree angle," Mike says. Additionally, as in the case of any SSB, he plated the bilges in continuous four inch copper strip. "Access to the bilges in the Hunter 410 and to all of the electronic and engine spaces proved excellent," commented Mike. Other equipment and system enhancements included a collapsible fifty-five gallon auxiliary fuel tank, a secondary bilge pump system, high water alarms, strong points for tethers, an EPIRB, a survival raft and various other safety devices.
Though their trip from Miami to Bermuda began in a squall, they were soon calmed under a clear blue sky. "The sea was like a lake, as there was hardly a breath of wind to be felt. With the Gulf Stream and the additional fuel Sundancer was able to carry, Bermuda was within motor range, but the wind finally came," Mike remembers.
Every day they used the SSB to speak to Herb (call sign Southbound II), who offers a weather service to assist yachts in the Atlantic region with navigation. "It would be hard to imagine making a crossing without the benefit of his services," says Mike. Both his installation of the SSB as well as his mounting of the antennae proved to be very successful, sturdy, and conveniently located.
In the end, Sundancer averaged approximately five and a half knots on the eastern crossing and nearly five knots on the western crossing. Fuel was easily conserved while powering the house batteries via the generator. "On the western crossing, we consumed a mere sixty gallons of diesel," remarks Mike.
The most trying conditions of the whole crossing were twenty to twenty-five foot seas with fifty knot winds. The gusts remained on and off for about three days, dropping to twenty to thirty knots in between. "At no time did I feel that Sundancer was overmatched or in danger. While the winged keel Hunter 410 may not be considered by some to be the optimum vessel for such a blue water trip, it performed marvelously on this occasion," says Mike. "In the hands of a competent skipper and crew, I would stand by their product as a very capable blue water cruiser," he adds.