September 30, 2023

Alex o'Loughlin

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Science Fair Project: How to Sail a Small Boat Across a Big Ocean

Is 3000 miles in the North Atlantic too much to contemplate in a vessel that goes only 5 miles an hour?

Working out the details and displaying them would be a super idea for a science fair project.

To start you need a boat. It could be an imaginary trip, so you can have any kind of boat that you want.

A small power boat, perhaps in the 40 foot size, only carries enough fuel to get you a few hundred miles. So now you are 400 or 500 miles offshore and run out of gas. What to do next? Do not take a power boat. Get yourself a sailboat. Just how big should it be. The space between the crests of the ocean waves dictates that you should have about 35 feet or more at the waterline, accordingly, you will need a vessel of 40 feet or more.

Get all this down for your science fair project. What kind of sailboat should you consider? It should be a cruising yacht and not one of those lightweight racers. It can be a sloop, a ketch, a schooner, a yawl or a cutter or any sail plan that you wish. A split rig like a cutter or a ketch is a good pick. It makes is easier for short handed sailing. A sloop for example has a big head sail or a genoa. This is more difficult for just two people to handle than a ketch or cutter which has two head sails. It is easier to handle the staysail and a yankee on a cutter than a big genoa on a sloop, especially during heavy weather. You want a good draft, perhaps five feet as a minimum. Six feet draft or even seven feet won’t hurt a bit. And you want a good heavy keel. If the boat is 40 feet there should be about seven tons of ballast in the keel.

You cannot just decide to sail across the Atlantic any time you wish. If you go before May you may have to deal with icebergs and North Atlantic storms. If you go after June you may have to deal with early season hurricanes. That does not leave much of a window of opportunity to take off for your big adventure. Best time to leave is early May considering that the trip will be about 30 days in a 40 foot boat, and get you in to Gibralter and out of harms way in early June. The right latitude is very important. You do not want to be too far north or too far south. All of you K-12 students who are going to do science fair projects about this Atlantic crossing, be sure to get all of these details for display and presentation. It can be as easy or as complicated as you wish depending on your grade level.

Now that we have decided to leave in early May, we must decide what our course should be. We want to stay in the lower latitudes to enjoy warmer weather. Let us decide to leave from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is a wonderful port for sailing vessels with so many boat suppliers and every spare part you may need.

You will have to learn a lot about provisioning because you will be eating for at least 4 weeks and you have a small frig and perhaps no freezer. This is an entire course in itself and we will not go into too much detail about how to provision a sailboat for an extended crossing. Perhaps it will be the subject of a future article.

We have now left from Fort Lauderdale and we are going to enter port in Bermuda. This leg of the trip will be about 1000 miles and averaging 100 miles a day, you can figure on ten days. Next leg will be Bermuda to the Azores, which are a group of islands that belong to Portugal. This leg is about 2000 miles. Next leg will be the Azores to Gibraltar. This leg will be about 900 miles. Of course, depending on sailing conditions and tacking, the trip could be much longer. Gibraltar is a British possession on the southeastern tip of Europe, and entry into the Mediterranean, and about 10 miles across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco. There are several options where to stay in Gibraltar which is a very interesting city famous for the Rock of Gibraltar.

All of these details should be laid out carefully and artistically in a display for your science fair project if that is what you wish to do. If you are really planning a trip across the Atlantic, you will need much more detail than that contained in this brief article. Smooth sailing.

For information and details and plans for over 400 more interesting science fair projects, go to