Choosing the Right Cruising Yacht for your Transatlantic Circuit
By Peter Hirst, Carioca II (HR 44)

 19 December 2023

Long-distance ocean sailing and cruising has been a ‘bucket list’ dream of mine.  Recently, the opportunity came about to undertake a circuit of the North Atlantic from Lymington to Grenada including the 2022 ARC and back via the BVIs, Bermuda and the Azores.  It lived up to all expectations. 

I wrote a blog of my preparations and the journey to Grenada, which can be found at

Sue and I had previously owned a Moody 45 DS, Carioca, for 10 years.  We sailed her extensively in the south and west coast of the UK, the Channel Isles and northern France.  She was a wonderful seagoing vessel.  Her lack of range was entirely down to our limited time to sail and, due to pressure of work, we sold her in the summer of 2019.  We both shed a tear when we left her for the last time.

With the arrival of the pandemic, like many, I decided there was more to life than flogging myself to an early grave and decided to retire.  I did think long and hard about it and what I would do with my newfound time.  My friend and I had talked about how interesting it would be to find an old boat and refit it.  So in January 2020 I bought a seriously dilapidated Hardy 42 motor cruiser.  They look like a little ship, have wonderful lines and are often purchased by sailors moving to the dark side.  We renamed her Dreamer and worked on her full time for 6 months during the second lockdown, refurbishing the engines, rewiring, replumbing new Corian heads, upholstery, carpets, lighting and fitting new nav systems.  She was, if I say so myself, beautiful.  BUT, after a summer cruising, I was acutely aware that she would not get me across the Atlantic, so we sold her, and searched for a sailboat.

Hal Roth wrote a very readable book, “How to sail around the world”.  For every aspect of the endeavour, there are very practical tips.  Everything is presented ‘black or white’ leaving the reader in no doubt as to his opinion on the best solution.  His advice on choice of boat was simple: the length should be between 38ft and 45ft.  Any shorter and the extra weight associated with a live-aboard would make the boat float too low in the water compared to what the designer intended.  Any longer and you would be ‘at the wrong end of the bay’, drawing too much, mixing with the larger boats with professional skippers and missing out on the interaction with more like-minded sailors, which is such an integral part of the adventure. His book dates from the 1990s and, today, some will extend the upper length.  On a recent gulet holiday in Turkey, there was no doubt that the average size of the yachts had increased to 55ft.  But I took on-board the advice as to size as a key part of the selection criteria.  The other factor is availability of marina berths in the UK.  Anything over 50ft and it is difficult to find a berth.

There is an endless list of possible selection criteria for a boat; material for the hull, mono or multi hull, is a skeg rudder essential, size of tanks and most importantly – cost.  The budget was set in part by the sale proceeds of Dreamer, which sold in a matter of weeks, with a bidding war taking place!  The boat market in 2022 was slightly surreal, with brokers complaining of lack of stock and new build dates being pushed back to 2024/5.  It took us four months full time searching to find and purchase our new boat.  Our initial budget was unrealistic and the boats we were looking at would not have been up to the task.  Nor did we have the time to invest to allow a ‘budget solution’ and repeat the refit exercise.


So how did we choose the HR44 - Carioca II?

1. We wanted a ‘top end’ brand.  Hallberg-Rassy has heritage and builds boats ‘properly’.

2. We wanted a boat that was both comfortable and sailed well.  Carioca II is a German Frers design (they have designed many top end boats).  She is one of the fastest HR boats ever built.  It is a fact that a microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, fridge and freezer make living aboard a much more pleasurable experience and Carioca II has all of them!

3. Carioca II had belonged to a highly experienced owner.  The boat was ‘sorted’ and nearly everything worked.  It had been so lightly used that those issues we experienced were derived from lack of use, not overuse.  The boat had sailed from Sweden to the Hamble, up to Scotland and back.

4. Our budget did not stretch to a new top end boat.  Carioca II, four years old, with plenty of options and kit (eg, code 0 sail, generator and top of the range electronics) cost about the same as a new production boat of 55ft.  We thought that was a good deal.

5. The HR has a lot of volume and some of this was used for big tanks.  Carioca II can hold nearly 650L water and 450L diesel.  This is 2-3 times a production boat of the same size.


Carioca II was well set up and after some repairs, everything worked.  But this was for cruising in northern Europe, primarily using marinas for overnight stays.  Now we wanted to use her as a home for long term excursions going to much warmer climates, wanting to live ‘off-grid’ and sail across oceans.  This added new requirements.  So I set about an upgrade programme as soon as I purchased Carioca II.  I had five months before I planned to depart the UK.

Being a centre cockpit boat, to provide maximum safety in ocean passages (it’s very difficult to get washed off!) means that protection from rain (and hopefully sun!) is limited and so we needed a better cockpit shelter.  Mike and Pete at Ocean Marine did a lovely job.

Carioca II came with an inflatable dinghy and electric outboard motor.  When in the Mediterranean or Caribbean, the boat tender is equivalent to using your car at home.  It needs to be ready (not needing pumping up) and available, ie easily deployed and robust, so it can be bashed about dockside and pulled up a beach.  It is vital when at anchor.  The davits are the most convenient way to transport a dinghy.  I bought some second hand off Facebook!  I had Lordy at Flux fabrications make the boxes that connected them to the boat and help with the reinforcement of the transom.  The davits looked lovely and shiny – now all I needed was a dinghy to go on them!

So we bought a Highfield 2.9m ultralight tender.  It has an aluminium hull, one of the lightest but most robust hulls, allowing it to be dragged up over rocks and pebbles, but hopefully more often white sugary sand!  Unfortunately, the davits were too long, so I needed to reroute the cable to the middle – a piece of fine engineering beyond me.

Surprisingly Carioca II didn’t have very many 12V charging sockets around about the boat, nor LED lighting in the aft cabin.  So I remedied that.  I also added new HiFi speakers in the aft cabin and a further 240V socket in the galley for the new toaster that Sue bought (as it matches the galley!).

Power is always in short supply when not in a marina and connected to the mains.  Various systems are adopted by sailors to compensate for loss of power.  Historically the main system was a wind generator, but recent improvements in photovoltaic technology means that solar is becoming the go-to system to replenish power offshore.  I do have a very powerful alternator on the main engine and a second less powerful, and a really good generator, which top up the batteries quite quickly but obviously call on diesel to run, which on long passages may be needed for propulsion if we become becalmed.

So I set about fixing arches to the davits and solar panels on top.  I now have the capacity to produce 600W in good sun, which will make us nearly self-sufficient in power, if the sun shines!


The HR 44 is designed to store a liferaft under the cockpit sole teak grating.  Not only is it very difficult to raise the grating, it requires superhuman strength to lift a 6 man liferaft up out of the cockpit, over the coaming and onto the deck.  So Lordy helped fabricate and fit a liferaft cage to the pushpit, a frame at the base of the mast to protect the whisker pole, a crane for hoisting the outboard engine and a new flag holder as the old one was obscured by the davits.

Whilst Carioca can hold nearly 650L water, that is a limiting factor on washing and showering on long offshore passages and restricts the ability to stay indefinitely at anchor.  So we decided to install a Spectra Newport 400 Watermaker.  This is the most energy-efficient, automated, and easy-to-use watermaker available, producing 64L an hour.  It operates on as little as 4W per litre, making it possible to run the system on our generator and on bright days, the solar system.

Time to leave

We departed Lymington on 25 July 2022 for Plymouth, to limit the risk of being stuck with some westerlies in the channel and because preparations had stalled.  The watermaker was installed (mostly) but not commissioned by the suppliers in Plymouth.  Solar panels had been ordered, but were stuck in a Brexit customs spiral, the tender not yet sourced, so not only were we stressed by sailing against the clock, but by concerns that the departure from the UK would be delayed, with all the knock-on consequences for marinas and crew.

Then Plymouth – and off!

By 20 August, by the skin of our teeth, all of the planned works had been completed.  Our watermaker had been commissioned the day before, so not tested in anger.  We were badly let down by the supplier and installer, who provided no after sales assistance whatsoever.  Anyone who wants the name of the Plymouth supplier let me know!

The route

We set sail for Brest.  The first time for me when sailing to France that we had to locate customs and immigration to check in.  A sadness that I’m not sure I will ever get over!

We then proceeded down the west coast as far as La Rochelle, along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts to Porto and over to Madeira and the Canary Islands.  There are detailed descriptions in the blog.  It’s so hard to say which was the highlight.  The whole journey to the Canaries was wonderful.  Evenings ashore with fine food and friends.  Some nice offshore passages to test the crew and Carioca II.

The ARC 2022 is deserving of its own article, and indeed the blog contains some of our journey.  Suffice to say it was an amazing experience and one that has done nothing to dim my love of ocean sailing.


As we motored past Barbados, with less than 40 nm of the crossing left and looking to arrive at lunch on day 21, I spent the day reflecting on the journey so far.  Sailing any ocean demands a healthy respect and none more so than the Atlantic Ocean.  The Atlantic’s affectionate name of “The Pond”, although endearing, does nothing to convey its sheer scale.  For those choosing to cross it in a small sailing boat, it is formidable and daunting and not to be undertaken lightly.

Modern technology has allowed an Atlantic crossing to become both safer and more attainable.  However, as we found out on a number of occasions, these developments bring with them additional complexity in equipment and systems, and with this comes an even greater need to prepare the boat and crew thoroughly and comprehensively.

Whilst I had the great fortune to crew in the 2012 ARC, it is fair to say that I did not appreciate the sheer amount of work necessary to ready a boat to undertake a passage from the UK to the Caribbean, and then contemplate its return.  That ocean passage did nothing to sate my desire to undertake the passage skippering my own boat.  Reading, as I do avidly, texts of famous sailors who have undertaken this passage, often as a presage to a circumnavigation, has given me greater respect for those who did it singlehanded, and in the case of Sir Robin Knox Johnson non-stop around the world without watermakers or generators!

So against that background, I have asked myself whether I was in some way cheating by joining the 2022 ARC and travelling in the vicinity, if not with, others. I kept returning to the enormous benefits of a loose convoy across the Atlantic.  Perhaps without the deadline of the 2022 ARC, I may have not succeeded in readying Carioca II.  So for that reason alone joining the ARC was worthwhile.  Prevaricating is always an option and, as my experience shows, one just has to depart, no matter the state of readiness.  Solar panels being fitted in Plymouth three days before departure springs to mind.  But the other benefit of the ARC is safety in numbers.  The intrepid Christopher Columbus, it should be recalled, sailed in convoy on his first transatlantic, so we are in good company.  I’m sure many of you will recall the sheer heroics of Pete Goss who broke off racing in the 1996 Vendée Globe non-stop round the world race to turn back and rescue a fellow competitor, Raphael Dinelli, whose boat had been overwhelmed in atrocious weather.  It is hard to see how Dinelli would have survived had it not been for Goss sailing for 160nm over two days, against the wind, and being knocked down a number of times.  That display of community amongst sailors epitomizes the spirit of the ARC and is why we sailed with them.  We saw that in abundance this year with boats going to the rescue of the dismasted Take Off and the radio discussions we overheard of boats helping one another with technical issues.

As we approached our destination and looked for our first glimpse of St Lucia, it felt like it would be a moment of joy, tinged with sadness.  This journey has been so many years in the making – the dreaming, the planning, the sharing with friends and family, and now my first skippered crossing was nearing its end.  No more endless rolling ocean, no more scooting along under the star filled skies, like a runaway roller coaster following the path laid out by the moon, no routine of waking from the night watch to breakfast on the gin and tonic seats, and lazy days reading.


For me I was enchanted by the French cruising grounds: Concarneau, Belle Île and the Glénan Islands.  Porto Santo near Maderia was very special, as was our time in Porto.  The sheer majesty of the Atlantic has to be the highlight though.


None – any issues we encountered were all learning experiences, for which I will forever be grateful.

It’s just the return journey now!




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