In November of 2022, I joined the crew of the Lagoon 42 catamaran Games Maker II during the westbound Atlantic crossing from Gran Canaria to St Lucia. The boat was part of the 2022 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).
The crew included the British boat owners couple Tony and Lel and their old friend Joz from Australia. Tony is an RYA Yachtmaster offshore with significant experience, including a previous Atlantic crossing. He grew up as a monohull sailor and previously owned an Amel. Lel and Joz were also experienced, both at the RYA day skipper level. So we had all the ingredients for a safe and hopefully fast passage.
My role was to serve primarily as the navigator and to provide advice on sailing tactics. I’m an avid racer so Tony was hoping I could bring some racing tactics to the mix to make us competitive. Although we were not in the racing division (the L42 is not a racing boat), we wanted to sail as fast as possible with the goal of keeping up with the much larger catamarans in our division. Specifically, we were part of the Multihull B division that included production non-performance cats under 50 ft. Most cats in the division were in the 45-46 foot range. We were the third smallest cat in the fleet, only larger than a single Lagoon 380 and a couple of Nautitech Open 40s. The Multihull B fleet was dominated by Lagoon 450s and 46s.
In the end, we did fairly well. Despite the unusual passage described below, we finished 2nd in Multihull B and 8th in all multi-hulls.
An Unusual Passage
The westbound Atlantic crossing between the Canary Islands and the Caribbean is one of the most reliable trade wind ocean passages in the world. The trade winds blow at 15-20 knots from the east consistently and boats expect to sail fast towards the Caribbean with strong down winds and following seas.
Yet, Neptune had different plans for 2022. The first two weeks were as expected, with strong winds and fast sailing. However, a low-pressure system soon began to form in the mid-Atlantic. By day 12 the system evolved into Tropical Storm #22. Although the storm was far enough to our north to pose no threat, the counter-clockwise rotation of the TS winds clashed against the easterly trade winds reducing them to nothing.
Consequently, TS #22 turned the last week of this passage into a headwind bash. The low-pressure system stalled in the worst possible location creating westerly winds coming directly from our destination. For a full week, we experienced headwinds from 0 to 15 knots forcing us to motor sail close haul when the wind was strong, or to motor with no sails directly to the destination when the winds were light.
- Total Miles GPS: 2901
- Total Miles Over Ground: 3079
- Days at sea: 20
- Hours at sea: 490
- Average miles per day: 153
- Max miles per day: 185
- Average Speed Over Ground: 6.35 (7 knots during weeks 1-2 and 5 during week 3)
- Average VMG-Course: 5.45
We completed the passage in 20.4 days but quite unevenly, thanks to TS#22. We sailed 2000 miles during the first 12 days (~166 miles/day) but it took us eight more days to sail another 1000 miles (~125 miles/day).
Performance and Comfort
The L42 can be pushed to sail very fast, even in rough seas. During the first three days with very strong winds, we sailed at 8-9knots consistently and saw single digits often. On our fastest day, we covered 185 miles. That may not sound impressive compared to a 200m+/day 50ft performance boat. But this is not a performance boat. It’s a 42ft production cat!
The metrics for the first two weeks when we had wind were outstanding for a 42ft boat. We averaged 7knots. We experienced four days of over 170 miles and nine days of more than 160. In contrast, the performance suffered during the last week because of TS#22. We had extremely low winds most days, and the little wind we had was 100% on our nose. Combined with a need and desire to get to St Lucia (mostly my fault as I was the one with flights to catch), we had to motor sail quite a bit! So, our average during the 3rd week dropped to 5.1 knots, with most days sailing between 110 and 130 miles.
Sailing fast. While this boat can sail fast, as we experienced during the first two weeks, it is not a comfortable fast boat. It just lacks the rigidity and type of construction necessary for a gentle and quiet motion. And it is just too small to glide over fast cycling waves and chop. All of these factors combine to create a rough and loud ride when sailing in speeds above 8 knots in ocean seas, especially inside the hulls. This ride will quickly wear down any non-racing crew.
Sailing over 8 knots in rough seas feels like driving a Toyota Camry at 100 miles per hour in the Paris-Dakar rally.
But this should not be viewed as a criticism of the L42 (or the Toyota Camry). It is simply a design characteristic that owners and potential owners should accept, especially those, like me, who are performance oriented. It Is all about priorities. We could sell Blue Buddha and buy a performance catamaran, or we can keep the L42 and cruise for 10 more years with the price difference.
Sailing slow. Now, while this boat is not a comfortable fast boat, it is comfortable at moderate speeds. Downwind sailing at 7 knots, even with 3m seas felt as comfortable as any larger cat and can be maintained for days without wearing down the crew. When upwind, I found the sweet spot to be just at or below 6 knots. During one of my night shifts, while beating into 15 knots of wind close-hauled, we took down the code zero and brought out the jib. The boat speed dropped from 7.5 to 5.5 and the boat motion improved dramatically. That night was one of the most peaceful watches of the trip, even though we were going upwind. And I am pretty sure the crew got a good night sleep that night. So yes, the L42 can be a comfortable passage-making boat but not at high speeds unless it is modified significantly.
Noise. Without modifications, the L42 is unfortunately a very creaky and loud boat, especially in heavy seas. During the first couple of weeks, we experienced two simultaneous swells in slightly different directions that resulted in significant wave slamming under the hull. The lack of rigidity resulted in a very strong vibration pattern transmitted throughout the hull every time the waves slammed. It made me wonder if increasing the rigidity would improve the experience inside the hull during passage. In addition, as often reported, the furniture of the L42 is quite creaky and this noise is maximized as the boat twists in heavy seas. Some owners have successfully minimized the noise by identifying loose seams and putting shims. We will definitely dig deep into the furniture to address the creaking on Blue Buddha, but it is unfortunate that Lagoon did not address that from the start.
The helm. Without a doubt, the helm was the most comfortable and quiet place on the boat. A couple of times, in heavy seas with significant slamming, I woke up in my cabin thinking that something was wrong. I would then go upstairs to check with the person at the helm, only to realize the helm was quiet and comfortable. The person at the helm was smiling and oblivious to the chaos happening below. Over time, most of the crew began sleeping in the saloon whenever possible, as it was significantly quieter and more comfortable than sleeping in the hulls.
This made me realize that our plans to make modifications to the saloon must preserve the ability to turn the saloon into a bed as it is the ideal sleeping location during passages.
We used two primary sources for navigation and routing. First, Tony hired a UK-based weather router who was in daily communication with us. In addition, we used Predict Wind Pro and I employed a fairly standard passage-making approach. Specifically, I downloaded the grib files and routing information for all weather models twice per day. I compared the suggested routes against real conditions (wind and boat performance) and against the UK weather router’s recommendations and made suggestions about our course accordingly.
Given our results, I would say this approach worked pretty well. The only exception was during the third week when the winds had turned to westerlies and we could not make progress directly to St Lucia without beating into waves. Predict Wind suggested we head north for 24 hours and then south as the wind was expected to veer north so we could sail south towards St Lucia with the wind on our back.
The problem was that the wind took a day longer than expected to veer so we got stuck north and had to close haul south. We essentially sailed 150 unnecessary miles and wasted more than a day doing what would be known in the fleet as the “North Pole Detour” or the “Polar Circuit”. As you can see below, we were not the only ones that got stuck on this polar detour. Those boats that ignored that recommendation and continued directly to St Lucia were rewarded.
And for the record, I give credit to Tony who suggested we should avoid the northern route and motor directly to St Lucia. He unfortunately listened to me instead of following his instincts!
The importance of good polars. A critical limitation of our navigation approach is that we did not have really accurate polars for this specific boat. The quality of the Predict Wind routes depends significantly on the accuracy of the boat polars. Predict Wind has some default polars for the L42 but those polars are extremely aggressive and non-realistic for a passage-making boat. Those were likely created on an empty boat with a racing sail plan. I did not use those polars and instead used Blue Buddha’s modified polars. Although my polars were more accurate than the Predict Wind L42 defaults, my polars were based on a different sail plan than the one we had and thus, the polars often overestimated our speeds and angles. I could not emphasize enough how important is to create your own polars based on your own sail plan and sailing style so that the Predict Wind routing models are as accurate as possible.
Here are the polars we used, which worked most of the time.
Games Maker II had a fairly standard set of head sails that included a very flat code zero and a cruising asymmetric spinnaker. This spinnaker was relatively small (120sqm) and strong (2.4oz), which allowed us to fly it in up to 20knots of AWS. However, we were hesitant to fly the spinnaker at night, given our small crew and relatively short time sailing as a team. So we were limited to flying white sails at night or using the furling code zero, which worked relatively well, but it was not as fast as the spinnaker.
Changing our sail plan. My experience with this sail plan during the passage made me reconsider the sail plan we discussed with UK Sailmakers. Specifically, I realized that relying primarily on sock-based spinnakers for downwind sailing when short-handed is not ideal, as it means having to fly only white sails at night or when many squalls are expected. This is especially true in the case of Blue Buddha since we will be sailing the boat two-handed in most overnight passages. I also realized that in moderate winds (15-20), I would not like to be flying a sock-based spinnaker when it is just the two of us as it is unnecessarily risky.
So when I returned home I sent an email to our sailmaker to make a major change to our sail plan order. We will still plan to have a large A2 in a sock for very light winds. However, we eliminated the A3 and S4. Instead, we will get a furling cruising gennaker that can sail in 90-170AWA. This will be a game changer during passages as it will allow us to fly the gennaker at night, even when it is just the two of us. If the wind increases or a squall approaches, we could simply furl it and deploy the jib. And once the squall is gone, we can redeploy the gennaker in seconds. I will be writing an update to our sail plan article soon.
A code zero issue. When we were on a beam or upwind we used a relatively large code zero (80sqm). The performance of this code zero was amazing but with a major caveat. The L42 can point well in strong winds with the jib. It can also point well in very light winds with the code zero. But there is a problem in moderate winds (12-17 knots). In such winds, the jib does not provide enough power so you need a different sail. However, the code zero’s power becomes an impediment to pointing. The problem is that this code zero max safe speed was 18knots AWS and it would start collapsing at 50AWA. When the wind was 13+ knots, the code zero resulted in a rapid acceleration and got the boat to sail at 7-8knots. This may sound ideal, except that this acceleration created two major problems: 1) it made the boat reach the 18+ of AWS quickly and 2) it moved the apparent wind forward significantly so were pushing 50AWA when the TWA was barely below 90! The response to the high AWS was to bear away, which slows the boat, but the TWA did not improve much below 90, so you are essentially not going upwind at all. The only solution I can think of for this issue is to have a code zero that you can reef in 13 knots and fly it inside the stanchions/shrouds so that you can point higher (~45AWA) while keeping the boat speed below 8. Otherwise, you would have to fly the jib when going upwind in 15 knots. It will be slow but at least you will be going upwind.
Issues and Broken Systems.
All boats, regardless of how “blue water capable” they are, will have things break during an ocean passage. Several boats broke major components. One broke its boom and another was fully de-masted with over 1000 miles to go. Many boats destroyed their spinnakers and chaffed through major lines.
We were very lucky in that we broke almost nothing. The full list of issues is short and relatively minor:
- During the first week, the starter motor of the generator stopped working and Tony simply hotwired the starter and we were able to use the generator as needed without issues.
- We blew the main halyard block at the base of the mast after I forgot to release the mainsheet when raising the mainsail. Yes, I make stupid mistakes sometimes!
- The first and second reef lines began chaffing significantly but were still operating after 3000 miles.
- One of the mainsail batten carts kept coming loose and we had to secure it with a Dyneema line. This is a common problem. The original batten attachment is plastic and the female thread wears down so much that the bolt that connects the cart to the batten comes loose. We’ll make sure our next main sail comes with battens with metal threads.
That is all we broke. Pretty impressive for an Atlantic crossing.
In sum, this was an excellent, safe, and relatively fast passage with a great crew. I learned a lot about how the 42 behaves in a variety of conditions and about its suitability for our circumnavigation.
So is the Blue Buddha still the boat for our circumnavigation? Yes, but not without major changes to increase comfort, rigidity, and a new sail plan. In fact, here is a picture of a Toyota Camry ready for the Paris Dakar rally. It can be done :-).