Transatlantic crossing

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Transatlantic crossings are passages of passengers and cargo across the Atlantic Ocean between Europe or Africa and the Americas. The majority of passenger traffic is across the North Atlantic between Western Europe and North America. Centuries after the dwindling of sporadic Viking trade with Markland, a regular and lasting transatlantic trade route was established in 1566 with the Spanish West Indies fleets, following the Voyages of Christopher Columbus.

By sea[edit]

Prior to the 19th century, transatlantic crossings were undertaken in sailing ships, and the journeys were time-consuming and often perilous. The first trade route across the Atlantic was inaugurated by Spain a few decades after the European Discovery of the Americas, with the establishment of the West Indies fleets in 1566, a convoy system that regularly linked its territories in the Americas with Spain for over two centuries. Portugal created a similar maritime route between its ports in Brazil and the Portuguese mainland. Other colonial powers followed, such as Britain, France and the Netherlands, as they colonized the New World.

Transatlantic crossings became faster, safer, and more reliable with the advent of steamships in the 19th century. Grand ocean liners began making regularly scheduled crossings, and soon it became a symbol of national and company status to build the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ocean liner for transatlantic crossings. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy built the most famous ocean liners. Examples of some famous transatlantic liners are RMS Lusitania, RMS Mauretania, RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic, SS Île de France, SS Rex, SS Normandie, RMS Queen Mary, SS America, RMS Queen Elizabeth, SS United States, SS France, Queen Elizabeth 2, and RMS Queen Mary 2.

The Blue Riband is awarded for the record fastest crossing by transatlantic liner. The Blue Riband records date back to the 19th century but in 1935 to encourage innovation in passenger transport and formalise Blue Riband arrangements, Harold Hales, British Member of Parliament for Hanley, commissioned and donated a four foot high, solid silver trophy, known as the Hales Trophy. The current holder of the Hales Trophy is the commercial passenger ship that holds the current eastbound record which was set by CatLinkV in July 1998 crossing at an average speed of 41.284 knots (76.5 km/hr) over 2 days 20 hours and 9 minutes, breaking the record of two other ships also built at the Incat Tasmania shipyard. The High Speed catamaran Catalonia broke the record in June 1998 but only held it for a month before CatLinkV's challenge. In June 1990 Hoverspeed Great Britain, built in Tasmania, crossed from Ambrose Light at New York to Bishop Rock Southampton UK breaking a record that had been held for 38 years set by the American ocean liner United States in July 1952: the ship made the crossing in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes. ' CatLinkV still holds the Hales Trophy, although some continue to claim that the SS United States still holds the record, that is not correct. the Hales Trophy is awarded to "The ship that for the time being, has crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the highest average speed" It is important to note that the conditions specified by the Hales Trust are not for reaching the highest speed, it is for a commercial passenger ship (so not just a speedboat) on an unrefuelled voyage, so the speed needs to be average speed over the entire crossing (slower at the beginning with a full fuel load and faster at the finish).

Guinness Book of World Records has awarded world records to various classes such as luxury liners, sail boats, and rowing boats. Because of the shape of the continents and the assistance (or resistance) of ocean currents, the Eastbound crossing is quicker than the Westbound crossing.

During World War II the transatlantic crossing was very important for the United Kingdom as much of Europe had been taken over by Germany and its allies preventing trade and supplies; the struggle is known as the Battle of the Atlantic.


In the physical space between a rhumb line and the "elevated pole" lies an alternate curve that has the same length in miles as the rhumb line. It is the Composite Specular Track also commonly called Traccia Composita Speculare. The latter, conceived and experimented by the Senior Captain Raffaele Minotauro, with respect to rhumb line and great circle track[disambiguation needed] (with which it has the starting point and the arrival point in common, for the value of the latitudes of its points) turns out to be the most close to the "elevated pole".

Crossings in small vessels[edit]


The late Tom Gentry set nearly every powerboat speed record in existence. His passion to win power boating's most coveted honor, the Blue Riband for the fastest passage across the Atlantic, drove him to design and build the 112', 11,500 horsepower Gentry Eagle. In 1989, he and a crew of five including his son, Norman Gentry, shattered the transatlantic crossing record and brought the honor back to the United States. Gentry took the Blue Riband away from the British airline and music tycoon Richard Branson. His record setting time of 62 hours & 7 minutes bested Sir Richard Branson's record by 23%.[citation needed]


In 1952, Alain Bombard crossed the Atlantic from East to West, journeying 113 days in a Zodiac, L'Hérétique.[1]


In 1956, Henri Beaudout crossed the Atlantic from West to East, from Halifax to Falmouth, on a raft of wood and rope, L’Égaré II, in 88 days.[2]

In 1970, Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in Ra II, a papyrus raft built to an Ancient Egyptian design. This voyage followed an unsuccessful attempt the previous year in his first raft, Ra I.[3]

In 1988, the junk raft, Son of Town Hall, crossed the North Atlantic Ocean.[4]

In 2011, Anthony Smith and the Antiki crossed the Atlantic.[5]

Rowing and paddling[edit]

On 13 June 2003, the French rower Maud Fontenoy started an eastward crossing of the Atlantic from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. She reached A Coruña in Spain on 10 October, becoming the first woman to accomplish this feat.[6]

In 2005, the Vivaldi Atlantic 4 broke the previous rowing record of 55 days and setting a new record of 39 days.[7]

On 26 October 2010, the Polish sexagenarian Aleksander Doba was the first recorded individual to complete a non-stop transatlantic crossing by kayak. He departed Dakar, Senegal and arrived in Brazil 99 days later.[8]

Transatlantic rowing races[edit]

In 1997, the first East–West Atlantic Rowing Race took place, running from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. It now runs once every two years or so.[citation needed]

In 2006, the first West–East North Atlantic Rowing Race took place, running from New York City to Falmouth, Cornwall in the UK.[citation needed]

Banque Populaire V, current record holder

In 1866, the 26-foot (7.9 m) lifeboat Red, White and Blue sailed from New York City to Margate, England, in 38 days.[9] In 1870 and 1871, The 20-ft yawl City of Ragusa sailed from Queenstown, Ireland, to New York and back, crewed by two men (and a dog) each way.[10] During the second half of the 19th century, more and more leisurely Atlantic crossings started to take place, especially with larger and more luxurious sailing yachts. Over the last century sailing has become more popular, and more accessible. What used to be an imposingly vast ocean has turned into an increasingly popular passage for ocean adventure travellers. With modern well-equipped boats, it has become a safer and more feasible undertaking than it was back in the day. Hundreds of sailing yachts make the Atlantic Ocean crossing each year. Most boats travel the North Atlantic starting from Europe to the Caribbean or South America. Some boats make the passage from Africa to the other side. From the Americas, boats mostly go to Europe. Several different routes exist. The most popular route is the North Atlantic circle, driven by the season and trade winds: the Southern route goes from east to west and the Northern route from west to east. A small but increasing number of yachts also make a high latitude voyage like the North West passage or cross the South Atlantic from Africa to Brazil [11]

Transatlantic flights[edit]

Transatlantic flight surpassed ocean liners as the predominant mode of crossing the Atlantic in the mid 20th century. In 1919, the American NC-4 became the first airplane to cross the Atlantic (but in multiple stages). Later that year, a British Vickers Vimy piloted by Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. Also in 1919, the British were the first to cross the Atlantic in an airship when the R34 captained by Major George Herbert Scott of the Royal Air Force with his crew and passengers flew from East Fortune, Scotland to Mineola, Long Island, covering a distance of about 3,000 statute miles (4,800 km) in about four and a half days; he then made a return trip to England, thus also completing the first double crossing of the Atlantic (east–west–east). The first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic was made by the Portuguese naval aviators Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral in 1922. Coutinho and Cabral flew from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in stages, using three different Fairey III biplanes, and they covered a distance of 8,383 kilometres (5,209 mi) between 30 March and 17 June. The first night-time crossing of the Atlantic was accomplished during 16–17 April 1927 by the Portuguese aviators Sarmento de Beires, Jorge de Castilho and Manuel Gouveia, flying from the Bijagós Archipelago, Portuguese Guinea, to Fernando de Noronha, Brazil in the Argos, a Dornier Wal flying boat. In May 1927, Charles Lindbergh made the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight in an airplane (between New York City and Paris). The second solo piloting, and the first to carry a passenger, was Clarence Duncan Chamberlin on 6 June 1927. Edward R. Armstrong proposed a string of anchored "seadromes" to refuel planes in a crossing.

The first serious attempt to take a share of the transatlantic passenger market away from the ocean liners was undertaken by Germany. In the 1930s, Germany crossed the Atlantic with Zeppelins that could carry about 60 passengers in a similar luxurious style to the ocean liners. However, the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 put an end to transatlantic Zeppelin flights.

On 1 June 1944, two K-class blimps from Blimp Squadron ZP-14 of the United States Navy (USN) completed the first transatlantic crossing by non-rigid airships. The two K-ships (K-123 and K-130) left South Weymouth, MA on 28 May 1944 and flew approximately 16 hours to Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland. From Argentia, the blimps flew approximately 22 hours to Lajes Field on Terceira Island in the Azores. The final leg of the first transatlantic crossing was about a 20-hour flight from the Azores to Craw Field in Port Lyautey (Kenitra), French Morocco.[12][13]

Beginning in the 1950s, the predominance of ocean liners began to wane when larger, jet-powered airplanes began carrying passengers across the ocean in less and less time. The speed of crossing the ocean therefore became more important than the style of crossing it. The maturing passenger Jet Age starting with the Boeing 707 reduced the typical crossing time between London and New York City to between 6.5 and 8 hours, depending on weather conditions. By the 1970s, supersonic Concorde airplanes could connect the two cities in less than 4 hours, and only one ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth 2 remained on the transatlantic route for those who favored the slower style of travel.

The economics of commercial transatlantic flying have evolved markedly since the 1950s; the introduction of widebody airliners (such as the Boeing 747 and Douglas DC-10) in the early 1970s made affordable transatlantic travel to the masses a reality. Since the 1990s, the high reliability of modern jet engines has meant that twin engine jet aircraft such as the Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 have largely taken over on transatlantic routes from quad-engine jets, whilst the supersonic Concorde was ultimately doomed by its high running costs, leading to its retirement in 2003. Since the late 1990s, single aisle, narrow body jet airliners (starting with the Boeing 757, and more recently the latest versions of both the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320) have been used for transatlantic service, meaning that city pairs between major North American hubs and secondary European cities can now be connected directly without the need for larger widebody jets, which were uneconomic on routes with lower passenger demand.

Transatlantic cables[edit]

Transatlantic cables are cables that have been laid along the ocean floor to connect North America and Europe. Before the advent of radio, the only means of communication across the Atlantic Ocean was to physically connect the continents with a transatlantic telegraph cable, the first of which was installed from Valentia, Ireland to Heart's Content, Newfoundland in 1858. The first transatlantic telephone cable, TAT-1, was installed in 1955. The first transatlantic fiber optic cable, TAT-8, was installed in 1988. The exchange rate between the United States dollar and British pound is still colloquially known as "cable" by financial marketeers, from the early use of the transatlantic cable for this purpose.

Transatlantic radio[edit]

Transatlantic radio communication was first accomplished on 12 December 1901 by Guglielmo Marconi who, using a temporary receiving station at Signal Hill, Newfoundland, received a Morse code signal representing the letter "S" sent from Poldhu, in Cornwall, United Kingdom.[14] Guglielmo Marconi initiated commercial transatlantic radio communications between his high power long wave wireless telegraphy stations in Clifden Ireland and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on 17 October 1907.

Amateur radio operators are usually credited with the discovery of transatlantic radio communication in the shortwave bands. The first successful transatlantic tests were conducted by radio amateurs in December 1921 operating in the 200 meter medium-wave band, the shortest wavelength then available to amateurs. In 1922 hundreds of North American amateurs were heard in Europe at 200 meters and at least 20 North American amateurs heard amateur signals from Europe. The first two way transatlantic shortwave radio contacts were completed by radio amateurs in November 1923, on 110 meters.

Marconi initiated the first commercial shortwave transatlantic radio communication between the UK to Canada using his Beam Wireless Service which went into commercial operation on 25 October 1926. Shortwave radio vastly increased the speed and capacity of transatlantic communications at dramatically reduced cost compared to telegraph cable and long wave radio.

Telstar was the first communications satellite to provide commercial transatlantic communications. It was launched by on 10 July 1962, the first privately sponsored space launch. Communications satellites vastly increased the speed and quality of transatlantic communication, but transatlantic fiber optic cables have carried the vast majority of transatlantic communications traffic since the early 1990s.

Transatlantic tunnel[edit]

A Transatlantic Tunnel is a theoretical structure proposed several times since the late 19th century. It would be a tunnel that spans the Atlantic Ocean between New York City and the United Kingdom or France.

Duration of Transatlantic Crossings[edit]

The introduction of various technologies facilitated progressively faster Transatlantic crossings. The duration to travel westbound from Europe to North America when a new transport innovation was introduced for commercial use is listed below:

1620: 66 days: fluyt Mayflower (Southampton to Cape Cod)
1838: 18 days 4 hour: paddle steamer HMS Sirius (Cork to New York City)
1863: 8 days 3 hours: single screw steamship HMS Scotia (Queenstown to New York City)
1889: 5 days 19 hours: double screw steamship SS City of Paris (Queenstown to Sandy Hook)
1907: 4 days 20 hours: steam turbine-equipped steamship: RMS Lusitania (Queenstown to Sandy Hook)
1929: 4 days 3 hours: bulbous bow-equipped steamship: SS Bremen (Cherbourg to Ambrose Light)
1936: 4 days: Yarrow boiler-equipped steamship: RMS Queen Mary (Bishop Rock to Ambrose Light)
1936: 2 days 5 hours: airship LZ 129 Hindenburg (Frankfurt to Lakehurst)
1939: 1 day 3 hours: flying boat Pan Am Boeing 314 Clipper Yankee Clipper (Southampton to Port Washington via Foynes, Botwood and Shediac)
1945: 14 hours: landplane American Overseas Airlines Douglas DC-4 (London to New York City via Gander)
1958: 10 hours 20 minutes: jet aircraft BOAC de Havilland Comet (London to New York City via Gander)
1976: 3 hours 30 minutes: supersonic aircraft British Airways Concorde (London to Washington, D.C.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bombard, Alain (1953). The Voyage of the Heretique. Simon and Schuster.
  2. ^ Wadden, Marie (3 August 2012). "Three Canadians, two kittens, one raft: A little-known journey across the Atlantic". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
  3. ^ Heyerdahl, Thor (1972). The Ra Expeditions. ISBN 0-14-003462-5.
  4. ^ "Son of Town Hall, First Raft made of Scrap to Cross the North Atlantic Ocean". The Floating Neutrinos. 30 May 2006. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  5. ^ Weil, Martin (26 July 2014). "Anthony Smith, adventurer who crossed the Atlantic by raft in his 80s, dies at 88". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  6. ^ "Ses-traversees-et-son-tour-du-monde". Fontenroy Foundation.
  7. ^ "Rowing the Atlantic". BBC. 25 September 2006. Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  8. ^ "64-Year-Old Kayaker Completes Trans-Atlantic Voyage". Wired. 10 February 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2012.
  9. ^ "Nautical archive, ship horn of the Red White & Blue". Live Auctioneers. 13 July 2019. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  10. ^ "The City of Ragusa". Cork Constitution. British Newspaper Archive. 30 June 1871. p. 2 col.6. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  11. ^ "Ocean Nomad: The Atlantic Sailing Crew Guide". Oceanpreneur.
  12. ^ Kline, R. C. and Kubarych, S. J., Blimpron 14 Overseas, 1944, Naval Historical Center, Navy Yard, Washington, D. C.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Milestones:Transmission of Transatlantic Radio Signals, 1901". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 29 July 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fowler Jr., William M. Steam Titans: Cunard, Collins, and the Epic Battle for Commerce on the North Atlantic (London: Bloomsbury), 2017. 358 pp

External links[edit]