AWEN Maiden Voyage

AWEN Outremer 52 Maiden Voyage, by Holly & Stèphane

Join our transatlantic passage on our new Outremer 52 as virtual crew!

42 mins read
Foreword by Luca D’Ambrosio, Editor-in-Chief 

Holly and Stephane at the helmI had the pleasure of meeting Holly & Stephane at the last Cannes boat show, and they immediately impressed me with their great determination to follow their dream: to live aboard AWEN, their new Outremer 52 catamaran for circumnavigating the world.

Stephane is an experienced sailor, Holly is a natural communicator, but what struck me immediately is that they are both endowed with crazy energy. You only need to chat with them for 30 seconds to see it. Perhaps for this reason I immediately proposed to this exceptional couple to write their travel report on the pages of our magazine.

So this “open article” starts today, which Holly & Stephane will update as often as possible, thus creating a travel diary that will allow us to accompany them on their upcoming ocean crossing.

So join me in wishing Fair Wind to Holly, Stephane and the entire crew of AWEN, their beautiful Outremer 52.

December 18, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
All Together Interactive Passage: Demystifying passage making and making a transatlantic dream a (virtual) reality

Embarking on a transatlantic crossing is a feat that captures the essence of adventure and exploration, but it can be a daunting proposition for those who dream of cruising and circumnavigating. There are many cruising couples doing this kind of extended passage for the first time, us being one of them. But the idea of covering thousands of nautical miles over blue water isn’t the main proposition when you are considering moving to the cruising lifestyle and can often hold people back from making that transition from coastal or island hopping to passage making.

Our journey began in 2018 as we transitioned from land to liveaboard life. With our four children slowly migrating to adulthood, we acquired our first cruising boat, a 47-foot production catamaran, in 2020. Despite the challenges posed by a global pandemic, we set sail in the Mediterranean, determined to sail more and motor less. Two seasons taught us valuable lessons about our sailing preferences and ignited our commitment to circumnavigation. One of the biggest things we learned is how we liked to sail and what our preferences were for our sailing platform – something we don’t believe you will know until you have spent some time to find out.

In late 2021, we made a pivotal decision to switch from a production catamaran to a performance catamaran, the new Outremer 52. This decision marked a significant step in our journey, reflecting our dedication to sail more efficiently and comfortably, and embrace the liveaboard cruising lifestyle fully. After comparing many different boatyards, we settled on Outremer based on their training program, customer references and after-sales service, which we think is critical when buying a new boat.

Taking on the moody winds of the Mediterranean and the fickle sea state, we made a lot of mistakes but learned a ton. Through our podcast, Covert Castaway that was launched in 2018, we’ve shared our decisions, mistakes, and sailing adventures with fellow cruisers. It became apparent that while many dream of sailing, extended passages can feel like a bridge too far for aspiring cruisers, particularly when one person in the couple has more sailing or racing experience. The unknowns can spark debates and discussions—challenges we’ve faced ourselves as Stephane is a recovering racer, and I’ve been sailing for just over twelve years.

When we decided to have 2023-24 be the year for our first transatlantic crossing, we were faced with the reality of our friends’ and family’s concerns who already had a hard time understanding our life choices and why we would want to do such a thing in the first place. We decided for our three-leg passage this year, to do daily passage videos, as real time as we could now with Starlink, so they could follow along with the vessel tracker and know what was happening each day. We broadened our goal and now our project aims to demystify passage making and inspire a broader audience, especially women, to consider the thrill of transatlantic crossings.

Our daily videos, shared in real-time thanks to Starlink, turn viewers into extended crew members who can follow the journey through vessel trackers, ask questions, and be part of the decision-making process. The series is ad-free and not monetized—our goal is to share the raw, unfiltered experience, encouraging others to pursue their sailing dreams. Many of our virtual crew who followed us in the first leg found this format to be extremely fresh and engaging.

Leg 1 – La Grande Motte to the Canary Islands (complete)

Our maiden voyage covered the first leg, where viewers witnessed us navigate equipment challenges, wind situations, and navigate orca pods in Gibraltar. This leg showcased the excitement and the real-time problem-solving involved in the most challenging part of our journey. On this leg we invited a third crew member, also an Outremer skipper and expert to help speed our learning curve so we included his professional tips.

Leg 2 – Las Palmas to Martinique with Special Guest Nikki Henderson

As we prepare for the second leg, we welcome a special guest, Nikki Henderson, the youngest Clipper skipper at age 23. Nikki brings her racing expertise, instructional prowess, and inspirational journey to the series. Our 21-year-old daughter joins the voyage, contributing to a mostly female crew.

Leg 3 – Martinique to Miami, then to the Bahamas

The final leg takes us from Martinique to Miami and marks the completion of the transatlantic journey. Our experiences, challenges, and triumphs will continue to be shared as we make our way up the islands towards the US. Then, our Outremer 52 catamaran, AWEN, will debut in North America at the Miami Boat Show in February.

Our goal is to make the raw experience of a major passage accessible to a broader audience. We want to expose the realities that either inspire a broader audience to consider crossing oceans or help people decide that it’s not for them. Social media doesn’t always accurately depict the challenges and realities onboard, crucial considerations for any couple making a lifestyle change or taking on a circumnavigation.

As our journey continues, so does the inspiration for new sailors, spouses, and women to set sail and explore the vast, open seas.

About the Crew

We are Holly (54) and Stephane (53), formerly from the San Francisco Bay Area, with backgrounds in the technology industry. Stephane has multiple Trans Pac/Pac Cup races under his belt, while I began sailing in 2008. Our project to sail around the world began in the Mediterranean with our first boat, a production catamaran. 

Our podcast, Covert Castaway, has been running since 2018, amassing over 250,000 downloads. With four adult children between us, our journey is not just about covering miles but about embracing the adventure and inspiring others to set sail into the vast, open seas.  

December 20, 2024 | by Holly Rollo
Transatlantic Passage Preparation

Embarking on a transatlantic journey was no small feat, especially when your vessel is a performance catamaran like our new Outremer 52. In the past week, we’ve been diligently preparing for our maiden voyage across the Atlantic from Las Palmas. The lessons learned from Leg 1, a trip from La Grande Motte, France, to Lanzarote, have been invaluable in shaping our preparations for the open ocean.

Our transition from a production catamaran to the sleek Outremer 52 earlier this year marked a significant shift in our sailing philosophy and the requirements by the crew for leveling up. Despite a five-week shakedown cruise to Corsica and Cannes, which was somewhat hampered by challenging winds, the impending transatlantic crossing demanded meticulous attention to our boat’s details. Given Outremer’s post-shakedown services, our time for adjustments between the shakedown, the post-sale service phase, and positioning ourselves in the Canary Islands was limited.

As seasoned sailors on our third boat, this is our first foray into the world of performance catamarans. Recognizing the learning curve, we enlisted the expertise of skipper instructors familiar with these kind of high-performance cruising catamarans from Outremer. Their guidance during our migration to the Caribbean will be invaluable in unraveling the intricacies of sailing our new vessel and enhancing our readiness for the circumnavigation project. It’s certainly possible to learn it all on our own after taking the initial courses offered by Outremer, but why not ramp even faster if we can!

Documenting our journey, we decided to release daily video logs from Leg 1, offering a transparent view of a maiden voyage. With Starlink connectivity, we aimed to demystify the reality of such passages, coining our adventure the ‘All Together Voyage’ to involve family, friends, and followers in our exhilarating experience real-time. The response to our daily vlogs has been very positive, providing a unique perspective on the challenges and joys of our journey.

Currently in Las Palmas gearing up for Leg 2, our crew includes Segolen, our 21-year-old daughter, and sailing legend and instructor Nikki Henderson. With an almost all-female crew for Leg 2, we are grateful to be able to take such a journey with remarkable company.

Our focus in Las Palmas was on key enhancements to ensure a smooth journey. Precautions such as adding a tack line and martin breaker to the asymmetrical spinnaker demonstrate our commitment to safety. Recognizing the potential challenges of stronger winds, we’ve incorporated downhaul lines for effective reefing. Additional silicon applications address potential leaks, especially in areas prone to exposure from large following seas. Rig inspection and maintenance were also priorities, with Stephane ascending the mast to ensure everything is shipshape.

We invite you to follow our daily vlog on our YouTube channel @sailingawen and stay updated with our journey here. Your support and interest fuel our excitement, and we’re thrilled to share the highs and lows of our transatlantic adventure with you all. Fair winds and following seas await!

December 20, 2024 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 1 : Transatlantic Passage Begins

Our passage begins as we cast off the dock and begin our voyage. We have a few unexpected surprises but are so excited to have Nikki Henderson on board to help us accelerate our learning curve on our new Outremer 52.

You can join us on Day 1 here. 

December 21, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 2 : Sailing Bootcamp

Day 2 of our transatlantic sailing passage kicked us into gear quickly with some unexpected surprises. Bigger sea state, teething issues related to shakedown and unexpected repairs at sea. 

We seem to be settling into passage mode well as a team in the first 48 hours. 

View Day 2 here. 

December 22, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 3 – School is in Session

We went back to school with Nikki to learn ways to make it easier to sail double handed. We learned downwind reefing and easier ways to get the spinnaker down.

December 23, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 4 – Projects at Sea

Gorgeous sailing day and a great way to start projects on board that make sailing just a bit easier. We rigged the A2 for easier dousing and started working on additional jacklines for safety. 

December 24, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 5 – Christmas Eve

Gorgeous sailing day with light winds, traveling roughly 10 knots with the Code 65 up. Our daily videos share sailing conditions, boat performance, maneuvers and advice as we are on our transatlantic passage. 

December 25, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 6 – Christmas at Sea

Santa came last night and stuffed our santa hats full of chocolate, joy and a sparkling champagne sailing day! We spent the whole day averaging 15 knots of wind with about 9.2 average speed. We expected the winds to die down but Santa doesn’t take gifts back! We are making great time and wish everyone a very Happy Holiday! 

December 26, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 6 – Turning Point

Transitioning from coastal cruising on a production catamaran to bluewater sailing on a performance catamaran is a process. Today we feel like we have made a major turning point in coming together as a team and are learning such valuable lessons from Nikki Henderson not just about sailing tactics and strategy, but also on teamwork and leadership. It’s been invaluable!

Viewer comments on this episode have been that this is their favorite one yet due to the honest and vulnerable discussions about trust and really working as a team. 

December 27, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 8 – Segolen Learns the Ropes

Segolen is not only getting her sea legs, she is getting great training on both how to sail offshore, and a little bootcamp too! She shares her ideas about learning how to sail by getting thrown in the (literal) deep end with a world-class sailing instructor, Nikki Henderson. 

December 28 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 8 Halfway Day During our Transatlantic Passage

Doing a passage across the vast and unpredictable expanse of the Atlantic Ocean was once just a dream. The allure of the open sea, the challenge of pushing yourself through your own physical and mental barriers, and the promise of discovering new horizons can feel like test of both skill and resilience.

Preparation and planning for a passage like this doesn’t come lightly and requires meticulous planning and preparation. Months, if not years, go into ensuring you have the right skills, the right boat, and the right mindset to handle the challenges that may arise during the journey. After many years of planning, switching boats, and leveling up our skills, we finally felt ready.

We expected to cross with well-established trade winds, but our passage didn’t turn out that way. Before we left, there was a large weather system that disrupted a settled patterns prior to our departure so we ended up with a wide range of wind directions and sea state. Since this was not just a passage, but a learning experience for us with Nikki Henderson, a professional skipper/instructor on board, this worked in our favor because it provided abundant opportunities to learn and ask questions.

Today marks our halfway day where we have covered over 1580 nautical miles in a wide range of wind conditions that included a forecasted wind hole, out of character for this passage. Even with that, we are averaging about 8 knots boat speed but seeing max speed at just over 21 knots.

Life on board so far at this halfway point is settled and we are all in a good routine of sleeping, eating, learning, socializing and our own variation of exercise. Living on a sailing vessel for an extended period is a unique experience that requires physical and mental balance, adaptability, and teamwork. The rhythm of life at sea revolves around watch schedules, navigation, maintenance, and moments of fun. Days blur into nights as the crew works together to keep the vessel on course, ensuring a constant vigilance against changing conditions and potential risk.

The rewards so far have been immeasurable, and Stephane and I are so grateful to be able to have this unique experience with such great company on such a competent boat. Witnessing breathtaking sunsets and sunrises, experiencing a full moon on the open sea, encountering the dolphins and flying fish, and feeling the power of the wind propelling us forward are moments that we will never forget.

December 29 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 9 The Joy of Night Watch

Join me on night watch as we discuss performance catamaran performance underway, weather, and what we are learning while at sea. 


December 30, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 11 – Speed, Seaweed & Spa

Sargassum sums up the day we are having so far sailing in light wind, but this after a day of speedy sailing, both days with our Code 65!

December 31, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 12 – Tri Sailing

Today we wanted to see if sailing with three sails would give us a boost in very light winds. We hoisted the staysail to help the Code 65 along. Check out our latest video. 

Outremer 52 with three sails up!
January 1, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 13 –  Oh the Lines!

Today we walk you through all the lines on the boat and what they are used for. We also go through a repair at sea to our main sheet lashing. 

January 2, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 14 –  Squalls and Falls

Oops, we wrapped the symmetrical spinnaker while putting it up for the first time. We learn a ton about what to do and not do, which is always good to know when you get a new boat. 

January 3, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 15 –  Open House Sailboat Tour of Outremer 52 While Underway

Ever wonder how people actually live on a two week ocean passage? It today’s video we take a tour through AWEN to show you how we live after two weeks on a transatlantic passage. 

January 4, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Leg 2 Day 16 –  Was it worth it to switch from a production cat to a performance cat?

Today we reflect on whether the two years and effort was worth changing from a production boat to a performance boat. Now that we have sailed on our new boat in respectable conditions and through a transatlantic passage, we ask ourselves if the benefits outweighed the time and effort to make the change as we transitioned to liveaboard cruisers. 

January 4, 2023 | by Holly Rollo
Our Transatlantic Passage – one day to go before landfall

We are one day from landfall after what will roughly be a 16-day sailing voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. This being the second leg in our maiden voyage from La Grande Motte, France, through the Gibraltar Strait, to the Canary Islands, crossing to land in the Caribbean, then island hopping our way to Miami for a quick stop before our final destination for the season, the Bahamas. For all of us, it would also be our first-time celebrating Christmas and New Year’s at sea.

sunrise on AWENThe sunrises have been delicious, with colors only seen in a candy store, the Milky Way proudly revealing itself before the moonrise steals the show. However, only those things were constants during this transatlantic leg. We had hoped for well-established tradewinds that would deliver us quickly under the power of our asymmetrical spinnaker for most of the trip, but this was not our fate. 

An abnormally positioned high pressure system further north disrupted the establishment of the trades just before we left. This turned an anticipated easy downwind voyage, into a more complex passage with a sideways and aggressive sea state out of the gate. If we went too far south, we wouldn’t have enough wind, if we headed just west, we would have worse conditions upwind. So, we needed a fine line to get through this first section of the trip. The good news is it offered the opportunity for a plethora of sail changes and abundance of learning experiences, which was the priority for this leg after all.

Onboard joining us as a skipper/instructor for this leg was Nikki Henderson, world renowned for her bluewater and racing experience but more important for us, her incredible teaching skills, and familiarity with the Outremer performance catamarans. Our goal was that by having her onboard we could accelerate learning our boat, learn the nuances to safely maximize its performance, and help us round out our risk management plan so we could be prepared for any situation that went pear-shaped. Our intent was to take these learnings and apply them to how we wanted to sail together double handed going forward.

There were three phases to this trip, the sporty conditions leaving the Canaries, middle section with shifty winds, and the final approach where the trades reestablished themselves. We made the decision to leave with half tanks of fuel, with a preference to wait out wind holes but with enough of it to sensibly parlay with a ship in a medical emergency, charge batteries and get in and out of ports. While other boats chose to leave Las Palmas with full tanks and jerry cans lined on their decks, we made the decision to keep the boat light (with 220L) and sail through the conditions.

We left on December 20th with a proper dolphin escort offshore, taking the first window after stronger winds passed over the Canaries. We started out with manageable winds with full sails up (main and genoa) with about 18 knots of wind but with nightfall on the first night we took a reef in the main and genoa, using our new downwind reefing method, with winds up to 25 knots (145 TWA) with large, short waves through the acceleration zone between the islands. 

We got a chance to practice a water ingress drill (of course, in the middle of the night) because it was then we discovered a faulty hatch on a portlight allowed saltwater to enter our port hull. We hove-to and epoxied the seal shut and continued, settling into the movement of the boat, learning and practicing downwind reefing, and beginning to work together as a team. All this before leaving the wind shadow of Tenerife. The boat speed at this point, even in the challenging sea state, was averaging about 9 knots.

We finally shook off the reefs and raised the Code 65 as our direction shifted and we saw lighter winds. Before leaving Las Palmas, we had a hunch about our preventor, so we had purchased supplies and were able to prepare a new one in these first couple of days. That proved to be a smart decision because it ended up breaking twice later in the trip.

As the winds lightened and shifted, we raised the asymmetrical spinnaker, but it didn’t last long because we spent the next couple of days switching between the Code 65 and the asymmetrical A2 with the wind conditions; great experience for both of us dousing and hoisting the A2. The Code 65 was originally rigged for manual furling but during our neauvage (bringing the boat back to Outremer for final servicing after handover), we shifted it to the helm side of the boat and lengthened the line to allow for it to be furled single-handed from a winch if needed.  During this time in our voyage, we averaged about 9.7 knots in 15.8 average knots of wind and saw 229 nautical miles in one day, a high point for sure.

By Christmas we were all very comfortable sailing the A2 spinnaker upwards of 18-20 knots of wind at night. While we had done an A2 overnight to Corsica earlier in the season and briefly during Leg 1 from La Grande Motte to Gibraltar, anxiety levels were high in the beginning. Nikki also rigged us a martin breaker system to release the tack that gave us and emergency break to douse quickly if we needed to and we changed our method from hand hoisting and dousing to using the winch on the bow. 

We also got a ton of practice with the gybing procedure double-handed, which was well worth the effort and time. We typically have done this using the autopilot to steer through the gybe, but I got more practice doing it manually while Stephane managed the sheets and main.  Nikki also talked us through a letterbox douse in the event we needed to do one to absolutely get it down if all else failed. That’s when you slip the lazy sheet through the slot between the boom and the main and pull the kite through to the cockpit.

AWEN moon at the helmAt this point in the trip the full moon was spectacular, but elusive on camera. As the flying fish were busy doing kamikazes on deck for the next couple of days (and I don’t mean the drink), we found our expected wind hole. The direction too high to fly the spinnakers, we used the Code 65 which by this time had proven to be a very versatile sail. At 6.7 knots of wind speed, we were still able to do 5.6 SOG, which is truly remarkable and everything we had hoped for when we decided to switch to an Outremer from the production catamaran we had before. Sixteen days in now and our propellers have yet to bloom.

As we then sailed through the massive sargassum fields, we gave our hydrogenator (Watt & Sea) a break. This impacted our existing power plan since we used all the instruments at night, in addition to now having an extra freezer on board for the passage and heavier than expected use of Starlink. 

With the hydrogenator napping, we did need to run the engines to recharge when we approached 20% on our batteries for a few hours at night to kick it back up. It’s worth noting that we had expected to use Starlink maybe two hours per day to upload our daily vlog videos of the trip, but it could sometimes take two hours for it to connect to a satellite and then another two hours to upload the video for that day. 

We are still exploring what our power would be with normal use of Starlink, (without the video uploads) and 24×7 use of the hydrogenator, but at some point, we may need explore the idea of bigger alternators if we want to improve. With the sun angle and the position of the boom, it’s been a challenge to get the batteries up to full capacity during the day on this trip. The jury is still out on that.

Long forgotten at this point was our hats, socks, and puffer jackets with our march towards the tropics. In just days we changed clocks and wardrobes now donning sunscreen and marveling at everyone’s dewy glow. On New Year’s Eve we bagged and stored the Code 65 as our passage moved to the next chapter. 

The wind picked back up and we were mostly flying the A2 pretty deep with the help of a guy. At 16 knots of wind, we were flying at about 10 knots boat speed and clocking the miles doing 90% of our polars on average. Over the next couple of days, we started keeping our eyes out for squalls and doused the A2 one night as one passed briefly overhead, giving the boat a much-welcomed shower.

After generous practice with our A2 gybes, we decided New Year’s Day was a great time for a brand-new sail, so we unwrapped the plastic from our red S4 symmetrical spinnaker. This proved to be an appropriate color as we managed to wrap it enthusiastically around the forestay because we hoisted it with the main still up. 

After a morning spent sliding it down the forestay (because untwisting it using traditional methods didn’t work), it had to be taken fully down and re-socked to hoist again. We doused the main downwind with our new downhaul method and re-hoisted the S4, which took on a personality change with the main out of the way. One of our followers suggested we name her ‘Sansa’, after the red-headed demure damsel turned cunning warrior in Game of Thrones. Fitting indeed!

SunsetDuring the last couple of days, we sailed mainly with the S4 up and the main down, like true cruisers. We gave ourselves a bit of a break from the more technical learning experience we had been having up to this point that included ambitious sail changes whenever the opportunities presented themselves. 

With high humidity setting in and sea temps reaching 29, we dropped below the 300 nautical mile mark to our destination. Sailing deep at 175, we are experiencing SOG half the speed of TWS, in our ‘easy mode’ which we were all happy with. For these days we were averaging just a tad under 200 nautical miles a day with TWS between 12-17 knots.

Rations aboard have been plentiful, and we are still enjoying fresh apples, tomatoes, and red cabbage. We managed to enjoy two tubs of ice cream (it was after all the holidays), and went through approximately 80 chocolate bars, or so it seemed, 6 pounds of coffee, five smartly rationed bags of tortilla chips and freshly made salsa to match. We had many more bags of chips and salty snacks, but tortilla chips were a welcomed treat. 

We enjoyed fresh meals every day and treated ourselves to a freshly baked chocolate cake to celebrate the new year. Our portable freezer allowed us to enjoy frozen fruit smoothies in the final days to match our Caribbean music playlist to get us in the island vibe. For those of us who relish a good nap during the day (which was everyone but Stephane), the crew was well rested and refreshed for watches, convivial conversation, brief workouts, and learning moments.

With the wind now softening in the last day, we are still enjoying the S4, our last morning sunrise at sea, the welcomed sight of birds, and are anticipating a warm welcome by the local dolphins if they happen to be in the neighborhood. We will arrive on this side as a heavily bronzed crew more confident in our seamanship and an epic amount of trust in our boat which was an absolute champ!

In the end AWEN, our Outremer 52, has been everything we ever wanted in a performance boat. She’s dexterous in many wind conditions, responsive, communicates her needs, protects us from the powerful impact and noise of the waves by streamlining through the water like an Olympic swimmer and softly surfing them from astern. 

While performance sailing is more technical, with many lines for many sails in many conditions, the layout is simple and intuitive to manage. The helm is balanced and quick to respond, the bow and hulls are light and stiff, and the rig is firm and regal. It shines in downwind sailing, hustles in the angles, and softens the discomfort of upwind sailing which is the dream of any bluewater cruiser; we absolutely love her. ‘AWEN’ is an old Breton word that means the soft breath that inspires you and she certainly does.

And…as I’m completing this article, the local dolphins arrive right on cue on our starboard side with 150 nautical miles left to go in our trip, after traveling 2,843 so far. I wonder if they mistake our AWEN as a gentle giant to play with in the surf and they jump and dive alongside her hulls. As they speed away to bring joy to the next arriving crew, my heart is full of gratitude for this ocean, our sailboat, our crew, and the experience this passage has given us.

Fair winds for now.

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