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How to sail across the Pacific Ocean

The expanse of the Pacific is immense and diverse, offering some of the finest trade-wind cruising you’ll ever experience and a wealth of friendly cultures.

It was the final days before we took off on the biggest sailing adventure of our lives.  We’re going to sail across the Pacific Ocean! Caffeine consumption was at an all-time high. Preparing the boat for a 8,000 nautical mile ocean crossing is no joke and honestly a daunting task for a couple of newbies.

We’ve probably gone over the pacific voyage a hundred times in our head and talked through a bazillion “what if” scenarios. On the day Wyntersea was pushed from the fuel dock we knew there was no turning back. We were going to do it!

The Pacific Ocean is by far and away the most diverse for cruising. The scenery and culture varies between each country but everywhere there is a welcoming and genuine hospitality – and the sailing is excellent.

A cruising sailor’s blog from the Pacific is an onslaught of images and videos of every flavour of paradise from the green, dramatic and rugged landscape of the Marquesas with its huge waterfalls, the coral atolls and blue lagoons of the Tuamotus, to Tahiti and Bora Bora, the volcanic eruptions and cauldrons of lava in Vanuatu, the breaching whales of the Coral Sea.

I don’t know how to put into words the sense of relief, freedom and satisfaction when we turned west, towards the setting sun, and watched the land slowly disappear behind us. 

how to sail across the pacific map

What to expect when sailing across the Pacific

The Pacific Ocean is huge, 8,000 nautical miles from Panama to Australia (you can cross the Atlantic in 2,200 miles). Because of the scale of the charts and the size of the islands, it appears to have little land but the islands and island groups are plentiful.

We made one very long crossing, the 3,000+ miles from Manzanillo, Mexico to the Marquesas, but this is usually fast sailing with a favourable current bringing the passage time down to one similar to a transatlantic crossing. There is less swell, more regular winds and no squalls, (well…maybe 1 that lasted 24 hours) and after you arrive in the Marquesas you’re rarely more than four days from your next destination.

Inventory:

  • Lifejackets for everyone on board (Type I, II, III, or V)
  • A Type IV throwable flotation cushion
  • Fire extinguisher (Type 4 B1 for boats 26-40 feet LOA)
  • Sound producing device (horn, whistle)
  • Vi sisal distress signal (three day and three-night distress signals)
  • First aid kit
  • VHF radio
  • Tool kit
  • Sun protection
  • A bailing bucket
  • Paddles or oars
  • Anchor and sufficient chain
  • go well equipped with solar panels, reverse osmosis water system, navigational charts (paper & electronic),
  • AIS (automatic identification system)
  • life-raft
  • GPS units

Sailing across the Pacific is not without its challenges. There are tricky coral passes to negotiate, and it helps to speak French. Time spent preparing and planning can help make it the cruise of a lifetime.

Arriving in the Marquesas was a pleasurable culture shock and as dramatic socially as it was scenic. At was a great place to cruise to quiet bays with beautiful beaches, trade with the locals for the most delicious fruit and explore the interior with its wonderful waterfalls and archaeological remains.

Sailing the South Pacific

On arrival to the Tuamotus, you need to get the tide times right to navigate a narrow passes, but the reward is a calm, clean and incredibly blue lagoon. Snorkelling is the highlight here and the lagoons are home to the prettiest and most diverse coral I have ever seen. The adventurous can effortlessly glide amongst sharks and large fish feeding.

The Marquesas and Tuamotus are, in my opinion, the best parts of French Polynesia. The Society Islands have an interior like the Marquesas and lagoons like the Tuamotus, but the combination is not as breathtaking. If you’re lured by civilization, Papeete is a city with the Carrefour supermarket, chandleries and most other things you could need. It can be a welcome stop to provision and attend to any outstanding jobs on your list.

Onwards from here you are never far from the next anchorage. Seas are gentle with long, lazy swells and, apart from the very rare trough reaching up from lows in the south, it is settled trade-wind sailing. Now is the time to choose how long you wish to stay in the Pacific as that will dictate how much time you have on the way in order to make sure you’re in the right place for cyclone season.

It’s possible to make it to Australia and onwards if that’s your plan, but many cruisers fall in love with the region and cruise there for many years. If that is you, then it’s worth slowing down and enjoying more of what the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia have to offer.

Tips for sailing:

  1. understand navigation
  2. able to perform your own maintenance – including sail repairs
  3. be prepared for storms
  4. stock up on trade items – the locals love to trade for food (eye-glasses are popular items)

Heaving to is one of the most important of an offshore skipper’s tools. To heave to, you back your jib or staysail—that is, you sheet it hard on the wrong side of the direction the wind is blowing—and sheet in your reefed main enough to keep the wind about 60 degrees off the bow with your helm lashed hard over as if you’re trying to get the boat to tack. Done correctly, the boat will sit quietly through pretty intense conditions. This is a technique worth discussing and practicing before departure.

When you cannot travel in person, travel virtually – jump aboard for your virtual experience – Visit page:  Wyntersea Productions. Explore dozens of islands within the South Pacific, trek 200 miles across the north of England on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk, visit Central America, or step aboard SV Wyntersea and sail around Vancouver Island.  

https://www.wynterseaproductions.ca/shop/

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