Trans-Pacific Passage - West to East
This section describes the passage across the Pacific Ocean - West to East. There are three possible options for this route, which are:
- Sailing the direct route, from Australia or New Zealand in a more or less direct line to Panama, Hawaii, or the west coast of the USA.
- Sailing via the roaring forties, which is the band of westerlies that runs in the 40 - 50 degrees south latitude. These westerlies run the entire width of the South Pacific Ocean, and can be used to gain enough westing to take you to whatever your eventual longitude is (e.g. due south of Tahiti, Hawaii or any point in South America, and then turn north.
- Sailing via the North Pacific Ocean, essentially taking the route via South East Asia, Japan, and across the North Pacific perhaps making landfall in Alaska or one of the west coast ports of Canada.
Each of these routes has their advantages and (many) disadvantages, as discussed below. None of the above are pleasant cruising routes.
Very few cruising guides discuss these routes, however World Cruising Routes (see References below), mentions 3 or 4 possible routes via the South Pacific Ocean in the section Routes from New Zealand.
The main disadvantage of this route is that it will be predominantly upwind. The trade wind belt runs across the main body of the Pacific Ocean between about 25 degrees north and 25 south, and the prevailing winds will be either north easterly or south easterly, depending on which hemisphere you are travelling in.
If you are considering this route, you need a boat that will be good upwind, and also be prepared to face large oncoming seas for most of the journey. This route can be fast, but also tiring and damaging to both boat and crew.
Southern Ocean Route (Roaring Forties)
The main disadvantage of this route is that it is primarily in high latitudes. Depending on the time of year, cold weather gear will need to be taken, possibly including survival suits.
The other disadvantage is that it is a long way from landfall, any assistance, and involves long passages at sea, perhaps upwards of 40 or 50 days. You need to have a boat that can be relied on to make this journey without breaking, and more importantly (and more difficult to find) will be a crew that can be relied on to make this journey without breaking. In addition, you need to be competent to undertake any repairs along the way, and then confident enough to be able to undertake them in a rolling sea. You also need to have sufficient supplies, spare parts, fuel and water to take on a passage of this length.
The advantages are that the route is primarily downwind, relying on the westerlies that exist around those latitudes. Note that you may need to hunt around there for the right latitude to find the westerlies -- you will need to be able to receive and interpret weather reports while at sea. In a 2014 passage I found that I needed to go as far as 48 degrees south in order to find reliable westerlies.
The other advantage of this route is that it can be taken as a partial passage. For example, departing New Zealand this route can be used to reach the Cook Islands or French Polynesia instead of a complete Trans-Pacific passage if that is your intention.
The main disadvantage of this is that it is the longest route across the Pacific, covering the most ocean miles.
Components of this route are as follows:
- Darwin to Thailand Passage or possibly Coral Sea Passage — Cairns to New Guinea/Louisiades
- South East Asia to Japan
- Japan to USA or Canada
Charts will be the same as for the East to West passage but read them backwards.
- Australian Hydrographic Service
- 235 Australia East Coast - Queensland - Approaches to Moreton Bay
- 236 Australia East Coast - Queensland - Moreton Bay
- 4602 South Pacific Ocean - Tasman and Coral Seas Australia to Northern New Zealand and Fiji (1:3500000)
- 4643 Australia East Coas - Cape Howe to Cape Moreton (1:1500000)
- Land Information NZ
- NZ 14 - Tasman and Coral Seas
- NZ93 Cook Islands (1:1500000)
- NZ532 - Approaches to Auckland
- NZ522 - Bream Tail to Kawau Island including Great Barrier Island (Aotea Island)
- NZ 14607 - Southeast Polynesia
Climate and weather conditions will be the same as for the Trans Pacific ("Puddle-Jump").
- Direct Route
It is universally accepted that there is no good weather window for doing the Direct Route. If you are leaving Australia and heading east across the Pacific then you may as well leave in the southern hemisphere winter when the prevailing winds up the Australian east coast will be southerly and the EAC (south running current) is at its weakest. This will enable you to get some good northing into your passage before bashing endlessly into the trade winds.
- Roaring Forties
The best time to attempt the Roaring Forties route is at the end of the southern hemisphere summer -- in March or April. That will ensure that the route does not encounter any great risk of icebergs, while still offering good westerly winds across most of the route. In addition this ensures that the cyclone prone regions of the South Pacific will be reached after the end of the cyclone season.
If the intention is to reach all the way to Cape Horn, then the route can be attempted in early summer or before -- perhaps as early as September.
Add any navigation notes such approaches, dangers etc here. If this section does not apply remove it.
Also see World Cruiser's Nets.
Possible Departure Points
You could stop at any of the starting points above.
In addition you could stop at any of these points along one of the 3 routes that you have chosen:
Possible Arrival Points
Distance & Duration
Give a distance table if possible.
List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)
- Note that there was quite a bit of discussion on forum on this topic. CL example: HERE. The general opinion is summed up in this fragment from "JeanneP": We have friends who left NZ to sail back to the East coast of the US, and their first leg was from NZ to Panama, nonstop and took 54 days, uncomfortable for most of it.
If you can get the Discovery Channel, and have watched "Deadliest Catch" you will have some idea of what sailing in the Southern Ocean is like. And if you don't go far enough south to find westerlies, you're trying to sail directly into the wind, a hard and exhausting way to sail. The South Pacific is big and you go for long distances between land.
It's not a nationality bias, you find most sailors, from wherever, following the the trade winds East to West and enjoying the ride. And yes, you find lots of boats that have crossed the Pacific put up for sale in New Caledonia, Australia, and New Zealand. There are lots of other places that have good old boats for sale, many in the US.
- Michael Pocock/Ros Hogbin, The Pacific Crossing Guide, Second Edition, RCC Pilotage Foundation, London, ISBN 0713661828
- Warwick Clay, South Pacific Anchorages 2nd edition, Imray, ISBN 0852884826
- Earl R. Hinz, Landfalls of Paradise: Cruising Guide to the Pacific Islands, Latitude 20 Books, ISBN 0824830377
- Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Routes: Sixth Edition, Adlard Coles, London, ISBN 007159289X
- Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Destinations, Adlard Coles, London, ISBN 0071638245
We welcome users' contributions to the Wiki. Please click on Comments to view other users' comments, add your own personal experiences or recommend any changes to this page following your visit.
- Delatbabel -- I completed the passage from New Zealand to Tahiti in March - May of 2014 and from there joined the westward route (described in Trans Pacific ("Puddle-Jump")). We had to go as far as 48 south to pick up consistent westerlies, and were battered by several gales heading northwards through the "horse latitudes" between 40 and 25 south where the winds can come from any direction. Nothing that couldn't be dealt with by heaving to, however. Full details are on the blog CHIARA STELLA
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