Trans Pacific ("Puddle-Jump")
The sailing passage from the Americas to Australasia (trans Pacific), affectionately known the Pacific Puddle Jump or Coconut Milk Run refers to the annual cruising route taken by many cruising sailors from the West Coast of the Americas (USA, Mexico, Panama, etc) through the South Pacific.
Typically passage planning would start in November or December, with a planned departure some time between January and March each year. This would be timed to arrive in the Society Islands after the start of the cruising season (after the end of the cyclone season which runs from November to April), and then continue westwards through the South Pacific until a cyclone safe port is reached before the following November.
Arriving in the cyclone zone after the end of the cyclone season and departing (or hauling out) before the next one commences is the primary motivation behind passage planning on this route. Many countries (for example the Cook Islands and Tonga) along the route do not have cyclone safe anchorages or harbours, and some prohibit the entry or stay of cruising yachts during the cyclone season.
- Land Information NZ
- NZ 1405 -- North Pacific Ocean, South Eastern Part.
- NZ 1406 -- South Pacific Ocean, Western Portion.
See also the larger scale LINZ charts which cover much of the South Pacific.
Note that many other chart sources are available, both electronic and paper.
- US published charts covering much of the sea area of this route are available from NOAA, Office of Coast Survey.
- Admiralty charts are available from many chart retailers, and an on line catalogue can be found at Admiralty Leisure
- For electronic charts compatible with OpenCPN see the OpenCPN chart sources page.
Generally speaking, the trade winds run in a band from 5S to about 25S, although this band can be smaller or larger from year to year. The typical trade wind is a 15 knot wind from the ESE, although days of 30+ knots are not uncommon. Winds swinging around to the north, north west, or west are also not uncommon, but these usually only last for a day or so.
Gales and other assorted weather nasties can be found in the region of the convergence zones -- the ITCZ and the SPCZ.
Much of the South Pacific is subject to cyclones during the "cyclone season", running from 1st November to 30th April each year (depending on location). It's important to note that cyclones do not own calendars, and significant (even named) tropical storms can happen outside of this time period.
Sources for Weather forecasts:
- The Fiji Meteorological Service issues daily weather bulletins for much of the South Pacific.
- These forecasst can also be retrieved as a text format file by sending an email to email@example.com. See the Weather page for more information.
- A generalised South Pacific weather forecast from the Fiji Meterological Service may be found here or by sending an email containing send nadi.sopac to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The South Pacific is very large, and has a cyclone season (at least in the western parts) that runs from November to April. So the cruising season for this passage is from April to the end of October.
In order to restrict yourself to the cruising season, the following timings should be taken into consideration (if not adhered to rigidly):
- The recommended period for passages from Mexican ports to the Marquesas is from the middle of March through to the end of April. During this time, the ITCZ normally lies between about 03N and 07N.
- If you are going to join the passage from Hawaii then it needs to be done no later than June or July. Attempting to leave Hawaii later than July is going to mean insufficient weather windows to make the journey across the South Pacific by the end of the cruising season unless it's done at a good pace (or perhaps non-stop).
- June and July are good months to be in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, or perhaps Niue.
- August and September should be spent further west, in Samoa, Fiji, Tonga or Vanuatu.
- Departure needs to be considered from places such as Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu or New Caledonia by mid to late October.
There are no cyclone safe facilities in the smaller island nations such as the Cook Islands, Samoa, Niue, etc. Most of these nations require cruising yachts to depart before 1st November as they will not accept responsibility for damage caused during the cyclone season (either to or by the yachts).
At the end of the cruising season, your options are:
- Sailing south or south-west to New Zealand or Australia, which can be done in a south westerly direction from the southern ends of Tonga or Fiji, or on a more directly southern route from Vanuatu or New Caledonia.
- Sailing north, to the Marshall Islands or perhaps western parts of the Solomon Islands that are outside the cyclone belt.
- Getting a haul out or entering a cyclone safe facility -- these are available in certain places in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. See the Haul Out Options section below.
- Continuing the route through the Solomon Islands, across the northern part of Papua New Guinea and into Indonesia, exiting the cyclone zone before November. Note that the southern route, across the top of Australia and through the Torres Strait perhaps to Darwin is not cyclone safe.
Although there are local cruisers who may spend time cruising the Western South Pacific waters during the cyclone season, it's done with significant local knowledge, attention to weather forecasts, and access to bolt-holes that may not be available to the visiting cruising sailor.
See Crossing the ITCZ.
Also see World Cruiser's Nets.
To complete the full puddle jump, the possible departure points include:
Alternative departure points which are suitable for a more southerly route include ports in South America.
A final alternative departure point, which allows for one or more routes across the South Pacific to meet the puddle jump part way along the route, for example in French Polynesia is New Zealand. It's possible to take a route through the westerlies found at around or below 40 S and then head northwards to a point such as Raivavae, Rarotonga or Papeete.
The traditional route is commonly called "The Milk Run" by cruisers and roughly follows the route below (but not necessarily). The cruising passage can take anything from 4 months to many years, depending on how many stops you wish to make and how long those "stops" are for.
- French Polynesia
- Cook Islands
- New Caledonia
- Then sail westward to New Zealand and Australia
See also the reverse of this passage, the Trans-Pacific Passage - West to East. Because of the prevailing winds, the reverse passage will have different stopping points and usually a different route entirely.
Possible Arrival Points
Distance & Duration
Give a distance table if possible.
Haul Out Options
Generally speaking, there are 3 main haul out options considered in the Western South Pacific where cruisers may have their boats hauled out for the cyclone season. These are:
- Vuda Point Marina, near Lautoka in Fiji.
- Port Vila Boatyard, in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Delatbabel -- I had my vessel Chiara Stella hauled out at this yard during a direct hit from Category 5 Cyclone Pam in March of 2015. No damage whatsoever was suffered by any vessel in the yard during this cyclone incident, and I can highly recommend this yard as a cyclone safe haulout facility.
- The Nouville Plaisance haul-out yard at Port Moselle in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Most of the cruising guides, blogs and other publications about this passage will mention that many boats over provision at the start of the route, underestimating the quantity of supplies that can be picked up along the way. Notable provisioning stops along the route include:
- Papeete, in French Polynesia. Arriving here is a bit of a culture shock after many days at sea and in the outer islands -- all of the commodities of a small European city are available here, if the prices are somewhat inflated. There are a number of supermarkets which carry imported produce, fresh and canned goods, eggs, flour and other dry goods, imported French cheeses and wine, etc. Stock up here on eggs specifically because they can be hard to find (and expensive) on the outer islands. Papeete also has a number of yacht chandleries, hardware stores and other supply stores. Fuel and gas can be obtained here, Papeete is generally the best place to buy duty free fuel along the route.
- Uturoa and Bora Bora in the remaining islands of French Polynesia. Goods here will be generally more expensive than those in Papeete, however fresh produce is somewhat cheaper especially at the markets in Uturoa.
- Rarotonga, if this is on your route is significantly cheaper than anywhere in French Polynesia. A couple of large supermarkets are present, with a typical range of produce as found in New Zealand and at approximately New Zealand prices. Rarotonga also has a large hardware store although no yacht chandlery. Stock up here on frozen chicken (imported), fish, coconuts, pomelo, and other fresh vegetables from the Saturday markets next to the harbour at Avatiu.
- Apia, if this is on your route is the next best provisioning stop (before Fiji) other than Rarotonga. Some of the more speciality items that are easy to find in Rarotonga may not be available in Apia, but the prices are generally cheaper in Apia especially for local produce. Whole (and half) pre-roasted breadfruit can be found, which takes the hassle out of roasting it, along with taro, bananas of many different varieties, coconuts, locally grown tomatoes and other vegetables at the various markets around town. The supermarkets carry a slightly smaller range of imported produce than can be found in Rarotonga or Papeete. There is a very good fish market in town which carries an extensive range of reef and pelagic fish, at very good prices (in case you haven't caught enough of your own).
- Fiji and Tonga have many provisioning points. Check the guides for each.
- Port Vila in Vanuatu tends to be a last provisioning stop before exiting the region. Goods here are not quite as cheap as those in Samoa but at least as cheap as Rarotonga and cheaper than either Papeete or Noumea. There is an excellent market in central Port Vila with very good prices on a range of fruit and vegetable items. Coconuts, bananas of various types, tomatoes, chillis, yams, taro and many other vegetables can be found, however pineapple and breadfruit are a bit harder to find. There is also quite good cheap fresh bread at the market which seems to keep well. There are several good supermarkets and butcheries within walking distance of the marina, and the local beef is cheap and very good quality. Fish and seafood is harder to get than in Apia.
- Noumea. I only list this because it may be the case that you want a few continental items that can't otherwise be found west of Papeete but unless you intend to spend a good deal of time in New Caledonia I would avoid provisioning here. Everything is expensive, even more so than Papeete. It's probably best to stock up in Fiji or Port Vila before coming to Noumea.
List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)
- 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.
- Chiara Stella Blog entries in 2014 cover a passage from Newcastle, Australia, via New Zealand and then joining the Puddle Jump route at French Polynesia.
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