Captain's Notebook: South Pacific Route Recommendations
The main route for yachts from both the Mediterranean and the Caribbean is via the Panama Canal, so yachts coming in to the South Pacific from the Mediterranean would cross the Atlantic to Panama first. When crossing the Atlantic a lot of yachts go via the Canary Islands. This is a good final port of call for fuel and last minute provisions, also from this point you pick up a nice North East trade wind for a large portion of the rest of your journey across the Atlantic, very useful if you're sailing.
An alternative route for Med based yachts to get to the South Pacific and that is through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, this is very rarely used as a route nowadays due to the necessary costs for extra security and insurance through this area, pirates have been known to be a problem in the Gulf of Aden, to digress slightly... Our director Allan Jouning sailed this route on S/Y Freedom (American flagged!) during the Gulf War when he was offered a herd of Camel's for his 18 month old daughter! After a good think he decided not to give little Jessica away, though it was a generous offer, the daughter was the better investment in the long run. For these reasons we tend to recommend the Panama Canal route although if you are coming through the Red Sea we'd be happy to give you some pointers.
When to go...
The best time of year to leave the Caribbean and head for the Panama Canal is at the end of April. The reason being quite simply that this is the end of the Caribbean season and allows enough time to arrive at the beginning of the South Pacific season. It is a good idea to allow about 5 days to transit the canal as merchant ships are given priority here and the 24 hour journey can very quickly become a lot longer for yachts.
Stop overs on the way...
Your first stop after the Panama Canal is the Ecuadorian ruled, Galapagos Archipelago, some 900 nautical miles south west of the canal situated on the equator. The Galapagos Islands, a national park and wildlife sanctuary are renowned for their vast array of endemic species, they're an incredible place to vist so you might like to allow a bit of time for both crew and owner to enjoy it. Be warned though, this is strictly for private use only and charter is very restricted in the area.
Your next journey and your longest one is the 3000 nautical miles, west across the South Pacific Ocean to the Marquesas, your first offical South Pacific stop off. Welcome to the South Pacific! The Marquesas are an extremely beautiful Archipelago in French Polynesia 1000 nautical miles north east of Tahiti. This would also be your first opportunity to refuel.
After a top up of necessary provisions and some exploration of the beautiful Marquesas, start the 4 day voyage to Tahiti, the first major port and cruising destination on your journey through the South Pacific. On the way to Tahiti, pay a visit to the Tuamotus, a group of atolls between the Marquesas and Tahiti, they are world renowned for fantastic diving, one Caribbean yacht captain said "there is more coral in the South Pass of Fakarava (Atoll in Tuamotus) than the entire Caribbean.
You'll probably be well ready for civilisation and perhaps a bit of letting lose by the time you reach Tahiti, to find out what's on and where to go, Tahiti-Agenda is a good website to check out (use google translate if you're not french).Now that you've reached one of the main ports of the South Pacific there are plenty of options. If you left the Panama Canal in April you would be in Tahiti during June, the next few months are the best time weather wise to be in the islands of the South Pacific. There are endless things you can do from here but we've outlined our suggestions below:
- Remain in French Polynesia for a month to two months and pick up some charters around the Society Islands if you are a charter yacht. Come early to mid August depart for Tonga and Fiji with a possible stop over in the Cook Islands. After cruising and some more possible charters in Tonga and Fiji carry on down to the super yacht hub of the South Pacific, New Zealand late November
for the beautiful NZ summer and carry out any maintenance work needed. This route is the most direct and the preferred route of many.
- To venture in to some even more remote territory you might like to take the northern route to Fiji stopping off in the Kiribati and the islands of Samoa.
If you're following a similar route to the one's suggested above and have done the Fiji islands on the way down, we recommend departing New Zealand at the end of summer around April the following year and begin your journey north west stopping in New Caledonia, an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef, Vanuatu, the Solomons, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and on to South East Asia for the following season.