Friday, February 01, 2013

South Pacific to Hawaii sailing strategy

February 1, 2013
Penrhyn Atoll, Cook Islands.

South Pacific to Hawaii sailing strategies

Sailing North from Samoa to Hawaii
Sailing North from Cook Islands to Hawaii
Sailing North from French Polynesia to Hawaii

To fill in new readers we sailed out of American Samoa in January 2013 looking for safe refuge when a cyclone looked likely to threaten Pago Pago, American Samoa. In our opinion, Pago Pago, American Samoa is a poor cyclone refuge. The harbor is large and becomes crowded with commercial fishing vessels whom raft up to three deep off the wharf with sketchy tie ups. The combination of poorly secured fishing vessels and a lackadaisical community of 'go no where' cruisers almost guarantee that one, if not many boats will go adrift at the height of any significant storm.

We had built a bomb proof cyclone mooring before we realized that the best mooring in the world does nothing to protect you from an unmanned 40' cruising boat that broke it's shoddy mooring and got wedged between the hulls of our very nice uninsured sailing catamaran. Or a slightly worse scenario is when a 60-180 foot fishing vessel breaks free of the triple deep raft up and blows down on you.

Getting back to the voyage planning, at the time of the impending Cyclone Garry, our best option looked to be a 900nm sail up to Penrhyn atoll in the Northern Cooks islands. Kanton atoll, Kirbati was a lot closer, but at the time we had strong 15-30 knot Northerly winds that made that trip untenable. So we hustled out of Pago Pago and made a sweeping arc to the North to get out of the way of cyclone Garry.

Now sitting at Penrhyn we've been studying the weather with great interest for weeks as we consider our next move. Hawaii is only 1800nm away, but a difficult sail that promises to be hard on the wind. The route from Penrhyn would take us 650nm due North to Christmas island, Kirbati at 2N latitude. From there we continue North and East looking to build at least 300nm of Easting, perhaps with the help of a East setting current that might be found between 2N and 8N. Then it's only 1200nm of bashing to weather and you're in Honolulu!

Find a break in the trade winds to make the 650nm sail to Christmas islands in relatively light winds seems doable, but the trip from Christmas to Hawaii offers no such promises.

Since we're at peak cyclone season, Tropical depressions are forming regularly to the NW of Fiji and then moving to the ESE. As each of these systems pass to the south of Penrhyn atoll the SE trade winds are disrupted south of 5S and an opportunity arises when we could enjoy north component winds with maybe even a little hint of West thrown in from time to time. These wind conditions depend on the central pressure of the Topical depression or cyclone and how far east the storm tracks before heading on a more southerly course.

When I have internet I'll add some weather charts here to illustrate.

So, with so many storms marching by we're considering catching the coat tails of the next TD and ridding the North component winds on an ESE course down to the Northern Tuamotu and from there maybe making our way back to the Marquesas. From the Marquesas the route to Hawaii would go North to 10N 143W before making a downwind run to Hawaii and a likely landfall at Hilo. It's a detour of well over 1500nm, but we're not in a hurry.

Comments are welcome.

That's it for now.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:


  1. Aloha David,
    We are contemplating an early May trip to The Cook Islands, then Tahiti and then Tuamotus before returning to Hawaii for about 5 months.

    Most yachts seem to go the opposite way, but looking at the prevailing winds this route seems to offer better sailing angles.

    Would love to hear your Manao. (wisdom)

  2. Hi Rudy,

    Eastward progress from the Cooks to Tahiti to the Tuamotu will be against the prevailing SE trades, so you'll want to wait for lulls to make your Easting. Should be a great trip, Penrhyn it's a favorite for it's remoteness. Bring plenty of cash for check-in as fees in the Cooks are up again. If you plan to stop in Kirbati on your way south, be sure to obtain a clearance from the USA to avoid additional hassle and fees. Fair winds