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Pacific Passage Planning

The article which appears below is about planning a passage across the Pacific.
If you want to read about our actual Pacific Crossing click here.


Article by Rob Dubin which appeared in the Seven Seas Cruising Association Bulletin in August of 2002

Subject Area: Isla Cocos, Galapagos and Passage Planning to the Marquesas.


The following information was compiled from several sources including the Pilot Charts, Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes and the experiences of a number of boats in the fleet of 2002. While each year and each passage are different we believe the information here may help others planning what is likely the longest passage of their circumnavigation. 

Scientists believe 2002 was the beginning of a moderate ENSO (El Nino) cycle however fortunately boats did not experience the negative aspects of making the Pacific passage during an El Nino year. 

Weather Information:

The primary sources of official weather information will be the USCG broadcasts from Pt Reyes, California and Hawaii.  For  current schedules go to http://weather.noaa.gov  For amateur radio operators with access to Winlink bulletins it is easier to download the surface analysis and current, 24,48 or 72 hour wind/wave faxes when you get your email.  In addition Winlink has GRIB files that combine a surface analysis and 3 day wind/wave forecast.  For the GRIB graphics you need a decoder such as the Raytheon Raytech program.  We liked the GRIB files best for our weather decisions.  Winlink also has Quickskat and WMO bulletins available but we found these to be not very helpful. 

 For those who have commercial email services such as Sailmail there are two services that will email you daily wind and sea reports for your specific area.  These files are derived from the GRIB information but they are small text files so they download fast.  See www.saildocs.com or www.buoyweather.com.

 For those using Inmarsat Mini M phones for email the boats in 2002 reported no dropouts in coverage all the way from Panama to the Marquesas.

 While the official weather broadcasts are important they cover a massively large area where there are few weather reporting stations, consequently we found our fellow boaters to be by far the best weather source.  Most of the boats leaving Panama and later from the Galapagos formed loose SSB nets.  Our net started with 6 boats who all left Galapagos within a few days time span.  It later grew as more boats followed along and wanted information from those ahead of them.  We met at 7:30 am and 5:00 pm local time each day and each boat gave a position report and weather report.  As we crossed the time zones and changed our clocks our radio schedule stayed the same local time.  By tracking the same boats day by day those in the middle and back of the fleet gained valuable information for planning their route.  It was also by this daily tracking that several patterns emerged that we hope will help those in the future. 

 There are also two US shore based nets for ham operators.  Each will monitor your position on a daily basis.  They are 14313.0 Mhz at 0325 UTC and 21412.0 Mhz at 2200 UTC.

Isla Cocos

 Our route was from Panama to Isla Cocos  in late April.  On this first leg we motored or motorsailed the entire way and were very glad for the flexible fuel bladder we had added in Panama.  Others making this trip had similar experiences of motoring all the way.  Contrary to earlier SSCA reports the dive boat captains current policy is they will no longer sell you diesel so be prepared to motor to Cocos and then motor on to Galapagos.  It may be possible however with prior arrangement through the dive boats main offices to arrange fuel.  Charges in Cocos are $15 per day per boat and $15 per day per person plus an additional $4 per day to dive.  The diving is FANTASTIC and worth the trip and expense.  There are no services in Cocos of any sort and you must bring your own dive gear and compressor. Several of the dives there are drift dives or require someone to stay in the dinghy so it is handy to have two boats or extra crew to swap dinghy chores.  We found good anchoring in sand in Wafer bay.  There are also several moorings here.  A stern anchor helped keep into the swells.


 From Isla Cocos to Galapagos we again motored or motorsailed nearly all the way. The boats going direct from Panama to Galapagos had a shorter distance but many motored all the way while others were able to sail. 

 Regulations in the Galapagos seem to change by the month.  Further the regulations are made by the Park service but the Port Captains seem to enforce what they want.  As of May 2002 you could legally go to only Academy Bay or Wreck Bay but not both.  You were given 20 days and the cost based on tonnage was about $70 for a 40 footer.  You will pay upon departure. We went to Academy Bay where you do NOT need an agent. Just go to the Port Captain for clearance and the Police (for immigration which is $15 per person). It takes maybe half an hour to clear in.  The anchorage is a bit rolly and is best if you anchor VERY close to the tour boats on the left side of the bay.  You will need a stern anchor. 

 Academy Bay has good provisioning, hardware and marine stores, mechanics,a wonderful Saturday morning market, numerous wonderful restaurants and several internet cafes.  Casvernet has a satellite connection and is MUCH faster than the others. Bodega Blanka has the best marine parts selection.  Academy Bay is also the place to jump aboard a tour boat for a few days to a week. "We are the Greatest" is a helpful tour company.  Daily sightseeing trips and dive trips are available here as well.  There is also a new hyperbaric chamber with an English speaking doctor so if you need anything medical the chamber is a better bet than the local clinic.  Diesel is available in town for $0.88 or delivered for $1.40.  Clearing out is also easy and you pay upon departure.  The port captain seems to make a game of not having change and will keep whatever is left owing to you.  I suggest you ask the price when you clear in then show up with exact change just to spite him. The ATM machine here would not take any outside cards and the bank charges 5% for cash advances so bring dollars from Panama.

 Wreck Bay has similar amenities but less selection as it is smaller.

 You are supposedly not allowed to go to Villamil on Isabella but many boats do and the port Captain welcomes them.  There were about 15 boats there when we were. As we only stayed a few days we did not clear in or out here but many boats do clear with no headaches. There is no charge if you have cleared elsewhere.  Villamil is a few dusty streets and small grocery stores but a nice anchorage with clear water to swim in and resident sea lions and penguins in the anchorage.  A friendly beach bar and fascinating horseback ride tour into the volcanic crater complete the place. Diesel is also available and can be delivered.

Pacific Passage Planning to the Marquesas

 The distance from Galapagos to the Marquesas is roughly 3,000 miles depending on your landfall.  The area around the Galapagos is often windless so you may motor at the start of the trip but no one wants to use too much fuel early in the game with so far to go.  I believe the best departure strategy is to sail the rhumb line if there is wind.  If you need to motor you should motor south until you get the wind, hopefully around 2 degrees south.  As soon as you do find the wind head due west or as close to that as you can sail. The wind will be on your port beam.  Jimmy Cornell recommends a waypoint of 3.00 S and 100.0 W.  He specifically suggests avoiding an area of bad weather between 3-8 S and 95-100 W.  I would suggest the area to avoid extends as far west as 108 degrees.

 The reason to head west rather than SW along the rhumb line is that periodically you will get a dip in wind velocity or backing to the east and when that happens you can then head more south to bring the apparent wind forward and thereby keep reaching and keep your speed up.  However do not make any more southing than is necessary to keep speed up. Your goal should be to arrive near a waypoint of 5.00 S and 122.0 W.   From this point on you should if you can continue westerly with an eventual left turn to the south as you pass 130 degrees. However continue to monitor the boats ahead of you and if a wind hole is reported head south toward the rhumb line.  You can count on more SE wind for the first half of the trip and more E wind on the second half of the passage.  Having the option to reach will allow you to keep boat speed up.  If you get down to 8 -10 degrees S. too early in the game you will have no choice but run downwind and as the wind goes light you will be stuck rolling and motoring. 

 The first 2/3 of our passage was broad reaching with 13-17 knots from 120 degrees apparent and we barely touched the sails for 8 days.  The later part of the 18 day 23 hour passage was mostly wing and wing with the genoa poled out to windward. We never saw 20 knots, had only a few light rain showers and no squalls.  We did very little motoring as we kept the wind almost the entire trip.  When it was light we flew our cruising chute and continued to move well. We found one big advantage of the stable conditions is that we had far fewer sail changes especially during the night.  With only two people on board not having to get up from sleep for sail changes made the passage much more pleasant.  On our passage we only saw two ships but others reported seeing quite a few including Japanese long line fishing ships so keep a good watch.

 The following observations were true during 2002 but may or may not apply to other years. Boats in April had lots of wind and frequent squalls as well as calms but still reasonably fast passages.  Weather in May was much more settled with far less squalls and very few boats reporting big seas as seen in April.  There were also fewer calms reported in May than April.  The rainy ITCZ activity near the Galapagos bothered boats in April but not in May.  In May we had tropical waves from Africa that passed us north of the equator but no effect was seen at our latitudes.  Boats that went south of 7 degrees S.  early found calms contrary currents and more easterly winds resulting in passages of up to 30 days.  At the same time boats following the westerly strategy outlined above had 16-19 day trips. Boats north of 4 degrees So. had a much better first half passage than boats south of 5 degrees So.  In addition the current north of 5 degrees So. is a favorable .5 to 1.5 knots while boats south of 7 degrees So. near 125 degrees had a foul current and either too much or no wind. 

 The landfall for most boats seemed to be Fatu Hiva and the anchorage there is one of the most beautiful and dramatic we have ever seen.  Boats making landfall in Fatu Hiva should be aware of a rock 4 meters high about 14 miles NE of the island.  Stopping at Fatu Hiva and then clearing in later at the other islands seemed to be no problem.  For more on the Marquesas see the excellent article by Briana in the February 2002 Commodores Bulletin. 


Commodores Rob (KG4PMZ) & Dee (KG4AYO) Dubin

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