Over the last 35 years, this three-time circumnavigator has undertaken four voyages to the Pacific Ocean, roaming its waters far and wide, from southern Chile to Alaska and from Easter Island to Papua New Guinea, with visits to every island group in between.
An even more ambitious alternative is to sail due south from Panama to Ecuador and Peru, then continue from there to Easter Island and beyond. The main attraction of this route is the opportunity to gain an insight into some of South America.
To visit the interior, you can leave the boat at the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club, in La Libertad in Ecuador, a convenient place from which to visit the Andes or the Amazon, since about a third of the Amazon Basin is located in Ecuador. In Peru, the port of Callao, close to the capital, Lima, can serve as a base at which to leave the boat while touring Inca ruins, Lake Titicaca, and even some of the neighboring countries.
A possible objection to these two southern-route options is that they miss the Marquesas, to my eyes the most beautiful of all the French Polynesian archipelagos. However, this need not necessarily be the case, as from the Gambiers you can sail north to the Marquesas, visiting some of the outer Tuamotus on the way to Tahiti. Another possible alternative detour from the Gambiers is to the Australs. With good planning, any of these objectives can be reached, and the additional mileage more than justifies the effort of stopping at some of the least-visited islands in the South Pacific.
Tahiti has been a favorite landfall for mariners ever since its discovery by the outside world. From sailors to painters, musicians to film stars, its temptations have proved irresistible, and this fascination with the symbol of the South Seas continues to this day. Over the years, Tahiti’s capital, Papeete, once a quiet backwater, has turned into a busy city dominated by noisy traffic that thunders past its attractive waterfront. Take a short walk from there to see a glimpse of old Tahiti that still survives at the vibrant daily market, with its dazzling displays of vivid tropical colors on the fruit and flower stands.
The onward passage to Fiji can be sailed at any time during the safe season, its timing depending primarily on your plans after you leave there. The westbound route is straddled by several attractive island groups, and it won’t be easy to decide which ones to bypass. Sailors leaving Bora-Bora, in the Society Islands, face a choice of a northern route, which touches upon the northern Cooks and continues to either Tonga or the Samoas, and a southern route, which reaches Tonga via the southern Cooks and Niue.
An interesting stop shortly after leaving Bora-Bora is Maupiti, a small Society Island atoll that’s accessible through a pass in the reef. Another one is at Aitutaki Atoll, the nearest of the Cook Islands. A swing to the northwest leads to Suwarrow, an uninhabited atoll and longtime favorite among sailors roaming the South Pacific.
Another perennial favorite is Vava’u, Tonga’s northern group, which boasts one of the most beautiful settings in the world. For sailors heading west from the ancient Kingdom of Tonga, Polynesia gives gradually way to Melanesia at Fiji’s eastern islands, the point where those two ethnic entities blend into each other.
Once you reach Fiji, an important decision needs to be made, especially late in the season: Will you sail to either New Zealand or Australia for the cyclone season or continue to Vanuatu, the Torres Strait and beyond? Besides the annual cyclone season, one other matter of certainty in the South Pacific is that even the best-laid plans may have to be drastically revised, and due to its location, Fiji is the place where the fate of many voyages, or at least their new direction, is decided.