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.
From Fiji, the main transpacific route continues to northern Australia. This is the route sailed by boats bound for the Indian Ocean, often as part of a voyage around the world. Those who intend to take the Cape of Good Hope route need to pass through the Torres Strait by early September so they’ll have enough time to reach South Africa by early November, before the start of the cyclone season in the southern Indian Ocean.
The timing for boats bound for Southeast Asia and the northern Indian Ocean is more flexible, as the passage through Torres Strait can be delayed until October.
Weather conditions in September across the Coral Sea, off the northeast coast of Australia, are favorable, with consistent southeast trade winds all the way to the Torres Strait. Few sailors plan to make the long passage without stopping at some of the islands scattered about the Coral Sea. A detour to the Solomons and Papua New Guinea requires more time and may not fit easily into a tight schedule. Rather than sail directly to the Torres Strait, an attractive alternative is to divert to northern Queensland, where Cairns is a convenient port of call with good repair and provisioning facilities. From there, the route stays inside the Great Barrier Reef and enters the Torres Strait from the south.
Two Seasons Better Than One
To do it proper justice, the South Pacific deserves more than just one season, and for this reason, most boats spend at least two winters there, usually by leaving the tropics for the cyclone season, sailing south to New Zealand or Australia or north to Papua New Guinea and Micronesia. Those who prefer to remain in the tropics during summer can find shelter in one of the few safe harbors or all-weather marinas.
For those who wish to continue cruising, there are a few hurricane holes in Tahiti, Vava’u, Pago Pago, the islands of Samoa, and Fiji, although in some countries, the authorities insist that visiting yachts leave the country before the onset of the cyclone season. One of the advantages to spending the summer season outside the tropics is that one is able to go to a place with good repair and service facilities.
A popular destination is New Zealand, where voyagers can find various marinas offering a wide range of services. Similar facilities are also available along Australia’s east coast. In the islands, the best repair centers are those in a location that supports its own boating community, such as in Tahiti; the capital city of Suva, in Fiji; Nouméa, in New Caledonia; and Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea. The establishment of charter operations in Raiatea, in the Society Islands; in Vava’u; and in Fiji has brought about a noticeable improvement in the standard of facilities there.
On passages to New Zealand in November, the winds are mostly from east or southeast down to about 28 S or 30 S. From there on, the winds can come from any point on the compass, but because the passing of a front or depression usually results in a spell of northwesterlies, it does no harm if some westing is made while under the influence of those southeasterlies. An interesting stop south of Fiji is at the Minerva Reefs, which have temporary anchorages and are popular with boats sailing this route. However, as they lie slightly east of the direct route, perhaps it’s better to call there on a return voyage the following season.
Those who intend to spend the cyclone season in Australia should continue west from Fiji and sail to a port in the Australian states of New South Wales or southern Queensland. Both Vanuatu and New Caledonia lie close to this route and provide the opportunity to experience the very different cultures of these two Melanesian nations. In the former, a traditional way of life still survives in the outer islands, while in the latter, the strong French influence has brought about the opposite result. How long will it be before this happens throughout the South Seas?
Longtime CW contributor Jimmy Cornell completed his latest circumnavigation on Aventura III, an Ovni 43. Among his latest books are World Cruising Destinations (2010, International Marine; $50); A Passion for the Sea (2008, Paradise Cay; $30); and World Cruising Routes (2008, International Marine; $60).