The world is a big place, if you haven’t noticed. How did we pick our particular route? Well, our first choice on where to cruise has always been the South Pacific. The aquamarine water of the Society Islands, the towering granite cliffs of the Marquesas, the whales in Tonga, the pristine diving and the great islanders to meet as you cross the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean just call. That trip is considered the milk run, but it is not for the faint of heart. The first leg is a doozy with a 2700nm stretch between North America and the closest islands of the Marquesas. This is the cruise every sailor dreams of, as our friends termed it “the land of the screensaver”, that said after you complete the Pacific crossing you have the teensey little problem of being half a world away with your boat. This is what we kept hitting our heads against. Yes, we would like to cross the Pacific, but we will have to wait for another cruise when we can do a full circumnavigation, which by our reckoning would require a minimum of at least 4 years, maybe a retirement run. Why can’t you just turn around and sail back? You could, if you were a masochist! It would all be upwind sailing and certainly doable, but not easy. The first rule of sailing is go where the winds blow you, don’t try to fight it. OK, the first rule is don’t have a plan or a timeline, but arguable the second rule should be take the path of least resistance. Most people that cross the Pacific keep sailing and do a full lap around the globe, some may sell their boat down under, but most keep going. One day we will do that, but this time around, we didn’t have that kind of time. Various other variables also played into our decision, but timing was the most pertinent. Second choice was simply to explore as far as we could in our limited time, somewhere between 2-3 years.
Deciding where you want to go is important, but equally important is deciding where you cannot go......meaning when and where is the hurricane season. Generally if you are sailing between the latitudes of N30 and N10 in the northern hemisphere (June 1 - Nov. 1) and the mirror imagine in the southern hemisphere (Nov. 1- June 1) during the hurricane season you are asking for trouble. There are a few exceptions and hurricane holes, but, in general, this is a band around the planet you want to miss. We timed our departure from the US for Nov. 1st and made sure we were heading north away from Florida by June of the following year.
We weren’t sure we wanted to go to Europe, but we also didn’t think we wanted to spend a whole year in the Caribbean. Don’t get me wrong, the Caribbean is paradise, but there are too damn many other cruisers in paradise. We love our time on the beaches, but we also wanted to see some of the less trodden areas of the world. Kids love the tropics, what’s not to love, but we wanted to balance the tropics with some other culturally rich opportunities. Family commitments pointed us to Maine for a stint in the summer, so the most logical thing would be to see some of maritime Canada and while we are there, what the heck, let’s go to Europe. Teach the kids some history about the old world, from..... the old world. Europe as a whole was a great classroom for our three kids who until our trip knew very little about European politics, European culture or European geography. They won’t be writing dissertations any time soon, but you can ask them about the Syrian refugee crisis, NATO, the Euro and EU geography and you will not be met with blank stares. A sail boat may not be the only way to experience Europe, but we are happy we made the decision to sail here.
From Europe we need to be able to get home. We can’t go back the way we came, the winds circle around the North Atlantic in a clockwise direction. We will need to sail far enough south to get in the Easterly winds that will blow us to either the North part of South America or the Caribbean. From there we need to work our way east, it is very hard to make westerly progress once you are in the Caribbean. That will suit us fine and we can island hop back towards the Panama Canal.
Once through the canal we will have to pick our weather window as we travel north through historically fickle winds. Our original plan was to go from the Canal to the Galapagos, out to the Marquesas, north to Hawaii and finally across the North Pacific to Oregon. Oh, and did I mention we were going to do that in one season? Yup, that is a crazy amount of sea miles in open ocean to cross with three kids. I don’t know what planet we were on when we thought that idea up. Planet Crazy to be sure! We would be some salty mofo’s if we took that route. That most definitely would be the best route to take advantage of the predominant winds. Screw the predominant winds (yes, I just violated my first rule of sailing, or was it second), we are instead going to battle the contrary winds up the Pacific coast of Mexico, up the Baja Peninsula and back home. The route is lovingly called the Baha Bash for good reason. That said, we had such crappy winds coming down that section, if those conditions remain, it shouldn’t be too bad. Either way, 1500 miles of bashing beats 8,000 miles of open ocean with three kids any day. Maybe we can ride the tail of an early season hurricane to make northerly progress!
Anyway, the above outlines our thought process as we decided our path. Cruising is about flexibility though and plans have a way of changing as you cruise along.