Doing a pacific crossing on a monohull or catamaran is one experience you’ll cherish for years, but one that requires a ton of prior planning.
Crossing the Pacific – Sail Times
With more than 8,000 nautical miles to sail, it takes 2.5 to 4 weeks to make the longest leg of a Pacific crossing from Galapagos Islands to The Marquesas. However, most cruisers take 3 to 6 months, or even up to 12 months, to do the entire ‘Coconut Milk Run’ from Panama to Australia, by stopping into many atolls, islands and countries along the way.
Fortunately, this long crossing typically has favourable currents and strong tradewinds, allowing both a fast and comfortable passage with many cruisers referring this to being relatively easy sailing. Mild swell, predictable and clean winds and with next to no squalls, it’s a trip that’s well within your means, and yes, even if it’s your first large crossing.
That is – provided you do some strong planning, good provisioning and have more than 2 crew members. We certainly wouldn’t recommend an Atlantic crossing for a couple unless you’ve got some serious sea miles under your belt, otherwise, you’ll arrive into French Polynesia completely and utterly exhausted.
In this guide, we’ll help you better plan the trip so you can have a safe and comfortable voyage, and you’ll see why the South Pacific especially is one of the best cruising grounds out there.
West-Bound vs East-Bound
In many cases, it’s far better to head east-bound (towards Australia) as opposed to sailing towards the Panama Canal. This is because you’ll be sailing upwind with both tides and wind working against the boat.
Not only will the ride be more uncomfortable, but you’ll be putting more stress and strain on your boat at the same time. Many cruisers like us are out there to have fun and aren’t fond of an unpleasant crossing.
Length of Voyage
As we hinted at the start, you shouldn’t focus on the length of the crossing but plan for an entire year (or 3!) to do a Pacific crossing. This is because of the epic islands, unique cultures, incredible anchorages and stunning mounts (hello Marquesas!) that you’ll find along the way.
Unlike the Mediterranean, there are thousands of protected anchorages along the way paired with many available buoys (often times free) to protect the sensitive coral reefs. When you’re cruising, who’s in a rush? Especially when it’s the trip of a lifetime for many aspiring sailors.
A truly first-world problem is choosing which route you’d want to take on your first Pacific crossing, and there is no one-route-fits-all approach here. It really comes down to your boat type, crew numbers, vessel weight, time of year and current experience.
We would highly recommend stopping into the Galapagos Islands and stay for 2 to 3 weeks. Quarantine here is quite strict so you’ll have to consume or dispose of any food before entering port while ensuring you arrive on a spotless hull.
A drawback towards any Pacific crossing is experiencing the doldrums. This challenge is mostly felt after leaving the Galapagos Islands en route to French Polynesia, but then again…where else would you rather be?
For the following islands, their order is based on heading eastwards on a Pacific Crossing.
If time permits, we would recommend 1 to 2 months in French Polynesia if you really want to experience the culture shock and the incredible hospitality. This country is the epitome of world cruising and ‘living the dream’ with the many atolls and empty beaches where few tourists ever visit.
For those of you rushing the trip, then you can’t leave without stopping into Taumotus and The Marquesas for their incredible mountains and lush rainforests. As an added bonus, the frequent rainfalls means that you’ll be able to get that salt off your deck too!
If you’re anything like us, Tahiti has been at the top of your bucket list for years. It sits almost smack-bang in the middle of Australia and the United States meaning it’s both difficult and expensive for every day tourists to explore. The benefit(s) of owning a sailing vessel after all, right?
Tahiti is a part of the Society Islands and is the most popular island for cruisers. It’s certainly worth a stopover to rest, recover and restock your boat with fresh provisions.
One of the most beautiful things about Tonga is the short hops between its 3 main anchorages. This makes for a welcome reprieve after the Pacific crossing, paired with incredible hospitality.
Unfortunately, this is also where you’ll start seeing commercial tourism at play given the daily flights between Tonga and Australia. So if you’re missing modern civilization, just remember “Things get normal again from Tonga onwards”
Things really start to get normal from Fiji onwards with resorts, hotels and restaurants never too far away from Suva. Fortunately, Fiji is a huge cruising ground and you could spend several months here without seeing the whole lot.
While snorkeling, fishing and diving can be found in many Pacific islands, Fiji is also where you’ll find some epic places to go surfing, kite boarding and even pick up some half-decent WIFI to catch up on social media back home. Like we said….you’re almost back to normality here.
Vanuatu isn’t as busy as Fiji (fortunately!) and makes for a great stopover before you do your final stretch of sailing across the pacific. We fell in love with the amazing scenery both above and below the waterline.
The local people are warm and friendly while the local festivals can’t to be missed. Some say it’s the happiest country in the world, and we certainly couldn’t disagree! It’s at this point that you’ll start to feel some angst as the end of your trip is looming.
Finishing a Pacific Crossing in Australia or New Zealand?
For many who are finishing off their Pacific crossing, it’s hard to know whether to make a bee-line for Australia and enter in Brisbane, Coffs Harbour or Sydney, or make a diversion to Auckland. This depends on what time of year you’re making the Pacific crossing.
In late autumn through to mid Summer, it’s a perfect time to check into Auckland and explore the incredible cruising grounds of New Zealand’s North Island. However, the region is very cold in the winter months paired with less predictable weather systems making a leap to Australia more challenging for a novice sailor.
So in short, aim for Auckland if you can make it, otherwise sail direct to Australia’s east coast. Sydney to Brisbane can be cruised year-round with no cyclone seasons making a perfect base in which to explore, and later head for Auckland as summer approaches once again.