Coconut Milk Run
page gives an overview of Pacific island cruising. For the color
commentary, be sure to visit
(that’s Signe) Version of the Coconut Milk Run (click to open).
we said we were going to do it, and the time is getting close. This is our
year to make the longest bluewater passage on the planet, 2,750+ miles
from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Hiva Oa or Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas
Islands of French Polynesia.
a map of the vast Pacific Ocean, and the route we expect to take among the
islands. Click on the map to see a larger, easier-to-read version. This
well-traveled path is affectionately called The Coconut Milk Run. Several
hundred cruising boats, mostly from the US, Canada, the UK, and
Continental Europe, cross the Pacific this way every year. It’s a bit like
doing the London-Paris-Rome thing for the first time: everybody goes to
the most visited places, but there are really good reasons why they’re the
most visited, so you just have to do it!
We are, however,
planning to maximize our . . . Oops, sorry. That just slipped
out. A bit of leftover jargon from business meetings with facilitators,
white boards, and colored pens. Beg pardon. Won’t happen again.
We’re going to spend as much time as possible in French Polynesia during
our first season in the Pacific. That’s because the people are
fascinating, islands are magnificent, and it’s really hard to sail back to
them after spending the cyclone season in New Zealand. Most boats cruise
on to Tonga and Fiji their first year, but we hope to spend more time
there in future years.
Most of the beautiful photos of the South Pacific islands on this page are
courtesy of our friends Ken and Cathy aboard ‘Felicity’, who made the trip
in 2001. Be sure to take a look at the terrific
Felicity website, too. They’re
good writers, as well as good photographers.
timing of any Coconut Milk Run cruise is totally determined by the
weather. This is emphatically not the place to get creative with your
cruising ideas. The time to cruise the South Pacific islands is April to
October, which is winter in the southern hemisphere and the driest,
least-humid time to cruise. Those months also entirely avoid the cyclone
season, always an important goal for us cowardly cruisers.
Most of the South Pacific
island groups are in the Southeast Trade Wind belt, which necessarily
means that we all sail west through the islands, mostly downwind. (Winds
are always labeled by the direction they blow from.) Because we cruisers
just hate to sail upwind. The trades can be lovely ten-to-fifteen knot
25-to-35 knot white knucklers; it all depends. And this year the weather
gurus say we may we be starting a new El Niño cycle, which usually means
light winds and sometimes even reversed trade winds. We’ll tell you more
as we move along the Coconut Milk Run.
The Big Passage
That first crossing, from
Puerto Vallarta to the Marquesas, is going to be our real test. It should
take us sort of, about, roughly two weeks and a bit more, give or take.
Steve Dashew (famous bluewater passagemaker and designer of our boat) just
emailed us that he thought we should make it in about 12 days. Jan’s more
modest calculations, based on expected light trade winds this year, call
for more like 15 or 16 days. In any case, we will probably get there much
more quickly than most of the boats in the fleet, who usually spend three
to four weeks at sea. The smaller the boat, the longer the passage,
Raven is a fast boat with
lots of waterline length (equals speed potential), and we’ll have a couple
of extra crew to help keep her moving. Mark Lindeman and Mike Hudson, both
from our crew in the Baja Ha-Ha 2001, will be with us lending their
sailing skills. Mark will
his usual positions as Chief Rigger (chef de rigueur?), Principal Deck
Ape, and Sushi Chef, as well as Head of the Forepeak Department. Mike will
again be Chief Helmsman and will also head the Fishing and Twelve-String
Guitar Departments. They are disputing who will lead the Music Department,
as Raven will carry at least 40 gigabytes of MP3 music files to make sure
we are never bored.
Here are the various island
groups, the mileages between and among them, and our rough cruise plan:
Vallarta to Hiva Oa, Marquesas
Bora, Society Islands
|Bora Bora to
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
|Tonga to New
Total Miles Across the
Pacific (minimum) 6,500
And that doesn’t even
include the miles we’re going to sail while cruising among the islands, in
and out of harbors, etc. The total will surely be closer to 7,500 miles.
Each of the island groups,
even within French Polynesia, has a distinct character of the land and the
people that differs from all the others.
These are the remote high
islands with beautiful sharp peaks. The inhabitants are thought to be the
source of the Hawaiians, having traveled several thousand miles of ocean
to find those other high islands. This is where Herman Melville jumped
ship, to escape a brutal whaling captain, and stayed with the fierce Taipi
tribe of cannibal Marquesans for several months, which resulted in his
famous novel Typee.
there’s an opposite to the Marquesas, it’s the Tuamotus. They’re all huge,
classic South Pacific atolls, where twenty feet above sea level is
considered high ground. Sparse sand islands fringed with coconut palms –
motus in Polynesian – surround vast lagoons, with
coral reefs inside and out. Many of the
islands have black pearl farms in
their lagoons, but Signe categorically denies the accusation that they are
the sole reason she’s agreed to sail across the Pacific. ALL of the
cruisers buy or trade for black (gray, really) pearls, and I’m sure we
are the one you always see in the photos of ‘paradise,’ mountainous but
with fringing coral reefs, too. It’s hard to beat the beauty of Moorea or
Bora Bora. And since it’s all controlled by the French, you can always get
wonderful baguettes, wine, and cheese! We hope to be there for part of the
big annual Heiva festival in June and July.
group of islands having a ‘treaty of free association’ with New Zealand,
the Cooks are thought to be the origin of the Polynesians who became the
Maoris in New Zealand. In fact, there are more Cook Islanders in NZ than
in the Cooks. We’ll probably only visit Rarotonga, a high island with a
surrounding reef, and the capital of the group. Other cruisers say the
folks there are wonderfully receptive to foreigners.
Kingdom of Tonga was never conquered by the European colonial powers, and
the King still reigns over a society that is both highly religious
(Methodist, mostly) and highly stratified, with royalty, nobles, and
commoners. Lots of coral reefs and interesting villages. By this time, we
will be starting to get antsy to be out of the islands before cyclone
season starts in November. We’ll probably sail away from Tonga by the end
Every single American we
know who visited New Zealand has fallen in love with Kiwiland. Including
us. And cruisers especially like it because all those Kiwis are obsessed
with sailing. Lots of places to
plenty of fascinating shore excursions, and great people. Cheap, excellent
services and repairs for boats, too, since the NZ dollar is worth only 41
cents US. Raven will spend November through April – the southern
hemisphere summer – in New Zealand. We’ll probably buy a used car, like
most cruisers, and ‘land-cruise’ the country for a couple of months at
least. Then in May of ’03, we might well head back north to Tonga and
Fiji. But that’s a long way down the road to plan for, and anyway cruisers
hate planning things in advance.
Now . . . for the much more
interesting color commentary, go to Signe’s page,
Version of the Coconut Milk Run (click to open).
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