How to cross an ocean - a perspective

Category: Ships Log
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The crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas

covers about 4,800 kilometres (3,000 mi) of Ocean, so the trip needs to be planned well.

It's about to get serious. So far we were sailing along the Pacific Coast and in the mostly sheltered Sea of Cortez. Our longest passage was 3 days and two nights. But soon we will open a new chapter in our sailing life. In a few days we will be on our way to the Marquesas islands, a 25 to 35 day passage with no land only the deep blue ocean as far as one can see - so naturally we are pretty excited.

Marquesas Islands group
The Marquesas Islands group is one of the most remote in the world, lying about 4,800 kilometres (3,000 mi) away
from the west coast of Mexico, the nearest continental land mass. The little red dot is Nuevo Vallarta, our current position.


The Marquesans dressed in pāreu performing a haka dance, circa 1909. Nowadays they still perform the dance but
have stopped the ritualistically killing and eating of their captives (Image source: White Shadows in the South Seas; file: 14384, Frederick O'Brien, public domain).

The best way for us to approach this voyage is to wait for a good northerly wind blowing down the Sea of Cortez. This wind will push us several hundred miles offshore which is important since the sailing guides advise to sail off the continental shelf as quickly as possible because the seas are always rougher there. Once we are far enough out the NE trade winds are supposed to wait for us and take us further west.  We will sail SW until we get close to the ITCZ. This is not a new bullet train - as you might think - no it's the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), also known as the doldrums. It's a place where the trade winds from the northern and the southern hemispheres meet; this results in a cloudy, hot and humid area with light to no wind, mixed with the occasional fast moving squall with high wind, heavy rain and thunderstorms. The goal is to cross the ITCZ, which occurs between 3 and 10 degrees N, as fast as possible. Thus we will be heading directly south for several days at this point. Once through the ITCZ and across the equator we should soon hit the SE trades from the southern hemisphere which will carry us all the way to the Marquesas.


ITCZ satellite image Marquesas Mexico
This image shows the ITCZ, it's the band of bright white clouds that cuts across the center of the image. The image
is a combination of cloud data from NOAA’s newest Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-11) and
color land cover classification data. The red dot shows Nuevo Vallarta.


That's the theory :-). In reality we've heard reports from boats that are crossing right now that they are encountering large cross swells and days when the trade winds forget to blow; however, they also say there are days of beautiful downwind sailing and azure blue seas. Anyway we are optimistic since almost all boats which attempted this journey made it safely. So far we know of only 3 boats out of the 100+ boats sailing to the Marquesas this year which did not make it. The first one had an engine failure and the second one (Windcutter) had generator problems several hundred miles into their crossing. In both cases skipper and crew decided to turn around because it's easier to fix those major problems in Mexico rather than on anchor at a Pacific island. The third boat (Rebel Heart) made national news in the US last week when their youngest kid got sick while they had boat problems about 900 miles out and the entire family got rescued by a Navy warship. While this is a sad story, it's good to know that there is help out there when needed.


Once we make it to the Marquesas we will follow the so called "Coconut Milk Run" route to the Tuamotus, the Society Islands, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, etc..  Well but first we have to cross the Pacific. We'll update our blog during the crossing with short text messages thanks to our Ham radio and Althea (Alena's mom). Stay tuned!

Green Panther is almost ready for the crossing. Here we mount blocks high up on the mast to hold up the lazy jack system.
On the right you can see Windcutter, an Island Packet 485. They will leave about the same time as we will.


Update: We just received the weather briefing this morning and it turns out that the next system coming down the Sea of Cortez will be rather weak and won't push us far enough west. Even worse the NE trade winds are predicted to become very light on Tuesday, meaning that we would just float around out there without making any progress for almost a week, thus we decided to wait for the next weather window which is predicted to open in the about 8/9 days.

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+1 #2 David & Michelle 2014-04-14 18:12
and we'll need those northers to help across to Mazatlan next week (OK, a "little" shorter distance that you guys have to go!).
+1 #1 Bernhard 2014-04-13 12:43
GOOD LUCK!! I am looking forward to seeing your comments during the journey, Fletcher Chris!. Your reports are really great - I really enjoyed them. Viel Glück und alles Gute, Berndi&Gema&Die go&Mario

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