2004 March: Tahiti passage planning

After we received in the mail three heavy boxes of cruising guides for The Hawaiian Islands, Alaska and British Columbia, and a tube of “planning charts” for the same areas as well as for French Polynesia, I was able to begin our cruise planning.

We were consulting with our weather router, and it looked as if we would follow the route from New Zealand to Tahiti, then to Hawaii, and finally to Sitka, Alaska. He said that this route would help us to best avoid cyclones, but it would take a lot of patience and coordination to position us out of the path of foul weather. We were game. Now that we had decided upon our route, we could begin signing on crew members. We had several excellent prospects. It would be asking a lot of our crew members to remain flexible enough to wait for the best weather window for departure.

In March we invited into our home for dinner, Lynn and Ross, and their two year old son, who hail from Anchorage, Alaska. I met them when I saw their boat GYPSY tied up at the Opua Marina. We were interested in hearing what they had to say about cruising in Alaska, and they were full of good advice and cautions. They pointed out on our charts where the best wildlife viewing is to be found, and the best native totems. There are also hot springs along the coast, some of which require local knowledge to find.

Lynn has been a kayak instructor and tour leader, and manager of one of the Outdoor Education Schools. She has led groups of sea kayakers in Chile as well as in Alaska. Ross has been a sailing instructor and float plane pilot in Alaska. His company specializes in taking climbers to Mt. McKinley.

We were told that the best weather for cruising the region is April through September. The position of the North Pacific High pressure system determines the weather. There would be a lot of rain, and possibly some snow. The number of rainy days increases each month beginning in April. There are many bears to be seen, at the mouths of streams when the salmon are running, and wolves are sometimes seen hunting along the shoreline. We can expect to see whales, seals and sea birds. Some of the national park islands are covered with beautiful vegetation, and the coves with a rich collection of intertidal life. The tidal range is 13 to 20 feet. Most of the other boats along the outside coast are fishing boats. The big tour boats follow the inside passage. We were becoming excited about the endless possibilities for cruising the wilds of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia.

We were finalizing our prospective passage making schedule:

Depart Opua May 31

Arrive Raivavae June 14

Depart Raivavae June 17

Arrive Bora Bora June 19

Two weeks in Bora Bora region

Depart Bora Bora July 3

Arrive Hilo July 17

Two weeks in Hilo

Depart Hilo August 2

Arrive Sitka August 16

These were minimum passage times, estimating an average boat speed of 8 knots.

We allowed 2 weeks between legs for re-provisioning and waiting for a weather window. The actual schedule as the passages were completed looked very similar to this prospective schedule, give or take a few days, as well as our decision to not stop in Raivavae, Austral Islands, French Polynesia.

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