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A Change of Plans

April 17, 2011

Murre launched on her current adventure from San Francisco in November of 2010. She was headed south, to Mexico, down the Pacific coast of the Baja Peninsula, up into the Sea of Cortez, and into a rich cruising ground of indigo waters and tan desert islands that had captured my imagination for years. So complete was this incarceration that all of the articles I’ve posted to date on SPOT ADVENTURES have been under the title Murre in Mexico and none have discussed how boat and skipper would return home.

So let me catch you up.

From the Sea of Cortez there are two common routes north. One is affectionately called the “Baja Bash” by west coast cruisers; that is, switch on the motor and plow up the ragged coast against strong and stronger winds and seas supported by thousands of miles of fetch. Imagine, for example, walking from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the I5 freeway, against traffic; now delete from this image lane dividers and make the ground jump up and down. The ride is reported to be wet, rough, ridiculously unpleasant.

The other way home is via the historic “Great Circle” route, the track used by sailing ships of trade for thousands of years before the invention of that snotty upstart, the motor. Compared to the “Baja Bash” this passage is as leisurely as it is long. Take what wind there is out of Cabo San Lucas and follow it west, picking up the northeast trades to Hawaii in a week or so. From Hawaii shoot straight north on trades that soften as latitude increases; continue climbing up and up and around this ocean’s main weather feature, the North Pacific High, where northwesterlies eventually prevail and can be ridden to one’s destination.

While neither choice is fast in a modern sense, the “Baja Bash” passage is around 1600 miles and can be thought of in terms of weeks. To achieve the “Great Circle” route one must think in months: total distance traveled is at least 5000 miles and could easily require 50 days sailing, this without any dallying in Hawaii, a place that invites dallying.  Murre’s way home has always been via Hawaii.

But, in fact, there is a third route.

A few weeks ago I was sitting by the pool of a nice hotel in San Jose del Cabo with my lovely wife, Joanna. I put down my book, took an extra long pull on my margarita and ever so casually remarked that I’d been thinking of heading to Hawaii via French Polynesia. To which my wife immediately replied “why not!”. 

Current occupation to one side, I am actually the timid one in this relationship. I could think of a thousand reasons why not (too far, too long away, too expensive, not part of the agreement, too damned scary, etc.) and had been rehearsing answers to her objections for days, so I was entirely unprepared for no objection at all. I hadn’t imagined I’d see the gauntlet lying there at the foot of my chaise lounge smiling sweetly and purring like a kitten. All I had to do was pick it up.

So I did.

The nearest approach to French Polynesia is via a small group of islands called the Marquesas. These lie 2600 miles southwest of the southern tip of Baja at about 10 degrees south latitude and on the other side of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), more commonly known as the Doldrums. From here one carefully makes way through the fringed reef islands of the Tuamotus and into the famous Society Island chain at whose center is Tahiti. Of course, one can continue trending west–the choices are nearly infinite–to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the New Hebrides and find, eventually, New Zealand or Australia as did the explorers of old. But too much westing makes Hawaii a difficult destination, and Murre dearly wishes to see Hawaii this season, so we will launch north from Tahiti. 

This change of plans will add 2500 miles and about six months to the itinerary. The northern and southern hurricane seasons typically dovetail, and when, in October, cruising boats are required (by law) to depart French Polynesia in order to avoid their late year storms, hurricane season in the north has wound down, making passage to Hawaii safe. Once there, one must wait until late spring before a passage over the high and through the wintery northern latitudes is tenable.

So, Murre will depart south in a week or two, wander among the Polynesians until fall, plan to arrive in Hawaii in early November, and from there launch for home in May of 2012.

It all sounds so easy.

One Comment
  1. Bruce Allen permalink
    April 28, 2011 8:50 pm

    Bon Voyage Randall and Murre. We’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks. Ciao

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