Friday, October 14, 2011

How do we decide where to sail?

It's been about two years since Chris and I decided that we wanted to make the leap and go on a sailing adventure.

The next obvious question: Where do we want to sail? Where in the world? We can go anywhere we want!

Since we live in Southern California, and the ocean current along the Western U.S. flows south along the coast, the one decision that was made for us is our first stop: Mexico.

What's not to like? Sun, fun, warm people, thousands of miles of ocean, coastline and beautiful beaches, and all for a few pesos a day. It's a no-brainer. It's every west coaster's first stop and jumping off point to the next destination on your voyage. But where to next?

The countries of Central America are a logical option. Many cruisers spend hurricane season in Costa Rica and Panama.

 The upsides to these countries are obvious: they are relatively inexpensive, there is amazing wildlife, rainforests and gorgeous beaches.  The downside? Compared to Mexico, there is a bit more crime (believe it or not). And if you go to all the trouble to sail so far south, and all the way to Panama, then you have probably already decided that you want to go through the Panama Canal...

...which is a gigantic pain in the dupa (as they say in Poland). It costs thousands of dollars and takes up to two weeks to traverse it. A grand adventure? Maybe. A waste of time and money that we really don't have? Definitely. Which makes the Caribbean look less and less ideal for us California sailors.

When we first discussed cruising, I abso-freaking-loutely wanted to go to The Caribbean, baby! Come-ON! It's The Caribbean! The thought of a year and a half taking the slow clockwise circle the Caymans, Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, the Virgins...ahhh, just going over this little list is making me a bit wistful. Because it's not in the cards for us. Not on this trip.

                                        Antigua, in the Eastern Caribbean

There are a couple of problems with sailing the Caribbean, other than that damn canal which separates us. The Caribbean is expensive. It's one of the most expensive cruising grounds on earth. And we're a nurse and a lumber salesman. Not a lawyer and a brain surgeon.

In addition, there is an extremely wide wealth disparity between the rich and the poor in many of these Caribbean countries.

              Which means that there is more crime. Another downside to the Caribbean.

                                  Which leads to the next option: The South Pacific.

Most west coast cruisers who head Mexico way tend to just stay in Mexico and sail up and down the coast. Many do it for years, happily, never leaving the land of Manana. A few more head to Central America, through the canal and to the Caribbean. The smallest number shove off from Mexico and head to The South Pacific. The reason for this small number is this:

                                The Pacific Ocean is one gigantic bathtub. Look on the map above and compare the size of the Caribbean to the size of the Pacific. You're looking at about 30 days at sea just to get to French Polynesia.

THIS is why most sailors from the states don't sail to Tahiti and beyond. And can you blame them? It's 2,700 miles from Puerta Vallarta to French Polynesia. And this, frankly, is why I initially wanted to just hug the coast of the Americas and the Caribbean, thank you very much.

But the positives about the South Pacific are awfully tempting.


When you choose to sail the Islands of the South Pacific, each island is much farther apart than those in the Caribbean. You are really OUT there. The ideals of self-reliance spring to the forefront.

                                                 SCUBA diving in Fiji

One morning I woke up after a particularly restful sleep, and it suddenly dawned on me: we MUST go west instead of East. We must skip the Caribbean and do the South Pacific. The reason? We're following the WIND.

     You see, in the map above, each circle is a high pressure system flowing clockwise. Which means if we jump off in Mexico, the trades just naturally whoosh us west to the South Pacific. We will do what comes naturally, because we're sailors. That's what sailors do. They don't fight and battle through a ridiculous, manmade canal! We will follow the wind and the currents. We will SAIL.

So, that is how we made our decision to sail to the South Pacific. Only 2-3 weeks until we shove off, weather permitting.

Thought for the day:

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