FOR MOST, CROSSING THE SOUTH PACIFIC is a once-in-a-lifetime event. For me, as Captain of the Dorothea III, I have been fortunate to have crossed the South Pacific four times and the North Pacific once in recent years.
Depending on your jumping-off point from the West Coast, most yachts will need to plan a fuel and possible provision stop in Galapagos. Be aware that Ecuador doesn’t recognise ship’s spares in transit, so stock up on parts and supplies prior to departing either Costa Rica or Panama. Panama, however, does recognise ship spares in transit without import tax.
The arrival and departure logistics for Galapagos are fairly standard, but make sure you complete the formalities prior to departing your last port.
You will need a bottom clean certificate and a sanitation/rat-free certificate. Upon arrival into San Cristobal, a full inspection including bottom/onboard stores/medical equipment etc will be completed. Contact a local agent for updated information.
I highly recommend spending at least a few days exploring, diving, surfing and getting to know these amazing islands – it truly is an experience like no other on the planet.
We have cruised the islands in their entirety on two occasions and spent time in San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Baltra another three times.
Fueling in Galapagos used to be done by barge, but more recently is done in Aeolian Bay (west side of Baltra), which can be in surging conditions med moored to a concrete wharf. This wharf is used by many of the charter vessels and can be very busy with lots of vessel movements. You will need to pre-pay for a set amount. Duty-free is available, loaded within 24 hours prior to departure. Make arrangements with a local agent.
In preparation for your arrival into French Polynesia, you will need to plan for visas (if needed) and also long-stay visas for vessels that wish to stay longer than the 90-day standard allowance. Also, if you require fuel in Nuku Hiva, you will need to pre-order for your arrival.
The voyage from Galapagos to Marquesas is approximately 3,150 nautical miles and is typically done during the months of March through to June as it coincides with spring in North America and fall/winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Weather plays an extremely important role in this part of the voyage, especially for vessels like mine that are towing a large tender.
Typically, starting out in Galapagos and near the equator, you will have fairly predictable calm weather – the exception is the pulsating southern swell as the Southern Hemisphere is going into winter and the gale track to the south is creeping further and further north.
Most vessels (especially sailing) will want to make an almost direct route south to find the trades and hopefully the westerly southern equatorial current. These conditions vary depending on the location of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), but are usually found south of 5 degrees south.
The further north of 5 degrees south the lighter the winds, however, the greater the chances of widespread shower and squall activities. The fallout of this can lead to days of head seas if the squalls are west of your location with cold cloud tops and outflowing westerly winds.
Further south conditions can be less complex, however, with increasing trades, seas will build. Typically, as you move west, you will encounter a mixed sea – southwesterly swell long period/mixed with easterly/southeasterly, wind-driven combined seas can be 6–8 feet, but the southwesterly component is usually so long it’s nearly impossible to pick up. Depending on the strength of the trades, expect an average of 20 knots and 4–6-foot wind-driven seas.
Along this route, expect to see very little other traffic as you will be cruising outside of the normal shipping and aircraft traffic lanes. Foreign longliners with chase boats are more and more common along the route. When encountered at night, they can be quite ominous as you will see high-speed craft on direct course and bearing. In my experience, they have meant no harm and were only out to warn us of the long lines ahead.
Always be vigilant and assess the situation regularly.
It’s important to note that there will be a loss of Vsat (KU band) between 90w and 120w. Inmarsat is fully operational throughout the voyage. SSB cruisers net (Pacific Puddle Jumpers) on 8 MHZ with daily check-ins is a good way of knowing where the trade winds are or are not as most participating are sailing vessels.
Arrival into the Marquesas is nothing short of spectacular. The high, lush, green peaks rise from the bluest blue ocean and you should see an array of marine life as you near the islands. I have seen flocks of sea birds numbering in the thousands and bait/tuna balls the size of small islands.
I have made this landfall multiple times and have been in awe on each occasion.
Most power vessels under 50 metres will need a fuel stop in Nuku Hiva – Northern Marquesas. Over the years, fueling has improved dramatically. Since my first visit in 2012, loading 40,000 litres was a two- to three-day evolution at 20 litres per minute with a small 3/4-inch garden hose style fuel line run from the local gas station.
They now have a 2-inch hose run from an independent fuel pump that loads 150 litres per minute. Fuel still needs to ordered and paid for in advance, so plan ahead. The fuel dock is a concert wharf with ship-style fenders. Plan to med moor – keep watchkeepers on both stern lines and the anchor(s). Holding is good, but depending on the swell conditions, there can be quite a roll and/or surge. I always watch the weather and try to pick a day that conditions are favourable.
I have always felt that we needed more time for cruising and fishing the Marquesas. Whether it’s been two weeks or a month, there always seems more to do and see in each of the islands. Taioha’e Bay has always been our main base for resting upon arrival, initial sightseeing, fishing, purchasing/receiving provisions and picking up owners/guests for trips. With a good agent in Tahiti (I use Etienne Boutin and Tahiti Ocean), and local support, it’s possible to accomplish just about anything.
Each of the islands offers incredible sightseeing, hiking, and historical and cultural experiences. Depending on your stamina and sense of adventure, there is something for everyone. Both crew and guests alike will find activities that will thrill and entertain.
We have always started our owner/guest trips in Nuku Hiva, worked our way south to Fatu Hiva and then back to Hiva Oa for departure flights. I recommend arranging a van/guide on each island to fully appreciate the scenery, sites and be entertained with local knowledge and stories. Don’t miss the handicraft markets and local museums.
The Marquesas Islands are primitive, rugged, and a place that few people have ever seen before you.
You will be captivated by the archeological and ceremonial sites, in awe of the landscapes, intrigued by the local arts (tattoo, sculpture and woodcarving), and you will feel the wild and untamed allure distinctive to these islands.
I can only hope that I’ll get the chance to make this crossing and landfall again at some point in my career; until then, I have the memories.