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Old 20-05-2012, 08:57   #1
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Hawaii to California

I have been invited to sail from Hawaii to California in July, could anyone who knows the trip give details?
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Old 20-05-2012, 10:03   #2
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Re: Hawaii to California

Where in California, and what type of sailboat?

I've made the Hawaii / San Francisco passage four times now, and really enjoy it. You can read my blog, with more-or-less daily entries here: VALIS (look at the catagories links on the right of the page).
I've also got photos here: VALIS - Photos
And, a brief video of my 2008 return passage:

When you leave in July can make a difference. Most sailors will head north when leaving Hawaii, and attempt to make it over the top of the Pacific High. In early July the High can be pretty far north, which can make for a long trip, or if you elect to cut through the middle, a lot of motoring. Boats returning to southern California (or even San Francisco) sometimes sail under the high into the prevailing winds, but you will want a boat that sails to weather well, and to be prepared for a bit of a bash. Some years this is a better option than others -- it all depends on the Pacific High. The trip to the mainland usually takes between two and three weeks.

July is also the early part of hurricane season. When leaving Hawaii you want to look for any approaching storms. Once you are a couple hundred miles north of the Islands, you are pretty safe. Even the dissipated tropical depressions can cause issues -- these sometimes accelerate or even cancel the normal tradewinds.

There is usually a region of very light wind, or no wind, as you are heading north, since even if you are trying to miss the center of the high, it often finds you anyway. Be prepared to go very slowly, or to motor for the better part of a day.

After sailing north (sometimes a little NNE, and sometimes a little NNW, depending on the wind and seas), I head east, usually going no further north than 41 degrees latitude.

I try to approach San Francisco from the north, so as not to risk having to claw my way upwind during the final stages. This approach puts the wind and seas on my starboard quarter. The final few hundred miles of the San Francisco approach take you through "Gale Alley" or "The Crunch Zone", an area of semi-permanent gales and high seas. I've never experienced anything that caused us a problem, but do look up the story of Skip Allen and "Wildflower" to see what can happen. Here's the short version: Abandoning ship: gut-wrenching, perilous, sometimes right. If you are returning to Southern California you can usually avoid Gale Alley.

Don't let this scare you too much; incidents like this are few and far between. But do remember that it's a big ocean and you have to take it seriously. I will be making the round-trip this July / August, and am looking forward to it.

Here are my passages to and from Hawaii. The four most northerly lines are my return tracks:
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Old 20-05-2012, 10:52   #3
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Re: Hawaii to California

Wow thanks.
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Old 20-05-2012, 20:37   #4
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Re: Hawaii to California

Once again thank you for your immediate and well informed response, i have more questions, the boat is a forty foot keelboat moored at the HYC. Is summer the only time to safely make the voyage?
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Old 20-05-2012, 20:51   #5
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Re: Hawaii to California

If you want to avoid getting hammered with no place to hide, stick to a summer passage. As the Pacific high slides south for the fall and winter, the gales from Alaska get pretty active rolling down from the Aluetians and your weather windows get smaller and smaller.
I would heed Mr Elliot's advice and listen to the words of experience. I've only made the passage twice, both times in summer without difficulty taking the top end routing. One delivery was to Vancouver the other to San Francisco.
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Old 20-05-2012, 20:53   #6
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Re: Hawaii to California

Was that Joe Satrioni playing guitar on the video?
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Old 20-05-2012, 21:07   #7
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Re: Hawaii to California

I've only made the trip in July or August, but I think you can do it earlier by a few months if you don't mind dealing with a Pacific High way up to the north. Later in the season you are more likely to encounter hurricanes, but since you can see these coming from a long way off you are unlikely to be caught by surprise. From fall through spring the low pressure systems coming down from the Gulf of Alaska are more common, and these can be difficult to deal with since you're going to be playing chicken with them to some extent.

But I will admit that I haven't really studied making this passage in other seasons.

The music is indeed Joe Satriani, then Jeff Beck for the last two pieces. Used without permission or payment.
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Old 20-05-2012, 21:09   #8
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Re: Hawaii to California

I figured as much, my skipper says 28 days compared to your two or three weeks, it's a 40 ft sail yacht, wonder why
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Old 20-05-2012, 22:42   #9
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Re: Hawaii to California

I have done the trip 3 and 1/4 times. Had to return to Hawaii with a broken headstay once. That is the quarter. June and Sept one year and Sept 2 years later. First trip was a Peterson 44 ( I owned one at the time) and had a great trip with one night of a rollicking good down wind run that filled the diesel with salt water do to a poor exhaust loop. 21 days. The second trip was a Cal 35 (maybe a 34?) and had a good trip. 24 days. The next trip was a 38 foot motor sailor that had a pilot house and took 27 days. We motored a lot across the high. The 4th trip ended 3 or 4 days out when the roller furling upper fitting let go and I went back to Hoholulu. Be prepared to do the first week close hauled and to get beat up. The next week will be nicer, and then it will start to get cold. I would not do it in the winter monthes. My first 2 trips were with a pregnant wife and the 3rd trip was with an 18 month old son.(that was the hardest). It is not a bad trip for a first passage if you go in the right time of year and expect to get beat up the first week. Would I do it again? Hell Yes!____Grant.
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Old 20-05-2012, 22:53   #10
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Re: Hawaii to California

It crossed my mind that when i fly to Hawaii everytime I look out the window I see blue pacific, what do you see out there?
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Old 20-05-2012, 22:55   #11
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Re: Hawaii to California

I just reread the first post and my first thought is how much offshore experience does the Captain have and how well prepared is the boat? Remember to reef early, even if it adds a few days to your trip, it will make it more pleasant. Good Luck._____Grant.
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Old 20-05-2012, 23:02   #12
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Re: Hawaii to California

He's legit, former harbor master, certified CMS and marine surveyor. Cute too.
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Old 20-05-2012, 23:10   #13
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Re: Hawaii to California

Like the Old Salt told me back 57, go North and a little east till it gets so cold ya needs a coat then, turn South and East till ya see fog and your there ! It really sorta works this way in may june and july LOL but then its the same thing everyone above said !!
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Old 20-05-2012, 23:26   #14
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Re: Hawaii to California

Yeah but I like your jargon best.
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Old 20-05-2012, 23:59   #15
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Re: Hawaii to California

Quote:
Originally Posted by dsail47 View Post
I figured as much, my skipper says 28 days compared to your two or three weeks, it's a 40 ft sail yacht, wonder why
What is your destination? 28 days is a conservative schedule -- I usually tell my crew to plan on three weeks, but with the caveat that it could take longer. If you don't plan to motor through the slow patches, or if you are particularly cautious (always reefing at night, etc), four weeks might be a good estimate.

Some more general passage information: You will learn to deal with tradewind squalls during the first part of the trip. These are generally worse just before sunrise, as they feed off the difference between the warm water and the cool night air. We often find ourselves reefed as the night wears on, and sailing pretty slowly when the sun comes up. Once things calm down we shake out the reefs and build up our speed. These squalls can have doubled wind speed at the leading edge, but completely dead air behind them. Here's a photo of a nasty early-morning squall with our name on it (in the photo we are approaching Hawaii):


Once you get on top of the Pacific High, you leave the squalls behind, but start to see cold fronts and low-pressure troughs. These can pack some wind. By this time you are pretty well tuned to the boat and what would have been a big deal earlier is something you just take in stride now.

This summer we may see additional debris coming over in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami. I don't know if the debris density will be significantly greater than what we normally see (which isn't much), but it is a good idea to keep a sharp lookout in any case.
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