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Old 24-05-2014, 16:43   #1
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Location: Hawaii
Boat: 1978 Cal 39 MKII Tall Mast
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Tahiti during El Nino year?

Should I cancel my first big crossing from Hawaii to Tahiti next week?

I'm planning an out-and-back, 3 month cruise next week. 20 days from Hawaii to Tahiti, 2 or 3 weeks in Tahiti, then 20 days back from June 2014 to Aug 2014. However, I've been reading scary things like "reversal of trades," "unseasonal weather" and "summer HURRICANES!" due to a strong possibility of 2014 being an El Nino year. The crew and I have no hurricane experience, only plenty Hawaiian Island cruises in benign weather. I mean, South Point, Big Island was the worst we've seen which was more exhilarating and fun than scary.

The boat (Cal 39) is set up for big weather with storm sails, a drogue, heavy duty rigging, choice of 4 anchors (one being an abomination of a fortress anchor), etc.

I've been preparing for a year now and ready to go! Any predictions for SoPac weather from June to August, 2014?


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Old 24-05-2014, 18:46   #2
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Re: Tahiti during El Nino year?

We spent a year in French Polynesia during the first year of an El Nino Period. Had only one tropical depression with winds reported at 50k. We were anchored deep in Oponohu on Moorea and the only issue was the heavy rain driven by the strong winds that found its way below in a few spots.

The following year, still El Nino, Tahiti got hit by 3 tropical cyclones which is their way of saying hurricane. Lot of damage on shore burt didn't much about any yachts getting in trouble. The deep bays on Moorea and the other islands are great places to hide out. Even in El Nino years, hurricanes stay pretty much west of the Tuamotus though not always. A similar situation developed during the next El Nino Period.

There is really good weather reporting these days and it should be easy to avoid a hurricane if you keep up on the weather. The danger from Tropcial cyclones in FP, is going to be below the ITCZ which hangs between the equator and 10 degrees North. You should miss the Tropical Cyclone season unless you'll be there after November.

Northern hemisphere hurricanes pretty much stay in a narrow path between 10 and 20 degrees north latitude. The last hurricane to hit the north shore of the Big Island was in the century before last. If you've spent any time in Hawaii, you've seen the storms march across the Pacific only to dissipate before getting here or pass harmlessly south of us. Unfortunately for Kauai, every couple of decades they hook north and pound that Island and the southern shore of Oahu. There is plenty of warning that these storms are coming. They are generated in the Gulf of Panama 3000 miles away and are well tracked. You'll only have to make good 600 miles or so to get below 10 degrees and out of their path.

We sailed to the Marquesas in June from san Diego. We were much further West so had less advance warning than you will have. Plan was to sail south to 20 degrees N and make a go/no go decision. If there was a storm developing, we'd bore holes in the ocean above 20 degrees till it passed. If nothing was happening, we'd head south and be below10 degrees before anything could get to us. There was an undefined low pressure cell that wasnt showing signs of moving or building in strength in the Gulf of Panama when we got to 20N so decided to forge on. As luck would have it, the wind started dropping and our daily runs that had been averaging close to 150 nmd began dropping precipitously and the low pressure developed into a cat 3 hurricane and headed west at a rapid pace. By the time it was 24 hours from us, we were at about 9 degrees North. We would have made good at least another degree or two of latitude and the storm would have passed well to the north of us by the time it reached our longitude. We probably still would have gotten some seas and strongish winds but nothing to write a book about. Fortunately the storm went POOF in a 12 hour period dropping from hurricane strength to a tropical depression and disappearing completely in another 12 hours. All we got was 10 foot plus rollers from a storm in the southern ocean and the doldrums. Nothing quite so much fun as being rolled from gunnel to gunnel in a 100 degree heat and humidity with no wind. Gave me a lot of respect for Coleridge.

So, We went and would go even quicker from Hawaii. Especially since you have a faster and better light air boat than we had.
Peter O.
'Ae'a Pearson 35
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