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How to cross the Pacific on a Hatteras

The yachting world is showing an unmistakable growing interest in long-range cruising and exploration. Islands in the South Pacific and other exotic areas that are practically inaccessible, except by boat, have now become places to anchor off and explore. Most people buy boats to do some relaxing day trips – fishing, diving or having a few beers on the sandbar – to break away from the rat race and unwind. Some boaters are more adventurous and dream of exploring other countries and cultures.

If Florida is your home base you can do that, even if you only have a couple of weeks to play with. The Bahamas are a short 2-3 hour ride across the Gulf Stream. But what if you want to go further away? Would you need to do an ocean crossing? The longest crossing is the Pacific Ocean, a roughly 3,000 nautical mile stretch between the Americas and the French Polynesian islands.

I took the opportunity to do that in 1999, when I received an unrefusable offer from the owner of a Hatteras motor yacht who wanted to circumnavigate the globe. It was a 70’ Hatteras that became a 77’ after she had a refit done to hold a total of 6400 gallons of diesel fuel.

We had confidence that this Hatteras, along with her reliable 12V71 Detroit Diesel engines, would have the integrity for a trip like this. A confidence that would later be tested when we were caught in a 55-knot gale off the coast of New Zealand and had to deal with seas rising up to 25 feet that dwarfed the boat for three sleepless nights. That situation should have been avoided, but more of that later.

Hatteras began building yachts in the early ’80s and named their vessels after Cape Hatteras, the notorious, lengthy and exposed stretch of coastline off of  North Carolina. The rough ocean around the outer banks is also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, where more than 600 ships have been wrecked over the decades. This well known fishing location was both the testing ground and the proving ground for Hatteras yachts, which have since become renowned for being robust, stable, high-quality builds even as they have morphed into the attractive luxurious hi-tech motor yachts of today. These are very desirable traits if you are going on an adventure where you plan to place yourself into remote areas that are a thousand miles away from civilization.

Planning a trip like this means you have a lot to take into consideration. Electronic charts for remote areas are not in high demand and are sometimes hard to come by but can be ordered. Paper charts will also be necessary as a back up. Dodgy fuel can be a concern and that is where a good filtration system is so important. Keeping in mind the trim of the boat, it is good to have a fuel tank valve manifold with which to supply and return fuel from your selected tank. Oil changes are important for engine care, and you will need to do some of your oil changes out at sea; for which a calm day, a spacious engine room, a spare oil supply and a waste oil tank will all prove extremely useful.

With regard to safety, all the necessary precautions and mandatory safety equipment are needed. We had Epirbs, Radar, Satellite phones, VHF and Internet, as well as Navtex for weather

reports. I kept regular land-based contact to inform someone of our expected arrival and departure times and dates.

We had back up units for all the navigational equipment and signed up with a reputable weather routing service for certain legs of the journey.

There is not too much concern about waves and weather while cruising up the beautiful Rio Dulce in Guatemala (photo inset). After Central America, we did the Panama Canal transit, and then made a final stop in Ecuador to refuel before doing the Pacific crossing.

For the most part of the year in the south pacific, you have the south-east trade winds blowing and therefore the favorable crossing direction is from east to west. It is quite pleasant with the swell always on the aft quarter of the boat. The vessel had TRAC fin stabilizers which make a solid difference to an already stable Hatteras. We experienced some bumpy conditions during our journey from the occasional storm, but the boat handled well. As you gain familiarity with your boat, you will find that you start to evaluate each weather report and decide what level of ocean conditions you are prepared to deal with. The tropics were good cruising, but moving further south the weather becomes more of a concern.

Planning the leg between Tonga and New Zealand can be tricky. Big low pressures in the southern latitudes move eastwards towards you and timing is important. Slow-moving sail boats especially feel the stress of  getting caught out here. The storm we got into trouble with off the coast of New Zealand was quicker and larger than expected, but we were aware of it and could have avoided it had we not been in a hurry.  With sustained 55 knot winds and rising seas we ultimately had to change course, slow down and run with the huge swells. This was definitely easier, but dangerous as the boat would catch the occasional giant wave, surf and then broach in the trough. This became stressful and tiring and after the third night we welcomed an improvement in ocean conditions. In the end we were thankful to get through the storm and it was a lesson learnt. Deadlines can be dangerous when you are on a boat. Whatever it is can wait. Boating is meant to be enjoyable so why sign yourself up for a beating? After the storm we made port in New Caledonia instead of New Zealand and recuperated there. We eventually made it to Auckland after waiting a week or two for a decent weather window.

Another part of the planning are the visas needed for the various countries and their islands which you plan to visit. Confirmation of requirements ahead of time is vital to avoid a lot of hassles upon arrival at customs and immigration.

Food is something worth considering, and you’ll need plenty of freezer space for the three weeks that you won’t see land. I had never caught a fish before the trip, but with plenty of time to occupy I gave it a go and was thrilled to catch a good mahi-mahi, which was a great addition to the menu.
A good water supply is a necessity, but carrying a lot of water is heavy on a boat. There are numerous types of reverse-osmosis Water Makers available and you will need one onboard. A standard unit can make fresh water from sea water at a rate of 20 gallons an hour, which will be more than enough for a few people each day.

A good tender is something you will need as well, especially to get to shore when you are anchored off. Depending on the size of your boat and your needs, you could even fit 2 different size RIBs on the bridge. Of course it’s always good to have spares for almost anything hard to find while traveling; so think about impellers for engines and generators, fuel filters, oil filters, sea strainers, zincs, water maker filters, etc. And don’t forget a very decent set of tools.

There are numerous types of boats and custom builds available for doing long range cruising including well known reliable trawler brands like Nordhavn, Kadey-Krogen, Grand Banks and Outer Reef. Most Hatteras motor yachts of today have a range of around 1000 nautical miles at low speeds, like the new 90 Hatteras Panacera (photo inset) for sale by Denison Yachting. The fact that owners purchase older Hatteras motor yachts and convert them to carry more fuel is a testament to their ocean-going reliability. Ward Setzer, the original naval architect for Hatteras has now returned there as the Chief Product Officer. Who better would there be to design your custom Long Range Cruiser the way you dream for it to be?

I am currently enjoying working with a client who is planning a trip just like the one that I have done, and it is bringing back good memories. I enjoy taking the time to help my clients find the right boat and work through the details – and I look forward to many more. I have mentioned some of the basics to consider when planning an ocean crossing, but it’s important to remember the sense of adventure and the dreams that got you started in the first place, because they become the reality of a trip that you will never forget.