Please select your home edition
Edition
Pantaenius - Worldwide Support

Cruising the Pacific- the Coconut Milk Run

by Nancy Knudsen - three days from Fiji on 23 Sep 2007
Coconut Milk Run boats in Daniels Bay Marquesas BW Media
It's called the Coconut Milk Run – pejorative term that. The Coward's Way Out, it says, the Easy Way across the Pacific. I am not sure who's saying it. Presumably all those who have done polar circumnavigations, rounded the Horn, or visited the Antarctic by sailing boat.

Every year there are estimated to be about 400 sailing boats that can be found crossing the Pacific from East to West, trailing after the sunsets and pursued by sunrises. It's the greatest down hill run of them all - about eight thousand miles if you're going to Australia, a little less to New Zealand.

If you say the route fast, it doesn't sound far or complicated – Galapagos, the Marquesas, the Tuomotus, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and Vanuatu to Australia. (There aren't, I might add, many coconuts in the Galapagos, and if the Charles Darwin Foundation has its way, there won't be, at any time in the future.)

Boats heading for New Zealand then make the break for New Zealand in either Tonga or Fiji, wiling away time in either of these destinations, waiting for the weather to improve in that colder southern country.

While the weather naturally varies from year to year, the route avoids as much as possible the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), by crossing it quickly between Panama and Galapagos and the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) by not venturing too far north in the Western Pacific.

The goal, not always successful, is to keep to the route with the best weather and most reliable trade winds.

But who are these 400? Where are they coming from and why? The answers are many and varied, but some generalisations can be made.

To start on the Milk Run, they come from everywhere along the coast of the Americas – from US ports, from Mexico, Panama or Ecuador. Some 200 of them are circumnavigators; some are cruising the Pacific and will return to the Americas via a more northerly route, others are on a one-way journey, finishing in Australia or New Zealand.

The ages vary from broadly from 30 to 60, fairly evenly spread. In the lower age groups, young upwardly mobile executives with a yearning to escape the rat race take a year or so of sabbatical to do the trip of their dreams.

In the upper age groups there are many early retirees – successful careerists or entrepreneurs who similarly love sailing and are escaping the rigours of a modern Western existence.

Many couples are traveling with young children – these are families who take the chance to do some months or years of home study before the children’s schoolwork become 'serious'.

Of the non-circumnavigators, there's more than a sprinkling of Australians and New Zealanders. Many, in 2007, have acquired their boats in the USA or Europe and are sailing them home.

Such is the fame and lure of the South Pacific that of the Europeans, many, not wishing to do the lesser famed route across the Indian Ocean, intend to sell their boats in Australia or New Zealand and fly home.

Many change their minds along the way. 'Will we keep going? - or sell the boat and fly home? And where will we do it?' is a question that arises again and again in conversations.

Sometimes the relationship does not stand the test. There are more than a few single husbands, abandoned by their crew-wives, who are looking for crew in the most unusual ports, or simply going on single-handed.

Gossip among cruisers doesn't vary much from gossip anywhere in the world, and as this loose bunch of boats keeps bumping into each other along the way, an informal village atmosphere develops.

'Did you hear about x? Wife got off in Raiatea.'

'That's the yellow catamaran, isn't it? - ah yes we spent some good times with them in the Galapagos. What a pity but I am not surprised.'

' Well, he's not the only one – Y's entire crew left in Bora Bora.'

'Was that always the intention?'

'No, one was a long time girlfriend, and the rumour is that a new girlfriend was arriving.'

'O I heard differently – that he sacked them all in a fit of pique.'

Sometimes the stories are worse. One crew member has been arrested in the Marquesas on suspicion of pushing the skipper/owner overboard during the long 3000 mile sail from Galapagos.

But in general, these are a good bunch of citizens, always ready to help another cruiser with maintenance, navigation, weather, and hints on future ports.

Books are exchanged as an understood protocol between boats, DVD's lent, weather forecasts distributed, and bread delivered. Other conversations concern which are the best anchoring spots, supermarkets, hardware and electronic stores, laundries, tours, restaurants, and where the Wi-Fi is to be found.

People create informal nets on HF single side band radio, run by the participants. Run twice daily by a volunteering net controller while on passages, information shared is priority and emergency traffic, every boat's position, weather, miscellaneous info, and then the net is opened for individual boat to boat traffic.

The principal net this year is the Southern Cross Net, which has anything from 10 to 20 boats at a time registering during passages, and has totally recorded the ongoing positions of more than 100 boats this season.

On the net, in restaurants and walking the streets, one can hear multiple accents – European of all persuasions, English, American from many parts, Australian, South African and New Zealander.

On a per capita basis, Norway, which has a mere 4.5 million inhabitants, has by far the greatest number of sailing vessels out there this year.

A Mayday is always a sobering event. Other conversations stop, people stare blankly while listening. 'It could be me.' is the automatic thought.

The latest one of these was Timella, who reported flooding, and their position, then nothing more. We heard that two aircraft were searching the area, and then the crew of three were later reported to have been picked up by a ship – lucky, there are not many ships in these parts. Obviously, the boat sank, and as any cruiser listens, they identify, and silently sympathise. For many cruisers, their boat is their only home.

While it may be called the Coconut Milk Run, it's still not for the faint hearted. Along the way the distances are huge and there is little skill to be purchased when things go wrong.

Cruisers still depend greatly on each other for spare parts and assistance when serious problems arise with boat systems. The ports are small and ill serviced, there are very few marinas, and none with adequate maintenance facilities. The early passages are long, and not a few boats become stuck in remote locations while they have major spare parts and sometime personnel flown into repair some vital system.

Australian boat Fantasy I, after incurring serious keel and rudder damage when grounded in the Galapagos, was forced to return 1000 miles to windward with a jury rigged rudder to Ecuador, the closest maintenance point.


The rewards, however, for those who participate, live up to the expectations. Polynesia is a land, not of milk and honey, but of fish, bananas, mangoes, breadfruit, papaya, pineapples and, of course, coconuts.

These are plentiful, it's always warm, the breeze almost always blows and it rains frequently. The lagoons are luxurious, the sand as white as the brochures promise, and the locals as gentle as their surroundings suggest.

Bernard Moitissier, with a little help from Gauguin, Robert Louis Stevenson and several other luminaries, may have created the allure, but the reality never lets the legend down – the Coconut Milk Run is still the Greatest Run of All.

Wildwind 2016 660x82Henri Lloyd 50 YearsPantaenius - Fixed Value

Related Articles

Seabin- Saving the world, one marina at a time
Now and then you hear of an idea that’s so jaw-droppingly simple and yet so effective that it makes you shake your head Every now and then you hear of an idea that’s so jaw-droppingly simple and yet so effective that it makes you shake your head and wonder, ‘why not me’? Such is the case with the Seabin project, an automated marina rubbish bin that was designed to help remove plastic and other unsightly debris from the water.
Posted on 8 Jan
Images from Cannes- Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai
Photographer Eugenia Bakunova was on the water at the 36th edition of the Régates Royales – Trophée Panera Cannes Photographer Eugenia Bakunova of leading Russian website www.mainsail.ru was on the water at the 36th edition of the Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai, and provided this gallery of images of the classics racing off Cannes.
Posted on 28 Sep 2014
Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai- Cannes at its best
Photographer Eugenia Bakunova provided this second gallery of images of the classics racing off Cannes. The 36th edition of the Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai drew to a close on Saturday. Photographer Eugenia Bakunova was on the water at the 36th edition of the Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai, and provided this second gallery of images of the classics racing off Cannes.
Posted on 28 Sep 2014
Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel - Five boats to finish
A rush of boats finished in the last six hours in the fifth annual Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel Tropical Yacht. A rush of boats finished in the last six hours in the fifth annual Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel Tropical Yacht. In IRC Division 1, Peter Millard’s super maxi Lahana is the provisional winner ahead of Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats XI, third was Ocean Affinity, then Sailors with disAbilities Wot Eva.
Posted on 7 Aug 2011
Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel – Across the Tropic of Capricorn
The bulk of the fleet in fifth annual Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel Tropical Yacht Race is expected to finish tonight. The bulk of the fleet in the fifth annual Club Marine Brisbane to Keppel Tropical Yacht Race is expected to finish tonight, but conditions are softening. It is a perfect winter day, at Rosslyn Bay with south east trades dropping from around eight knots a few hours ago, but it is now eased back to four knots. Lucas Down’s Farr 40 Bribie Star is in sight of the finish line, further down the coast p
Posted on 7 Aug 2011
Three days adrift – could it happen to you?
Dominique Courteille missed her boat in a high wind in Phuket and drifted for three days in the sea It’s night, there’s a high wind blowing off the land. You are on the beach, your boat is in the anchorage, but one of the boats far from shore. Beyond the anchorage, there is nothing but hundreds of miles of ocean. On the way to the yacht in your dinghy the outboard engine fails. You try to row, but the wind is too strong, and keeps blowing you sideways out to sea. You call out, but no one hears
Posted on 10 Jun 2007
Bananas in Heaven
If between the Galapagos and the Marquesas, is sailing heaven, I will have to seriously reconsider my ambitions. Cruising Editor Nancy Knudsen reports from the Pacific – if here, between the Galapagos and the Marquesas, is sailing heaven, I am going to seriously reconsider my ambitions in relation to heaven.
Posted on 27 May 2007
Sail-World's Blackwattle transits the Panama Canal
On Blackwattle we make preparations for our transit through one of the Modern Wonders of the World, the Panama Canal We've heard all the gory stories about the Canal – 'There are many mishaps - they don't really like yachts', 'If you're put against the wall, your mast can collide with the canal walls', 'You'll have to berth with large ships - Watch out for the huge thrust from the ship's engines in front!'
Posted on 10 Apr 2007
Fuel for Mary Constance
Crippled Australian yacht Mary Constance has been refueled and with Blackwattle in company is now making progress towards St.Lucia Crippled Australian yacht Mary Constance has been refueled and is now making progress towards St.Lucia
Posted on 17 Dec 2006
Mary Constance - never gives up
With Australian yacht Mary Constance having lost her second set of shrouds, Blackwattle is with her on slow trip to St.L With Australian yacht Mary Constance having lost her second set of shrouds, Sail-World's Cruising Editor Nancy Knudsen and husband Ted Nobbs on Blackwattle are sailing in company with her on the slow trip to St.Lucia
Posted on 15 Dec 2006