At sea. Clipper Round the World Race: Sir Robin Knox Johnston explains the North Pacific passage Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 April 2006
Sir Robin Knox Johnston:


Chairman of Clipper Ventures, Sir Robin Knox Johnston explains route planning across the North Pacific. The Qingdao to Victoria leg of the Clipper Race is a new experience for Clipper. We have crossed the Pacific before of course, but from the Galapagos to Hawaii and then on to Yokohama. This time we are going well north of Hawaii and are crossing the whole ocean non-stop so we had to estimate what speed we thought the yachts might make from our knowledge of the yachts performance last year when training and from all the available meteorological information. We have provided an estimated time of arrival and it will be interesting to see how close we got this.

Ocean Passages of the World is the navigator’s bible when passage planning, and gives routes for sailing vessels as well as steamships. These routes are set out as the most sensible and safe route to take, and, since they were originally chosen for the convenience of square-riggers, they usually choose routes that provide favourable winds for the modern yacht. The passage from Yokohama to Vancouver, which is close enough to the route the Clipper fleet is taking, is clearly set out. This route was pioneered by the Manila galleons, which brought the treasure from the Philippines to Acapulco and then onward shipment, via Panama, to Spain.

From Japan the route sets out in an east-north-east direction to cross Longitude 167 degrees East in Latitude 42 degrees North, then to Longitude 150 degrees West in Latitude 44 degrees North, and then head directly for Victoria. Fog is possible for the first half of this voyage if the yachts go north of 42 degrees North as warm air from the south meets up with the cold currents coming down from the Arctic that are heading towards Japan. Once clear of Japan the northern hemisphere circulatory wind is likely to be from the South-south-west until about 500 miles from the Canadian Coast when it will veer to the west. Close to the coast the wind will veer further, to parallel the coast in a Southerly direction

The surface currents are generally favourable, providing a few additional miles to each day’s run, but it does not pay to close the Aleutian Islands as within a couple of hundred miles of the coast there is a counter current, but there is no requirement to go that far north in any case as there is a northern waypoint as part of the sailing instructions.

As in the North Atlantic, depressions form and move eastwards bringing with them the sort of weather that is familiar in the British Isles. Winter in the northern part of the North Pacific Ocean can provide very strong winds and rough seas, but the yachts do not need to go too far north where the winds are strongest and the delays in Subic mean that it is spring so serious gales are less likely although they cannot be totally ruled out. Fortunately the modern sailor has access to sources of weather information that were not available even 40 years ago, and so are able to avoid really bad weather as the yachts close the coast they will need to keep a good lookout for kelp. This seaweed can grow to considerable lengths, but it is a good rule to never sail over it as the rocks to which it is attached might be close to the surface, and kelp can be as thick as a wrist and very strong so could slow the boat if it becomes entangled round the keel or rudder. It lies in line with the currents, so down current from its attachment. Kelp, which has broken away from its anchorage, lies in heaps, but the general rule is giving it a wide berth either way.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 April 2006 )
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