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Below is a map showing the our westward route around the world via the two canals, Panama and then Suez. This is a fairly standard tradewind, tropical circumnavigation and it took us three years until our inbound path crossed our outbound path in the Turks and Caicos Islands, just south of the Bahamas.

Our passages were timed with the optimum seasons, to statistically reduce the chance of encountering bad weather - the most important first step in planning ocean crossings. We always shake our heads when we read of people surviving hurricanes during the season. We enjoy their stories, but spare giving them our sympathy. What were they doing there in the first place?

Of course in certain areas of the world there is no perfect season. To cross the Tasman Sea you travel either in spring or fall, between the winter storms and summer hurricanes. During our fall passage we faced an early winter storm and then a late tropical depression on the same two week passage. You choose the weather to leave in, and then hope for the best.

We learned about all this in the superb cruising bible, World Cruising Routes , by Jimmy Cornell. Get this book and a large map well in advance, and start plotting and dreaming. That's what we did. We also used his World Cruising Handbook to tell us what to expect once we arrived in each country. Get the latest edition of this book just before departure, as the information is always changing. (See what other guides to take.)

We joked with friends that if we stayed in one place an extra week or two, then we'd have to wait another year. In a sense this is true, if you don't want to be pushing the edges of the seasons and risk bad weather, or a slow passage. Every passage is contingent on the one before it. Thus, based on a few options, our circumnavigation was fixed at three years (excluding time getting to and from our starting point).

It is very easy to add more years to the trip by lingering in certain areas, typically wintering in the Mediterranean, or spending another season in the South Pacific (and hiding from hurricanes in either New Zealand or Australia during the summers). The quickest you can comfortably circumnavigate is about 18 months, but this is very quick, without much time for the inevitable boat repairs. We decided to spend a summer in New Zealand since Alec has relatives there. This gave us a five-month hiatus to explore New Zealand and a chance for six weeks in the boat yard to fix everything that broke or obtain what was now needed after the first year crossing the South Pacific. We also decided to go through the Med, instead of around South Africa. At the time, South Africa was trying to dismantle apartheid, whereas the Red Sea was in a remarkable period of peace. Politics play an important part in this decision and now, more boats are opting for South Africa. These two decisions, when combined with the seasons, made ours a three-year circumnavigation.

The other major detour we made was to sail from Australia through Southeast Asia to Thailand, rather than sailing straight to Sri Lanka or directly across the Indian Ocean and missing Southeast Asia entirely. When we were there this area had just opened up to cruising boats and was stable. We then made an even greater deviation by sailing around northeast Borneo and through the pirate-infested waters of the Sulu Sea, but the reasons for that are all explained in Alayne's book, Sailing Promise.

We are often asked about the charts we took. Our philosophy was to buy small scale charts and use guidebooks for the region we were in. Guidebooks typically give you detailed anchorage sketches plus a bit about local customs and things to see. We often supplemented this information with Lonely Planet Guides, especially when sailing guides were non-existent (such as Red Sea and SE Asia - although there now are guides for these areas) or were incomplete due to the wealth of shore-side attractions (such the Mediterranean). Guidebooks save you from buying expensive harbor charts of which (1) you only use for 5 minutes entering the harbor, (2) you must buy extra, in case weather forces you there, (3) you may never use if plans change and, (4) you are not interested in going to anyway (not typically used by small boats). 

Guidebooks provide little sketch diagrams that I found sufficient for navigating, but you may be different. Also we drew less than three feet, so tides and/or a slight error (by us or in the chart) would not affect us. We actually bought a bundle of photocopied harbor charts from a guy. They covered the world via South Africa and we used them in the South Pacific. Once in the cruising scene you will be able to photocopy any chart you need.  I would recommend buying official charts for the oceans. 

Guides We Recommend

The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South by Bruce Van Sant
This book gets you from the US East Coast to the islands and is worth it alone for the philosophy and strategy, in addition to the anchorage sketches.

The Yachtsman's Guide to the Bahamas by Meredith Feilds
The best total coverage for the Bahamas from our experience. It is updated every year, so be sure to get the latest.

Sailor's Guide to the Windward Islands and Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands and Cruising Guide to Trinidad and Tobago by Chris Doyle
There are quite few to choose from for these islands, but we liked Doyle's the best. They are well laid out, complete and concise. We didn't make it to Trinidad, but I'd stick with the series.

The Turks and Caicos Guide by Stephen J. Pavlidis
We haven't used this guide, but the Bahamas guide and Passages south only cover the TCI briefly, as most boats don't have the shallow draft required to fully explore these islands. We loved these islands and recommend them, highly especially for multihulls.

Charlie's Charts of Polynesia by Charles Wood
Charlie was a Canadian - he has gone to Fiddler's Green - who cruised extensively over the Pacific and West coasts of America and Central America. There wasn't much choice in the past, although this is improving. Charlie's Charts are mostly sketch charts, but they do the job well.

100 magic miles of the Great Barrier Reef : the Whitsunday Islands by David Colfelt
This is a beautiful book, with many color pictures, that is vital for the Whitsunday Islands with all the strong currents and numerous anchorages. A bit pricey for the territory it covers, but certainly an amazing area in the world, where it is worth spending some time.

Circumnavigating Australia's coastline by Jeff Toghill
This is a two-part series, of which I recommend the second part, the ports guide. This is a great all round alternative to harbor charts for all of Australia. The text isn't riveting and it doesn't go much beyond getting the hook down, but the charts are simple and accurate.

Lonely Planet South Pacific
Lonely Planet guides are our favorite as they are geared to low budget travelers and backpackers that want to get off the beaten track, which is the same mentality of most cruisers (at least those doing it for more than a month or two). The problem is that they can give too much information about a specific country, of which much may not be accessible by boat. Many cruisers do travel inland, but that is a personal choice and an expensive approach when you must secure your boat, plus pay for hotels each night. Thus we bought the guides that gave a wide but shallow overview of the territory, such as the South Pacific Guide. 

Lonely Planet Indonesia and Lonely Planet Indonesian Phrasebook
Indonesia is the world's largest island nation with thousands of islands to visit. Thus, it is perfect for cruisers and the Lonely Planet guides are perfect. I also highly recommend the phrasebook as it is well written and Bahasa Indonesia is very easy to pick up. As a national language created in the 1950's, it is a second language for everyone. The rules are incredibly easy. You can say, "I want beer", "beer I want", or "want I beer" and it will always be understood. There are no verb conjugations or noun-verb ordering in the oral version. 

Lonely Planet Egypt
There was a guide for the Red Sea which would be perfect for cruisers, but I believe it is out of print. Egypt is probably a good place to travel inland, if any, which we did. This guide was great, although we bought a used copy in Thailand and it came with horse hairs in it (unbeknownst to us). Alayne is allergic to horses and she went into a major sneezing fit sailing from the Maldives to Djibouti. Took us a while to figure out it was the guide!

Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe
Depending on the time spent in the Med, this guide may be too superficial. For us, with one season there, it gave us a suitable taste of the seaside destinations.

There are still many places in the world where you can escape from the beaten path. We hope our journey helps to get you planning, or keeps you dreaming!