Monsoons, typhoons, pirates, currents and fog are all going to conspire to make this a difficult passage, so it’s up to us to work out the best way to get from Malaysia to the PNW via Japan.

Most vessels travel east to west, and you may have seen other cruisers doing exactly that. This is because the trade winds, currents and weather patterns make it the natural and more comfortable choice for a circumnavigation. Heading east is more difficult because these things are against you. With detailed planning, it is possible, and a number of boats do it every year.

When our PATREONS voted to send us to PNW via Japan, we realised we would have to passage plan through pirates and typhoons across 7500 miles, Liz rolled up her sleeves and got down to some serious research…

1. Weather and currents
2. Political situation
3. Security threats

Question: So how do you plan a passage through pirates and typhoons?
Answer: Carefully!

Before we talk about weather, the major consideration when passage planning, it’s worth bringing up both of these points.

Security – It is always important to keep an eye on political and security developments in any country you are intending to visit.  In recent years the Philippines, which used to be a popular cruising destination, has been hit by political unrest in the south and there have been some horrendous incidents of kidnapping. It has been confined to one area around east of the Sulu and Celebes Seas, and the whole of Mindanao. Although these incidents have faded, and President Duterte has Abu Sayyaf on the run, we have decided we will not take any risks by entering these areas.

Politics – can also be a problem when your home country has a dispute with the destination country in that visa requirements and lengths of stay can suddenly change. This happened a lot in India, when each time we left the country we went through different hoops and ended up with different visas depending on UK relations with India!

Weather – The most important aspect when planning a passage of this length is to work with known weather systems. We will have monsoons, typhoons, currents and fog to consider in this long passage and these will dictate the shape of our journey as well as timings.

Not taking into consideration all the local cruising we will have, the total miles for a direct passage is:

  • From Tioman to Alaska approximately 6,500 miles.
  • From Tioman to BC, it’s around 7,500 miles.


  • Tioman to Borneo
  • Borneo to Philippines
  • Philippines to Japan
  • Japan to PNW

Click the image to watch the video

For passage planning we usually find that the best way is to work backwards from the final destination. This allows us to set concrete(ish) dates along the route for each major stop and shows us where the windows are tight. This in turn dictates how long we will have at each destination. So this is how we put together our current favourite route:

Japan to PNW

  • In World Cruising Routes, Jimmy Cornell says that the best time to depart Japan, probably from one of the central ports like Yokohama, is June/July for Alaska and July/August for BC.
  • The first big problem associated with both passages is the risk of typhoons in the first stages of leaving Japan. They have very good weather information, so we will be monitoring it daily, even hourly as it gets closer to departure.
  • So, now we know we need to be leaving Japan around July.
  • The next question is when will we arrive in Japan?

Philippines to Japan

  • This is always going to be tough because this area has the potential for typhoons all year round. May is generally considered to be one of the better months for heading out, either to Nagasaki via the western coast of Taiwan, or the longer, open sea route direct to Osaka. Any earlier and the NE monsoon will make it tricky.
  • Cornell also mentions the shorter route from eastern Philippines to Okinawa being possible if you plan to sail earlier while the NE monsoon is still blowing. This looks like a great route, which would allow us to pick our way eastwards through the islands before arriving at Yokohama. BUT we need to do a little more research to find out if it will be feasible in May.
  • So, now we know that we should be leaving Philippines in May, during the transitional season and the beginning of the SW monsoon.

Borneo to Philippines

  • This is where the window gets even narrower because the ideal time to leave Borneo for Philippines is the same ideal time to leave Philippines for Japan!
  • Having said that, we know of one boat which has left Borneo and is currently heading along the east coast of Palawan right now, in mid March. We’re also in touch with another boat which is waiting on the edge of Borneo for a good window to head along the west coast of Palawan.
  • Clearly there will be a lot more shelter on the east coast, but there is still the small risk of piracy. The west coast would be safe, but potentially more difficult in terms of sea state and wind.
  • So, now we know that we could be leaving Borneo as early as March, which would give us a decent six weeks or so in the Philippines.

Tioman to Borneo

  • There is only one time to start heading east, and that is during the SW monsoon when conditions in the southern South China Sea are best. Last year we arrived in the Anambas in September, and left in October. This was quite late in the season, so we would expect to head over in June/July, then carry on east to Borneo towards the end of the season in August.
  • So our start time from Tioman is going to be June.

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Tioman to Borneo via Anambas – Depart June/August
  2. Remain in Borneo, cruising Sarawak and Sabah for around seven months
  3. Borneo to Philippines – Depart March
  4. Remain in Philippines for two months
  5. Philippines to Japan – Depart May
  6. Remain in Japan, cruising for around two months
  7. Japan to PNW – Depart July/August

Anything and everything! We may end up staying longer in the Philippines or Japan, and that will delay us by a year. Who knows? We don’t…yet.

Keep following us to find out what happens next!

Peace and fair winds!

Liz, Jamie and Millie xxx

Published by Adlard Coles


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  1. Good information we will be leaving this month with the passages East Rally to Borneo and may cross paths. Our plan was to return to Alaska where we currently work but would also like to see the Americas cup in NZ so the timing is better to stay in the area for a few more years.
    Cheers and look forward to following your progress
    Bill s/v Water Musick currenly in Krabi , Thailand

  2. You can avoid the coldest weather in the PNW and BC, sail down the west coast to southern california for the winter months. Though as someone born and raised in the lower mainland of BC I know the average winter temperature on the coast is 4C with a high humidity that makes it cut through to the bones easily.

    The season for boating here is April through October. ACCURATE tidal charts/ calculations are 100% required, much on the BC & Alaska sheltered coastal areas see tidal currents of 8 knots or higher. Even powerboats have to wait for the tide in these waters.

    If you choose to sail during the storm season here ( Winter ) sweaters ( Jumpers ) and layers of clothing are best. You MUST have a survival suit rated for arctic waters for winter sailing in our northern areas, survival if thrown overboard is measured in minutes in the winter.

    The beauty of the area for summer sailing makes it a truly fantastic region to explore. on Youtube look for Desolation sound videos, and for Dent Rapids ( one pass of many in Desolation sound that is whitewater rapids except for slack tide ) It is hard to do justice to the region in video short of a full 24/7 live stream while exploring it.

    1. We are so very excited about heading that way, and have already realised we won’t want to rush, even if it means staying through winter! Better get that heating system installed…

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