Sailing Around the World – Routes, Cost, Boats and Tips

Sailing Around the World – Routes, Cost, Boats and Tips
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Sailing around the world is an eye-opening experience, both on a sailboat or a powerboat. Same goes for sailing the Atlantic, or the Lake Michigan.

Sailing around the world takes about 15 months with a straightforward route, and not using any large detours. If you wanted to further slow things down and absorb the experience it can take anywhere from 3 to 10+ years. It all depends on how much time you have.

Be aware that 15 months still gives you a considerable time and flexibility for sight-seeing, and any significant change in the timescale will add an entire year to your journey.

A popular World ARC rally around the world takes 15 months.

However, circumnavigating for a longer time (3+ years) gives you much more time to absorb the experience, and not rush things through.

If you decide to deviate from the usual 15-month circumnavigation, you have to take a few factors into account when planning your cruise, which can add a whole year to your journey.

Reason for this is because of the storm seasons that you need to avoid while sailing, unless you’re experienced and know how to outrun them.

For a few examples of people sailing around the world check out this Yachting World article.

The cost to sail around the world will be anywhere from $1000 to $3000 per month.

To know more tips about circumnavigating read below for some tips and advice.

Routes for Sailing Around the World

You have the option to choose your own route, completely.

However, most of circumnavigation routes are the same. There’s a good reason for this.

Mainly it’s because of the tradewinds, which are the winds alongside equator that everyone’s following. Sailing these winds means going through warmer climates and sailing downwind.

These winds go along the equator in the same direction on both sides of the hemisphere. This is because in the northern hemisphere winds are circulating clockwise, and in the southern hemisphere they’re circulating counter-clockwise. So, this makes them both circulate from east to west when looking at a map.

Sailing Around the World - prevailing winds
Prevailing Winds – Winds along the Equator are always going east to west

A typical eastward route goes like this:

  • Going from Panama Canal and following the trade winds
  • across the South Pacific
  • then north of Australia
  • across the Indian Ocean
  • around South Africa
  • and back across the South Atlantic.

You could choose to go around the Cape Town or through Mediterranean sea. It’s completely up to you how you plan your route.

A few things should be taken into account when planning routes around the world: tropical storms that you need to avoid, and piracy areas that you also need to avoid since insurance may not cover those areas, and also because of safety, obviously.

A 15-month circumnavigation route through months could be:

  • departing Panama in early February
  • arriving in French Polynesia as the cyclone season winds down at the end of March
  • then through the Cyclone Zone and stopping along the way to arrive in South Africa in early November, before the start of the next storm season in Indian Ocean
  • crossing the South Atlantic in the middle of January
  • which is early enough to get to the Caribbean and leave prior to the start of its Hurricane Season in June

15 months is still a decent amount of time for sight-seeing, but be aware than any significant stop adds a year to the circumnavigation route because of the weather and storm seasons.

If you wanted to spend a bit more time sailing around the world (maybe 2-4 years), you could time your arrivals and departures based on these weather patterns, and plan accordingly.

To sail a bit longer, maybe in the South Pacific, you could spend the summer in New Zealand (December – April) and then you would have a few extra months in the South Pacific.

The map below is a screenshot from NASA’s globe software World Wind and shows a slightly different route.

In red, a typical, non-comptetitive route for sailboats. This is a route for a sailing circumnavigation of the world by the trade winds and the Suez and Panama canals. Yellow are the points antipodal to all points on the route. It can be seen that the route roughly approximates a great circle, and passes through two pairs of antipodal points.

sailing around the world sailing routes
Sailing Around the World Routes, typical for boats powered by wind

For racing yacths, or mechanically powered boats, routes typically start in New York or Southampton, and procede westward. These routes go like this:

  • begin in New York City or Southampton, England then procede westward
  • going into Caribbean into Pacific through Panam Canal, or around Cape Horn, Chile
  • from here boats usually go to Hawai, the islands of the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, then northward to Hong Kong, South East Asia, and India
  • then, either through Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, or around Cape of Good Hope and up the west coast of Africa

The map below is a screenshot from NASA’s globe software World Wind and shows a a route for mechanically powered boats.

sailing around the world powerboat routes
Sailing Around the World routes typical for mechanically powered boats

The eastward route because it’s the most common route. Sailing westward (from west to east) is against the wind and is more demanding.

Cost to Sail Around the World

First to note that you can sail the world on other people’s boats.

It takes a while to get to that point, but it’s achievable if you’re up for it (read below on Gaining experience in races). What you do is you join races in racing clubs for example, and you gain skill from a more experienced sailors. You don’t even need a new boat, and you can sail many routes, cheaply.

If you decide to buy a boat, here’s a few examples of how much it would cost.

Speaking of a monthly budget, it generally costs $1,500 to $3,000 per month to sail around the world comfortably. This includes all the expenses that you would normally have, sailing Caribbean or Europe, for example.

If you plan to go out in every city, and you plan to stop a lot, then you should include $500-1000 more.

Boat will cost $30,000 and upwards. You can pay less for a smaller and slightly used boat. Most boats will cost considerably more.

Your biggest cost for planning to circumnavigate would be the equipment you’re going to buy, which makes your offshore passages safer and more enjoyable.

Equipment can cost $15,000-20,000.

Storage can cost $10-15 per foot per month ($500 a month), haul-out costs ($500), hurricane tie downs ($500 one-off charge).

You should have an emergency fund of at least a few thousands of dollars.

If you’re planning on spending less and want a more realistic monthly budget, then $1000-1500 a month should be enough of a budget for any circumnavigation trip. You just have to be careful with provisioning and not go eat out at the restaurants every time you dock, spend some more time at the anchor and do some repairs by yourself.

Engine and autopilot repairs can cost $1000-2000 on average, depending.

Additional costs could be paying to transit the Panama Canal, for around $1300, or choose the sail against the wind around either North America or South America.

Other costs will vary depending on your plan, boat, route and other factors.

Fastest Time for Circumnavigation

According to the WSSRC (World Sailing Speed Record Council), for around the world sailing records, there are some rules when it comes to around the world sailing races.

First rule is that the length must be at least 21,600 NM calculated along the shortest possible track from the starting port and back that does not cross land and does not go below 63°S.

The equator also must be crossed, and the great-circle distance formulas are to be used.

The world record for sailing around the world is 40 days 23 hours and 30 minutes, set by skipper Francis Joyon in Trimaran on January 2017. It had 6 crew and sailed the eastward route (east to west).

For single-handed on the eastward route, the world record for sailing around the world is 42 days 16 hours and 40 minutes set by French skipper Francois Gabart in 100ft Trimaran in 2017.

These are eastward route records, sailing from east to west, which is how the most skippers sail because of the winds going east to west, and the currents which make it easier.

The westward routes aremore demanding, as it faces the dominant winds and currents. Hence, there are fewer attempts and records. Single-handed record on the westward route is 122 days in 2004.

Sailing Around the World Races

The most famous races around the world are:

sailing around the world boat

Boats for Sailing Around the World

The size depends on your budget and size of the crew. A boat that’s too large for easy handling by a shorthanded crew is as much of a problem as a boat that’s too small to be comfortable.

Today’s circumnavigation routes are filled with 40, 50 and 60+ foot boats, which doesn’t mean you can’t sail the world in smaller sailboats.

Smaller displacement monohulls are always going to be slower than larger ones, and therefore having to sail longer from one point to another, making them vulnerable to changes in wether. They may be cheaper to maintain and easier to sail, but they also offer less space for comfort and storage.

Some of the good choices for smaller ones are Dufour 29, Vancouver 28, Westsail 28, Cape Dory 28. However, usually the 40’+ are recommended.

The boat will cost you the most, anywhere from $10,000 used, and up. The bigger the boat the more they cost. The price may go up exponentially the larger they are.

Larger boats offer more living space and comfort, but require a larger crew. They offer more storage space and are faster, but are also more expensive both when buying, and maintaining.

If you’re going the usual tradewind routes to sail the world, then typically a catamaran will be a good choice, as cats will perform best downwind.

Keep in mind that big catamarans can be very expensive. A good starting choice for a boat would be a 46+ feet catamaran.

Spinnakers are also highly useful on the downwind, and if you have one you already know how good they are. For sailing around the world they can also be a good choice, unless you deviate a lot from your downwind route.

Sailing Solo or Joining a Rally?

A general advice is that you probably shouldn’t do it alone.

You can do it solo, and by “solo” I mean with at least another person in the boat, not just by yourself. It may be best to join a rally to sail around the world for the first time, which increases your safety and reduces certain risks.

And ff you’re thinking of going by yourself alone, just by yourself, the risks are much greater.

Many dangers exist on the oceans, and you need to be prepared for all kinds of scenarios. Besides, sailing with another person and in a group gives you both safety and fast assistance if needed.

If something happens to you, in the ocean being all alone, it may take quite some time for the rescuers to get to you, if you are in need. A few weeks even.

You need to be self-sufficient and able to give yourself medical assistance and do everything needed on board.

Risks for sailing solo are greater, therefore it may be best to join a rally for your first sail around the world.

World ARC is an excellent rally that starts from Saint Lucia and Australia, takes 15 months and goes 26000 NM on a tradewind circumnavigation.

Minimum boat for world cruising LOA is 40ft (12.19m) but smaller boats will be considered. The circumnavigation from Saint Lucia back to Saint Lucia takes 15 months. If starting and finishing in Europe then allow 24 months.

The rally avoids regions of political instability, piracy and the storm seasons in both hemispheres. You can join in Santa Lucia or Australia and feel safe that you’re in a group.

You have the option of going a full circumnavigation in a team, or doing half the rally. Sailing with other team members gives you safety and provides an enjoyable pace on the voyage.

To know the full details such as the cost and other requirements contact WCC Club.

Gain Experience in Races and Keep Sailing Cheap

Joining races at yacht clubs is a great way to gain some experience which can eventually lead to sailing yourself around the world, with another crew, and cheap.

Reason why it doesn’t cost much is because you don’t really buy a boat, but sail on other people’s boats.

You can learn more in 1 season of sail racing than most classes will teach you.

Most yacht clubs have informal races regularly, and most boats are looking for a crew.

You can find a boat that you like and try to be regular and dependable. You will learn a lot, but it may also be smart to take some lessons in sailing.

As you gain experience, and make contacts from racing, you’ll eventually find someone who is sailing somewhere distant and needs a crew. They may do a delivery of some kind, which could last from a few hours to a few months, depending on the distance.

You start by working on small deliveries and work your way up to larger ones.

Boats in longer races are also looking for a crew. For example, Transpa/Paccup/Vic-Maui are all races to Hawai that you can join, which last a couple of weeks of seat time. Most of these race crews will take a lot of prep work, shake down cruises, etc. before the race even starts.

But you can join in, and learn a ton about how all the stuff works, including the boat systems.

You won’t get paid, you will offer free labor, but you’ll be able to sail as much as you want. Plus, learning and getting experience is actually valued a lot, from maintenance and repair to knowing how boat systems work – it’s not like you’re not getting paid anything at all.

These skills are extremely valuable.

Another thing which is smart to do is to keep the record of all the races you did, repairs and maintenance you did on which ship, with how many crew, etc. which you will use in your resume some day.

Once you’ve gained some experience this way, you’ll be attractive to cruisers who need to fill out their crew roster for ocean sailing.

You’ll mostly have to share the expenses but you’ll be able to sail anywhere you want from this point.

sailing around the world catamaran
Our Catamaran by Rache P.

Additional Tips for Sailing Around the World

Be aware of the major ocean currents.

World oceans have areas of strong currents such as the Gulf Stream (Caribbean and eastern Atlantic), Agulhas (South Africa), North Brazilian current and the South Atlantic current. Major ocean currents mostly flow with the trade winds which makes them helpful (except for about 500 miles around South Africa).

When planning your circumnavigation routes, these currents must be taken into account, especially in a situation of an adverse wind. In the situations where a wind is going against the current it will create a troublesome situation, with a potentially dangerous sea-state.

Keep in mind the insurance that your company will cover.

The most important thing is to avoid the tropical storms, and make sure you are move quickly enough to pass through the storm zone in any of the areas they appear.

Your entire life while sailing around the world will be dictated by weather and you need to learn how to adapt to it.

Learning to live the cruising lifestyle can be very challenging. It’s a hard work, sailing by the wind.

If you’re really serious yourself and you’re planning to sail around the world in a sailboat, in 6 months or a year, then ask yourself few important questions like:

How uncomfortable can I be and still enjoy sailing the world? – It can get quite uncomfortable at times, until you get used to it. Then it’s glorious.

Will you only enjoy it when you dock in a beautiful location, or will you enjoy the sailing itself? – It takes quite some time to sail to various locations, especially on a sailboat, and if you’re impatient consider circumnavigating in a powerboat.

Do the smells bother you much, or are you ok with them? – Sailboat offers you quite an experience, but certain smells are always there. Ask yourself how much do they bother you.

Does the sun bother you, or the weather in general?

Sailboat round the world trip can be demanding, so make sure what you really want and what can you expect from it.

Usage of pictures under Creative Commons Licence Attribution 2.0 Generic
Featured image by  Lonni Besançon, Sunset From Key West, cropped
Our Catamaran” image by Rache P, no changes made

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