What size catamaran do you need to cross an ocean?

Around the world in a 38-foot catamaran: 2 adventure stories

Many of the future owners we talk to think there’s a minimum size for crossing an ocean safely and comfortably on a catamaran, and that the 38-foot Excess 11 catamaran is too small!

Yet 2 brand-new Excess 11s have just arrived in Tahiti to join our rental management fleet. They were not delivered by professional delivery skippers, but by their owners, who left France together in November for the adventure of a lifetime.

Discover the best moments of their extraordinary sailing journey!

Hinatea Fonteneau, owner of Excess 11 catamaran arriving in Marquesas

Tristan and Hinatea are two young engineers who have moved to Polynesia. While Tristan is originally from Brittany in France, Hinatea grew up in Raiatea and is keen to put her skills to work for her country. You may have met them in our previous article on their project.

Out of concern for the environment, they chose to sail to Tahiti rather than fly. It was an intense journey, but one of marvellous discoveries for the two of them, who had little sailing experience but were well supported. The welcome they received in the Marquesas was unforgettable!

Darren, owner of an Excess 11 comes for a coffee in Sail Tahiti's office after his successful crossing

Darren Thompson has already clocked up quite a few nautical miles, but had long been waiting to realize his dream of crossing an ocean under sail.

With the help of two sailing friends and the support of the Sail Tahiti team, he was able to reach Tahiti from Les Sables d’Olonne in record time.

Now it’s time for family fun: his wife and their children are joining him to spend some marvellous time in the lagoons of Polynesia.

Darren’s trip: From Les Sables d’Olonne to Tahiti in 96 days!

The Excess 11: the family choice for sailing in Polynesia

We picked up our Excess 11 in Les Sables on October 13, 2023. My wife and I have three children aged 9 to 17, and after spending a lot of time researching and trying out different boats, we decided to buy an Excess 11, which the kids named Albatross. We live in New Zealand, and with only a five-hour flight from Auckland to Tahiti, we decided to keep the boat in Tahiti, from where we can spend time exploring the hundred or so islands that make up French Polynesia.

A fast and safe transatlantic crossing despite difficult conditions

A sailor friend of mine came over from Australia to help us during the first half of the trip and, after waiting for a weather window, we left Les Sables d’Olonne at 4am on November 17. It took us three days to cross the Bay of Biscay and round Point Finisterre in relatively light winds, but once we turned south along the coast of Portugal, the wind picked up to over 30 knots with 3.5 m seas, and we raced downwind to Cascais in just two days.

Ocean crossing on Excess 11

Ocean crossing on Excess 11 – 30 knots and smile still in place!

Before sailing the Excess 11, one of my main concerns was how a smaller catamaran would handle bad weather and big seas, but Albatross was very comfortable throughout the crossing. We cooked full meals in the evening and enjoyed fresh coffee sitting at the helm in the morning. In Cascais, we picked up an extra crew member, before heading for Lanzarote where we prepared for the Atlantic crossing. We left the Canary Islands and Europe on December 1, bound for Martinique in the Caribbean. Lulls in the Atlantic trade winds meant we had to sail very far south to stay in the wind, with periods of motoring to get to Martinique on Boxing Day. Two engines and 400 liters of fuel give the Excess 11 good motor autonomy, which we needed for this crossing in light, variable winds. Many other boats were not so lucky, and we stopped to help a monohull that had run out of fuel two days from Martinique.

Daily average: over 200 nautical miles/day in the Pacific!

Xmas party on a catamaran Excess 11

Xmas party at sea on an Excess 11 catamaran

After a short stopover in Martinique, we crossed Panama and once again found ourselves with waves of over 3 meters and strong winds. The Excess 11 proved to be very stable in all conditions, and we made landfall in Colon after 8 days. We crossed the Panama Canal, refueled the boat and set off for the longest leg, over 4000 nm across the Pacific, heading south to the Galapagos Islands and then west to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands. With winds of 12-15 knots on the beam and a favorable current, we completed several days of 200nm and more, our best score being 240nm in a single day. It took us just under 25 days to complete the 4000nm crossing to Hiva Oa, and after a brief stopover, just 7 more days to complete our journey to Tahiti, including a quick stopover in the Tuamotos. In total, we covered 11,600 nautical miles in just over 3 months. It was an adventure to get the boat to Tahiti, but the best is yet to come, as next month my family and I return to Tahiti to spend a few weeks exploring some of the islands aboard the Albatross.

Hinatea and Tristan’s journey on their Excess 11 Ma’aramu

The Panama Canal experience: a big scare!

At noon on the 22nd, the Vigil Cristobal (which controls the entrance to the canal on the Atlantic side) gave the order for us to proceed towards the entrance to the canal, while a pilot, who was to guide us through the locks and the canal, came on board. The passage through the locks is truly impressive. We passed alongside a tugboat and another catamaran. There couldn’t be much more than a metre between us and the ten-metre-high concrete walls. We left the locks in the late afternoon and had to spend the night on Lake Gatun, 24 metres above sea level. The sounds were quite different from what you’re used to hearing from a boat, and we really felt as if we were in the middle of the jungle. The pilot moored us to a huge buoy, well over 2 metres in diameter, and left us for the night. Around midnight, Hina and I were awakened by panicked cries on deck: our boat, poorly moored by the pilot, had come loose from its buoy and was drifting towards the Mangrove, which was only ten meters away. Just enough time to fire up the engines, find our buoy as best we could and tie up much more firmly. It was a close call.

Excess 11 in the Panama Canal

Crossing the Panama Canal in a catamaran

The next day, we crossed the rest of the canal, sometimes meandering through Lake Gatun, sometimes through rock-cut canyons too narrow for two freighters to pass each other, before descending the Miraflores locks. By 4 p.m., we’re in the Pacific! There were 5,000 nautical miles to go to Tahiti, but we felt we’d done the hard part.

The Pacific crossing: happiness under sail

Excess 11 sailing past Galapagos

Excess 11 sailing past the Galapagos islands

The Pacific crossing was nothing but bliss (or maybe it’s our memory playing tricks on us?)… We left Panama around noon on January 25, with the idea that we might not see land for another month, as the Pacific is reputed to have a rather weak and fickle wind. In the end, it was a record-breaking crossing for us. We sailed the 4,000 nautical miles to the Marquesas on a single tack, very often with the wind on the beam, which is the boat’s preferred point of sail.

The first week was the most complicated, with a fairly light tailwind, then the Doldrums forcing us to motor for a day and a half. We did get a few squalls, but in the end they were harmless. We also found ourselves sailing upwind for a few hours, for the first time since the Bay of Biscay! Pressed for time (Hinatea having a job waiting for her in Tahiti), we decided not to stop at the Galapagos, but we couldn’t resist the temptation to pass through the middle of the archipelago. The closer you get, the richer the fauna. At one point, more than 20 Pacific boobies decided to spend the night on the boat. A superb memory.

To the west of the Galapagos, the charts indicate the presence of a very strong downwind current, between 2 and 3 knots. This forced us to take a slightly northerly route, a little longer than the direct route and with a trade wind that was a little less stable, as it was closer to the doldrums. We take the gamble anyway, and after 2-3 days we’re in another dimension: in a very stable 12-13 knot wind, under code 0, we’re almost constantly making between 9 and 10 knots, clocking up several days of over 200 nautical miles in real comfort. It’s bliss. At times like these, we feel invincible.

With a week to go to the Marquesas Islands, we had to leave this current, which had helped us so much. In a steady wind, we’re still making good progress, often making around 7 knots. Only the last day is spent motoring, as the wind is completely absent. February 19, Hiva Oa is in sight!

An incredible welcome in the Marquesas!

The welcome in the Marquesas was exceptional. Hinatea’s father, who knows everyone on the island of Hiva Oa after living there for several years, had organized a welcome with the island’s college students. We could hear the percussion and haka even before we entered the harbor. Hinatea was covered in flower necklaces, and we’re offered kilos of fresh fruit, each more delicious than the last. Just what we needed after 25 days at sea 🙂

In the end, this Pacific we’d been dreading because of its length (Hina and I had never spent a night at sea 3 months before) and isolation was our most enjoyable stage, helped by our code 0 and a top-notch crew who had a laugh every day!

Excess 11 just arrived in Marquesas

Excess 11 just arrived in Marquesas

From the Marquesas to Tahiti on an Excess 11 catamaran: stopover in the Tuamotus

On February 23, we leave the Marquesas for the last leg of our journey, heading for Tahiti, with a reshuffled team. Hinatea leaves us, as she is expected back in Tahiti as soon as possible, as do Nico and Elsa, as they have to return to France, while Jean-François (Hina’s father) and Julien, both beginners, join us. Inès (the captain) and I will be covering all the shifts, at least at the start. We know it’s going to be tough on sleep, but we’re lucky enough to enjoy fairly calm weather, and to be able to stop off in the Tuamotus archipelago if need be.

To get into the swing of things, we start with a short two-hour sail to the island of Tahuata, before spending the night in the heavenly bay of Hanamoenoa. The next morning, we set off for a 4-day sail to Toau atoll and its 16 inhabitants. The boat glides along well under code 0, in a steady wind of around 12-14 knots. Maybe it’s psychological, but I have the impression that the boat, lighter than when we left France (less loaded with food and diesel), is making better headway. We’re often making over 7 knots without needing much wind, and Mara’amu doesn’t seem to be suffering at all.

On Wednesday February 28, we arrived at Amyot Cove, a very special place in the Tuamotus. This cove is a false pass to the lagoon, protected from the swell but surrounded by coral spuds. It really feels like you’re at the end of the world, which Gaston and Valentine, the motu’s only two inhabitants, don’t seem to mind. They make a living from fishing for parrotfish and langoustes, which they sell in Tahiti or locally. Tonight we’re the only visitors, but I’ve heard that in high season it’s quite crowded (it’s all relative, crowds here mean ten boats at most!).

We spend 24 hours here, taking the opportunity to spend a real night and explore the truly magnificent, unspoilt lagoon. Thursday sees the departure for Tahiti, which we hope to reach on Saturday. 2 days to cover 250 nautical miles is normally a fairly easy trip, but the weather forecast is not favorable, with little wind and thunderstorms.

Anse Amyot Toau atoll Tuamotus

Anse Amyot Toau atoll Tuamotus

Toau Tuamotus Atoll anse Amyot

Toau Tuamotus Atoll anse Amyot

Finally, with less than 100 miles to go, we hit the most violent squall of the entire voyage. The wind picked up from 10 to 40 knots in just a few minutes, and we ended up lowering the mainsail entirely, sailing under single jib, virtually on the run. The lake-like sea is in turmoil 30 minutes later, especially as the wind remains steady at around 25 knots for several hours. The weather files forecast another storm front during the night, and we decide to change our course. Instead of passing to windward of Tahiti to round the island to the south, we headed west, for fear of getting “stuck” between the island and the heavy seas that had risen. In the end, the forecast storm front never reached us. Our last sunset at sea was one of the most beautiful of the whole trip, and we arrived in Tahiti at daybreak on Saturday in 5 knots of wind. I’m always fascinated by how quickly conditions change at sea…

Saturday March 2, we drop anchor for the last time, just in front of the family home in Papara. Tahiti’s lagoon is as wild and beautiful as ever in this part of the island… We did it! Thank you Excess, thank you Sail Tahiti, thank you Mara’amu who carried us over 10,000 nautical miles, from the lows of the Bay of Biscay to Tahiti… ❤️

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