Routes to the Orient

Vessels traveled from the United States to the Far East via one of two basic routes. The first led around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, then across the Pacific, possibly stopping in California or Hawaii. It was difficult, with weeks often needed to round Cape Horn against the prevailing windsPrevailing winds

The winds that normally blow in a region.
, the roaring forties.Roaring forties

Strong westerly winds between 40 and 60 degrees South latitude.
The second route was easier, eastward across the Atlantic to the Cape Verde Islands, around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, through the Indian Ocean, to Java Head and the Sunda Straits, past the Portuguese port of Macao, and on to a Chinese port or other destination. This route allowed vessels to run downwind with the roaring forties, strong winds in those latitudesLatitude

Latitude is the measure of how far north or south one is from the equator. This angular measurement is given in degrees, minutes (1/60th of a degree), and seconds (1/60th of a minute) of arc.
Read More
that propelled the ship eastward.

 

Indian Ocean Passages Routes to China during SW Monsoons

Along the way to the Far East, ships could stop in the Pacific Northwest for furs; Mauritius, Bombay, and Calcutta for cotton; Sumatra for pepper, Batavia for sugar and coffee; and various European ports.