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Old 12-27-2000
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South American Ports

What is the best port along the Caribbean coast of South America to clear in after a passage from the US East Coast?

Tom Wood responds:

That depends on where you are going. The most common method of cruising the Caribbean is a clockwise circuit that involves transiting the South American coast from east to west. This course takes advantage of the usual strong easterly trade winds that blow in the Caribbean, as well as the attendant currents. As a result, many cruisers make their easting soon after leaving the US coast, heading as far to the east end of the South American coast as possible. In fact, this path is so well worn that it has a name—Route 66, after the line of longitude that runs between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The logical destinations in South America would thus be Scarborough, Tobago, or Port of Spain, Trinidad, although many opt for Isla Margarita, Venezuela, a little farther to the west.

Very few, however, bypass all the special cruising destinations in the eastern Caribbean along this route. Puerto Rico, Culebra, the Virgins, and the numerous watering holes of the Leewards and Windwards shouldn’t be missed. As a result, many intended fast passages direct to South America seem to slow down and turn into multi-year inspections of one of the finest cruising grounds on earth. Hundreds of would-be circumnavigators somehow turn into cheeseburgers in paradise in exactly this way.

If you are headed farther west from the US East Coast, a similar problem presents itself. If your destination is the Canal Zone, the logical direct course is to Colon, Panama, via the Windward Passage. But to make this passage means that you must be strong enough to resist the temptations of the Sirens singing their songs along the way—the Bahamas and Cuba on the easterly route, and Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras on the western track. And while you’re on the way, you might as well stop to see Cartagena, Columbia, and the San Blas Islands.

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