Six month itinerary
Dear Cam and others
After taking into consideration our family dynamics and other research, I've concluded that the best course of action for our upcoming 6 month trip (Dec 2007 to June (inclusive) 2008) will be to take the ICW and then go to the Bahamas. Our family has a lot of coastal cruising experience but I'm the only one of us with some offshore experience. Also, although completely offshore capable, we've recently bought our Shearwater 39 and are selling our Dufour 36. So, we will be relatively unfamiliar with the boat.
Also, work dictates that we can only leave Virginia in the beginning of December, making it too late in my opinion to brave the Atlantic with an inexperience crew to head to the Eastern Caribbean (also my wife told me - no way - not till we have more experience...).
So, we plan to cruise down the ICW and then to the Bahamas. My question is this:
We have six months till hurricane season and having to be back in Canada (not necessarily with the boat).
Our options: Starting from Atlantic Yacht Basin (Great Bridge Virginia)
1) ICW, Bahamas, back to Florida
2) ICW, Bahamas, Cuba (we're Canadian), Bahamas - Florida (which coast - N or S??)
3) ICW, Bahamas, Windward Passage, Cuba? Jamaica?, Cayman? Belize, Yucatan then back to Florida (Tampa??) then truck the boat to Vancouver
4) Number 3 but instead of heading back North, head to the Rio Dulce and leave the boat there.
It seems to me that the only extended offshore passages will be after we leave the Bahamas and will have had time to get used to the boat. It also will mostly involve reaching. Then only time the likelyhood of beating is high, is coming North from the Yucatan. See question regarding Tampa below...
How much can we realistically do in six months? We have two teenage daughters to homeschool and plan to do that well. I have no idea how much time one needs to get from Great Bridge to a good crossing point for the Bahamas, nor how much time we'll want to (or should) spend in the Bahamas. Any help appreciated.
Any errors here in terms of route planning taking into consideration time of year? Any recommendations?
Can one safely leave a boat in the Rio if you're not present? For an extended period? Where would one leave it and in who's care?
What is Tampa like as a final destination, from where to ship the boat to Vancouver if we decide on that option? Looking at the prevailing winds, it seems much easier to head to western Florida from the Yucatan than to the East of Florida.
Thanks for any opinions.
Have you thought of turning North from the Yucatan to Corpus Christi or Galveston Bay? I'm sure haulout expenses would be less there, and you cut down on the mileage for trucking the boat as well.
Thanks for that idea. I don't know why I only thought of Florida... I guess I looked at Google Earth, saw New Orleans and automatically looked East to Florida!
Would it be considered irresponsisble to plan making a crossing of the Gulf in June? How much warning will one have?
If you have consistent southeasterlies, it should be a fairly quick crossing to the Keys. They generally spot depressions at least a week out, so while not the best time of year, better early in the season than later. I've been following the weather for my crossing from Texas to Florida next month, and so far, winds and seas have been slighter more south of the 27th Parallel. Tampa is at the 28th. As well as Corpus Christi. Plus once you clear Mexico going north, you have the ICW if needed.
Bad part about the western caribbean and south western gulf at that time of year is that it is were the hurricanes form. look for a good set of pilot charts to help with your planning.you can down load them at this site.
The Shearwater 39 is an excellent boat to be doing this in. Dudley Dix-designed and S.A.-built, which means it should be capable of taking the horrible wind-vs. current seas off the Cape of Good Hope without trouble.
Its bigger sister, the 45, has been for a number of years now on my short list of "boats I'd trade to if I won a lottery". The J/160 and the Saga 43 are also on that list. Despite the fact I've now got a sailer-motor in steel, I still really enjoy the idea of a perfomance cruiser.
Re: your trip. I wouldn't make any hard and fast plans about not going offshore, and if you have a Shearwater, why not consider a Virginia to Bermuda run and back for practice this summer (in between hurricanes...)?
You might find the Ditch in a Shearwater dirty, 90% motoring, and expensive, as well as stressful due to depth, nav and keeping a watch issues. Check the pilots for December/January...you may find it's a reach to broad reach until the Trades, and then a turn west/southwest down into the Caribbean. Two sets of reaches is a good, if rolly, way to shake down the crew.
Another option is to take an experienced crew (maybe a woman to avoid teenaged girl-burly young seaman interactions!). That way, you, the crew and one of the three remaining less-experienced crew could pull off five to ten days offshore passages without a huge amount of strain and keeping out a weather eye and a moving set of "outs" if something nasty comes in from Africa.
Just some thoughts...but I'll bet the ICW will be crowded with stinkpotters and weekenders heading south for Christmas/New Year's, and I for one would hate to be in a brackish traffic jam/serial bow sniff.
How high is the risk of being clobbered by a Norther storm on the way to Bermuda in December?
They do happen, which is why you watch the weather and pick a safe window to leave.
Check out his tide and current page before you commit to crossing the Windward passage or heading to the Yucatan with the family only considering prevailing winds! OK...back to your questions:
It is 1000 miles from Great Bridge to Lake Worth (Palm Beach) where most people wait at anchor to cross to the Bahamas. Using the ICW and figuring 50 miles a day in the winter (limited daylight/weather issues) that means a minimum of 3 weeks making time. You won't be able to do this...so figure 4 weeks. Once you are in Lake Worth you have january Gulf Stream weather to figure on and I would allow 2 weeks in your schedule to wait for the right day. Getting antsy in this phase has caused many a boat to come to grief. WAIT for at least 24 hours of light winds with no northerly component AND a good 48 hour forecast before you go. You will have lots of company!
I have other posts on the crossing process in detail here if you do a search on them. Once in the Abacos...you'll want at least a month to play around and explore all the beautiful places. Then I would suggest buddy boating with others on an overnight passage to Eleutrhra as you begin to make your way to the Exumas. Figure another month in these places and if you want to explore some of the far Bahamas even more time. When you have had enough you can head back north and cross back over to FL at Bimini to either Miami or the Florida channel. From there the Keys can be done in 3 days to Key West, or you can take your time. A trip to the Dry Tortugas would be nice if the "northers" have stopped. From there or Key West...it is an overnighter to the West Coast of FL. (Ft. Myers is good but you could head to Naples if you want to explore more on your way north). I believe with your boat you'll need to make coastal day jumps up the coast since the waterway is fairly shoal and bridges are lower but you can check the charts. FT. Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Punta Gorda and Sarasota are all good stops heading to Tampa. I'm not familiar with haulout/shipping options there but I'm sure others here can help. A lot of Canadians keep their boats on the East Coast (interior) of FL in Indiantown year to year and come back to have an easy crossing the following year. This may also be something for you to consider.
If you plan to go further than the Bahamas/Keys...you do need to consider that unless you follow the conventional route of a clockwise Caribbean circle, you will be heading into stiff winds or currents and the earlier you go, the higher the risk of big old fronts sweeping thorugh. Pavlidas' guides can help your planning if you choose this option.
My advice would be to go easy. Enjoy the cruising rather than the mileage and everyone will have a great time. :)
PS...I recognize the Cuba option is legal for you but I personally believe that any travel and financial support from tourism only props up a brutal dictatorship. I also recognize that a lot of folks don't feel the same way. You also even as a Canadian vessel can run afoul of "homeland security" as this clip from another forum illustrates:
Even a Canadian vessel is subject to a certain amount of hassle and possible legal ramifications under the current administration. Especially those foreign flagged vessels leaving from Key West. They are instructed by Homeland Security that if they leave from US soil that they are subject to the same penalties as a US vessel. So care is needed when dealing with them from that perspective. In addition the US Coast Guard is stopping any vessel in the Straights of Florida between Florida and Cuba to determine if they have left from the States and are heading for Cuba.
Thanks for all the advice. Cam thanks as well. I suspect we'll end up doing exactly as you suggest.
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