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Old 03-20-2004
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Western Carribean in the summer

I realize this is against conventional thought, but here goes . . .

We (my wife, 4 year old, and myself) will be leaving the western Gulf of Mexico coast in late May with plans to ultimately end up in Panama. Our boat is essentially ready with probably the only last major project being SSB installation. I''m happy with the boat, I think our sailing skills are ready for the trip, and best of all now is the time to go.

However, therein lies the issue--the timing of starting the trip. Because of things beyond our control, our window is the three months of June, July, and August for at least part of this trip. We would like to start at Isla Mujeres and hop down the Central American coast to Panama; however, I realize it''s quite humid, rainy, and sometimes far between decent ports. However, this route would likely allow us to be far enough south by July that any early season hurricanes would be more avoidable since these are most likely to originate from the Atlantic versus late season bloomers from the Caribbean itself.

A second route is to go down the windwards and simply plan to pull the boat out of the water for the hurricane season probably in Puerto Rico. After hurricane season, then we would fly back to P.R. and take the boat the rest of the way to Panama. I think the advantages of this route might be better summertime weather with more anchorage/port options with the downside of course being the risks of an early season hurricane.

I have planned both routes and would like the opinions of others. I realize cruising this late is not necessarily advisable but neither is not cruising, IMO. And despite the risk-taking this approach implies, we are actually quite careful and conservative in our sailing. Unfortunately, we have only a certain time window for cruising and thus our dilemma.

I welcome your suggestions and thoughts,
Marcus
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Old 03-20-2004
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Western Carribean in the summer

Marcus (and crew):

First, good luck on the insurance search. You’ll likely need a rider for Panama and you’ll want to look closely at how the policy reads re: Nicaragua as policies usually exempt coverage there but, since you may choose to sail via the Mosquito Cays, it may be unclear whether you will be covered in those (somewhat offshore but shallow) waters.

You pose an interesting dilemma and, by instinct, cruising sailors will be reluctant to recommend against going cruising when that’s the only alternative you identify to a June-August passage…so in a way, you’re steering the answer by the way you pose your question. You also omit your longer-term plans and when you would return to your boat should you lay her up. Those details may influence replies a bit, but in general I’d say you have three options:
1. The ‘East to get West’ route you describe via PR. I think that’s a non-starter and wasn’t sure why you included it. The storm season applies equally to the Greater Antilles, the run is much more to windward, and it obviously involves many more miles (in both directions), so I can only guess you’re considering it because if offers a ‘storm time-out’ for the boat. Regrettably, PR doesn’t really offer a good storm-proof port for owners who are off the boat and away from the island. We’ve been there four times now, circled the island on our last visit, and every shore has stories of storm damage to unattended boats. So…I’d toss this option altho’ it’s a wonderful route I’d encourage any cruiser to consider.
2. The ‘Go For Broke’ option, straight through to Panama during the Storm Season. The run will constantly face time pressure and be less enjoyable as a result. The likely sequence will be via Isla and the offshore atolls (from which you get shelter and can lay a better wind angle) to and then hopping along the S coasts of the Honduran Bay Is. (use Rauscher’s guide for all the above). The next big objective is to round Cabo Gracias a Dios (which says it all…), then past or perhaps via the scattered, not always safe Nicaraguan cays to Providencia (but probably not San Andreas, again due to the wind angle on departure), and then the final long run to the Canal Region. While VanSant’s guide doesn’t cover this area, his Caribbean weather orientation is excellent and will tell you much about how to tactically deal with the oscillating Trades. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the ancient Wallace Stone’s Cruising Guide to the Caribbean – it would only cost you a couple of bucks and, while now 30 years old, the routing & weather strategies are timeless…plus little changes in a lot of these places except via devastation by Mother Nature. Most of this route poses tropical storm risk (or worse), despite the somewhat lessened chance early in the season that you mention…but you’ll be right up against a lee shore for that whole risk area, so if things get bad they’ll be worse.
3. The ‘Rio Route’ would be my recommendation and uses the ‘time-out’ idea you associated with PR. Skedaddle across the Gulf ASAP (as I recall, the Eastern Gulf also suffers from early season storms), do the Isla-Belize run with one ear on the wx products you can pull down using the SSB (include the W Caribbean Maritime Net 8.155 USB at 0900 “local”, whatever that is in June!), and enter Guatemala’s Rio Dulce by early July (simply to reduce further exposure in what’s been very dangerous waters during storm season). You will feel like you are on the African Queen, going up some remote jungle ravine (except for the occasional G’n Yuppie retreats), and you’ll arrive at inexpensive Fronteras where many sailors bed down their boats for the storm season. It''s hot and steamy, and you might want to carry a dehumidifier with you for use there if leaving the boat). Marina rates (and a bit extra for a trustworthy caretaker) are very reasonable and easily arranged, you can find truly sheltered berthing, and you would fly in/out of G City, a van or bus ride away. Take some time there to travel inland a bit, which is easily arranged and dirt cheap. Tikal e.g. is not to be missed and truly astounding. The follow-on plan would be to exit in late Oct/early Nov before the Trades build since you’ll have a lot of easting to accomplish in the next several months. (The Rauscher Guide will cover all this run).

Good luck and sorry this is so long. Email me if you think I can offer any other info you’d find helpful.

Jack
jack_patricia@yahoo.com
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