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Old 17-06-2019, 16:00   #1
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Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

Hey CF Community,
I've been watching passageweather.com for weather windows both from the keys to Yucatan and the keys through Bahamas then the Windward Passage. With your experience, and knowledge of this time of year, which route would you take to ultimately get south of Belize in the next two weeks? the only reason I'm considering going east around Cuba to the Cayman Islands and on , is because of the Gulfstream being 3 + knots at this time. Thank you ahead of time for your kind wisdom and resources.
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Old 17-06-2019, 16:42   #2
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

This is one where you'll get opinions both ways, and most of them valid. My preference is probably the Windward Passage.

Either way you'll have some work on the nose, going the Gulf route it will be after you pass Cuba, going the WP it will be getting to Cuba. I prefer this as it is earlier in the trip and thus easier to depart on a favorable forecast. By the time you get past Cuba your forecast will be old but you don't need one - it will be we easterly

Once you clear the WP you should have a very nice reach for the rest of the trip, past the Yucatan you'll likely be much closer to the wind - you'll be rolling the dice a bit more, could be a close reach or could be a beat depending on when exactly you get there.

Lastly, you'll likely have a bit brisker breeze sailing through the central Caribbean than down the Central American coast. I prefer that option but others may (quite legitimately) prefer the likely 10-15 knots along the coast vs the 15-25 across the middle.
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Old 17-06-2019, 16:59   #3
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

The challenge with taking the typical Westerly route (Isla Mujeres-Belize-Honduras-Providencia-Panama) this late in the season is that you wont have cold fronts to work with for a wind shift. This is especially an issue if you stop in the Bay Islands because you need a wind shift, or at least a lull, to get around the corner fron Bay Islands to Providencia...you are not likely to get it this time of year.

You are more likely to get SE wind shifts in both the NW & SW Carib this time of year...which makes gaining easting harder. This seasonal shift is more pronounced in the NW Carib. See Pilot Charts.

Going via Caymans will also cost you easting and put you on more of a beat to get to Providencia or Panama.

Its almost hurricane season so getting out of the hurricane zone soon is a good plan.

Making direct for Panama also keeps you off the Nicaraguan Banks and potential security issues there (See CSSN for details).

For the above factors, I would favor a run direct from the Windward Passage to Colon.

Where is your final destination in Panama? This affects your routing, as once you get S of 11N heading toward Bocas you will almost certainly be in light and variable winds for the duration. Whereas if you make for Colon (or E of Colon) from WP/Jamaica you are much more likely to have wind on the entire route (may lighten up as you approach the Panamanian coast, but you be much closer before this happens than if you make for W Panama).

The Trades are pretty sporty along this route (once S of Jamaica) right now, as are the seas (over 3 meters). You could optionally wait for them to settle down a bit in Port Antonio, Jamaica, but the hurricane clock is ticking.

CAPE Index is high across the area now which means strong squalls etc are more likely. With rising SSTs its likely to stay high too.

Note that conditions can stay sporty like this for extended periods even this time of year. I did routing for a friend on a delivery from Colon to Belize a couple of years ago who got pinned down in San Andreas for two weeks in June by strong Trades/Squalls/rough seas (which historically all should be more settled in June).

There are a lot of complex and highly variable currents to take into consideration between Jamaica & Panama.

Have you considered Rio Dulce as an option for hurricane season? You could easily take the usual W route there, all down wind from FL, and then make for Panama earlier next season.

There are counter currents/routes you can take to reduce/avoid the "Gulf Stream" (technically the Florida Current and Yucatan Current) on the W route.
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Old 17-06-2019, 17:27   #4
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

I was just wanting South of the riskier hurricane belt, not only didn't I consider Rio Dulce because of it being more on the edge of the belt, but I was concerned with crossing the sandbar with my 6' draft. Would you consider it a great option? Would the ABC Islands, or others around be even better? Thank you both for your time and knowledge. You should be able to tip others on CF.
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Old 17-06-2019, 17:38   #5
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

I'll let BelizeSaiilor answer on Rio Dulce.

We've just been through the ABCs and Panama. The ABCs are quite nice, easy shopping for European goods, etc. But limited in things to do for 6 months. And somewhat expensive. Not a lot of places to sail unless you are willing to head down to the South American coast.

Panama is a wonderful place. I could easily spend 6 months gunkholing in Panama. Most of the same goods are available, and except around the Canal prices are pretty reasonable, but finding things can be a bit more of a challenge. Speaking Spanish helps, but frequently the answer is "you can get that in Panama City" (or sometimes Boquete for American goods catering to the expats).

My vote would be probably be Panama over ABCs (abstaining on Rio Dulce as I've never been there), but either would be quite pleasant for the season. If you're leaving your boat then overall I think ABCs might be a bit easier, but I've also never done it (just know people who have in both places).
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Old 17-06-2019, 17:43   #6
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

We have been in and out of the Rio for the past 10 years. It seems every year more and more boats are waiting there to go somewhere else. Boats often leave for Panama in late March maybe. In the mean time, you can get a slip, with a pool for $200. Or you could just anchor out about anywhere. Catch fish, buy corn meal and black beans. I saw a local beer (Brava) on sale for about 50 cents per can. You can't escape the entry fees but the agent is a pleasure.
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Old 17-06-2019, 23:43   #7
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

Quote:
Originally Posted by UneeklyCommon View Post
I was just wanting South of the riskier hurricane belt, not only didn't I consider Rio Dulce because of it being more on the edge of the belt, but I was concerned with crossing the sandbar with my 6' draft. Would you consider it a great option? Would the ABC Islands, or others around be even better? Thank you both for your time and knowledge. You should be able to tip others on CF.
The Rio is an great option...was my homebase for almost a decade! Now live in Panama. So, very familiar w both. The ABCs are quite nice too, as is Cartagena, Colombia (great city). All hurricane safe options (2 in Panamanian waters in recorded history).

The Rio is hurricane proof because it is surrounded by mountains. A hurricane has never enter the Rio, ever (Mitch tried, but failed).

Leave your boat in one of the many affordale marinas and travel inland -- Guatemala is the most awesome country in Central America.

Alternatively you could do the E Carib route...do the standard Thornless Path to Windward down to Grenada. From there W all the way to the ABCs is very unlikely to get a hurricane so can be sailed in the summer months...easy down wind sailing all the way. Jump from the ABCs to Santa Marta (nice place) then Cartagena. The sea off Colombia is a notoriously rough section of ocean, but it settles down in the summer months...good time to hop to Panama. Be forewarned though E Panama gets biblical lightening in the Summer.

So, you have loads of options to get out of the path hurricanes, just decide very soon!
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Old 18-06-2019, 00:53   #8
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ecos View Post
We have been in and out of the Rio for the past 10 years. It seems every year more and more boats are waiting there to go somewhere else. Boats often leave for Panama in late March maybe. In the mean time, you can get a slip, with a pool for $200. Or you could just anchor out about anywhere. Catch fish, buy corn meal and black beans. I saw a local beer (Brava) on sale for about 50 cents per can. You can't escape the entry fees but the agent is a pleasure.
March is a good time to make the jump East from the Rio. The cold fronts decrease in frequency by then, but you still get the occassional one to help you around the corner (Nicaraguan Banks).
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Old 18-06-2019, 01:17   #9
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

Quote:
Originally Posted by UneeklyCommon View Post
I was just wanting South of the riskier hurricane belt, not only didn't I consider Rio Dulce because of it being more on the edge of the belt, but I was concerned with crossing the sandbar with my 6' draft. Would you consider it a great option? Would the ABC Islands, or others around be even better? Thank you both for your time and knowledge. You should be able to tip others on CF.
Re 6' draft. Yes, with a favorable tide you should be able to squeak over with 6' no problem. I used to run boats w just under 6' draft over the bar frequently regardless of tide height. Although I hear there may have been some recent shifting/shoaling in some of the bar (someone did some mapping of it recently). You can find more info, and get a taste of cruiser life on the Rio, by visiting www.riodulcechisme.com. I think the recent mapping was posted there. Also search CF, there are a number of threads about the Rio here.

If necessary you can get careened over the bar by the local fishing boats. I know of boats up to 8' draft who've done this. Once inside the bar there is plenty of depth with only a few exceptions.

Over the years Ive collected a lot of this info into my Cruising Notes. You can find them on Amazon. One covers Belize/Guatemala. The other is a big picture overview of routing thru the Western Carib (both N & S)

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/au...sin=B072Y2S8JS
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Old 18-06-2019, 03:59   #10
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

So, I am getting a lot of valid answers on which destinations. It seems that Panama or Dulce are #1 and Grenada/ABC's #2, (which I love the thought of sailing through the summer, honestly), ...now passageway. I'm getting Windward Passage #1, and not much of a #2 through Yucatan Straights. Am I following correctly? If WP, any special insights en route through it to use to get to #1 & #2 Destinations? Which destinations will be easiest via WP at this time of season?
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Old 18-06-2019, 07:21   #11
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

You are starting from the Keys right?

Rio Dulce. I suggest the road most travelled to the Rio, which is Isla Mujeres-Belize-Guatemala. Hurricanes dont tend to affect the NW Carib until late in the season. So, some cruisers hang out in Belize until the first threat of tropical weather then run for the Rio. Dont hesitate, run early so you dont get caught in a bad situation. Weather in Belize is fine in the summer months, just more likely to get squalls, some strong, at night so stick to the better protected anchorages...and keep a weather eye out for Tropical activity....which can spin up quick and close later in the season.

Panama. Dont use the W route this time of year, use the WP route. Get SE, like Inagua, for a good angle on the WP then jump. Note that the WP tends to amp up winds and seas a bit.

ABCs etc. The usual route is to get down to Grenada or so and then across to the ABCs, but you could claw your way just far enough SE for a good angle then jump direct to the ABCs.
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Old 18-06-2019, 08:44   #12
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

QUOTE=belizesailor;2911180]Note that the WP tends to amp up winds and seas a bit.

ABCs etc. The usual route is to get down to Grenada or so and then across to the ABCs, but you could claw your way just far enough SE for a good angle then jump direct to the ABCs.[/QUOTE]

Now I will be going on the nose through the termed Trade Winds, "Thorned/Less Path" until I cut South and through the Windward Passage. Any insight on that? I have a reliable, yet weaker electric motor, though just needs time to replenish. Does that effect the route as a concern? Close-hauled is a breeze for my vessel.
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Old 18-06-2019, 10:18   #13
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

The term "Thornless Path to Windward" comes from Bruce Van Sant's book:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00R6...-dbssearch-acs

There are two classic ways to work your way into the E Carib. One is Van Sants approach: basically playing the near shore land/sea breeze cycles & lees along the larger islands to avoid a direct bash into the Trades. Two is the "I-65" route, head E from the USA until you get E of 65W then hang a right. The later is a riskier strategy in hurricane season.

From the Keys to the WP, the worst part is getting E from the Keys to the Bahamas with a steady E wind thru the Florida Straits. Picking your way SE thru the Bahamas is not so bad as you can just make short bashes to weather if necessary...like to the next island/anchorage. Google up "Pineapple Cup" for an example route thru the Bahamas to Jamaica via the WP.

Take a look at Windy for a good visualization of some of these wind patterns.

This time of year, the more time you take picking your way E and SE the more your hurricane risk goes up. Versus just pointing the bow W and sailing to Isla Mujeres then onto the Rio.

Personally, given that its almost July, I would not like the idea of taking more time to pick my way SE into the E Carib. Awfully late in the season for that. I would take the W route to the Rio. My distant second choice would be the WP route to Panama.
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Old 18-06-2019, 11:00   #14
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

Its a travel day for me so Ive got some time:

Earlier you mentioned a concern about the "Gulf Stream" if you head W. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Attached is an image of a routing of how you avoid doing prolonged battle with major currents to get from FL to the Rio Dulce. This route starts in Ft Myers and was run as a non-stop route. You could depart from Key West or Dry Tortugas and accomplish the same thing.

First a little nomeclature on regional currents: the current flowing N parallel to the Yucatan is the Yucatan Current. It splits after it squeezes thru the Yucatan Channel (between Cuba and Mexico) into the Gulf Loop Current and the Florida Current. The Gulf Loop Current is highly variable in its meanderings, but it eventually rejoins the Florida Current to squeeze thru the Florida Straits. When the Flrorida Current emerges from the Florida Straits it officially becomes the Gulf Stream (I was recently in a favorable 4knot Gulf Stream flow W of the Azores near 40N....WOW...what a massive current system to get that far N and still have 4 knots of flow and still be warm! We were making up to 12 knots SOG!)

Before departing Florida you will want the most recent data on these currents so you can plot a similar route to my posted example. This is especially true for the highly variable Gulf Loop Current. You can get this data from Copernicus in GRIB format (some GRIB viewers, like SailGRIB, support this). You can also visualize it in Windy, but they source their data from NESDIS which I have found not to be as accurate, at least in some areas (ex: its total rubbish for Panama).

The basic strategy as shown in the posted routing is to stay N of Florida Current when heading W (inside route in the Keys or close to S side of reefs) then cut across it at a bit narrower and weaker section near the Dry Tortugas and make towards the W tip of Cuba. From there you can sail SSW outside the E wall of the Yucatan Current almost to Guatemala. But, you will need to cross the Yucatan Current once from E to W to make your way into Belize/Guatemala, but its more diffuse as you get further S.
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Old 18-06-2019, 12:50   #15
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Re: Which route to Panama for Hurricane Season?

[QUOTE=belizesailor;2911019]Re 6' draft.
If necessary you can get careened over the bar by the local fishing boats. I know of boats up to 8' draft who've done this. Once inside the bar there is plenty of depth with only a few exceptions.

This year a boat with an 8'2" draft came in. They use 2 fishing boats, one to tow and one to tip it over. I think they had to get to about 45deg.
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