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Old 21-02-2015, 19:54   #1
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Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

This may be a bit basic of a question for this forum but I'm trying to find out what the general sea state in the Caribbean is. My brother-in-law is trying to decide how safe it is to kayak from South America to Florida. It would be an island hopping trip done is segments. Time of year is open and we'd be checking forecasts before each leg. Distance between islands isn't bad bit in your opinion how dangerous would it be for a kayak in those waters? The little time I've spent it was pretty much a dead calm the whole time but I can't really say I have a valid opinion.
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Old 21-02-2015, 20:38   #2
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

Kayaking from South America to Florida?

Man…that sounds like a crazy adventure.

The Windward Islands are known to have strong winds but there is also the issue of strong currents between islands. This has been an issue since the days of Pirates of the Caribbean and the Spanish Explorers.

There are MILES between islands. I can imagine trying to kayak paddle against both wind, waves, and strong currents, but I also think that would be very tiring, risky, and very likely ineffective. YMMV.

Sailboats sail to windward, with some difficulty. Many sailboats can go 5, 6, 7 knots hour after hour after hour, using the power of the wind. Or by using "motor sailing." But…a kayak powered only by a paddler? How fast and how long can one paddle against the wind, waves, and current between the islands?

My guess is he would head North from Trinidad, only to find that he is being "blown" (and drifting due to currents) towards Curacao or Panama!

FYI:

The distance from Trinidad to Grenada is 103 miles!

The distance from Grenada to Curacao is 494 miles!

The distance from St. Vincent to St. Lucia is 48 miles.

http://www.distancefromto.net/distan...the+Grenadines
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Old 21-02-2015, 20:50   #3
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

Which route is he planning to take. He can go up the chain of islands like Steady Hand mentions or go west and work up the coast of Central America, Mexico to TX and around the Gulf of Mexico.

If he's planning to island hop Trinidad, Grenada on up to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc then there are several things to consider.

Navigation is pretty simple as you can frequently see the next island as soon as you leave the previous. Weather could be a problem.

Summer the winds are generally lighter but you're in hurricane season. Winter the winds are frequently 10-15-20 kts with seas to match and, as SH pointed out, there's a current that will push you towards the west a knot or so. This is just a general rule of thumb and you can often see strong winds in the summer as well as the winter.
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Old 21-02-2015, 21:21   #4
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

Completely alone or with a support boat?
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Old 21-02-2015, 22:11   #5
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

My Key Point: Go with the Flow.

It has been a long while since I studied Oceanography at an island sea lab. But currents are interesting to me and something to know about if one is intending to do a lot of voyaging or even coastal navigation too.

NOTE: The following illustration shows something of the VOLUME of water movement (measured in Sv), not the speed of the local current.

The illustration I am posting shows the water movement for the area we are discussing. Notice the "Sv" numbers (in the boxes) with "+/-" numbers too and be aware that oceanographic surveys over the years have found that the volume of water entering the Caribbean comes mostly through the passages between the St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada.

That massive volume of water moving from East to West = current.

You might want to know what an "Sv" means.

Sv = a Sverdrup. This is a unit of measurement in oceanography related to a volume of water transport (current).

It is equivalent to 1 million cubic metres per second (264,000,000 USgal/s).

The entire global input of fresh water from rivers to the ocean is equal to about 1 sverdrup. Now, go look at the chart below and see those numbers in the boxes. Those are the Sv numbers for those passes. Pretty impressive flow of water!

The Gulf Stream flows at over 30 Sv in the Florida pass (off Miami).


(You can read more about this on Wikipedia.)
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Old 22-02-2015, 04:56   #6
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

This is all very much still in the planning stage. If winds and currents would be more beneficial going north to south we can go that way. That's why I'm asking you folks, I want to get good information to have the best chance of success.

To tell you how he came up with this plan, for years I've said I wanted to kayak from Ft Jefferson to Kay West(there would be a bar at the end of the trip) but I couldn't find anyone to make the trip with me. But then my niece and nephew went off to college and my brother-in-law had time to paddle again. Last year he did the length of the Chattahoochee in sections and I did the longer weekends when I could take time off from work. Toward the end of the trip he brought up the idea of the Caribbean. Sounded like and adventure to brag about to me so now I'm trying to find out just how insane this idea is.

Someone, I don't know who, told my brother-in-law the water would be rough. I still think we can plan around the rough water, as skimpy said, the wind and waves are worse in the winter. Hurricanes can generally be forecasted far enough out that we wouldn't paddle into one by accident. If I'm thinking wrong please let me know. This trip only gives us bragging rights if we make it to the next island.

Because it is open water with some longer distances we would use a tandem kayak with an outrigger. We're not really planning on a support boat but after a few test paddles that may change. Again, this wouldn't be completed all in one trip. We would be taking 4-5 day weekends to do sections at a time. We both have jobs that we can't leave indefinitely (I'm jealous of those who can). But this also means we can plan for weather a little better.
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Old 22-02-2015, 08:58   #7
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

Hello again.

I carefully read your latest post, regarding this being in the planning stage and the desire for "bragging rights."

Obviously it would be an adventure. And, I am someone who respects adventure and adventurers.

In fact, when I was in college, I tried, unsuccessfully, to get a friend to canoe with me down the entire Mississippi River. Unfortunately, my friends thought I was crazy and I did not make the dream come true. So, I understand some of the desire to do something like you propose.

Just be prepared for many people to be critical of the plans, the attempt, and only quiet their criticism when the attempt becomes a "success."

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So, here is a little more blunt and honest "criticism" that I hope will ring a reality bell or two. I offer this all in a truly friendly tone of voice with the sincere intent to help.

1. The plan sounds foolish to me, because it seems to equate "river kayaking" (going downstream) with "crossing an ocean passage between islands, one that has known strong currents going between the islands and out to a very large sea."

The current is not going from one island to another. It is going between them (perpendicular course).

Can you paddle the 100+ miles between the two islands I listed above without being blown or pushed by the current to the West so far that you miss the target island? I doubt it! Not unless you have planned a route with a lot of "Easting" to head to the east so your deflected course will arc to the target. Otherwise, I suspect you will find your kayak (single or double) is being pushed towards Central America.

2. Using a "support boat?"
To me that sounds very "wimpy."


In fact, I have always been amused by the people seeking to set a "record" who go for some kind of distance, all the time knowing that help is just a few feet from them in the support boat.

For example, I acknowledge that the people who swim the English channel do so by swimming under their own power. That is a long distance (20 miles or more). BUT, the real distance to "safety" is only a few more feet from them, as their support boat is just a few feet away at all times. Some are literally swimming a few feet (5 feet) behind a small boat.

So, the "risk" of that distance is minimized and so the accomplishment seems "bogus" to me.

This is not to say they are not good swimmers and it is obvious they can swim a long distance. And they may have been the first to do some route. That is possible. Recently Dianna Nyad swam from Cuba to the USA. That was a first. She is mature adult, and so that is admirable too (she is not some young Olympian). She also gets points for trying several times.

But, because the "safety" of the boat a few feet away from them diminishes the real risk, it seems somewhat "false" and "artificial" to me. Almost as if they are swimming in a pool where the side of the pool is just a few feet from them at all times.

Perhaps that is the curmudgeon in me speaking here.

The use of a support boat just sounds like "I am too concerned about my safety" and "I know this is ridiculous but I still want to claim I did it on my own." And, "If I wimp out, or need to give up, I need only call my friends on the support boat that is a few feet from me to pick me up."

Another example comes to mind, that of a tight-rope walker. If the person walks without a net between two tall buildings (or over Niagra Falls) that is a real risk and real feat. On the other hand if that same distance is covered with the tight rope just 3 feet from the ground, it is bogus. The same distance may have been covered, but the risk was minimized.

My Advice on Record Setting Attempts?
If you really want bragging rights, then do something first, do something dangerous, and do it in such a way that there is a real risk to you (alone) and no risk to others. If you fail, that is part of the risk, but at least you tried. If you risk dying or come close to it, that is part of the "reward" of a success and THAT is your real bragging rights.

If you go wimpy and have a safety net under you the whole way (e.g. a close support boat) then you might as well use a paddle boat or swim while sitting in an inner tube or use the faddish standup paddle board or do it blindfolded or something silly like that.
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Old 22-02-2015, 09:26   #8
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

Climb Everest first. If you get away with that, try your kayaking death wish.
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Old 22-02-2015, 10:14   #9
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

Assuming you mean Kayaks not open canoes then no issues, sea state is rarely bad enough to be a problem. Currents however will need watching and can effectively increase the distance quite a lot. Unlike tidal currents round most islands these are driven by the trade winds and keep going the same way all the time. There are some gaps which will be too big to do without sleep?
Doing it in an open canoe would also be OK but would need a much larger craft. Around this area people have always used open canoes for long distance journies by sea but typically the are 20ft + with 6 or more paddlers. Take a look at the west coast first nation tradition
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Old 22-02-2015, 11:02   #10
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

I'm wondering how far you could paddle in the 4 to 5 day span you spoke of? What happens at night? Paddle all night long?
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Old 22-02-2015, 11:13   #11
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

I'm not a kayaker, but have seen quite a few ocean kayakers in heavy current etc. If he is a pro I don't see huge problem. The lee of the islands can be pretty benign, but there will be some 100 mile trips that will take some endurance for sure. Not sure how a Kayaker does that.. if the seas are lumpy....
longer trips:
Trini to Grenada, Mona Passage, DR to Turks.... etc.
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Old 22-02-2015, 11:58   #12
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

A fellow from my hometown kayaked from Grenada to Puerto Rico, about 15 to 20 years ago, Kayak Joe. We talked about it one time, he was pretty low key about it. He didn't have much trouble along the Lee of the Islands, the passages where a challenge, but as prudent sailors would do, watched weather. What he talked about the most was the curiosity and friendliness of the Islanders, and how much s**t he got in the USVI and Puerto Rico, when he wanted to beach camp, and just normal bureaucracy that is the American way. It is doable, requires some planning and luck.
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Old 22-02-2015, 16:28   #13
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

"how safe it is to kayak from South America to Florida."
I don't think safe is a word that can be applied to such a trip. It would be incredibly dangerous and while I would not say impossible it would be nearly so! I think even Lloyds of London would balk at insuring your brother.
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Old 22-02-2015, 16:50   #14
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

I have sea kayaked in Alaska to an island.

I would NOT attempt a 100 mile passage between islands with a strong cross current and open ocean swells perpendicular to my course and with trade winds perpendicular to my course and with the nearest land to the west or "downwind" of my course being hundreds of miles across open sea. If you get pushed off course and you miss the target island, you will be SOL. Unless you gave a support boat with you.

Coastal kayaking where the prevailing winds and waves blow one towards the near land is totally different from a long distance passage across current, wind, and wave where those are pushing you away from your target island.
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Old 22-02-2015, 17:27   #15
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Re: Conditions in the Caribbean for kayaking

An old friend John Dowd (started Sea kayaker magazine) paddled the route from South America through the Caribbean many years ago to Miami. Has a lot of info published... Best of luck
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