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Old 22-08-2005, 12:44   #1
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Gulf Stream Counter Current / Northwest Cuba ?

I plan to go to Isla Mujeres, Mexico via the FL Keys and the Dry Tortugas in late Nov./early Dec. Will be crossing the Gulf Stream SW of Garden Key. I have read in cruising guides and seen in the Atlas of Pilot Charts an illustration of a counter current to the Gulf Stream off the northwest coast of Cuba. Somewhere I got the notion that it is only 5 to 20 miles offshore and not very wide. Cuba claims a 12 mile territorial water. Does anyone have direct knowledge of how far off shore this Cuban counter current really is and how wide it may vary during the late fall/early winter? Also, does anyone have direct knowledge of problems cruisers have had with Cuban authorities or for that matter with US authorities for approaching too close to Cuba while trying to take advantage of this current when sailing to Mexico. I will appreciate any helpful info.
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Old 22-08-2005, 15:13   #2
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The best Gulf Stream routing information comes from Jenifer Clark, who pinpoints the location of the stream and its many eddies.
“Jenifer Clark's Gulfstream” at:
Tel: 301-952-0930

A plot of the Gulf Stream is prepared by the U.S. Navy and is available from their web site at:
Goto: “Oceanographic Products”
Then: “Gulf Stream Analysis South” -and/or- “Gulf Stream Text Message”

Approaching Isla de Mujeres from the north, or more commonly, the northeast, is a bit challenging. A powerful north-setting current patrols the 100-mile-wide straight, and at times the drift is more than four knots. Once above the strait, the current splinters. Most of the water seems to be directed into the main body of the Gulf Stream that gathers steam as it nears the Straits of Florida. A loop current is also spawned and it usually sets north into the Gulf of Mexico, and then hooks back to the southeast to connect with the Gulf Stream west of the Dry Tortugas. Together these currents conspire to make all passages from Florida to Isla de Mujeres interesting, to say the least.

There are two general routes to Isla de Mujeres from Key West.

If the Gulf Stream is in its likely position, favoring the Cuban side of the Straits of Florida, then a route that stays above the current is possible. Of course this route can become difficult if the loop current is running strong, making it tough to drop down into the Yucatan Channel from the north. It may be necessary to sail west of the Yucatan Peninsula and then circle back to the southeast.

Another strategy is to cross the Gulf Stream at a right angle, and sail south until you’re just off the Cuban coastline. There you will likely find the favorable counter current as well as favorable winds.

There are currently lots of yachts visiting Cuba, and while a gunboat may still stop you, it is not likely that your passage will be unduly delayed.

The above routing info’ was paraphrased from a couple of articles, and other sources including:

An Island in the Stream ~ by John Kretschmer (Sailnet)

Cruising World - The Log of “Ithaka”

Regata Del Sol Al Sol (annual race from St. Petersburg to Isla Mujeres) ~ by David Allester and Eileen Quinn aboard “Little Gidding”
Gord May
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Old 22-08-2005, 16:51   #3
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Thank you very much for replying to my query. I will check out the websites you mentioned for additional information. I also appreciate your analysis of possible routes. As usual your comments are well thought out and very professional.
Cheers to ya,
S/V Sun Dog
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