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Old 30-05-2011, 17:07   #1
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Panama to the BVIs

hi all,
i will be heading north to jamaica from panama and then east to the bvi's in november. i realize it's a very tough trip. i would like to leave jamaica (errol flynn marina) and head along the south coasts of hispaniola and puerto rico and thence to st. thomas. there doesn't seem to be a lot of information available. i have transited the canal from california and so i am heading north into the caribbean for the first time. any thoughts or strategies?
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Old 30-05-2011, 18:30   #2
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Re: panama to the bvi's

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hi all,
i will be heading north to jamaica from panama and then east to the bvi's in november. i realize it's a very tough trip. i would like to leave jamaica (errol flynn marina) and head along the south coasts of hispaniola and puerto rico and thence to st. thomas. there doesn't seem to be a lot of information available. i have transited the canal from california and so i am heading north into the caribbean for the first time. any thoughts or strategies?
You can't leave earlier? In the summer you have no tradewinds to fight, just some hurricanes to reckon with.

When we head east from Panama, we work up along the Panama and Colombia coast to Santa Martha. There, wait for a window of no wind or west wind and make a run for Aruba. From there on you can either keep working east (Curacao, Bonaire, Aves, Rogues etc.) or make long tacks like north to DR then back south etc.

The first part to Aruba gets you east of the big winds & waves. It's also south of the hurricane belt.

ciao!
Nick.
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Old 30-05-2011, 19:55   #3
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Re: panama to the bvi's

You can download for free the cruising guides for the Dominican Republic at: Dominican Republic Cruising Guide
- - Although there are not a lot of cruisers who do the eastbound route from Panama to the BVI's, those that do usually head north to Jamaica or Cuba and then east along the south side of Hispanolia, cross the Mona Passage and continue on along the south side of Puerto Rico.
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Old 30-05-2011, 20:43   #4
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Re: panama to the bvi's

You're in for a cow of a trip unless you can find light winds, & they're lighter during hurricane season. We've gone over the top of Columbia (towards Panama) twice now, & both times had sustained 40 knot winds & 20'+ waves. The GPS says we got our heavy catamaran up to 23.5 knots with only a scrap of jib out for steering. I wouldn't want to go the other way. The "Christmas Winds" start at the end of December & I'd certainly want to be as far east as possible by then, hopefully across the Anegada (Oh My Godda) passage.
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Old 31-05-2011, 07:09   #5
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

thanks! surprisedly there's not much written about the route. its the one i want to take simply because once i do my easting, i'm in fine position to cruise down the antilles to trinidad. i'm trying to get as much information as i can before i undertake such a trip. also if i were to take the southern route, as a californian i'm a little concerned about safety issues along that stretch.
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Old 31-05-2011, 08:12   #6
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

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also if i were to take the southern route, as a californian i'm a little concerned about safety issues along that stretch.
Sure, we're concerned about safety too. That said, Panama and Colombia are about the safest places you will find in the Caribbean. The only place I would skip for sure is Barranquilla at the mouth of the Rio Magdalena. Do not go to Venezuela main land or it's in-shore islands.

ciao!
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Old 31-05-2011, 08:22   #7
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

There is an old saying "Don't turn right out of Colon". Early this year I had a 205 foot motor yacht that went from Panama to Sint Maarten. The captain was reduced from cruising at 14 knots (normal) to 5 knots into steep seas and 40 knot headwinds. Boat still suffered shell plate dimpling and paint loss on the bow.
Pete Stevens the yacht and ship agent in Panama told me all the tuna super-clippers used to unload their helicopters in Panama when transiting to USVI to prevent them being damaged by waves. And this is on 300 plus foot boats with the 'copter sitting on the flight deck on top of the pilot house.
A few years ago I spent almost two weeks sitting in Colon on the "flats" watching waves break over the light standard at the end of the breakwater (seas 20 + feet) waiting to take a 112 foot motor yacht to Florida. This was April and when the seas dropped to 10 feet we departed, still a miserable trip with 10 foot seas on the beam but at least not punching into them on the nose.
Plan your trip to avoid the "Christmas Winds" and then head north toward Isla Mujeres and do a clockwise tour of the Caribbean if possible.
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Old 31-05-2011, 08:24   #8
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

Everything in the Caribbean Sea flows from East to West, so whenever you go east it's a bash to windward. Weather conditions will prevail in a particular location for a maxium of four days, so expect some adverse conditions.
I did the route mentioned by osirrissail from Dec 1st to June 1st 2002. The most difficult thing I ever did in my life.

Sail safe
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Old 31-05-2011, 14:17   #9
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

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"Don't turn right out of Colon"
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I did the route mentioned by osirrissail from Dec 1st to June 1st 2002. The most difficult thing I ever did in my life.
Many do not realize that the sail through the Colombian low is one of the worst legs of a world circumnavigation. An Atlantic crossing is peanuts compared to the weather and sea conditions you can get here... during the winter.

In the summer this changes as the tradewinds fade away. Now you get the tropical waves and squalls but also windless days or even wind reversals with west winds for days. Fill up the tanks with diesel, slowly work your way east along the Panamanian and Colombian coasts (mostly day sails with one or two over-nighters) until you get to Santa Martha and wait for the right weather window (no wind or west wind if lucky) to shoot for Aruba. there, you are east of the Colombia low.

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Old 31-05-2011, 14:40   #10
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

Jedi is correct. The Colombia low is what sucks the air from the Azores high as nature tries to create a balance of air pressure and thus the tradewinds are created. Then too storms are prevalent in low pressure areas and it rains an average of 285 days a year in the San Blas islands, but then this is where the water comes from to make the Panama Canal work.
The sail from Colombia to Aruba has been rated the fifth most diffuclt passage in the world. I once talked to a singlehandler who waited one and a half yeare until a hurricane lifted the winds from the coast and he did a delightful downwind sail to Aruba.
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Old 31-05-2011, 15:36   #11
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

ok, that's fine and dandy if you want to go east along the columbian coast to aruba. but that's not what i'm asking. i want to head north from panama to jamaica and thence to the bvi's via hispaniola and puerto rico. i realize that i am being redundant here, but i want to make my easting in the latitude of jamaica and then work my way down once i get to the longitude of the lesser antilles (eastern caribbean). however, all this information is incredible and i am learning so much! thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!
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Old 31-05-2011, 16:52   #12
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

Ok, here’s what I did as a single handler:
I left Portabella, Panama on December 2nd 2001 and sailed smack into the winter trades. Sailing north I plotted a waypoint that was to the east of a gap between two shallow area called banks. I stayed five miles to the east to avoid any seas that would build in the area.

I encountered gale force winds with seas in excess of 15 feet. Nine days later I was 80 miles to the north of Jamaica and still 70 miles to the west. Exhaustion forced me to sail downwind to the Grand Caymans were I stayed for two weeks.

Leaving the Grand Caymans I sailed hard on the wind and went straight north 100 miles before tacking. Three very large tacks and I arrived at Montego Bay, Jamaica on the northwest corner, it took about four days.

Leaving Montego Bay I travelled along the north coast, tacking away from the island at night and toward the island during the day. As I approached the Windward passage a container ship approached off my bow and warned me to not even think about the Windward Passage, so I turned around a went back to Road Town, Jamaica on the southeast side.

Leaving Road Town I beat my way over to the south coast of Hispaniola and made landfall on the boarder of Haiti and Dominican Republic and stayed for a week.

I then went around to the capitol Santo Domingo and stayed a month or so while I shipped my sails to a sail maker.

I then went acrossed the Mono Passage and met a horrific storm pattern on the south coast of Puerto Rico so I turned around and went acrossed the north coast in the lee of the island to San Jaun where I stayed for three weeks.

From there I continued East and dropped south through the Virgen Passage where I had a VERY close encounter with a water spout before stopping at St Thomas USVI. Turning south to complete my journey, I sailed on a beam reach for the first time in six months.

All of the sailboats I met experienced gear failure and claim that the passage had taken more the five years off the lives of their boats. I never saw a multihull the entire time.

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Old 01-06-2011, 21:44   #13
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

Rimaya,

tell us about your boat and your sailing experience... there are only few boats that can make this trip from Panama to Jamaica that you plan (like John's story shows). Our boat is 64' and mean & fast but I would not like to do that trip in tradewind conditions. Also, the trip is impossible in reinforced tradewind conditions (called Christmas winds by many). I have seen 100' + yachts come back wit their tails between their legs when they attempted it.

In may-july 2003 we did a run east all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to the BVI's and that was tough enough... but nothing compared to what you get served in the Colombia low. I would be very happy to use diesel to get east because of calm conditions. I'm pretty sure you will feel the same way after your trip :-)

ciao!
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Old 02-06-2011, 07:11   #14
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

the sailing experience pretty much speaks for itself. been sailing since '69. 3 SORC's in the mid-seventies. two jamaica races where one was sailed back to st pete and the other went on to san diego after a week stay in the caymens. numerous trips back up baja to california from mexico. adventurer, navigator. racer on maxi's. good pedrigree, good teachers. i plan on leaving colon around the first week of november (or whenever the hurricanes die down) and get to the usvi's before the re-enforced trades set in. i have a 44' sailboat and a 75 hp yanmar (1000 hrs- repowered boat for this). i figure if i head to jamaica and then skirt under the lee of the big islands i can make it, quick and clean, as fast as possible. but all the pieces have to fall in place and the weather windows have to be open. i'm surprised there's not a lot more information about this. i will have two or three crew to help with this. but early november is the departure date.
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Old 02-06-2011, 08:52   #15
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Re: Panama to the BVI's

In ten years in the Caribbean I only know of 3 cruisers who have returned eastward from Central America to the Virgins. Normally, the Central America loop is the "end" of their circumnavigation and they proceed north riding the current stream back through the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and north.
- - However, those few who I know of who did follow the path from between Cuba/Jamaica and then skirting the south side of Haiti/D.R. and finally the south side of Puerto Rico - did not have any great difficulties with weather/winds until they got to Puerto Rico. They all rather enjoyed the passage.
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