Originally Posted by kmason
I will be checking in at Cristobal [Colon] in preparation to transit the locks. Thanks for the snapshots belizesailor... good stuff!
Colon is roughly the dividing line for wind
systems in Panama. W of there tends to be light and variable, E of there, from about Jan-May is trade
winds season (the trades in the Carib basin blow all year, but here in Panama they are seasonal).
Also W or Colon you have a huge circular current
system (gyre). There are also many eddies, meanders, and variable local currents not shown on the larger scale charts
(or anywhere to my knowledge). Parts
of the gyre near the coast sometimes change direction 180°! Ive caught it head
on going both ways!
All these complicated & variable currents near Panama can be very frustrating. On an especially long watch one night between Bocas & Colon, I watched SOG frequently vary between 4.5 and 7.5 knots with no operational change of the boat or wind
speed...all due to squirrely local currents.
So, the tough routing call near Panama will be optimally chosing between wind and current
. I think you may do better in Feb with the trades to approach Panama near Portobelo and run near that coastline down to Colon. This may keep you in some wind and out of the S axis of the unfavorable gyre.
There are sometimes strong currents as you approach the canal break water
Near the Atlantic approach you definately want AIS
at the helm
...mass quantities of commercial
traffic. Most of the ships are anchored, but keep an eye on them, and listen to VTC Cristibol on VHF
so that you are aware of who is moving around.
shot attached. You can avoid much of the traffic by entering via a secondary channel near the E end of the breakwater. Its just barely visible in the screen
shot below, but very detailed on charts.