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Old 12-12-2015, 10:28   #1
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Jamaica to Panama

Has anyone made the passage from Jamaica to Panama in or around the end of February to late March? Are there any personal notes or things you can share with me about the transit? I sincerely appreciate any constructive comments.
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Old 12-12-2015, 10:41   #2
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

Made the trip from the Windward Passage end Jan once and late March once years ago so passed right by Jamaica. One trip was pretty blustery. Winds 25-35 kts with higher gusts, seas 8-12'. The other was typically 8-12 kts with an occasional calm.

Can vary a lot year to year depending on El Nino and other weather factors. Usually don't see cold fronts from the north come that far south although a strong front north of you could impact the winds in the northern Caribbean. Best thing to do is check the GRIBS before you leave and decide if you want to go in the forecast conditions.
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Old 12-12-2015, 10:54   #3
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

Not directly, but did Jamaica to Panama with almost a decade long detour in Belize/Guatemala.

Currents are a significant factor. So are the weather and higher sea state associated with the Colombian Low. This can expand quite far W. See Pilot Charts for monthly trends.

You will be in trade winds season for Panama, so winds and seas in E Panama will be higher. W Panama is light and variable effectively all year long. If shooting for W Panama, you will likely lose the trades once you get south of about 11N. E Panama they may intensify due to the effect of the Colombian Low. (edit: corrected my E-W references)

Where in Panama do you plan to make landfall? This can have significant effect on your routing decisions.

Quick weather route attached based in GRIBS from today. Shows currents.
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Old 12-12-2015, 11:07   #4
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

Pilot Chart clip for area in Feb.
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Old 12-12-2015, 13:16   #5
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

I will be checking in at Cristobal [Colon] in preparation to transit the locks. Thanks for the snapshots belizesailor... good stuff!
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Old 12-12-2015, 14:04   #6
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

Check the gribs as you prepare to leave. Most times the Columbian low will give the strongest winds east of the rumb line to Colon, and you are better off going a bit west of the rumb line until you near the Panama coast.
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Old 12-12-2015, 15:04   #7
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

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Originally Posted by kmason View Post
I will be checking in at Cristobal [Colon] in preparation to transit the locks. Thanks for the snapshots belizesailor... good stuff!
De nada.

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 too.

Near the Atlantic approach you definately want AIS and VHF 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.

AIS screen 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.
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Old 12-12-2015, 15:22   #8
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Re: Jamaica to Panama

Quote:
Originally Posted by belizesailor View Post
Not directly, but did Jamaica to Panama with almost a decade long detour in Belize/Guatemala.

Currents are a significant factor. So are the weather and higher sea state associated with the Colombian Low. This can expand quite far W. See Pilot Charts for monthly trends.

You will be in trade winds season for Panama, so winds and seas in E Panama will be higher. W Panama is light and variable effectively all year long. If shooting for W Panama, you will likely lose the trades once you get south of about 11N. E Panama they may intensify due to the effect of the Colombian Low. (edit: corrected my E-W references)

Where in Panama do you plan to make landfall? This can have significant effect on your routing decisions.

Quick weather route attached based in GRIBS from today. Shows currents.
...on the route calculated by SailGrib WR, shown in blue, the calculated track approaching Panama is displayed as a dashed line. That indicates motor sailing, which is highly likely as you approach Panama.
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