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Old 25-12-2018, 09:05   #1
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Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

I'm planning to sail a 38' Catalina from where she is in Nicaragua to Sarasota Florida via Panama Canal in just a few short weeks.

I have some engine work to do on her first. She's broken down at the moment with an oil leak. I've got a survey good as of June this year that says she is in excellent shape otherwise.

Dates are not exact yet. January - February, as I will have to inspect and transfer ownership, then ready the boat.

Looking for 2 backups with experience. I have 3 friends who want to go but aren't committed yet due to the nature and short-notice.

If you want to chime in on this trip, I'm going over weather patterns, routes, fees, Canal particulars, etc., and could use some sage advice from people familiar with Central America.

There's a little about me on previous crew available/wanted posts this month if you want to know more.

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Old 25-12-2018, 09:33   #2
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Not looking to crew, but happy to advise. I know Central America very well...almost 2 decades of experience all along the Carib coast, not so much on the Pacific coast. I know the wind, weather and current patterns of the region very well. Have transitted the Canal several times. Also know routing back to FL and used to live in the Bradenton/Sarasota area. So, except for being a bit light on the Pacific side, Im very familiar w your route.
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Old 25-12-2018, 10:07   #3
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Thanks BelizeSailor. I found the beta weather reporting system for that area, which shows N to NE winds around 7-15kts, with slight variability, occasional gusting. Small shelf to deeper waters could pose potential big water but looks similar to what I've experienced in at home in Alaska. The current owner that lives in the area says the boat is a day north of some amazing cruising vistas, calmer and good fishing waters.

I was worried about political unrest while trying to make repairs, and piracy while cruising in that area, but it sounds like nothing too far above norm right now. It's a rescue mission, so I'm a bit on edge with any added risk.

In handling the canal, it sounds like I need extra hands aboard to handle ropes. That and it's about $2k USD in fees. I figure it's a good spot to run out of money. That's why I'm looking there for deals, and not here in Florida.

I took a tour and sailed a few short days south on the barrier reef from Cay Caulker to Placencia many years ago - and got my taste for the Caribbean.

I noticed the more beautiful and talented, younger people making videos on youtube getting sponsors (patreons). I'm neither that young, nor beautiful, but I keep my adventure level fairly high, so will probably take up filming some of these missions. Might be worth something if I get in a pinch, to have people rooting for my vessel, crew and me.
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Old 25-12-2018, 11:06   #4
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Nicaragua has been having some serious unrest issues, but its mostly between political factions, to my knowledge it hasnt really affected tourist/expats much directly. We have a friend whose been in Nica for most of this time and doesnt seem too concerned. I would limit my excursions in Nica though, you can always end up in the wrong place & time...shame, its a beautiful country.

Bad stuff can happen anywhere, but only likely security issues on your route is on the Nicaraguan Banks (Carib Side), if you go that way. See noonsite & CSSN for details.

For weather, Ive been testing out Windy using the ECMWF model for over a year now mostly in Panama and its been quite good.
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Old 26-12-2018, 05:01   #5
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Jarmi, Im going to answer one question from your PM here in more detail:

"How long would your ideal route take from Panama to Key West? Assume a delivery without stops. "

Like almost everything to do with route planning the answer is "it depends". Some considerations below.

A big routing and timing consideration is weather windows & season. The time of year when you eventually do this trip has a big bearing on when and where you will need to wait for windows. Regardless of route chosen, more detail below, you will almost certainly need to wait for a weather window at least once along the route. Therefore the odds of you making this run non-stop are slim.

Two possible routes are discussed below. Despite how they look on a chart, they are roughly the same distance, about 1,300 nautical miles. So, if you caught some very unusual weather and managed to sail it all in one shot, and averaged 6 knots, then it would take about 9 days. Very likely it is actually going to take at least twice that, maybe longer, due to waiting for weather windows.

The Routes:

Panama-Providencia-Isla Mujeres-Key West. This is the most common route used to get from Panama to Key West. You make your way NW to Isla Mujeres, wait there for a weather window, then jump to Key West. Many cruisers choose to coastal hop along the Central American coast, which is a great cruising ground, but makes this route much longer. You can shorten it considerably by just jumping from Providencia to Isla Mujeres. Providencia is a great stop, but you dont actually have to stop there, you could just make for Isla Muejers directly from Colon.

Panama-Jamaica-Windward Passage-Key West. This is a much less common route, and likely requires more waiting for weather windows and more motor sailing since you are working your way more to windward, but it is possible to do. It is best to start this route as far E in Panama as possible, like the San Blas, to get the best angle on the trade winds. Sail to Jaimaica, wait in Jamaica for your next window so that you can jump thru the Windward Passage, then fall off for an easy downwind sail to Key West (you will need to take Gulf Stream/Florida Current into consideration. You could just shoot to cross it as soon as possible into the Keys, like Key Largo, and then work your way to Key West. Or hug the coast of Cuba, then cut over to Key West).

Seasonal Weather Considerations

The trade winds, which blow all year long across the Caribbean basin, are seasonal off the Carib coast of Panama. They typically fill in from about Dec/Jan and start to lay down about April/May. When they start to fill in they come with a vengance due to the influence of the Colombian Low. Right now its blowing about 30 knots off the coast of Colombia and this is likely to continue for at least a month. This area of strong trade winds and bigger seas is now expanded to the W and N (see screen shot). This would make the route via Jamaica a long hard bash to windard...this route is best used late in the season after the trades start to settle down.

Hurricane season is another consideration. S of 11N, it is very rare to get hurricanes, but the rest of both of these routes takes you into hurricane territory.

As an example, I did a SailGrib WR weather routing run with a route starting E of Colon near Isla Grande this AM, leaving Providencia to port, and ending near Isla Mujeres. The first leg to near Providencia would be pretty sporty with winds in the 25 knot range, but should be a great downwind sail once you clear the Nicaraguan Banks and can fall off toward Isla Mujeres. Thats a distance of about 850nm so I would expect about 6 days.

None of this of course includes unplanned, but common events, like necessary repairs and waiting for parts.


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Old 26-12-2018, 09:46   #6
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Jerami, Where is the boat in Nicaragua? This is a formidable trip on a boat that you know and trust. On a new to you boat with issues, it's a disaster waiting to happen. There are LOTS of security issues along the Nicaragua and Honduras coast until you get well beyond the Gorda Bank. I would highly recommend having a weather router to consult with, like Chris Parker, either on a SSB radio or sat phone. Don't do this trip without a good liferaft, EPIRB, SPOT or Garmin In-reach, and plenty of spare parts. I can put you in touch with a cruiser who recently sailed up from Mexico on the Pacific side, through the canal, and is now in Panama. Again, this is a pretty big trip, even for sailors who know their boat inside and out. Think twice before you jump into this. I have seen plenty of sailors in trouble on that route, and have done it myself. Glenn Tuttle - Net Manager, SSCA HF Radio Service KPK. KPK@ssca.org.
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Old 26-12-2018, 10:06   #7
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Not a difficult trip, my wife and I did Panama to Key West without incident. We always avoid areas with security issues.

We did it in three legs:

Panama to Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman to Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres to Key West.

However, you do need good safety equipment.
Just use Windy.com for planning. Chris Parker is excellent but we never used him.
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Old 26-12-2018, 10:23   #8
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Sailing north from Panama is a rough beat most of the time. Gnarly. Over the extensive shallow area its epic.

A friend recently paid to have his very well found and weatherly boat shipped to Florida from the Pacific side. Probably half as expensive as sailing. Maybe a tenth if a lot of gear gets destroyed which is easy to do.

We sailed from Panama to Jamaica to Grenada under storm jib and trysl essentially the entire way with only three of twelve able to function at all due to seasickness. A horrible trip for all those who just moved from cabin sole to leeward rail for a couple of weeks. All but the three left the boat ASAP.

We sailed from Panama to Cozumel with the same result to the (of course different) crew: two of six were functional. Swan 65 - a very good heavy air upwind boat - totally airborne falling down the back sides of fully breaking seas over those shallows. All but the two left the boat ASAP.

It’s not for the faint of heart. Anyone not fully commmitted and with a cast iron constitution will jump ship ASAP.

And a long beat into gale (normal tradewinds there) conditions with breaking seas is certainly not for a boat needing any work.

Ship it home, is my strong recommendation.
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Old 26-12-2018, 10:34   #9
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Note that Moondancer and I said the same thing: Both of us did it with little boat damage and with just two fully committed but battle proven sailors in battle proven yachts in outstanding offshore condition.

You, your crew, and that yacht meet none of those criteria.
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Old 26-12-2018, 11:36   #10
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Sound advice

I hear you. Thank you all so, so much. Priceless input.

I don't want to damage or incur unnecessary costs.

The goal is to acquire and make use of the sailboat in the Caribbean for the time being, and if it isn't a good fit, then sell her off.


I'll talk to anyone/everyone. I have nothing to prove, just continuously learn, experience and improve.


Let's say we focus on getting the motor fixed and getting it out of Nica., and we are in no hurry, just bring it to the Caribbean side for the time being...

Where would you look to find friendlier waters, or hold up for better weather?
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Old 26-12-2018, 11:53   #11
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

I would consider looking for a boat for sale on the Caribbean side of Panama. Shelter Bay Marina is a good place to look. Easy sailing to the San Blas Islands from Colon, and easy to get things fixed in Panama. Forget Nicaragua and Honduras. You are swimming upstream trying to buy a boat in Nicaragua. There is a reason the seller is selling it there...because they can't get it repaired there.
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Old 26-12-2018, 12:37   #12
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

I'm interested, for at least through the canal maybe further. I'm handy, can cook, understand charts & navigation, I'm a savy, common sense no bs kind of guy. I'm a healthy 63 year old, if that excuses me from participating, read no further.
Here I'll be brief in case you're slightly interested; I've boated/sailed all of my life, water sports & fishing lakes & Puget Sound; US Navy, Tonkin Gulf USS Constellation; sailing on Puget Sound to BC; 27' Ericson on Lake Pend Orielle, ID past 30+ years, single hand on occasion. Currently retired civil engineer; own & operate with my wife, Lady Raven Stables in Spokane Washington. Looking for some adventure on the open water. I'm healthy and fit. If you read this far and want more info let me know.
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Old 26-12-2018, 13:47   #13
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Quote:
Originally Posted by Parrothedd View Post
I would consider looking for a boat for sale on the Caribbean side of Panama. Shelter Bay Marina is a good place to look. Easy sailing to the San Blas Islands from Colon, and easy to get things fixed in Panama. Forget Nicaragua and Honduras. You are swimming upstream trying to buy a boat in Nicaragua. There is a reason the seller is selling it there...because they can't get it repaired there.

Good point.

Nica is not where I would willingly chose to do a refit...esp not now...even with my experience in the region.

Panama, Rio Dulce Guatemala or Cartagena Colombia would be WAY better options.

Linton Bay, Panama is shaping up as another good place to do a refit...two marinas with lifts now and lots of yacht work skills available...just chose contractors carefully. Boats for sale there too.

There are always plenty of boats in need of TLC for sale on the Rio Dulce, and its one of the best spots in the region to do a refit.
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Old 26-12-2018, 14:24   #14
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Just to provide some reconciliation of the widely disparate posts about the weather conditions/difficulty on this route:

True, the Western Carib can dish out some nasty conditions, but with prudently chosen weather windows, ideally with guidance from someone who knows the weather here, then there is no need to get your butt kicked. The usual route up through the NW Carib can indeed be an easy sail...or hell.

BTW, I do weather routing for friends and discuss it here on CF, but I dont provide weather routing services commercially. So, this is not a shameless plug for my services.
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Old 27-12-2018, 10:50   #15
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Re: Nicaragua - Panama Canal - Key West - Sarasota

Pyro, if you have complete flexiblity, and are handy and enjoy working on boats, and can do the trip without crew and most importantly without schedule (hence without crew), then its really no problem.

But that is a very different situation than you first described.

Rio Dulce would be a good target to refit the boat, assuming you stay there while it happens. People have had good luck there with refits being done remotely, but having just gone through a similar effort here in Los Angeles, I think being right there when work is being done is essential.
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