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Old 12-08-2011, 09:01   #1
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Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

LOoking for info and advice about leaving San Diego, Jan 1, 2012, panama canal, up to Florida in a 50' morgan/catalina with a wing keep. Is this a good vessel to make the trip in, is it a good time for the weather, how many months shuld I allow to enjoy the sights along the way. Also will be looking for a crew member/cook. skipperr100@yahoo.com
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Old 20-08-2011, 15:15   #2
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

Are you still looking for info? I made the trip from the Florida, through Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and up to the Sea of Cortez.
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Old 20-08-2011, 15:58   #3
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

I did this trip a few years back in our 40 footer. A little ahead of your schedule, we left LA in early November, got down to the Canal at Christmas. Stops in Cabo, southern Mexico, and a fair amount of time in Costa Rica - love CR. Also spent some time in the islands on the Pacific coast of Panama (around Coiba). Would highly recommend.

Coming out of Panama at the beginning of the new year is not a good time, and February/March is not much better. The trades will be strong and in your face. Not that it can't be done (I'm living proof), but probably not the most pleasant sailing you will experience. I would recommend getting as much easting as possible out of Colon. If you stay on the port tack and head over toward Colombia you can get some relief crossing the gulf. You can also spend a little time in the San Blas if that interests you. Whether you stop in Colombia is a personal decision.

Once near the Colombian side (again, how near is a personal decision) tack over toward Jamaica. I would recommend a stop, I loved Jamaica. If you can lay the east end I would round the end then stop in Port Antonio on the north coast. If you can't lay the east end then Kingston/Port Royal is OK, but you'll have to pick the right weather window to get around the east end. Going around the west end from Kingston works (I have done that as well), but you lose a lot of your windward distance.

If you can get to Port Antonio you can wait for the trades to take a more easterly component. It may be a week wait, but it is worth it (and Port Antonio is not a bad place to wait). When the weather looks to be giving you a little more east in the breeze head northeast out of Jamaica to just clear the Haitian coast. Keep as much easting as you can. Hence the waiting for the right weather. If you get it right you should be able to just make it without tacking. If not, you have a couple of days of on-the-nose stuff.

Once you pass between Haiti and Cuba it becomes all fun and games. We stopped in the Turks and Caicos before making our way slowly up through the Bahamas and then over to Florida. Arrived in Florida in June to hole up for the season (and earn some $). We had a lot of time in the islands (and actually went down to the Caymans and back), so I think if you allowed January to June you would have a decent passage. It is still a lot of sailing, not a laid-back cruising vacation, but well worth it to me.

For the trip from Colon up past Cuba I don't think we ever took the second reef out of the main, and only flew the staysail up front. Still, made good time. Your extra 10 feet should take a couple of days out of the journey. If you're not used to going to weather or being close-hauled for a week at a go in 20K+ breeze then you might want to reconsider, but then again it could be a good bit of experience. The trades really do blow, and get concentrated, down at that end of the Caribbean.

If I were to do it again (and hopefully I will), that's how I'd do it, your mileage may vary. You could always elect to turn right at Panama and head out through the Galapagos
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Old 20-08-2011, 16:13   #4
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

am doing the trip from mazatlan to panama to carib to gulf coast leaving also this fall.. mebbe meet ye somewhere. smooth sailing.
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Old 20-08-2011, 16:45   #5
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

I would add a couple of things to the last post.

Having spent several months there, I would highly recommend spending some time in the San Blas Islands once you get throught the Panama Canal. The islands are picture perfect palm tree covered, white sand-ringed islands, most of which are uninhabited. You can get a lot of easting done by making your way through the San Blas towards Colombia.

I would also highly recommend that you stop at Cartagena. We spent one summer there and the city is perfectly safe (you can walk around the bars and restaurants at night). We never even heard of a tourist having any trouble. It's a great place with great people. Going as far as Cartagena will also get you more easting before having to face the brunt of the trades.

If bashing into the trades does not sound fun, a lot of people leave Cartagena and make their way around Honduras, up to Belize, then Mexico for a three day trip to the Florida Keys.
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Old 21-08-2011, 07:03   #6
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

When is the best time to leave the Panama area? We're currently on the pacific side of Panama slowly getting ready to transit the canal. We want to spend some time in the San Blas and maybe Cartagena before crossing.
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Old 21-08-2011, 11:24   #7
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

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Originally Posted by SanSailer View Post
When is the best time to leave the Panama area? We're currently on the pacific side of Panama slowly getting ready to transit the canal. We want to spend some time in the San Blas and maybe Cartagena before crossing.
I'm not sure there is a best time. We were in Cartagena from the end of May to the first of September when we crossed over to the eastern most part of San Blas, making landfall at Isla Pinos. There are always thunderstorms in the mountains and some of them get to the coast. During our 24 hour crossing we dodged thunderstorms all night without mishap. We left San Blas for the last time at the end of December and squalls and thunderstorms were frequent throughout our time in San Blas. I would say none of them were severe; primarily just your basic afternoon tropical rain.

From Colon (or Shelter Bay marina where you will likely stay), the western most San Blas islands is a couple of easy day sails away. The first day most people anchor at Linton and the second day most people anchor at Chichime.

If you follow the Cruising Quest signature at the bottom of this post, I have written a couple of articles with more detail (The Red Zone (about Colon), The Shimmering City (about Cartagena) and Fantasy Island (about our first landfall in San Blas)).

You'll love San Blas and Cartagena as well.

If you use an agent for your Canal transit, I would recommend Stanley. I would also recommend hiring locals (arranged by Stanley) for your line handlers. The last lock on each side is treacherous with a nasty current from behind due to the mixing of fresh and salt water. A screw up with a line there would not be pretty.

Have a great time.
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Old 22-08-2011, 06:52   #8
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Re: Panama Canal Passage, Early 2012

Thanks for the link Ellis, looks like you have some great articles. As far as the transit, we just went through on a friend's boat and I didn't find the current too bad. With a competent helmsperson and reasonably attentive line handlers it was easy. We have a few friends here we've been traveling with off and on, and I know they're skilled cruisers so we'll hopefully be able to bribe them with good food and drink.
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