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Old 12-11-2014, 18:47   #1
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Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

Hello Everyone!

Relatively new to these forums.. Wanted to reach out to the community to ask for some advice. We are about to return to our 41' Maine Cat currently slipped in Costa Rica for our third and possibly final cruising season. In prior seasons we've cruised the Inland Passage north of Vancouver, then the Sea of Cortez, Pacific Mexico, and Central America.

Our plan this year is to go through the canal and spend a few months in the San Blas Islands and Cartagena, Colombia. Then, sometime in the spring, we'll go back through the canal and make our way home to SF. I've heard from a number of sources that it's easier to make the sail out to Hawaii then from there to Victoria, BC, Canada rather than sail all the way up the West Coast and beat against the northerlies generated by the N. Pacific High.

What are your thoughts? Have any folks done this same route? Anything that we should be aware of as far as route planning / timing?

Would definitely appreciate your perspectives! Thanks!

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Old 12-11-2014, 19:31   #2
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

Hawaii.
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Old 12-11-2014, 19:44   #3
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

It might depend on your schedule. You sure do not need to go to Hawaii. The last bit from Cabo is a crap shoot at best. Seems like, if you would like spending a couple of weeks at anchor somewhere with cold beer and huevos rancheros waiting to go north, why go to Hawaii?
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Old 12-11-2014, 19:49   #4
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

See Cornell "World Cruising Routes" He suggest March to May for the Panama to Hawaii. You swing by the Galapagos- which would be cool to see, and then tie into the SE winds. How long do you want to stay in Hawaii? I would leave there by August, and make the run to the CA coast. A few people take advantage of going to BC first and cruising up here before the downwind ride to San Fran. You go up the west side of the Pacific high, then underneath or over the top of it. Very few seem to go through it.
But that is just how I would do it. Your mileage may vary.
I have not done it either way, but those that have seem to have more fun via Hawaii.
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Old 12-11-2014, 20:16   #5
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

Having a chance to swing by the Galapagos has always been a dream! While we've logged over 7k n.m of coastal cruising by point these would be our first big open-ocean passage(s).

It's a little nerve-wracking to think about being out of sight of land for 2+ weeks!!

Overall it sounds like the trip north from CSL to California would just be a very extended motor-cruise whenever pockets of calm air allow?
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Old 12-11-2014, 20:29   #6
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

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Overall it sounds like the trip north from CSL to California would just be a very extended motor-cruise whenever pockets of calm air allow?
It can be less than a motor cruise. More like a slog.
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Old 12-11-2014, 20:30   #7
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

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Originally Posted by MC41 View Post
Having a chance to swing by the Galapagos has always been a dream! While we've logged over 7k n.m of coastal cruising by point these would be our first big open-ocean passage(s).

It's a little nerve-wracking to think about being out of sight of land for 2+ weeks!!

Overall it sounds like the trip north from CSL to California would just be a very extended motor-cruise whenever pockets of calm air allow?
Actually if you go up the coast it is 2000+ miles of upwind. People tell me it is brutal at times. Be prepared for lots of motoring. Or maybe you could just take it apart and truck it up.
You can do the offshore thing. Remember, lee shore is the enemy, not the ocean.
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Old 12-11-2014, 21:11   #8
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

There have been many days in a row of southerly winds blowing up the west coast in the last 2 years.I have been watching it closely.June is known to be a good month to motorsail north from Cabo.August has had many days of light southerlies all the way up the coast to Cape Flattery.It's a long haul from Panama to Hawaii,count on 50 days.
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Old 12-11-2014, 22:31   #9
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

We were lucky to pull off a window of S / SWerlies early July which made the run from San Fran to Vancouver (BC) far more pleasant. Five days, with four having wind abeam or from astern.

I have heard of people having to go far north and into cold waters to get around the pacific high when returning from Hawaii back to BC - sounds hard work.

Good luck!
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Old 13-11-2014, 03:22   #10
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

Sounds like we have the typical diversity of opinions here. About half are saying there are decent windows to motor your way north or even sail, and about half are saying it's a terrible slog and you should go via Hawaii
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Old 13-11-2014, 10:25   #11
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

Not me, it's probably going to be a slog but I would take the coast route from Cabo. Several good places to stop and hang out. I can't drink beer when offshore so that would settle it for me.
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Old 13-11-2014, 10:38   #12
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

Well different opinions. I have sailed that circle to Hawaii 4 times and you would never get me going up that coast. I can tell you that there is an old square riggers route from Mexico heading out about 900 miles and then hooking over to Southern California. One of the cruisers we hung out with in Mexico at the time sailed a loose buddy boat with us, we were heading to Hawaii and he was doing the square riggers route. We kept in touch and he damn near sailed the route, only a day or two of motoring through the Pacific high in the area he crossed. Getting out of Panama is usually challenging because the wind is often very light but after that you should be good to go. Beers or no beers, you'd never get me motoring up that whole bloody coast, I've come down it too many times, LOL.
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Old 13-11-2014, 10:42   #13
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

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Sounds like we have the typical diversity of opinions here. About half are saying there are decent windows to motor your way north or even sail, and about half are saying it's a terrible slog and you should go via Hawaii
That's because it's both. If you have plenty of time, you can pick your weather windows and coastal hop. It's a long way to go to Hawaii and then you still have a long way to get above the Pacific high so you're still likely to be motoring a lot for that. Personally, I've always thought the Clipper Route would be a good way to go but you have to fully commit to it or it doesn't work.

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Old 13-11-2014, 10:53   #14
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

It all depends on the type of schedule you are on. You should get above Cabo before June 1st as that is when the hurricane season starts. After that you can take your time on just go anchorage to anchorage of which there are many. Once you get to San Diego you can again take your time in US waters. There are again many places to stop. There is no need to head all the way to Cape Flattery or beyond in BC unless you are interested in cruising there.

We motorsailed from Panama to Puget Sound and it was an unpleasant slog but we were on a schedule, unfortunately. There were many interesting places we passed by just to make make it all work out and we regret it now.

The good part is that the San Blas Islands are so pleasant and interesting that it may be somewhere you will really want to spend some time. And there are really safe places nearby where you can leave your boat, yes even an cat, to go do other things stateside or whatever.

Just don't make our mistake and be in a hurry. These may be once in lifetime opportunities.
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Old 13-11-2014, 10:53   #15
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Re: Sailing home to San Francisco from Panama

I've done exactly this passage both ways; coastal from Panama to California (twice) and open water via Hawaii (and then twice from Hawaii; once direct to SF and once to Sitka to spend the summer in Alaska before heading to SF). And then there is the clipper route as mentioned, which is one long passage.

All the various options are doable. The big thing is schedule, you need to get out of the tropics by end of May or so to avoid hurricane season. That means you spend Mar-May either heading up the coast or on passage to Hawaii.

I love long passages, and the sailing is definitely easier going the Hawaii route. Getting around the Pacific High can be bothersome, but other than that the sailing is pretty gentle (YMMV).

The coastal route means much shorter passages, lots of chances to stop and explore, all the things that go with that kind of cruising. The Central American coast isn't too bad at that time of year, it will be on the nose in theory, but you can frequently play the diurnal winds close to shore. The Baja Bash, however, is aptly named and will be with you from Cabo to SF. There's always a chance you can pick up some southerly flow for part of the trip, but the later you get in the season the less likely that becomes.

My vote would be the Hawaii route, but that is strongly influenced by the fact that I love long passages. In addition to the Galapagos, if you are interested in heading further north than California (although you've already been up that way) a trip out to Midway is well worth the effort. Have to jump through some bureaucratic hoops, but at the time of year you end up there the chicks of a million (literally) albatrosses will be fledging.
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