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Old 03-01-2015, 12:19   #1
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Sea State en route to Panama

Greetings!

Please feel free to share your experiences sailing to Panama from the Eastern Caribbean.

In preparation for a passage to Panama, we have reviewed Cornell's references as well as the NGA Pilot Charts.

Many of Cornell's comments recommend against this crossing during the peak trade wind season, yet several World Cruising Routes itineraries recommend "being on your way to Panama by February" and the "busiest transit period (for the Panama Canal) being February and March"

In addition, the World ARC Rally is scheduled to sail the western Caribbean to Panama in mid-January. We won't make a decision based on what others are doing, but I'm curious why that group would cross the Columbia coast in January when the World Voyage Planner advises not to.

The pilot charts show a slight reduction in probability of high wave heights in April, but really isn't that different that February or March.
In our area of concern, there are currently (Jan 2nd) 4+ meter waves at an 8 second period with 24 kts. of wind. Strong stuff. The current high pressure off the east coast of the USA is reinforcing this. A stationary low along the east coast could allow enough reprieve to mellow the trades a bit.

Most of the information would lead me to wait until April, yet not all of the resources agree.

Please share your experience if you have sailed to Panama in the peak trade wind season.

Regards,
Martin
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Old 03-01-2015, 12:38   #2
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

I'm trying to get my head about the exact same issues. Hopefully hear some useful stuff. Good thread.

My worry is that we leave the Panama transit too late for the rest of the Pacific. I do however get the impression that the rallies really push the leaving dates so they can get over to Oz asap to link up with weather heading west from there.

My ideal time would be to transit Panama mid March and head back to Oz from there. But I'm finding it very hard to see if that is safe. Also I'm not sure how many other boats will be doing the trip around the same time- another safety issue.

Are you also heading over to Oz this year?

Again, good thread. I wish I had more answers but I look forward to hearing what others have to say about this.

Regards,
Simon
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Old 03-01-2015, 12:52   #3
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

The crossing times given are based on getting through the canal and across the Pacific during the correct seasons - not based on when the best weather to go from the EC to Panama occurs.

Right now, for instance (going into mid-January), the winds between the ABC's and Panama are 40-45kts, with 7-9 meter seas. They have been this way for a week, and are forecasted to stay this way for at least another 10 days. It is pretty ugly now from Cuba to Panama, extending to Honduras.

The best weather windows for this trip tend to be October to early December. However, there are good windows all times of year - just be ready to take them because they open and close quickly, and are mostly closed.

However, if higher winds and seas are OK with you, it is all downwind and only takes 2-3 days, so not as much of an issue as longer passages upwind.

Mark
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Old 03-01-2015, 12:55   #4
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

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Originally Posted by simonpickard View Post
Also I'm not sure how many other boats will be doing the trip around the same time- another safety issue.
I would put no weight at all on other boats dispersing throughout the Pacific from a single locus as being a safety issue.

Even if you physically left alongside another boat heading to the same place, it is more likely that you will be out of any type of "safety" range within a couple of days - a 1/4kt difference in speed puts 40nm between boats in the first week, with the 1/4kt faster one arriving an entire day before the slightly slower one.

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Old 03-01-2015, 13:35   #5
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

Just stay north of the windy route.

Most don't, usually because cruisers are pretty gutless and dont like doing longer passages so the go to Grenada and island hop to Panama which puts them in dangerous crappy water and weather for a long time. But they do this in preference to a safe comfortable passage which has a few more nights at sea.

Last time I did it I went direct from St Martin and it was fine. My suggestion is to sail back from however far south you are to St Martin, provision there for the whole Pacific, then go direct to Colon.

But few take advice... So do what you want.
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Old 03-01-2015, 14:06   #6
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pirate Re: Sea State en route to Panama

St Martin to Colon seven and a half days... down wind for the 1st 6 then sloppy and variable the rest of the way.. doddle
That was in April.. sailed for the Marquesas from Panama in June..
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Old 03-01-2015, 14:12   #7
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

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Originally Posted by MarkJ View Post
Just stay north of the windy route.

Most don't, usually because cruisers are pretty gutless and dont like doing longer passages so the go to Grenada and island hop to Panama which puts them in dangerous crappy water and weather for a long time. But they do this in preference to a safe comfortable passage which has a few more nights at sea.

Last time I did it I went direct from St Martin and it was fine. My suggestion is to sail back from however far south you are to St Martin, provision there for the whole Pacific, then go direct to Colon.

But few take advice... So do what you want.
This isn't a truism, although it can be true. The movement of that semi-permanent low off Colombia can put the stronger winds just about anywhere in that area. For example, when we went from the EC to Colombia, the winds and seas closer to shore were much better than those closer to Jamaica. You will find the same is true right now, although I wouldn't be in either route right now.

The route from St. Martin to Colon is only 50-60nm North of the "coastal" route in the area of normally high winds and seas. To be on the other side of the low, one would have to go close to Jamaica and then South - which adds considerable distance.

The good thing is that this weather system and pattern is highly forecastable. It is easy to get a pretty sure and solid weather window. The one nice thing about using the ABC's to break up the trip is that you can take advantage of shorter weather windows and still have something to do/see while you wait.

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Old 03-01-2015, 14:33   #8
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

This is all great info for us (sorry to hi-jack the thread slightly) as we are heading North. We aim to then wait for a good window from the BVI's, or maybe Jamaica if we make it that far over, and head directly to San Blas islands.

Hopefully that should be a pretty nice run if we wait for a good window then.

Regards,
Simon
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Old 03-01-2015, 14:38   #9
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

This is all great info for us (sorry to hi-jack the thread slightly) as we are heading North. We aim to then wait for a good window from the BVI's, or maybe Jamaica if we make it that far over, and head directly to San Blas islands.

Hopefully that should be a pretty nice run if we wait for a good window then.

Regards,
Simon
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Old 03-01-2015, 14:42   #10
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

Quote:
Originally Posted by simonpickard View Post
This is all great info for us (sorry to hi-jack the thread slightly) as we are heading North. We aim to then wait for a good window from the BVI's, or maybe Jamaica if we make it that far over, and head directly to San Blas islands.

Hopefully that should be a pretty nice run if we wait for a good window then.

Regards,
Simon
If you are going as far North as Jamaica, you will almost always be above any low causing increased winds and seas and you will find it easy to adjust your route accordingly. The trip down to Panama will be more of a beam or close reach than a run, though.

Are you intentionally skipping Colombia? It is a real gem.

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Old 03-01-2015, 15:01   #11
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

I'd love to check it out. No time to do everything. Have to head north or south from here



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Old 03-01-2015, 17:54   #12
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

Thanks for all of your great responses! Simon, we're headed to NZ, but want to maximize time in the Pacific to visit Ecuador and have a solid south pacific season.
We'll sail the south coasts of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic before heading to Panama.
Thanks to everyone. Please continue!
Martin

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Old 04-01-2015, 06:32   #13
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

If you are leaving from the South coast of the DR, then that changes everything. I took "Eastern Caribbean" to mean places much more East and South than the DR.

In your case, you will be sailing high and the Colombian low will be of little concern to you other than to be aware if it goes way out of place for some reason. You will have no reason at all to consider lower routes.

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Old 04-01-2015, 14:31   #14
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

Quote:
Originally Posted by simonpickard View Post
I'm trying to get my head about the exact same issues. Hopefully hear some useful stuff. Good thread.

My worry is that we leave the Panama transit too late for the rest of the Pacific. I do however get the impression that the rallies really push the leaving dates so they can get over to Oz asap to link up with weather heading west from there.

My ideal time would be to transit Panama mid March and head back to Oz from there. But I'm finding it very hard to see if that is safe. Also I'm not sure how many other boats will be doing the trip around the same time- another safety issue.

Are you also heading over to Oz this year?

Again, good thread. I wish I had more answers but I look forward to hearing what others have to say about this.

Regards,
Simon
+1 here. Great thread. Thanks Mark(s) especially.
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Old 09-02-2015, 04:20   #15
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Re: Sea State en route to Panama

We made it!
A fat low pressure system along the east coast of the US caused enough of a reduction in the trades that we had great conditions for our trip from Ponce, PR to San Blas, Panama at the end of January. 6 1/2 days. One tuna, two Mahi. We held our course to the north and always stayed at least 100 miles off the Columbian Coast. San Blas is a region of high consequence. We saw several boats up on the reefs.
Thanks to all who replied to my inquiry.
Martin
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