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Old 16-07-2009, 03:35   #1
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East Coast to West


I'm in New Zealand. I'm coming over to the US in a couple of months to look for a boat. I'd like to buy on the East Coast, sail down the inland waterway, on to the Bahamas, then through the Panama Canal and up to California. From there I'm undecided. I'd like to hear from anyone who has any experience of sailing any of these stretches.

I'd also like to know what the rules and regulations are for a boat leaving US waters. In New Zealand there is something called the Category One Standard. All NZ boats leaving the country must have this. It requires you have a lot of safety equipment (which is fine), and someone on the boat must have 4,000 miles of bluewater sailing experience. Is there any similar requirement for a boat leaving the US? And does the skipper/boatowner need any particular level of seamanship, e.g., a yachtmaster's certificate?

Any info/discussion would be welcome. It's winter here now, and just writing about this makes me want to just hop on the plane and do it!

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Old 16-07-2009, 11:07   #2
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No requirements in the US (to the dismay of some) like that.
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Old 16-07-2009, 11:40   #3
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As CharlieCobra says you need nothing to leave the US or require personal qualifications. You will want to handle all you registration paperwork before you leave just to have it anytime any official along the way home wants to see that you own the boat.

I would also check pilot charts for prevailing winds and seasonal adjustments you might make depending the time of year. From now through October the US Mid Atlantic to the equator is in hurricane season. The prevailing winds and currents from Panama to California are mostly against you as well.

It all means you need to be double sure the boat you buy is really ready for heavy weather sailing as you should expect a lot of it.
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Old 16-07-2009, 11:43   #4
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Arriving here in "a couple of months" will put you right in the middle of hurricane season. If you're thinking of buying a vessel in Florida, you might want to wait until after hurricane season is over (it's pretty much over by November, but most say December 1st). If you buy a vessel further north, then staying north of Cape Hatteras until late November will set you up for a more reasonable cruise down the ICW and the hop over to the Bahamas.

In that way, you will then be in the right place and at the right time and should have a much more enjoyable cruise. Unless there is some reason why you want to get down through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific quickly, I would recommend that you take your time cruising the Bahamas and down through the islands.

Once you're ready to make the jump across the Caribbean and down to Panama, you should have plenty of experience on the vessel you buy and have her ready for that passage. You will probably find yourself delayed at the northern terminus of the Canal, waiting to make the transit. Colon, Panama is not the most pleasant place to hang out, but that's where you will be stuck for awhile.

Once through the Ditch, you will have the prospect of a lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng slog uphill to California. It will not be much fun, especially if you're in a hurry. If you can coastal cruise up the Central and North American Pacific Coasts, it won't be as bad, but it will never be your favorite sailing.

If you really want to get your vessel to California, I'd recommend the preferred route from Panama to Hawai'i, then up and over the High and finally to the US west coast. If you don't really have a good reason to get to California, I'd skip it and head out to Hawai'i from Panama, then south into the islands of the Central and South Pacific, or just head there directly from Panama.

Many prefer to take in the Galapagos on their way to the tropical Pacific islands, and most consider the Galapagos a unique highlight of their voyage.

As was already pointed out, the Cat 1 Rules in NZ have no US equivalent, which doesn't mean it wouldn't be an excellent idea to prep your vessel to those standards for such an ambitious voyage. Good luck to you in your planning and execution - you might look for the posts here of member tackdriver. He is in the midst of doing pretty much what you propose, and members MarkJ and Rangiroo would also be excellent sources of information for what you're planning.

"Your vision becomes clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks within, awakens."
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)
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Old 17-07-2009, 00:42   #5
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Some answers you already have. You don't say how big a boat you are looking for. There are mast hight restrictions due to fixed bridges on the waterway. Lots of boats in Florida, Best maintained boats in New England or the great lakes (they have a short season and recondition them every spring) This is a generalization of course. The tough part is the bash north off the coast of Mexico and California. 2 Kt current, Wind, and sea all on the nose. If you take your time and are lucky enough to ride with the good weather, it can be a good ride.

Have fun

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Old 17-07-2009, 05:45   #6
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Re East to West

You guys are great. This is excellent advice - just what I was hoping for and more. My only reason for going up to California after crossing "the ditch" would be to sell the boat if I didn't feel I was up to crossing the Pacific, but a tradewind crossing sounds less arduous than bashing all the way up the coast.

I think it's great that you can just leave without a whole raft of qualifications. Long live freedom! Of course I'll take as much safety equipment as I can, but it's good that some places still champion personal responsibility.

I should be on the East Coast by September/October - boat hunting, at last! I'm after something about 40 ft, possibly aft cabin, solid and simple, and able to be single-handed at times. Any ideas? Anything I should avoid?

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Old 17-07-2009, 06:51   #7
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The ditch costs a lot

Someone should probably mention what the costs will be for going through the canal.

I've read folks say to bring along $3K USD.
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Old 17-07-2009, 06:57   #8
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I believe a 40ft. cat went through within months at the cost of $800 total. There were deposits, and such, but they were refundable immediatley if paid in cash?

My plan is to leave the Canal about April for Hawaii. Get a couple of months on the Big Island, and then on to S.F.........i2f
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Old 18-07-2009, 01:42   #9
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$800 is one thing; $3K is something else. It might be better to sail the East coast, Florida, and the islands in a small boat and accept the loss when I sell it - back on the East coast. If I buy a liveaboard, it might be best to get one in California.

Anyone else had experience of canal fees?

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Old 18-07-2009, 06:53   #10
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Mudbug went through recently, and maybe it was him that the $800.00 comes from? My friends for years have been telling several thousand $. I think they want me to stay in Florida. No matter what the cost it is probably cheaper than wear, and tear going the long way. Unless you are just looking for a sail?.......i2f
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Old 18-07-2009, 07:43   #11
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This is an interesting thread but please forgive my ignorance

What costs 3k to travel the ditch?
Is it just transit charges? or is it to bribe and grease the bureaucracy wheels?

Funny how a place called Colon isnt the nicest to hang out in.
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Old 18-07-2009, 08:37   #12

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Much of California could be called a lee coast, you might want to look further into that. As you get north into Oregon and Washington (and perhaps up to BC) it certainly is beautiful, but there are stretches where there simply is no shelter to be had.

Sailing down the ICW can be problematic, long stretches of it will be "driving the bus" with the diesel on (expect $5/gallon, $25 per day perhaps) in waters where the channel is narrow and towing insurance a good idea. Again, it can be beautiful and certainly worth the trip--it just isn't big open water. Popping in and out the inlets can also be hazardous, you really need to plan ahead for which ones, and then hedge that with a good wxcast.

Someone had recently posted PC fees. The PC administration does list them on their web site. You may need to anchor for 3 days, or two weeks, to wait your turn, depending on traffic and labor disputes. Charged per diem. Then you need lines, fenders, handlers, extra crew for the trip...many extras. For a sailboat under $40 I keep hearing effective costs between $1000-$2000 US 'depending'. And subject to change as new rates come in. The Chinese are there to make a profit, not to encourage rec sailors.
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Old 18-07-2009, 09:35   #13
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This is from a webpage of someone that went through in 2005 and fees have been hiked since then

"We used Tina McBride as our handling agent, and we think she did a great job. However, the Canal's new fees add a lot to the cost of a transit. Under the new policy, sailboat transits start around 5 or 6 p.m., and sometimes even later at night. Your advisor takes you to Lake Gatun, where to tie to a mooring. Generally, only three boats go through a day, and they have all three of you raft together on the buoy. The advisor then leaves, and another advisor arrives in the morning to help you complete the transit. So far so good. But consider all the fees for a sailboat of less than 50 feet:
$600 Transit fee
$850 Buffer (hopefully to be refunded)
$440 Delay fee (because you did not complete your transit in one day - as if you had a choice!)
$320 Launch fee (to get your advisors back and forth to your boat)
$100 Mooring fee (to be rafted to a rusty mooring buoy on Lake Gatun)
Total fees: $1,460 + $850 buffer + $500 handling agent (if you use one)
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Old 18-07-2009, 10:32   #14
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TaoJones has excellent suggestions although the sail south from Hawaii is against the prevailing current so most cruisers sail from the Galapagoes.
The El Nino is again changing the currents around this year, so extra planning may be required.

I stayed within the canal for 4 months in the latter part of 2001 and would like to clearify a couple of points. The Panama canal fees reported by Canuch1955 are correct and I would suggest that a taxi driver be used as an agent, these people have relatives working for the canal and are on a waiting list to go to work for the ACP. Use other cruisiers for linehandlers, you're expected to pay their bus fare to return to their boats.
The reference to the Chinese ownership is not true. The Peoples Republic of China has the contract to operate the container yard on one side and Evergreen shipping from free China has the contract for the Container yard on the other side. And a railroad company from the Southeast US has the contract to run the railroad to haul containers between the two. The reason for the rail transport is two fold: one is when there is a need to conserve water, the amount of water used for a transit is reduced and larger container ships, who normally have three feet of clearance under their hulls must be offloaded to lighten their load. The second is that super container ships willnot be able to transit the canal because they are to wide.
The citizens of Panama have approved a $8billion bond to construct a third set of locks, large enough to accomodate the larger container ships and recycle some of the water used.
In 2002 large container ships were paying around $120,000 per transit.
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Old 17-02-2011, 18:21   #15
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I'm enjoying the discussion on sailing Fla to Calif via Canal. I'm looking at an Irwin 42 Ketch in Fla to possibly buy, and need to get it out to So Calif. Sounds like an April trip down through the canal will be tough and expensive. Perhaps the idea to sail to Houston and truck it to San Diego might be best. But truck cost for this size boat is around $6K, with hauling and mast stepping down and up adding up to another $2k total. I'm also concerned that an older (1970s) boat might have some fiberglass issues, not to mention rigging. Should I stay away from the whole deal?
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east coast

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