Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Panama to Mexico........"The Weather and Route Plan"

As any sailor would do, I searched for any weather and routing information I could find, prior to attempting to sail non-stop from Panama's eastern shores known as the San Blas Islands, or Kuna Yala, to our home of St. Pete Beach, central on the west coast of Florida.  Overall, that would be about a 1500 mile trip.  A trip that incurred the commonly localized weather of the S.W. Caribbean, then the N.W. Caribbean and then again, the Gulf of Mexico.  Each area can have weather patterns that are not always tied to the patterns nearby.

I downloaded 'grib' files from a site called Sailmail.com ( a fee for service radio communication group)  and studied them for over a month, to get a feel for the changes that occur throughout this large region of sea and land areas.  While prepping the boat in other ways for the passage north, I anxiously awaited an alignment of some kind between these 3 sea areas.   I was hoping to find a Weather Window, that would allow us to traverse in a gentle passage.  Dorothy really gets nervous when the seas build and let's face it, it is damn tiring to move about the boat, or even to have to constantly hold on or brace yourself, to stay put when the seas build!

Luckily, a pattern emerged that offered hope of an easy passage.

Winds would be light at first with possible rain in the SW Caribbean, but that's not bad.

Then after a day, the winds further north In the NW Caribbean,  would subside and turn direction more from the East, to our favor.

Leaving Porvenir, the island of "check out" in the San Blas Island group, we headed 340 degrees NW.  We should be able to hold that heading with only minor adjustments to pass well east of the Columbian Islands of San Andreas and Providencia and then pass centered between the reef atols of Quito Sereno and Serana Bank.

Once past these 2 reef systems, a slight jog left then right would align us between Gordo Bank and Torquoise Bank.  This would keep us in deep water and away I hope from any fishing activity on the banks as well as pirate activity off  Nicaragua.

That worked out well and actually, mid way in the trip, the weather was continuing to chang in favor or our planned route.  After the banks,a course change to 319 degrees, had us on a broad reach with gentle winds slightly behind us on our Starboard (right) side.  From now on it was a sleigh ride towards Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and the beautiful island and harbor of Isla Mujeres.

Daily downloads of updated grib files told me that the weather in the Gulf of Mexico was not going to be comfy!  Blustery winds often against the current would be producing large square waves and probably in multiple/confused patterns.  That is NOT the kind of passages I look for.....  I do my best to avoid the stress if I have a choice.

Arrival in Isla was early in the morning.  I actually had to keep slowing down, the last 3 days, to make sure I had an early morning entry.  I could have pushed and made it in the night before, but never having been in to this this country at night or this particular entry point at night, I took it easy, to await daylight.

Good thing!  Our auto pilot was giving me loud nasty noises for the last 2 days and I was not about to hand steer early to attempt repairs....if it broke, I'd hand steer the final approach but let the wind vane take me there. (Just to let you know, it turned out to be a simple fix, but I did have to remove the drive unit and take it apart.) Then, late in the evening prior to arriving in Mexican waters, my computers navigation program locked up. I have back up computers loaded with these programs, so out came another computer and we were fine again, but I ended up loosing all my tracking information for this trip and others.  Sigh!

We spent 9 days in Mexico, enjoying Isla Mujeres and traveled inland to the city of Merida and town of Progresso expanding our traveler experiences.  A NEW and decent weather window opened so back in Isla Mujeres, we cleared out, removed dock lines, anchored out for the night, then had an early morning departure for Florida.

I had downloaded files that showed the approximate position of the Gulf Stream in the Gulf of Mexico for the next few days and penciled a route plan on a piece of paper using 3 days of data to guestimate the route I should take.  If I could somewhat follow the latitude, longditude paths slight curves, I could not only get our forward motion caused by the boats sails and engine thru the water, but the "waters" movement being pushed by the current of the Gulf Stream.

  It worked!  Fabulous time of 2 days, 16 hours, from anchor up in Mexico, to anchor down in St. Pete.  We had times of sloppy seas, no worthwhile wind, then squalls, running between thunder storms to avoid them and at times, needing to spill wind from the sails...... but in the end, it was a great trip!

We sailed, motor sailed and did whatever I deemed safe to get us from point A to point B,,,,,,,,,actually A to B to C.  Total sea time from San Blas to St. Pete, was 7 days, 17 hours for about 1500 miles as the crow flies with one stop for weather consideration.  Not bad! ;)

1 comment:

thor said...

Miss you guys! We left San Blas for Bocas del Toro a few days after your departure. Great update Ron, best to Dorothy. Happy all worked out well and the passage went well...gary/anna on Trumpeter..Irwin 43..