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Old 08-03-2009, 08:02 PM   #1
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We have decided to postpone our Pacific crossing until it's a non-El Nino year. We're up in the Sea of Cortez for the summer, will head south in November, then cross through the Panama Canal some time in March or April. For family reasons, we'd like to head up the East Coast of the US and be north by hurricane season. I know it would make more sense to enjoy the Caribbean first, but we'll come back south in winter, after we've taken my 94-year-old uncle sailing. He may not be able to wait longer....

My first question: I've set aside all my Pacific crossing information and have been investigating using Jimmy Cornell's books and a few borrowed guides that all talk about the way, when, and how of getting TO the canal, not FROM it. After transiting the Canal, we like the idea of going via the San Blas and up to the Gulf Stream, north of Cuba to the Keys. Any thoughts? Any experience? Will this be a beat all the way? Everyone else we know is heading to Venezuela and Trinidad.

Second question: If we go in at Charleston, SC, can we go up the ICW with a 6.5 foot draft? and 62 feet 9 inches bridge clearance? I've only sailed/motored the NC section near Oriental.

Thanks,

Normandie
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Old 08-03-2009, 10:48 PM   #2
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Hi, there Normandie!

How is everything going? Hopefully Jeanne will be along shortly to answer many of your questions. I do know, from a friend with 6' draft that he grounded on sand bars along the ICW a few times--one which caused serious damage to the boat. In that instance, he wasn't sailing, but rather waiting for a bridge to open and a power boat came along at some speed and the wake lifted his sailboat, pushed it aside and plopped him onto a sand bar hard. He didn't think much of it (not a rock grounding) but ended up almost sinking about a week later--it seems that the seal between the keel and the boat was cracked/breached. He had an emergency haul out for repairs. Since then, he's avoided the ICW, period.

Only a suggestion, but you know, you're going to really be moving quickly to make it north of the hurricane zone by hurricane season. Have you considered leaving the boat somewhere safe but closer to your present location? And flying home to see family when the time comes? You can always charter a boat to take the uncle out sailing

That rush to the north appears to be a lot of wear and tear on the boat for what you'll get out of it. There are so many things to see and do that you'll be missing with such a rush. Not to mention if you're planning to return to the Pacific--you'll be jumping back through the Canal pretty quickly next year?

Fair winds,
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Old 08-03-2009, 11:28 PM   #3
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Hi Normandie

We did the ICW from Buffalo, NY to Charleston in 2005-2006.It is certainly possible to do in with 6.5 foot draft but be prepared to watch the tides carefully. There are only 2 types of sailors on the ICW. Those who have been aground and those who will be aground. Skipper Bob has 2 good books available, one for anchorages and the other for marinas. His web site www.skipperbob.net also posts frequent updates on conditions along the ICW. We found it very helpful as well. I would be happy to e-mail copies of our ship's logs to you if you are interested.

Fair Winds

Captain Chuck Dickhut

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Old 08-04-2009, 03:14 AM   #4
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Hi! *We truly loved cruising the Caribbean. *Best sailing we had in our 18-some years of cruising on our sailboat. *However.

On our trip to the Panama Canal we stopped for a few days in Aruba to sightsee and just laze around before sailing before what we knew would be some pretty boisterous to alarmingly strong winds until Panama. *While we were there we met several boats that had sailed and/or motored from Panama to Aruba. *One sailboat with two men on board seemed a bit shell-shocked by their trip. *Motor sailing into 20+ knots of wind and about a 5-knot current made for extremely uncomfortable and slow going (if I remember correctly, it took them about 4 or 5 days from Cartagena to Aruba, which is a nice 36-hour trip the other way). *A 62-foot (about) Bertram Sport Fisherman came in late one evening, and they were a good delivery crew. *Before doing anything else, they thoroughly cleaned down the boat. *Offers of a beer or two after they had finished their cleanup confirmed that they had had a pretty uncomfortable trip from Cartagena, Colombia to Aruba. *Now, our friends on a 48-foot sailboat had taken 36 hours to sail from Aruba to Cartagena. *The sportfisherman, ordinarily capable of 30+ knots powering out to their fishing spots, had beaten themselves silly for 48 hours to make it to Aruba from Cartagena.

We met a few boats that tried sailing north from either Cartagena or Panama directly north to the Caribbean and were miserable. *One 30-foot or so wooden sailboat was hit on the beam so hard by one wave that a plank was cracked and he had to slow down dramatically to prevent further damage from the nasty seas. *We worried about him until he finally made the Virgin Islands.* Another lovely boat, about 45 feet, had sailed from New Zealand to Mexico and then down to Costa Rica, where we met him. *We thought that the eastward passage across the Pacific was a difficult sail, but apparently it wasn't nearly as bad as his (attempted) sail from Cartagena up to Florida. *He tried it three times, turning around each time after heavy winds and nasty seas caused various injuries to him or his crew. *He finally made it, but did so by sailing up the east coast of Central America into the Gulf of Mexico before heading over to Florida. *

We know how tough it was sailing east from Bonaire to Venezuela and then up the island chain to St. Martin, which we did in December of 1987. *Hard work, motor sailing up to Trinidad before turning north up the chain, it took us seven or eight days (or was it 10 to 12?). *Watermelon was up to the challenge, though we sometimes questioned whether we were (we were meeting family for Christmas in St. Martin, and we didn't have the luxury of stopping for a few days). *However, the winds were not nearly as bad from Bonaire east to Trinidad as the winds between Bonaire and Panama. *Those miserable winds and strong current can be overcome, but not easily or comfortably. *As Donald Street once said, the winds down there blow hard, ..... ..... and harder.

If you decide to bite bullet and sail it, I would suggest that you be sure your boat is in good shape, and you short tack along the coast of Venezuela until you reach Trinidad before turning left and head up the Caribbean chain, but stay in the lee of the islands up. *When you get to Martinique you can breathe easy, the rest of the trip is a piece of cake, a beam to broad reach. *I'd stop in Fort de France, Martinique to reprovision and then head to St. Martin where you could again reprovision and load up on lots of duty free wine and spirits before heading up to the US east coast. *12 days after leaving St. Martin is the longest it should take to reach Charleston where you could stop for a lovely visit and to catch your breath.

SV Watermelon drew 7'2" and we did most of the ICW in her, with the exception of Georgia and portions of the Carolinas. *Since then we've made several trips up and down the ICW in MV Watermelon and haven't seen less than 7' anywhere we motored EXCEPT for Georgia - avoid it if you can. *The draft can get a bit tight in some other places, so watching the tides is wise, but it's doable with your depth and mast, since the general clearance for fixed bridges is 65' (but not in Florida - some of the fixed bridges, especially on the Gulf coast, aren't high enough for you - you would have to research that if you want to enter the ICW in Florida. *It's better to sail that part, though - it's much, much slower going through all the bridges in FL than elsewhere on the ICW). *You would want to download the ICW bridge schedule, find it at the Cruising Wiki HERE

I just think that trying to go east from the Panama Canal has brought grief to a lot of boats, and heading north can be just as bad. *But boats have done it, so the decision is yours, at least now you are a bit forewarned.

This narrative has gotten long enough. *Ask specific questions about specific areas and I'll try to answer them.

Fair winds,

Jeanne

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Old 08-04-2009, 04:11 PM   #5
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Thank you all for your help. Brenda, if we go to the States, we'll revisit the Caribbean and then perhaps head to the Med. We've been beaten up so many times in the middle of benign crossings of the Sea of Cortez (flat seas from Mazatlan at 6PM, then the whole thing turned upside down off Isla Cervallo when the seas went nasty and the wind gusted in the 40s and 50s for the whole night -- lost our bow planking in that one), that we don't really want to play that way again. So, we'll take what Jeanne says under advisement.

Capt Chuck, if you'd like to contact us at our gmail address (which we'll have access to for a short while here) that would be lovely. svseaventure at gmail dot com.

And Jeanne, I always appreciate your experience and advice. Do you know of anyone who went left toward Costa Rica, up to Isla Mujeres, and thence to Florida? That looks like it might be unpleasantly northward for short bursts, but with some interesting places to see along the way and the Gulf Stream at the top end. Am I correct in that assumption? No one mentions it, which may mean that it's a terrible slog as well.

The boat can handle most anything. I'm just thinking Michael and I feel too old to do the really rough stuff! Would that we were thirty again.

Thanks again,

Normandie
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Old 08-04-2009, 06:19 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeaVenture View Post
The boat can handle most anything. I'm just thinking Michael and I feel too old to do the really rough stuff! Would that we were thirty again.
I guess I'm imagining this to be a much rougher voyage than you feel it will be--but it seems that you're going to be beat to all get out and you'll be pushing yourselves hard w/o being able to stop and enjoy things. Just glad that we're not making the trip.

Fair winds and following seas,
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Old 08-04-2009, 11:18 PM   #7
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I just did a little research on El Nino years, and I know we didn't have a tough crossing of the Pacific. *See a list of El Nino seasons*HERE

In 1991 we sailed from Costa Rica out to Cocos Island, and then down to Ecuador. *In 1992 we crossed the Pacific, from Ecuador to Easter Island, to Pitcairn Island, to the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia. *Then on to the rest of French Polynesia, Beveridge Reef, and up to American Samoa. * This was a "Strong El Niño"

In 1993 we sailed from the Samoas the rest of the way across the Pacific to Australia. *An El Niño Year, but the December entry into Australia was the beginning of a non-El Niño season. *

In 1994 we sailed to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands then on to Vanuatu and Fiji in 1995 (we're a bit of the "wrong way" sailor). *Then a return to New Caledonia and on to Australia. *Another El Niño season. *

With the exception of the crossing from New Caledonia to Australia both in 1993 and 1995, we did not think that the weather was bad. *Except, of course, our against-the-wind easting back to Fiji in 1995, which was pretty tough (but we were younger then), and not many people do that trip so I don't expect anybody to find inspiration to do it from us)

My point here is that I don't think that the Pacific is as bad as the Caribbean and North Atlantic for hard sailing. *Besides, you'll be going downwind almost all the way. *If you plan to cross the Pacific, I don't think you should change your plans because of El Niño.

Something to consider.
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Old 08-05-2009, 02:43 PM   #8
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Hi Normandie,

We made the same trip about 10 yrs ago. After leaving the canal we went to San Blas Islands for a week and then 5 days to Grand Cayman Island, then 3 days to Cozumel and then a fast trip, with the gulf stream, into Miami, FL. It was a great trip as we were blessed with good weather and favorable winds most of the way. Hope this helps.

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Old 08-05-2009, 04:09 PM   #9
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Jeanne,

Thank you so much for those links. Michael and I will study the matter and take your suggestions under advisement. He said to ask that you please continue to advise if you think of any other pearls of wisdom from your years of experience. We are sailing back to San Carlos next week (from Santa Rosalia) to work on a few more projects and will then head south after hurricane season to enjoy the Pacific coast of Central America. Once there, we'll decide which way seems best, left or right.

Blessings,

Normandie
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Old 08-05-2009, 04:13 PM   #10
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Capt Rick,

In what month did you cross into the Caribbean? Also, what type of boat did you sail?

Thanks for your help,

Normandie
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Old 08-06-2009, 12:09 AM   #11
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I think that Capt. Rick's route would be a much better way to go. *Except for the beat once you round the west end of Cuba, which would be somewhat eased by the Gulf Stream (though watch your weather carefully), it should be favorable winds and you'd enjoy the lee of those two huge islands, Hispaniola and Cuba. *Yeah, that would work.
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Old 08-07-2009, 01:11 PM   #12
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If you look at the Atlantic Pilot Charts for the Caribbean, you will see that the months of Feb, March, April are "nasty" months for heading from Cartagena/San Blas/Panama north to Jamaica, etc. The preferred routing is to follow the coastline and stay out of the "bulls-eye" shown between Columbia and Jamaica/Hispaniola. This route skirts the western rim of the weather areas. From Bocas del Toro, Panama you sail northwest up the Nicaragua coastline or cut across to the islands of San Andres and Providencia. Then northwest and west along the island banks of Honduras to the Bay Islands.

From there the decision is to head further west to Guatemala (Rio Dulce) or Belize. Then east to Mexico Cozumel to Isla Mujeres. Then a ride on the Gulf Stream to Florida.

Alternatively, from Providencia you can head north to Jamaica; or Cayman Islands to the south coast of Cuba; then east up the Windward Passage to the Bahamas and then Florida and north.

Winds are normally north east to east and the currents are flowing southward from Panama to Providencia then you enter the northwest and north flow all the way to Florida. Winds and currents along the south side of Cuba are both from the east but lighter than on the north side of Cuba. You can get up-to-date Gulf Stream currents and eddies from the USNavy weather site: http://www.nlmoc.navy.mil/home1.html and selecting "Caribbean" along the left edge pane then scrolling down the right pane to "Oceanographic Products" and Gulfstream currents.
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Old 08-14-2009, 03:01 PM   #13
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Thank you so much for that excellent comment. The coast-wise trip to Belize has interested us, and we're investigating it. Of course, now that we're in Guaymas with the availability of parts and goodies through Tucson, we may have to hang around the Sea of Cortez for another year to recoup the lost savings! Whatever, yes? It's all good. And the best plan seems to be to have no fixed plan -- or to plan for contingencies and relax about the outcome. We didn't plan on six months in Ensenada, but we loved it and the great friends we made. We didn't plan on four months in Mazatlan, but we loved it and more new friends. Now we have circumnavigated the Sea of Cortez, returning to San Carlos, which is where we started (with a few years' hiatus in SF Bay area!) So, after all, Michael may get his trip to the South Pacific. Who knows? Certainly not I.

Normandie
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Old 08-14-2009, 09:24 PM   #14
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I'm glad you're enjoying the Sea of Cortez, Normandie

We used to camp near Guaymas when we were driving down the West Coast of Mexico back in the 1980's. At that time, there wasn't much there. What's it like now?

Are you at a marina or anchored out? Further--I wonder what are you using for internet access these days in the Sea of Cortez?

We loved our driving/camping on the beach trips down the coast--I imagine that you're really loving it, too. A cruiser once told us that shortly after she and her husband began what they thought would be a 3 year circumnavigation (which turned into a decade long trip) that they were lucky enough to have someone living on a Mexican beach ask them the question: "Why are you rushing through paradise?" And...they thought about it....didn't have an answer...so slowed down and enjoyed the rest of the trip.

Fair winds,
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