We’ve been here waiting on weather for several weeks, giving the HelmsMistress and I ample time to discuss future plans and goals, which we know may change in an instant but still give us a baseline for planning. Lots of factors go into these discussions, making planning complicated and ensuring there are far reaching repercussions to factor in, lest we forget important facts about where we’re going and how fast.
To set the stage for this discussion, the “Fast or Slow” version means this to me: Fast cruising (all the way back to the US this season) means traveling past Mexico through Central America to arrive and get through the Panama Canal by April or May. Then it means a pretty quick turnaround to get our butts through the western Caribbean and around to a hurricane safe port in Florida or Georgia by the end of June/early July. (hurricane season starts in June and runs through early November). The Slow cruising (to Panama) that we’re talking about is slowing waaaay down and going through Central America slowly, needing to stay in Panama until November, as both Costa Rica and Panama are out of the hurricane belt.
LOTS of factors come into play along with personal preferences, boat speed ect. Here’s a brief discussion about both of these trip planning options, to try to suss out which one is best for us or perhaps best for you?
Planning Factors for either going Fast or Slow:
-Hurricane Season: This is the big granddaddy of our planning. It starts in June and goes till the end of October. Costa Rica, Panama, Grenada (for the most part) are out of the hurricane belt. Eastern Florida and western Georgia have good marinas that seem to take less hurricane damage. This is also the reason we gravitated around a good hurricane hole in the Sea of Cortez (Baja) in hurricane season during the two summers we stayed in Baja.
-Lightning/Rainy Season: Yup, wow….this goes hand in hand with hurricane season. When there’s hurricane season in Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean…there’s rain and lightning season in Costa Rica and Panama. Does YOUR boat insurance cover your entire boat and all of your electrics in case you take a lightning hit? Are you prepared with Faraday Bags for smaller more valuable electronics like computers, hand-held GPS, iPad, hand held radios, satellite phone and Iridium Go? Will your engine START if all the electronics are fried on your boat? Things to think about as the lightning seasons get worse in the southern latitudes.
-Money for Cruising: Do you need to get back to the US to work for that money….honey? Or do you have some savings that you can stretch because places in Panama and Central America are really cheap? Or can you work remotely and hang out in a great marina with good WIFI while you make the money? Seems like there should be more and more opportunity to work remotely since the pandemic started and this might give some enterprising cruisers a window of opportunity.
-Insurance: Does your insurance want you back in the US before hurricane season or do you have to add an extra rider and hurricane plan? This might be an important one to know in advance, as insurance companies have been known to say…”No”. Meaning you cannot go south past a certain latitude, with your current insurance policy/company. Or…do you self-insure so you don’t really have to worry about insurance that much? To be allowed to go south, we had to write a hurricane plan and pay for the extra rider, even though we didn’t know at the time whether we would go fast or slow.
-How fast is your boat?: Literally, how fast is your boat and do you have a reasonable chance of getting through Central America, Costa Rica, Panama,the Caribbean and back to the US by June/July? We’ve definitely thought about this one because Tulum is a heavier slower boat and we really don’t want to motor the ENTIRE way.
-What were your original plans?: This one matters and it’s doesn’t. I know people that are really sticking to their plan and then there’s folks like us…who put together a rough timeline but often don’t stick to it.
-Has the weather cooperated?: This one might be huge. Take the Tehuantepec for example…a large weather hurdle that may not cooperate with finely laid plans. I certainly never thought we would sit in a marina for three weeks waiting on a weather window…but little did I know that December and January are statistically the worst months to cross based on the number of wind events for these months. Then there’s the Papagallo wind area right before Costa Rica and Punta Malo right after you leave Costa Rica. If you’re in a hurry, then you have to wait on a slot to get through the Canal and then face the trade winds of the Caribbean. But at least they blow fairly steadily in one direction and if you time everything right you can hit them in May/June. May/June may mean a brief shoulder season that will allow you to mover under lighter conditions than are normally found….could be a boon for power boats and catamarans if that’s your flavor.
-Personal Preference: What do you want to do? What does your partner or family want to do? I think this is huge and should be considered every step of the way. We would not continue if the HelmsMistress and kids decided to bail out…as it would be too boring on this boat with just me, the dog and the cat. So, you/partner/family have to decide on your own how fast you want this journey to be.
-Panama Posse: The Panama Posse (and possibly it’s benefits) ends in May…which coincides with the start of hurricane season. This may or may not be important to some.
Above, I’ve outlined some of the factors that go into our decision making on how fast or slow we want this southern cruise to be, knowing full well that we have not made a final decision on the timing of our own journey. I’ve heard and read accounts of lightning and rainy season hell in Panama and heard about boats struck by lightning that have lost all of their critical equipment. I’ve heard accounts of pushing hard to get back to the US in less than a month accompanied by long exhausting sails to windward, possibly breaking parts of the boat and crew. There’s also piracy issues to consider along the eastern Central and South American coast…meaning some might opt for longer deep-water passages that take you away from mainland areas…again making for another set of complex decisions with far reaching ramifications.
How Fast Will You Go?
I’m sitting here in southern Mexico weather guessing as a longer weather window approaches to cross the dreaded Tehuantepec (T-Pecker). This body of water with its high winds and dreaded swells has a well-deserved reputation for a reason, worthy of respect and perhaps a bit of trepidation and fear by mariners. I certainly have some of those emotional reactions as I watch the weather daily, knowing that we have to cross this body of water and in the end….no matter whether we have buddy boats or not, it’s just us on a small boat in a very big ocean.
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