27 May 2012

Part 2: Escape from Marathon and Hurricanes

A quick recap from Part 1.  Assuming (hoping, really) that we can eventually overcome the inertia that is keeping us here in Marathon, we will spend the hurricane season south and west of the "hurricane box."  We're thinking to visit Cartagena, Colombia; Guna Yala, Panama (aka the San Blas Islands); and Rio Dulce, Guatamala.  Mas o menos.  We will aim for Cartagena first, then let the winds and currents push us to Panama and then to Guatamala.

If we could plot a course straight to Cartagena from here, it would be just a squooch east of south.  We would sail about 900 nautical miles, and Bob's your uncle.  But we must contend with Cuba.  Okay, we don't really have to contend with it, we just gotta go around it.

But which way?  West or east?  Counter-clockwise or clockwise?  Some sailors recommend going west.  If we were going to spend the season in Rio Dulce, that would definitely be the way to go.  Even heading to Panama, it might make sense to go west.  But aiming for Cartagena, west around Cuba would have some serious disadvantages.  First, going west we would be fighting the Florida Current.  (Briefly: Caribbean Current rushes from the Atlantic west through the Caribbean and piles up in the Gulf of Mexico.  The piled-up water then pushes east between Cuba and Florida and swings north up the coast of Florida to join with the Gulf Stream.)  Second, once we got around the western point of Cuba, we would have many miles of easting ahead of us.  Remember, east = harder; west = easier.  Third, we would have to do our easting in a part of the Caribbean where the seas are known to build because of the long FETCH.  Now I'm just showing off my new sailor vocabulary. The fetch is the distance that the wind has been blowing across the sea in a particular direction.  In this case, the wind blows all the way across from the eastern Caribbean, more than a thousand miles.  Apparently, six meter seas are not uncommon in the SW Caribbean, and if you're gonna be in six meter seas, you sure as shootin' don't want them on the nose.  (Wind from the east, current from the east, waves from the east... DON'T GO EAST!)

So where are we going?  East, of course.  East around Cuba, that is.  Wind probably on the nose, fighting a current that might be as much as a knot.  Well, dang.  But here's why it's better than the alternative:  less potential for big seas, and once we get through the Windward Passage (around the eastern point of Cuba), we will be DONE with easting.
A route to Cartagena

This is a route that I put together with an iPad app called iNavX.  It's about 1200 nautical miles, although it has the potential to be a much longer trip because of the tacking we will probably need to do down the Cuban coast.  I put in waypoints at Matthew Town, Great Inagua, which is the southernmost Bahamian island; and Port Antonio, Jamaica, where, coincidentally, Ean and I honeymooned almost a decade ago.  We could decide to stop or not stop, depending on whither the weather.

Weather: the next big question mark.  In my next post, Part 3, I'll talk a bit about how we're trying to get weather smart.  We need to be able to choose a good weather window, tweak and sail our route to take advantage of the weather, and receive weather updates underway.  Stay tuned!

[UPDATE: So we did end up going east around Cuba, but we didn't use the route that is in this post, and we didn't go straight to Great Inagua.  Instead, we went north of the Cay Sal Bank, stopped at Andros and in the Exumas, and then had a long and ugly slog from George Town to Great Inagua.  I posted some information about this passage for cruisers on Cruisers Forum (click here, if you're interested), and Ean wrote a bit about the passage in this post, which got me in a little trouble with my mother.  Then, instead of going to Jamaica, we went to Ile a Vache, Haiti.  Jamaica has a prohibition against bringing pets into the country.  And, finally, we decided to come to Santa Marta, instead of Cartagena.]


  1. Just found this blog. Will be following your progress and living vicariously thru y'all.
    Good on yer!

    1. Welcome aboard, George!

      Thanks for following us. We'll do our best to live up to our motto: sailing the world so you don't have to.