Weebles - planning for 2025 Caribbean

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Mar 21, 2019
United States
Vessel Name
Vessel Make
1970 Willard 36 Trawler
Weebles is on the hard in Chiapas MX, a little over halfway through the 5000 nm trek from Ensenada to our home near St Pete Florida. We will return to Chiapas in November or so and spend a few weeks doing repairs before heading south to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal which we'll transit in spring of 2025. We will head east to the San Blas islands. From there, we'll either continue to Colombia (Barranquilla area), or, more likely, head west to Bocas del Toros islands off Panama.

By far, the most challenging leg will be heading north up the Caribbean. Seas are routinely 6-9 feet at 7-ish seconds from the east so on the beam. Too much for our little 36-footer. Secondly, there are some piracy concerns along Nicaragua and Honduras' Caribbean coast.

Pilot Charts show May/June is the best period to head north on the Caribbean so I've been tracking weather for the last two months. Weather windows are indeed more prevalent now than when Muirgen (TF handle "Slowgoesit") headed north a month and a half ago, though they had been in delivery-mode for a while to get to their sight-unseen house they purchased in Florida. Plus their boat is significantly more tolerant of the normal heavy chop the Caribbean regularly dishes up.

Most likely route is from Costa Rica near Limon, an industrial city without cruising interest but is the northern most point of departure. From there, head to Providencia, 200 nms north. These Colombian islands are gorgeous and a welcome stopover. It's also where the cruising ends and delivery begins. While we'll learn a lot in the next year, the current thinking is Cheryll would leave the boat here and I'd have a friend accompany the rest of the way north on a pure beat to weather.

To avoid the piracy-risk off Nicuragua/Honduras border, current thinking is to head northeast to a small outpost "Seranilla Bank." This speck in the middle of the Caribbean has been disputed land for centuries so the current holder - Colombia - maintains a small garrison. It supposedly has an acceptable but not great anchorage.

The Plan B route would be to depart from Barranquilla Colombia area (see second attachment - chartlet) and head north with a stop in possibly Cayman Islands, stopover in Jamaica before touring Cuba's eastern end and into the Grand Bahama channel. This route was closer to Plan A until Jamaica had a flair-up in violence earlier this year.

Best case scenario would be finding another cruiser with whom to buddy boat and hopefully reduce security concerns. We've met a lot of people along the way - especially via the Panama Posse.

My point in posting this so far out is to give a sense of our approach to passage planning. Right now, the most critical tool I have is PredictWind weather subscription - our membership in Panama Posse gives a 20% discount which makes the hefty subscription a bit more palatable ($250/year for their standard membership, $500/year for their more granular membership that includes currents' modeling).

Next will be brushing up on OpenCPN to better read satellite photos. Charting in Las Perlas (West of Panama) and San Blas (East of Panama) are a bit unreliable.

Definitely looking forward to next phase of the "Lazy Delivery" from San Francisco to Florida.


Attachments - screenshot from PredictWind showing conditions right now. This shows waves - purple is good. If we had left a couple days ago, prediction was for no worse than 3-foot waves at 6-7 seconds.

Second graphic is a general chartlet of the Caribbean with distances. Many options to head north, though few are great. We are not considering the eastern Caribbean islands.


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Peter, what a voyage! Will look forward to following along.
Great undertaking and best of luck. Might want to pay close attention to the behavior of the loop current. It’s likely your best bet. Might wander up near Yucatán peninsula to pick it up and shorten your legs. Don’t know your range. Would think that’s a key factor.
Great undertaking and best of luck. Might want to pay close attention to the behavior of the loop current. It’s likely your best bet. Might wander up near Yucatán peninsula to pick it up and shorten your legs. Don’t know your range. Would think that’s a key factor.

Warning - I am about to take a geeky turn into weather/passage planning. The passage I outlined in this thread - Bocas del Toro Costa Rica to St Petersburg FL is 1260.1 nms (I am precise for a reason). It's close to an 8-day run for me if I don't stop - well outside my comfort range for reliable weather forecasts which have a shelf-life of about 72-hours.

Here's the conundrum for a longish passage in a zone with a LOT of currents/counter-currents where the forecast is updated every 4-hours?

Enter the GPX file. What's a GPX file? It is the type of file navigation systems use to save routes/waypoints. Most modern chartplotters can import and export GPX files. For me, I like to use either Coastal Explorer or OpenCPN to create a route, then export it via SIM chip to my Simrad MFD. Also possible to do it wirelessly or via a network connection. It's a PITA to figure out the first time, but goes very quickly and reliably once you figure it out.

My 1260.1 nm route has a total of 6 waypoints including start and end. I can take that same GPX file that I uploaded to my MFD and import it into PredictWind so the exact waypoints can be analyzed for passage planning. Based on effect of currents, PredictWind will make a route recommendation - screenshot shows how PredictWind recommends skirting Cuba closely to avoid effect of 2.6-kt adverse current.


But wait....there's more. I can then save the new PredictWind route recommendation and export it to my MFD (or whatever is controlling my Autopilot). Here is the same portion of the PW-route exported into Coastal Explorer but could also be my MFD that runs my Autopilot. The entire route is now 28 nms longer (1288.6) but overall faster by an unknown amount.

Weather Routing Compare.jpg

The whole process takes 3-minutes or so, so its simple to update the route a couple times each day for the most recent forecast conditions.

Now, for shorter passages, this is less applicable. But in some circumstances such as crossing from FLorida to Bahamas, it could be extremely helpful. OpenCPN has some weather routing features, though PredictWind is tops in the field. Sooner or later it will be a near automatic plugin for all software controlling navigation.

I know return you to the regular depth of complexity for TF......

Perfect that’s what I’ve done in the past (using slightly different vendors). Don’t think it matters much where you get GRIB files as the various vendors just package the open source files from the same governmental agencies. Do think which model you use matters a lot. I tend to not have a favorite as I think most conservatively when examining weather. So switch back and forth. Currents are a bit different so look at both computer generated and simple temperature.
However also added in a professional weather routing service we interacted with near daily. Given the different weather models the question has been which one to trust on which day. Have found talking with another person helpful. Given most boats have Satphone and some still have SSB cost isn’t that much. Feel somewhat knowledgeable having done some weather courses but still know what I don’t know as well as finding that input enjoyable. You’re experienced so I’m sure you will do just fine.

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