AN Lesser Antilles to Panama

Best time: , Tropical storms: Charts:

Cruising guides: Waypoints:

April to May, November to December June to November

Cruising Guide to the Caribbean, Panama Canal Pilot's Handbook.


Departure i



Destination Distance (M)

AN740 St Lucia W 14'04'N, 61'00'W

AN742 Galinas 13"55'N, 71 '38'W AN743 Manzanillo 9*47X79*32^

AN744 off Panama 9'26.25'N, 79'55'W

Cristobal 9'21'N, 79'55'W


AN741 Antigua S 16C58'N, 61'45'W

AN742 Galinas AN743 Manzanillo

AN744 off Panama



This can be a very rough passage, confirmed by the fact that many experienced sailors describe their passage across the Caribbean Sea perhaps as the roughest part of their voyage around the world. This is usually the case at the height of the trade wind season, when the constant easterly winds pile up the water in the western part of the Caribbean making sea conditions hazardous. Many boats have been knocked down or pooped by the steep following seas, while others have been lost on the coast of Colombia after having been set off course by the strong current.

Although direct passages to Panama cross an area which is rarely affected by hurricanes, this passage should not be done between July and October when the risk of tropical storms is highest. The best times are either in November-December, when the trades are not yet blowing at full strength, or in April-May, when the strength of the winter trades starts to diminish. The months of January to March, although free of hurricanes, are also the period of the strongest trades, when conditions in the western part of the Caribbean can become uncomfortable, or occasionally even dangerous, for small boats. Best conditions can therefore be expected at either the beginning or the end of the winter season.

Boats sailing to Panama nonstop should keep at a safe distance from the Colombian coast to avoid the rougher seas associated with thQse shallow waters. Whether stopping in Aruba, as many boats do, or sailing nonstop to Panama, WP AN742, 28 miles north of Punta Galinas on Guajira Peninsula allows the course to be set just outside the 1000 fathom line where relatively less rough seas can be expected. From there, a direct course leads to WP AN743, about 10 miles N of Punta Manzanillo and 30 miles from the Panama Canal entrance. The latter is reached by altering course for WP AN744 which is the landfall buoy, approximately 3 miles N of the entrance into the port of Cristobal. Traffic Control should be contacted on VHF Channel 12, although small boats may enter if they proceed carefully. Traffic lights control the entrance through the breakwaters and small boats are advised to keep as close as possible to the sides. See page 489 for detailed instructions concerning Panama entry and transit procedure.

When planning this passage across the Caribbean Sea it is well worth considering a stop in either Venezuela or the offlying ABC islands, most of which are situated outside the hurricane belt. The advantage of such a stop is that the voyage towards Panama can be continued at any time of the year, and with sufficient care even during the hurricane season, as the route from Aruba to Panama lies to the south of the area affected by tropical storms. Another suggested stop is in the San Bias Islands, which belong to Panama. The port of entry is Porvenir (9°34'N, 78°57'W). As described in AN73, the voyage can also be interrupted at Cartagena, in Colombia.

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