PN Pacific routes from Central America and Mexico

pn21 Panama to Central America and Mexico pn22 Central America and Mexico to California pn23 Panama to British Columbia pn24 Panama to Alaska pn25 Panama to Hawaii pn26 Central America and Mexico to Hawaii pn27 Central America and Mexico to Panama

For boats which have transited the Panama Canal there is a rather limited choice of routes heading out into the Pacific. Basically, there are two options:

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either to stay in the North Pacific, where there is a narrow range of initial destinations, or to head towards the South Pacific, where the choices mul-

tiply constantly as one moves west. Similarly a considerable proportion of offshore routes from Central America are also southbound and transequatorial. These transequatorial routes and routes in the South Pacific are described in chapters 11 and 13.

Sailing directly from Panama to the west coast of North America is a difficult undertaking. An alternative preferred by many as the best way to reach California, and especially ports further north, is to sail first to Hawaii. Panama is a good starting point for sailing to ports on the west coast of Central America and as the distances involved are relatively short, even if unfavourable conditions are encountered at least they do not have to be endured for too long. Because the hurricane season affects most of this area between June and October, sailing to Mexico or California during these months should be avoided. Therefore if heading north from

Panama it is best to plan to transit the Canal between November and April, so as to avoid the danger of being caught by a hurricane off the coast of Central America.

Before sailing out of the Gulf of Panama, some boats stop at the Las Perlas Islands, which have some excellent anchorages. They belong to Panama and one is not allowed to stop therĀ£ after having cleared out in Balboa, without having obtained a cruising permit.

The most popular route leaving from Panama is that to the Galapagos Islands (route PT12). Most boats bound for the South Pacific take advantage of the conveniently placed Galapagos Islands to make at least a brief stop in these islands made famous by Charles Darwin. It is no longer permitted to cruise around the islands, which are a protected nature reserve, but a 72 hour stop can be

PN20 Pacific routes from Central America and Mexico

made at the discretion of the port captain at either of the two ports of entry, Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay) on San Cristobal Island and Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay) on Santa Cruz Island. Because of these restrictions, some boats avoid the Galapagos Islands altogether and head straight for the Marquesas and French Polynesia (PT13).

Those who want to visit ports along the west coast of South America are faced with a tough voyage against wind and current (PT11). A few boats make this trip every year showing that, in spite of all difficulties, it can be done. The alternative is to postpone visiting South America until one is farther west in the Pacific when Chile can be easier reached with the help of favourable westerly winds of higher latitudes. However, this is a long and tough trip which may be less attractive than a beat against the Humboldt current. The major attraction of such a foray down the coast of South America is the opportunity to visit Ecuador and Peru as well as some rarely frequented islands such as Easter, Pitcairn or Gambier.

Apart from the occasional norther, rare westerly, or summer hurricane, the west coasts of Central America could be described as having a truly Pacific weather with little wind and smooth seas. Local conditions along the coast do vary very much with the topography of the land. Two local weather phenomena, which affect particularly the inshore routes, are the very strong winds which take their name from the gulfs where they occur, Papagayo and Tehuantepec. The worst period is from October to April, with the highest frequency between the end of November and the end of January. The effect of these winds can be felt as far as 150 miles offshore.

Papagayos are caused by an intensification of the NE trade winds on the Caribbean side of the isthmus. The winds reach the Pacific through a gap in the Cordillera where they blow with great force. Further north, the Tehuantepecers are caused by a build up of atmospheric pressure over the Gulf of Mexico, the resulting winds blowing over the continental divide and being felt most strongly in the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Both winds reach gale force 8 and even 9, and are very difficult to predict locally. However, by following weather forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean area it is usually possible to predict when changes in weather conditions on the Atlantic side of Central America or Mexico will affect its Pacific shores.

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