Forward planning the next passage

Sun 14 Feb 2016 18:08
We have made contact with Alessandro Rissi who will be our agent and arrange our transit through the Panama Canal and John Halley who is marina manager of Shelter Bay Marina at Panama, where will stay while the arrangements are being made and we are awaiting our allotted date.
Since our final approach to this lovely island we have witnessed winds that never drop below 25 knots even at night time. Ok, but we wanted to know if they are typical. Locals, officials and John at Shelter Bay have all said the same, it is unusually windy this year. El Nino, is in force, we know that, and will affect our passage planning.
Also off Barranquilla, the estuary to the Magdalena River, there are force 7 winds with mountainous seas, John’s words not mine, that have been raging for weeks as part of the Colombian Low Pressure system. We would have to pass through here on our way to Cartagena, that we had hoped to visit. John advised against using any mainsail if we chose that route.
At Pirate’s Nest for lunch yesterday we took advantage of their excellent wifi and really researched the weather between here and Panama over the next couple of weeks. Strong winds are expected in early March each year so to wait would just delay us further by a month or so. Two weather sources showed that on the outer edges of the anti-clockwise spiralling Low the wind reduces to a four or five and so also does the wave height. You could argue that we had this in the Atlantic, but then the sea had room to move unlike the waters off the North coast of Colombia.
So what we have prudently decided is to take a more northern route, to avoid the coastal situation. To sail from here north to around 14’ latitude and then west to a longitude north of Panama and then move south along with the wind and current. It will add maybe 200 miles onto the journey, but we have the time and as delays can happen before canal transits it would not be a bad idea to arrive well in advance.
We plan to clear out tomorrow in Willemstad, then go to Santa Cruz bay at the north west end of the island for a couple of nights before setting off for the 840 mile journey, which will probably take around 8 days.