Rhapsody to Central America - The Plan

In most basic terms, my plan is to spend 18 months sailing from San Diego thru the Panama Canal to Galveston, or Houston, Texas. Below is a map that shows the trip broken into 6 "parts".

More specifically, I want to spend the first 6 months sailing from San Diego down to Panama (parts 1 thru 3), the second 6 months tooling around Panama and possibly Costa Rica (part 4), and the third 6 months working our way up the Atlantic side back to the USA.

The essential reason for doing the trip in this way is that it is necessary to be out of the "hurricane zone" during hurricane season for safety and insurance reasons. The hurricane season is roughly from June to November, and the hurricane zone extends from about Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) on the Pacific side, down to Costa Rica. It is difficult or impossible (expensive or outlandishly expensive) to get insurance for the boat in these regions during hurricane season. Panama is safely south of the hurricane zone, having never been hit by one, so I need to be in Panama (or north of Cabo) come June or July. That's also why the trip starts in November. (ed note: even tho I've said the trip terminates in Galveston, Texas, in reality, I hope to move up the waterway a bit to an inland lake near Houston where it will be safer from hurricanes for the subsequent 6 month hurricane season).

Let's take a look at the six parts of the trip in a little more detail ...

Part 1 - Baja California

When I leave San Diego in early November, I will be joining the Baja-Ha Rally that goes from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. The Baja-Ha has run every year for the last 18 years or so and Rhapsody has already done it twice (in 1995 and 1998), tho not with me on board ... this will be my most major cruise to date. Last year there were 165 boats in the rally, and over the years thousands of sailboats have started their trips from San Diego by joining this venerable event.

And even though the Baja-Ha is specifically not a "hand-holding" guided trip (they make you sign a waiver to that effect, lol), I feel that there will be several advantages for us to participate. First, and most importantly, I will get to meet other sailors and boats who are also headed south and perhaps make a few friends. I'm always on the lookout for opportunities to meet other sailors and learn from them, as one can always learn more about sailing. And there may be times when it will be safer to travel with another boat (buddy boating), and this will give me a chance to meet the other people who are making similar voyages, and who will be showing up in the same ports as we head south.

The Baja-Ha will also give me a chance to practice using the SSB, as there is a regular shortwave roll-call which we will participage in, and hopefully I can find people to chat with to get my chops up to speed. Finally, the Baja-Ha reportedly throws some awesome parties (before, during, and after the event), and, well, I'm game for that too!

It should take 7-8 days to make the approximately 700 miles from our marina in San Diego to a mooring Cabo San Lucas. The Baja-Ha stops at anchorages Tortuga Bay and Bahia Santa Maria, legs of about 360 and 200 miles, respectively, before arriving in Cabo San Lucas after the last 150 mile leg. I'll probably spend 3-4 days in Cabo San Lucas resting and partying.

From Cabo I plan to hop up to La Paz, in the Sea of Cortez, stopping at a primitive anchorage in Bahia Muertos on the way. Another 3-4 days in a marina in La Paz and then Rhapsody will anchor over at Islas Espiritu Santos before proceeding with the 230 mile passage to Mazatlan, on the mainland Mexican Coast.

Part 2 - The Mexican West Coast

Starting in Mazatlan, I'll get an opportunity to cruise down the Mexican Riveria, stopping in all the major well known ports, which are also some of the world's best known vacation destinations. In these places I will probably get to stay in marinas, buy fuel at fuel docks, do laundry, have access to modern shopping and laundry facilities, internet access, email, and so on.

  • Mazatlan
  • Puerto Vallarta
  • Ixtapa/Zihuateneo
  • Acapulco

In between these resort towns, Rhapsody will stay in a number of primitive anchorages, usually by a small fishing town with limited facilities, sometimes in a more-or-less completely isolated location. Particularly between Mazatlan and Zihuateneo, there are many nice and beautiful places to anchor.

While in the larger towns, I hope to do a bit of land travel as well and get a chance to explore the regions. Of particular interest are the local cultures as well as the ancient ruins to be found in these areas.

As I work my way south I will learn more about sailing Rhapsody, so that by the time we get to our last real stops in Mexico, Huatulco and Salina Cruz, I will be more ready for the serious sailing that will follow in Part 3 of our trip.

Part 3 - El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to Panama

Sometime in March of '08 I hope to be sailing out of Huatulco, Mexico across the bay of Tuantepec, and south to El Salvador. This passage is famous for its heavy and dangerous winds, known as "Tuantepeckers", that can reach 60 knots and have been the demise of many a sailor. So, in a sense, the serious sailing starts here. Hopefully my previous sailing experiences will put me in good stead for this passage.

Also starting here, when I leave Puerto Madrero, I will "get to" begin what's known as the "paperwork cha-cha", as I have to clear customs and immigration in every country I enter and leave. Since I hope to visit

  • El Salvador
  • Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica, and
  • Panama
during this part of the trip, counting Mexico, I will have to clear into and out of countries 8-10 times. Plus, I have to check in and out of each major port we stay in as well. Since this process can take a full day or more, it is likely to become one of the major themes of this portion of the trip.

The other major theme of this part of the trip will be staying in some of the most beautiful and isolated anchorages in this part of the world, particularly, from what I've read, in Costa Rica and Panama. There will be a lot of miles covered, and not many marinas to stop in to get fuel, so I am also likely to be learning a lot about how to use Rhapsody to stay "out" for a month or more at a time between re-provisioning. During this part of the trip, I will likely not have regular internet access, be able to do my laundry in a laundromat, and so on.

Also, it is important that I make it to Panama by late May or early June at the latest to avoid hurricane season, as I mentioned before, so I will have to keep moving southward at a regular pace. However, I should have plenty of time to do tons of snorkeling, catch fish, and relax along the way as well. Please see the itinerary if you are interested in more details.

Part 4 - Cruising Panama

Once Rhapsody arrives in Panama, things will slow down a lot. Essentially, since I have rented the house in San Diego out and committed to cruising for a couple of years,Iwe will have to sit out hurricane season for 5-6 months in Panama. Unfortunately, even though no hurricanes hit Panama, this is also the rainy season, so I expect to be deluged with heavy rains and occasional thunderstorms during this period of time (which is one reason for adding a full enclosure to the list of improvements to Rhapsody). I'll probably spend much of this six month period hunkered down on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City.

Nonetheless, I hope to continue do some cruising during this period. On the Pacific side, I want to visit the Las Perlas Islands, with their dozens of great anchorages only 50 miles or so from Panama City, and La Palma, the largest town in eastern Panama with a whopping 5000 people, about another 50 miles to the south.

Then Rhapsody will Transit the Panama Canal, it's own mini-adventure, before I, hopefully, get to spend a few weeks exploring the historic town of Portobello and the cruising heaven of the San Blas Islands, where the water is so clear you can see the shadow of the boat 50' down, and the native Kuna People continue to live pretty much as they have for thousands of years.

From there I will layup in Bocas Del Toro for a while. Bocas Del Toro is the most notable, and in fact, virtually the only, marina north of the Panama Canal on the Atlantic side headed north until you get to Belize or Cancun. This is also where Christopher Columbus made a landfall in the Americas in 1502. Bocas Del Toro is also reputedly a wonderful cruising ground, and so, even though I have not listed specific primitive anchorages in the itinerary or on the googleEarth map, I expect to be sailing around this region in general, weather permitting.

From Bocas Del Toro, I am thinking of flying back to the USA for Christmas and then returning to Panama for the last six months of the trip.

Part 5 - The Guatemala Peninsula Passage

Once I leave Bocas Del Toro we get into what I call "serious sailing" conditions again. Because the coast of Nicaragua is virtually inaccessable due to it's swampy coastline and uncharted reefs, there are very few places to make landfall on this part of the trip. And, although the tidal range on the Atlantic side, at 1-2 feet, is much more benign than the tides on the Pacific side, which can reach 16 or more feet, for the first time we will encounter the Trade Winds, which are said to blow 25-35 knots for days at a time.

So I will sail north, probably under reefed sails, and possibly stopping in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, and/or Bluefields in Nicaragua, before heading out to sea. It is necessary to stay well off shore during this part of the trip, so I will go to the Corn Islands (which are actually owned by the country of Columbia), then on to Isla Providencia.

These are likely to be moderatly long passages (200+ miles, several days at sea). Then from Providencia, Rhapsody will round the Guatemalan Peninsula (once again, well offshore) to Roatan, Honduras. And although there may be a reef we can anchor at about halfway between these two places (not shown on map) there are no other islands or landfalls available on this 600+ mile passage, which I expect to take 4-6 days.

From Roatan, it is a relatively short sail to Belize to start the final part of our trip.

Part 6 - Belize, the East Coast of Mexico, and back to the USA

I will probably spend 6 weeks or so in Belize. And although, once again, I have not shwon specific primitive anchorages, this area is supposed to be one of the premier cruising grounds in the world, with dozens of small uninhabited islands, crystal clear warm waters, and very friendly people (who also just happen to speak English).

Many people visit Belize and rent boats for $5000 or more per week and consider it their "trip of a lifetime", so I am very much looking forwared to visiting this place. I plan to do a lot of snorkeling and diving, and hopefully, this is where the vision of relaxing and having Margaritas on the Boat (what everyone thinks the trip is all about :-) will actually happen!

From Belize Rhapsody will head north and re-enter Mexico. I'm hoping we can anchor somewhere off Tulum so that I can go ashore and check out the ruins there. Then I will spend a week or more at the well known diving and snorkeling island of Cozumel. A week or so of partying in Cancun, perhaps on a mooring, should wrap up this part of the trip.

Then, finally, there is one more long, 750 mile, 5+ day passage from Cancun to Galveston, and Rhapsody is back in the, back in the, back in the USA again!

Once again, the places in purple on the map are possible, but not planned, destinations. Depending on time, and how I feel, I may turn inwards and go to Vera Cruz, Tampico, and Corpos Christi on the way home. It adds over 1000 miles to the trip tho, and I'm not sure about it at this point.

Summary of the Trip

Well, that's it for "the plan". I believe I will be somewhat changed by this experience. If nothing more, I am likely to become a much better sailor as a result of it !   I will be keeping a web log as we go, which you can see by clicking here, if you wish.

Also, I am hoping that family and friends will get a chance to join us on parts of the trip. To whit, on the next page, I have posted the planned itinerary for scheduling purposes. Please look it over if you're interested.

And thanks for visiting!

- Pat Horton, 7/15/07

Please go to the next page to see our Itinerary ...