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Panama To The Galapagos

By Val Ellis last modified Feb 10, 2009 11:40 AM

Published: 2009-02-10 11:40:57
Topics: Pacific Ocean East
Countries: Galapagos , Panama


Yachts sailing from Panama to Galapagos, or to mainland Ecuador, have to pass the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) on this voyage. The ITCZ is an area of disturbed unsettled weather surrounding the earth a few degrees north of Equator where the northeast and southeast Tradewinds converge and where the sea temperatures reach their maximum. It is an area with moderate to strong convection interspersed with areas of calm (the doldrums). There is frequent torrential rain with thunder and lightning and often squally with winds from all directions. In the area between Panama and Galapagos ITCZ generally moves north and south around 5 degrees North and the area is about 3 Degrees wide.

Yachts leaving Panama should proceed towards Isla Mapelo (03-59 N & 81-36 W) as first waypoint.
Depending of the location of ITCZ the wind will generally be from the north or northeast, light to moderate, leaving Panama until reaching ITCZ. South of ITCZ the wind will generally be from south west, light to moderate, and yachts should continue on a southerly course after Isla Mapelo to such time the wind shift more towards the south and eventually to southeast catching the Southeast Trade Wind, which normally happens around Equator. At that time yachts bound for Galapagos can hold a westerly course directly to Galapagos. Yachts bound mainland Ecuador normally will be able to steer directly towards their destination after Isla Mapelo.

Where the wind will shift from southwest to south and finally southeast depends of the location of the ITCZ, and the Marine Weather Fax Charts published by NOAA/NWS several times daily are showing the location of ITCZ.

Due to ITCZ yachts should calculate a fair amount of motor sailing on this passage.


1) Yachts leaving Balboa, Panama directly towards Isla Mapelo, without calling Islas Perlas, should keep well clear of Punta Mala in the western part of Golfo de Panama. The area around Punta Mala is known for some adverse weather conditions.

2) Yachts should also keep well clear of the coastal area near the Panama/Colombia border, as well as the pacific coast of Colombia in general. Reports have been received covering piracy activity in the border area, and even though no recent reports are recorded from the pacific coast of Colombia, the area must be considered unsafe.

3) Yachts enroute are likely to meet small fishing vessels far off shore from the Colombian and Ecuadorian coasts. They are often approaching yachts to warn them of their nets or to do some trading, and no problems reported. Also close to the northern coast of Ecuador yachts have reported large areas with poorly marked floating nets.

4) Piracy: Some infrequent Piracy Activity reported in the area, in 2004 a yacht was attacked enroute Panama to Galapagos and during the past years several yachts reported being pursued by suspicios crafts, but escaped. Last year a attack reported close to the northern coast of Ecuador. Prudent measures for a safe transit should be taken.

5) Weather:
- Marine Weather Fax Charts covering eastern tropical Pacific from NOAA/NWS via US Coast Guard Stations at New Orleans, La. and Pt. Reyes, Ca. Schedule and Charts also available on NOAA/NWS Web-Site
- Marine Weather on Line from: (go to Pacific Routes)
- GMDSS Marine Weather forecasts (METAREA XII) via Inmarsat or Web-Site:
- Yacht Net: Panama Pacific Net at 14:00 UTC on 8.143 Mhz. USB (SSB)