Sailing Panama to the British Virgin Islands – some hints

We are mid-way on our series of voyages from Victoria, Canada to Sweden and are currently in the BVI. We just completed our third time sailing from Panama to the BVI and thought the following hints might be helpful to folks making a similar trip:

Published 9 years ago, updated 5 years ago

1. Don’t try and sail from Panama directly to anywhere other than Cartagena.

The first time we got a hammering trying to sail from Panama directly to Ponce, Puerto Rico. OUCH!

2. Expect light and favourable winds and current from the San Blas past Cartagena, Punta Marta, and nearly to Cabo de la Vela on the Peninsula de la Guajira, just before the Venezuelan border.

Normally, the wind really howls along the northern part of this peninsula. This time we stayed 20-50 miles off, motorsailing when needed, until just before Cabo de la Vela. From there we were able to easily lay Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, on one tack, even easing sheets at times. Marina Zar-Par is totally ok and appears safe. They have customs and immigration offices in the marina, so in and outbound clearance was easy (Editor’s Note: There is a fee for clearance here). The marina has self-service laundry, a great little restaurant, free internet and an excellent new first-class supermarket nearby.

The manager is Rigorberto Pichardo ([email protected]) whom we found most helpful. The office manager is Yolanda Renal,([email protected]), and she is super. We spent a day exploring Santa Domingo and found the old city, fort, and cathedral beautiful and fascinating. The city is huge and the traffic crazy, so we were happy with taxis recommended by the marina vs. a rental car.

3. It’s an easy overnighter, motorsailing inshore, crossing Mona Passage at night when trades are lightest to Ponce, Puerto Rico. It’s then a daysail (probably motor sail) to Salinas, another super early (0300) start to avoid headwinds to Vieques, then another shot down to St. Croix and a fast daysail reach up to the BVI.

Hope that helps displace the thinking that it is very difficult to sail East from Panama.

If folks were trying to get to the ABC islands, a good option is to hold up in Punta Marta or even closer, anchor off Cabo de la Vela and watch the GRIB files, waiting until the trades die down before making the 130 mile dash from Cabo de la Vela, around Peninsula de la Guajira (the northern tip of Columbia and South America), to Aruba.

An update on Club de Yates de Acapulco:

Sr. Marquez is still officially the harbourmaster, although he is semi-retired and only in a couple of days a week.

Maria Cancino, the general manager, is the one who generally deals with visiting yacht requesting transient moorings. She rarely replies to emails:

[email protected]

[email protected]

Tel. (744)434 19 99 ext 125 & 109.

Maria and Sr. Marquez recommend Jorge Torres of Navieras Asociadas ([email protected]) as an agent for yachts. We used him as it was a holiday and he had immigration come to the yacht club and took care of customs and port captain outbound clearance – all for US$150 – which we felt was reasonable. Mooring rates at Club de Yates are US$3 per foot per night, highest we’ve ever paid, but the options are few.

Update on Panama:

Flamenco Marina 

Does not appear to want cruising yachts as they are more than full with large sportfishing boats and haven’t repaired slips damaged by a storm last year.

La Playita 

[email protected]

Tel: (507) 314-1730

They generally say they are full, but after speaking in person with Jose, the manager, he said they had one very surgy berth available. We wore out several dock lines, but it sure beats being at anchor for boat projects and re-provisioning. Fueling at La Playita is easy, but they request reservations as the Taboga ferries use the fuel dock for loading and unloading. This is not a fancy full-service marina and the management’s attitude is slack, but we had no problems. Pricing is USD$150 first night, then US$1.50 per foot per night.

Shelter Bay

[email protected]

Manager John Halley is doing an excellent job and does his best to find berths for all comers.

John Neal 

SY Mahina Tiare III

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