LETTERS worst of the wind, and there's a rather strong countercurrent that flows east down there. After January, the Tierra Firme flotilla would sail northwest in the easterly trades — meaning a reach to a broad reach — to round the western tip of Cuba, and then on to Havana. For those not familiar with the geography of the Caribbean, Havana is even further west of the Eastern Caribbean than is Cartagena. And it's downwind and down current of it, too. It didn't hurt that once in the Western Caribbean, the Tierra Firme flotilla started to ride the escalator that is the Gulfstream, which carries warm water all the way from the northwestern Caribbean across the Atlantic to Europe. While in Havana, the Tierre Fir me flotilla was joined by the New Spain flotilla, which had left Spain the previous April to collect treasure in the Greater Antilles, Honduras, and Mexico at Vera Cruz. The Sailing in circles in order to get following winds is combined Spanthe only way galleons could make it to and from ish fleets would the Caribbean. then attempt to sail back to Spain. With any luck, they'd have favorable current and following winds almost the entire way. So the galleons basically sailed a circular route that allowed them to be off the wind and with the current almost all the time. It's true that in Columbus' first voyage, he landed in the Bahamas, then Cuba, and managed to work his way east to Hispanola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic). But even that's a long way downwind and downcurrent from the Eastern Caribbean. It didn't take mariners long to realize how to 'go with the flow' in both the Atlantic and Caribbean. As we've mentioned before, it's not uncommon for cruisers to use this same strategy to get from Panama to the Eastern Caribbean. They sail up around the western tip of Cuba, and ride the Gulfstream as far northeast as it takes to get above the northern limits of the easterly trades. Then they have to sail as far east as they can so that when they flop over on the other tack, they lay St. Martin or the Virgin Islands. Such a route may be four or five times as long as the direct route from Panama to St. Martin, but for galleons — and even many cruising boats — it's the easiest way to do it. Nonetheless, we wouldn't recommend it in either a Hurley 20 or Santana 22. ⇑⇓THE RETURN OF ECLIPSE Earlier in the year, there was a report on the SSB Nets in the Central America region that the catamaran Eclipse had been abandoned during a big blow in the Gulf of Tehuantapec. The captain and crew were rescued by the Coast Guard, although I can't remember if it was the Mexican or U.S. Coasties. That catamaran, minus her mast and rigging, is mooring at the La Playita anchorage at the end of the causeway here at Panama City, Panama. It appeared in the anchorage during the first week of June. By the way, my wife Ellen and I cruised and raced San Francsico Bay for 30 years before stepping up to a cruising Page 66 •
• August, 2006
The August 2006 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.