The Gulf of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean are made up of small interconnected ocean basins. These are chains of oceanic islands with varying land areas and topographical elevations. There is also the Isthmus of Central America that connects North and South America. The diversity of the region allows cruisers to partake in a variety of activities, and after a week or two you will feel like you've been away much longer. The Gulf of Mexico is a popular sailing area due to the numerous sailing areas. However, you must take precautions before setting sail. This is due to the changing weather patterns, numerous oil rigs, etc. In this article, I will give you information about the Gulf of Mexico and the safe itinerary you can take to make the most of it. So, read on!
Information about the Gulf of Mexico
Running between the Florida and Yucatan peninsulas, the Gulf of Mexico is an amazing destination to visit, live and sail. The sugar-white sandy beaches of the Gulf Coasts of Alabama and Florida are without a doubt some of the most beautiful in the world. And remember, it's not just another waterway. It's a complex ecosystem with a long and fascinating history. The Gulf of Mexico borders not only five US states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida - but also Cuba and part of Mexico.
The Straits of Florida, which runs between the Florida Peninsula and the island of Cuba, connects it to the Atlantic Ocean. And the Yucatán Canal, which runs between the Yucatán Peninsula and Cuba, connects it to the Caribbean Sea. Both channels are about 100 miles wide. The largest east-west and north-south extents of the Gulf of Mexico are about 1,100 and 800 miles, respectively. The southern coast of the United States borders it on the northwest, north, and northeast. The east coast of Mexico borders it on the west, south and southeast.
The Coastal Zone, Continental Shelf, Continental Slope, and Abyssal Plain are the major ecological and geological provinces in the Gulf of Mexico. Sandy beaches, mangrove-covered areas and several bays, estuaries and lagoons form the coastal zone. The continental shelf forms a nearly continuous terrace surrounding the rim of the gulf, with a width ranging from more than 200 miles to less than 25 miles. The continental shelf, which extends from the west coast of Florida to the Yucatán Peninsula, is composed primarily of carbonate material.
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Things to consider when sailing the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf County is bordered on all sides by various forms of waterways. It has almost 244 miles of beaches ranging from pristine waves and white sandy beaches to peaceful inland passes. The Gulf of Mexico is easily accessible and offers excellent deep sea fishing and boating opportunities. The famous Dead Lakes are home to one of Florida's most diverse ecosystems. The Intercoastal Waterway flows east and west through Lake Wimico. Indian Pass Lagoon is also known for its natural beauty, uncrowded beaches and excellent fishing.
But,Consider that there are two issues with the Gulf of Mexico. First, it's mostly coastal cruises - not that many islands, but an incredible number of gas/oil rigs that pose major hazards. Second, there's little variety in places other than the US coast. These range from Florida to Texas and Mexico's coast from the border to the Yucatan. Nonetheless, there are many new and varied experiences to choose from. The Caribbean Basin, on the other hand, runs from Cuba to Antigua, south to Trinidad, Venezuela, west to Panama, and north to Mexico.
So, sailing the Gulf of Mexico has some dangers that you should know about before you set sail. Let's dig a little into the Gulf's past and current weather patterns.
Weather Patterns and Risks in the Gulf of Mexico
First, note that the temperature of the Gulf Coast region increased from the turn of the century to the 1950s. At this point, it began to decline significantly. Since then,there has been a resumption of a general warming trend. The Gulf Coast region has experienced the most intense warming in the southeastern United States in the past century. Also note that much of the warming since the 1950s has occurred in winter. Annual precipitation has increased by 20-30% over the same period. And the last ten years seem to be getting increasingly wetter.
1997 was the warmest year of the century due to El Nino, which caused unusual weather in many regions of the world. This applies to land and sea surface temperatures. El Nino has also played a role in theextra moistureon the Gulf Coast. Sea level rise as a result of melting polar ice and thermal expansion of warmer waters has been one of the most devastatingconsequences of climate changein Gulf Coast habitats during the last century. Sea level rise is already having a significant impact on coastal communities, and these impacts are expected to worsen.
Aside from the high level of pollution, the Gulf of Mexico is known for its frequent hurricanes. Because it is in the equatorial region, the Gulf is warmer than other parts of the Atlantic Ocean. This difference in temperature creates huge eddies in the air and water, resulting in hurricanes. Hurricanes that originate in the Atlantic Ocean are quickly fueled by the Gulf's warm climate. They are moving west into the US and mainland Mexico, particularly damaging Florida and Texas in the US. Hurricane Katrina, which struck the United States in 2005, was a catastrophic meteorological event. The hurricane claimed many lives and destroyed much property.
And then there'sthe danger of cyclonesin the Gulf of Mexico. A tropical cyclone is a rotating, structured system of clouds and thunderstorms. It has a limited, low-level circulation that forms over tropical or subtropical oceans. Cyclones in the northern hemisphere tend to rotate counter-clockwise. Tropical cyclones that form between the 5th and 30th latitudes also usually move west. The winds in the upper layers of the atmosphere can sometimes change. As a result, the cyclone steers north and northwest. These cyclones often travel northeast when they reach latitudes near 30 degrees north latitude.
Remember thatThe Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, while the eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through November 30. Finally, note that the Atlantic Basin includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
From east to west or vice versa?
Let's take an example from the neighboring Atlantic. Surprisingly, sailing across the Atlantic from west to east is often thought of as a slower passage. And this despite the fact that most records are set on this route. The reason for this is that the west-east route is often windier and therefore more suitable for fast racing sailboats than normal sailboats. Crossing the Atlantic from east to west to sail should take 3-4 weeks depending on the size of your sailboat.
If you initially sail across the Atlantic in a small boat, your journey will take longer. Anything less than 35 feet will likely add to your travel time to around 4 weeks and possibly a few more days. In addition, the distance between wave trough and wave crest in the open sea is much longer than what you would normally encounter closer to shore. As the waves pass beneath the smaller boats, they roll from side to side a lot more.
So what's best to do? From east to west or vice versa? The east-west junction is undoubtedly the most popular. This is because the westbound trade winds travel over much sunnier and warmer latitudes than the eastbound trade winds. There are a few popular east-west routes to choose from. Northern routes are generally shorter and faster, but southern routes are designed for comfort and safety.
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Sailing from east to west
Despite its tranquility and abundance of places, Florida's Gulf Coast doesn't seem to be drawing the same attention as the East Coast. And maybe that's a good thing, because it adds to the appeal of the region. The diversity of the region allows cruisers to take part in a variety of activities and after a week of sailing you just want to keep going for much longer.
Larger cities like Sarasota, Tampa, Naples and Ft. Myers shape the landscape, which is peppered with hidden gems like the Little Shark River and Pine Island Sound. Remember that there are many beautiful sailing areas and exceptional places to visit on both the east and west coasts of the Gulf of Mexico.
So if you decide to sail east to westYour departure points are in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana.If you're sailing from Gulfport, MS or Mobile, AL, note that both offer old town charm and great historic yacht clubs. Pensacola Bay also offers excellent fishing and snorkeling/diving opportunities. On either side of the bay there are two historic forts worth visiting. Destin and Panama City, further east on the Panhandle, have beautiful beaches and bays inland.
If you plan to sail to Cancun from Pensacola (FL), Panama City (FL), or Mobile (AL), be aware that circumnavigating Texas is a very long route.You'll see a few platforms near shore as you exit Mobile Bay and head south, but they're easily avoided. Even so, there's a good chance you won't encounter any. What to worry about in golf isbad weather,especially if you get caught in theLoop current and the wind blows against the current.
The coastline and inland waterways of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle are stunning, as are the barrier islands off the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. The inland bays of Alabama and Florida are amazing. Louisiana has beautiful parts of the ICW and most sailors love the locations there. Lake Pontchartrain is a great way to get to New Orleans, known for its food and alcohol. Port Aransas is a popular sport fishing destination. Texas has plenty of beautiful places to explore, and Galveston is a charming old town. You can sail south to Padre Island which has beautiful waters and beaches. Also excellent Mexican cuisine. Even though there are many oil slicks, the drillships/platforms are getting fewer and farther away and they are well lit.
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Suggested routes from east to west
Some travel directly across the Gulf to Isla Mujeres, a small island off the northwest coast of the Yucatan. If you go this wayMake sure you know where the loop current isbefore setting sail or you will end up bumping into a 3 knot current the wrong way. Another option is to sail along Florida's west coast to Key West, then to the Dry Tortugas and finally to Isla Mujeres.
Alternative,You can follow the coast (or ICW) to Brownsville, Texas and then along the Mexican coast around the Yucatan to Cancun. Progreso Mexico, the port area of the city of Merida and all the nearby Mayan pyramid monuments is a must-see. If the weather permits, you can of course take a shortcut outside. If not, use the ICW.
You may want toSail direct from Pensacola to the Yucatan. Note that to avoid the loop current, head east a few miles before turning south and returning to Isla Mujeres for the last 50 miles. You covered over 600 miles in 93 hours. If you walk this route, you might not even notice oil rigs. If you're concerned about this, consider departing from Mobile and heading east to Pensacola first. It's a fantastic route and Isla is a fantastic destination. Don't forget to check the Gulf Pilot Charts for the time of year you intend to travel.
Finally, notice thatThe typical route south from Brownsville is El Mezquital to La Pesca and to Tampico. Then you can continue south to Heroica Veracruz, Coatzacoalcos, Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche and Merida.
Sailing from west to east
Note that the east coast of mainland Mexico (excluding the Yucatan) isn't particularly inviting. Therefore, cruise ships rarely visit this area. The Texas coast isn't much better. Both are industrialized oil spill sites. There are a few exceptions along the way, like Rockport and Port Aransas, Texas. As you travel east, the oil field thins out and becomes very sparse as you enter the Gulf of Mississippi and Alabama. There is no offshore drilling in Florida, so there is no oil field. That's what many sailors sayThe best Gulf of Mexico cruises begin at the western end of Mississippi Sound and extend to the Florida Keys.
South Louisiana, particularly the Barataria Waterway area, is very interesting but is best explored by small sailboat.Note that the Waterway Guide covers the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway along the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico.With the exception of the "big bend" (Apalachicola) in Florida, the ICW traverses the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There are individual cruise guides for specific sections of the Gulf, but most of these are outdated. For the Texas coast see Claiborne Young's Guides and Campbells.
Note that there is a difference in the definition of "islands" for cruises. For example, barrier islands along coasts and contiguous islands (like the Keys) are certainly "islands," as is all of the eastern United States. This is because the East Coast can be circumnavigated by water up and west to the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi to the Gulf, and back to the East Coast.
What's special about the west-to-east route is that while there are some nice spots along the coast, there are hundreds of miles of ugly, industrialized flat coast. Aside from the weather hazards and some flat bottom areas, there are many fishing boats and oil platforms.
However, don't rule out the north and west coasts of the Gulf of Mexico. The further you get from shore, the fewer and farther apart the oil platforms become, and the bigger and brighter they become. The most dangerous are the small old platforms near the coast.
There are beautiful cruises from Mississippi Sound to the Keys, but you won't find the beautiful seas and reefs of the western Caribbean there (except in the Keys & Dry Tortugas). With the exception of the jump around Apalachicola, which only lasts overnight, all locations along this coast are within a day's sailing distance.
Places to visit along the crossing
About 70 miles west of Key West are the Dry Tortugas. It is a national park system and uninhabited. The Florida Keys are another option. There are many other islands on Florida's west coast. Several uninhabited islets off the coast of Alabama. Horn Island, Deer Island, East Ship Island, Ship Island, and Cat Island are all on the Mississippi coast. They are all deserted and most of them are part of the national park system.
The Mississippi coast is barely 25 to 30 miles long. Located west of Mississippi, the Chandeleur Islands are known for their excellent fishing. These are located approximately 25 miles offshore from Gulfport, Mississippi. There is a significant diversity of landscapes from the Dry Tortugas to the Florida Keys and several hundred miles north and over 1000 miles of shoreline on the north shore to about 600 miles due south across open water to the Yucatan Peninsula.
Sailing from the West Coast of Florida
So if your starting point is the west coast of Florida, you have two main options. First, you can sail straight to Mexico and stop in Cuba if you have time. Or you can sail across the Gulf of Florida to Texas and make a few stops along the way. As long as the wind and weather cooperate, you can set sail and travel east to Florida. Remember that September 1st is the peak of hurricane season. You can evolve in the Caribbean Sea instead of the Atlantic, giving you much less time to do evasive maneuvers.
As you drive down the Florida coast south of Tarpon Springs, there are many places to stop. North of Tarpon Springs, however, there are none for sailboats. At least none where you don't have to time the tide precisely. However, the panhandle is not included.
Between Mobile and Carrabelle, the ICW stops at Carrabelle and continues at Tarpon Springs, which has a variety of places to land. And even if the wind or weather is against you outside, you will make good progress at the ICW. Another benefit is that there are no rigs once you are in Florida waters. However, the flow from Key West to Cancun can pose a risk. Finally, bridge heights can be an issue if your boat is taller than 48 feet. Along the Florida Panhandle there are few that are 49 and 50 feet long. Note that this route is west to east.
Sailing safety tips when sailing the Gulf of Mexico
- Always pay attention to the weather patterns. Before heading out to sea, check the weather and tides. And double check before you go if you haven't already. Checking the tide not only protects our marine life and seagrass from propeller damage, but also prevents you from running aground when the water is too shallow. There are excellent weather resources that you can use when planning your trip in the Gulf.
- Always observe the nautical rules. Look out for and respect the buoys and other navigational aids that have been put in place to ensure your safety and the safety of local wildlife and other boaters.
- It's important not to forget to dress in layers. You don't want to freeze when the air increases on the water, even if it's warm on land. So be prepared for weather changes. Layering can also serve as extra sun protection on long ocean voyages.
- Always have a boat safety kit, a first aid kit and enough provisions with you. You can't always predict when an emergency will occur, so be prepared for anything. Always make sure your boat is equipped with the necessary safety equipment. It is better to have it and not need it than to ask for it and not have it. Pack twice as much food and water as you think you will need. As you may know, sailing makes you really hungry and thirsty.
- It's important to use common sense. This means that you should maintain a safe speed at all times (especially in places with a lot of congestion), not be in a hurry and moor your boat if the weather is not in your favour. You should also stay away from large ships and vehicles with limited stopping and turning capabilities.
- Think about proper docking practices. If you land too fast, you risk damaging your boat, the dock, another ship, or even injuring yourself. When things aren't going well, don't be afraid to step back, relax, or seek help.
Sailing the Gulf of Mexico Itinerary - The Bottom Line
As you can see, sailing the Gulf of Mexico involves a variety of itinerary options. You can either sail from east to west or vice versa. Many sailors sail from the west coast of Florida, while others sail from Texas directly to the Yucatan or along the coast. Another popular route is from Pensacola (FL) to Isla Mujeres or from Mobile (AL) to Cancun. There are many routes you can take, but it's up to you which one you choose. The route you choose will depend on your available time, the places you want to visit and the distances you can traverse.
The most important things to keep in mind is to check the weather thoroughly, avoid hurricane season, and have a seaworthy vessel. In the Gulf, weather patterns can change quickly. Hurricanes, strong currents and winds are things you should definitely avoid. Since the Gulf of Mexico has many oil rigs and pollution levels, choose the route with the fewest of them. Apart from these disadvantages, the Gulf has amazing sailing areas (and anchorages), pure and unspoilt nature and welcoming towns and villages. All you have to do is do your research, plan your itinerary and set sail for your Gulf of Mexico voyage!
How Long Does it Take to Cross the Gulf of Mexico by Boat? Many trawlers cruise around 8-10 knots. Similarly, lots of boats prefer to travel at peak fuel economy which is usually around the same speed. Doing the math, 150+ miles at that speed takes anywhere from 15-18 hours.What size boat do you need to cross the Gulf of Mexico? ›
22 to 24' is a good size for the gulf... Without being too expensive to run. You can get away with a 19 if it is a boat that is well designed...but larger is better.What do you say when coming about sailing? ›
Come about: to turn the bow of the boat through the wind. The skipper will say, “Ready about!” The crew responds, “Ready,” and they keep their heads down to avoid the boom. The skipper says, “Helmsalee” or “Hard-alee” and turns.How long does it take to sail from Galveston to Tampa? ›
That's about 725 miles from Galveston to Florida by boat. In a sailboat, that would equal about 6 days if you move at an average of 5 knots. Increase your sailing speed to 6 knots, and the trip from Galveston to Florida would only take 4.5 days (105 hours)!What size sailboat to live on? ›
For a sailboat to be considered as a liveaboard, it needs to be at least 30ft. Anything smaller and the boat will be cramped for anyone other than a solo sailor. However, the larger the boat, the greater the cost of ownership. The ideal size sailboat to live on would be 35-45 feet for most people.Can a 70 foot yacht cross the ocean? ›
Can yachts cross the ocean? Yes, it is very feasible for yachts to sail long distances and travel across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.Can you take a 20 foot boat offshore? ›
The most common offshore boats are usually between 30 to 40 feet, which is perfect for long trips and most weather conditions. Anything less than 30 feet will not handle weather and waves as well, but they still make for great boats if you pay attention to the weather.
In the past, it took a relatively large boat to safely travel the waters from Florida to the Bahamas. But with today's advancements in hull engineering, you can make the trip in a boat that is only 30 feet or less.What is a female sailor called? ›
2 Answers. If you are talking about females on yachts or small craft, then sailor. He is a sailor, she is a sailor. In merchant ships the generic term Seafarer is used in a general sense.What is the motto of sailors? ›
Faith, Courage, Service true, with Honor, Over Honor, Over All. There is no official motto for the U.S. Navy. "Non sibi sed patriae" (Not self but country) is often cited as the Navy's motto, however.
How do Navy people say goodbye? “Fair winds and following seas” is a common phrase for those in the United States Navy, where it's used to say farewell to those retiring or leaving for deployment.What is the best wind to cross the Gulf Stream? ›
The advice to cross in a south wind rings true. As it was, an east wind crossing the current sideways didn't help much either. Another hazard is due to the Gulf Stream's warm waters, which can create its own weather, particularly thunderstorms with lightning, heavy rain and strong winds.When can you not cross the Gulf Stream? ›
The key is to avoid the Gulf Stream current when wind out of a northern quadrant in excess of 15 knots blows against the direction of the current.Is the Gulf Stream rough? ›
The part that gets tricky about the Gulf Stream is that if the wind is flowing in the opposite direction (from anywhere north) it makes the Gulf Stream act wild and causes waves and rough seas that even the most seasoned sailors don't want to be involved (and us rookies sailors clearly have no interest in).How much does it cost to use the Galveston ferry? ›
The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry provides free transportation between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. One vessel is in operation 24 hours per day.How long does it take to sail from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico? ›
FAQ About Cruising from the New Orleans Cruise Port
Once the cruise ships leave the Port of New Orleans, it'll take about 7-8 hours to travel along the Mississippi before getting to the Gulf of Mexico and international waters.
We've covered the 1,300 miles of our route in just eight days and 16 hours, maintaining an average speed of 6.25 knots.What size sailboat is best for coastal cruising? ›
Most standard 30-foot sailboats are steady and seaworthy enough for use in bays and coastal areas. Size isn't the only consideration when it comes to offshore handling, but a 30-foot boat is usually big enough to handle average ocean chop without getting easily swamped.What is the largest sailboat you can sail alone? ›
A 40-foot sailboat is the maximum size for one person to be able to single-handedly control safely. It can be successfully argued up or down a couple of feet, based on the experience and abilities of the sailor.What size boat is best for coastal cruising? ›
Sometimes a crew of young children may push them into something bigger for a while, but many sailors find that around 30ft is an ideal size for coastal and occasional offshore sailing. Budget is also usually an important factor. Some GRP cruising boats around 30ft date back to the 1960s.
As most yachts are rarely requested to carry more than 12 passengers the additional cost does not make economical sense both for the boat owner and the charterer who would have to pay the extra cost regardless of their party's number.What is the most seaworthy yacht? ›
Ocean Alexander 82: Record-Setting Seaworthy.Can yachts handle rough seas? ›
Although rough to very rough conditions will make life on board unpleasant for guests and crew alike, both sailing yachts and motor yachts are prepared for such weather.What is the largest boat you can operate without a captains license? ›
When Do I Need a Captain's License? The USCG license isn't always required. If you are wondering, “What length of boat requires a captain's license?” The answer is this: If your vessel is less than 26 feet in length and doesn't require a mate, then you may be exempt from having a captain's license.How far out is considered offshore? ›
Offshore journeys or deep sea fishing, on the other hand, commonly need a dedication of 12 to 72 hours to take you anywhere from 30 to 130 miles far from the shore. This type of water warrants bigger game fishing watercrafts furnished with larger fishing equipment sonar.
Inshore is always insight of land ranging from 60'-90' depth and up to 9 miles from land. Offshore is mostly out of sight of land ranging from 100'-300' depth and 9+ miles from land. The human eye can see right up to around 12 miles so technically you still can see land when offshore fishing but it's tiny.What time of year is best to sail Bahamas? ›
However, December to April is the best time for sailing to the Bahamas - the temperatures are cooler and drier, and the Bahamas are less humid. The other major obstacle in reaching the Bahamas is the Gulfstream.How deep is the water between Florida and the Bahamas? ›
Bottom depths range from about 1400 fathoms between northern Andros Island and New Providence Island to about 700 fathoms at the southeasterly limit.What time of year is best to boat to Bahamas? ›
So when is the best time to sail to the Bahamas? Even though you can sail to the Bahamas year-round, the best time to sail to the Bahamas is between December and April. The weather is warm, there are no hurricanes, and the waters are relatively calm to allow you to travel around 15 to 25 knots.Why do sailors say 2 6? ›
"Two, six, heave" is a phrase used to coordinate seamen's pulling. As used by sailors, the person at the front of the team will typically call out the "two, six" part of the chant. During this phase all members move their hands up the line ready to pull.
The Navy Department Library
The use of the term "head" to refer to a ship's toilet dates to at least as early as 1708, when Woodes Rogers (English privateer and Governor of the Bahamas) used the word in his book, A Cruising Voyage Around the World.
The trouser material is made of cotton fibers that swell when wet and can hold air. In the event of a sailor falling overboard or having to abandon ship without a life vest, the bell-bottomed trousers can be quickly removed in the water without having to remove footwear.How far is the trip across the Gulf of Mexico? ›
Stretching 1,630 miles from Texas to the Florida Everglades, the US Gulf coast encompasses subtropical ecosystems along the way — swampy marshland, the Mississippi River Delta, saltwater tidal flats, and some of the most gorgeous white sand beaches in the entire country.How long does it take to sail from Texas to Bahamas? ›
Cruises departing from Galveston, Texas get you there and back in seven days' time. For years, Carnival Cruises maintained this route, taking travelers along the Gulf Coast to Key West, before departing for the Bahamas.How long does it take to sail from Florida to the Bahamas? ›
A boat that's able to notch up to 25 knots can take a couple of hours to sail from your departure point is South Florida to the western islands of the Bahamas. Such a boat can take just about a day to sail from Florida to Nassau or Marsh Harbor (the Boating Capital of The Bahamas).How many miles is it across the Gulf of Mexico? ›
The Gulf of Mexico encompasses around 617,800 square miles of water and stretches around 932 miles across from east to west.