Weather and Currents

(Or, How the Heck Did We Get Here?)

by Dennis Gulck of Denny's Beach

One day years ago, some friends of mine set sail in the late afternoon from Punta Gorda, Belize, bound for Livingston, Guatemala. Shortly after leaving a cold front blew up and they became lost and resorted to following the shoreline. When the sun rose, they found themselves in sight of an unknown port...

We all know that cruising in new areas can be confusing, but if my friends had a solid knowledge of the particulars of wind and current for the Bay of Amatique, they might not have had such a surprise at sunrise!

Here is some "local knowledge" for cruising in the Belize area. During fair weather the winds will generally be SE in the morning and swing to the E or NE in the afternoon. So if you're headed north along the coast of Belize, get some easting in the morning that will help you reach your destination in the afternoon without resorting to the "iron jenny".

Winds in the southern half of Belize are generally light and variable while in the north half they are much stronger and steady.

During the months of November through April the dominant feature to watch for is a cold front. Watch for the east breeze to slowly drop off and then come from the south. Next comes a period of calm before the front actually arrives. After the front passes with it's N or NW winds comes another calm. Then a strong W or WNW wind might pipe up. Definitely do not anchor on the south side of a caye expecting cover! Put out two anchors and be sure they're well set.

Next: All you wanted to know about currents. We all know the current flows northward along the outside of the Belize's reefs. Inside the reef is a counter current with a southerly set.

During a cold front, the current in the area between Punta Gorda, Belize and Livingston, Guatemala changes from a southerly set to a strong easterly set. Which brings us back to that cold, dark crossing and unexpected landfall my friends experienced.

I think it was a west wind and an easterly setting current (that "norther") combined with a few cocktails that sent my friends on that crazy trip to Puerto Cortez, Honduras. They're not likely to forget that one for a long time, and if they do, I'll remind them!


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November 9, 2012
© 1997-2012 Phillip Landmeier