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The Dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec

by Susan on April 29, 2010

For all our friends who are not familiar with the Gulf of Tehuantepec, it is a large bay on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest area of land which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Pacific Ocean.   When high pressure develops over North America and extends southward over the Gulf of Mexico, northerly winds that originate in the Gulf of Mexico funnel through the gap created by a narrow break in the Sierra Madre Mountains  (also known as the Chivela Pass) and into the Gulf of Tehuantepec with average winds of 30 to 40 mph.  These winds can increase rapidly to gale, storm and sometimes hurricane force bringing with it huge seas that can push you hundreds of miles out to sea.  We have not met one cruiser yet who does not dread this passage.

Despite all the fretting and all the anticipation and anxiety, our 260 mile crossing of the Gulf of Tehuantepec was delightfully uneventful.

On our first night we pulled in to Bahia Chipehua, which was big, empty and beautiful.  It was a bit rocky and rolly with some choppy waves but we had a great night’s sleep and left again early the next morning. 

Bahia Chipehua

We crossed the shipping lanes in Salina Cruz with no problem and staying about 15 miles off shore proceeded to cross the Gulf of Tahuantepec under beautiful clear, blue, sunny skies.  Initially, Michael and I were hell bent on following the advice of experienced cruisers who recommend keeping one foot on the boat and one foot on the beach since weather conditions can change quickly, but the weather was so good, we decided to follow Rhumb Line and Trumpeter’s lead going further from shore to cut some time off our travel.   This gave us some anxiety as we kept alert for any signs of changing weather but conditions remained benign.

Heading Toward Saliza La Cruz

Crossing the Tehuantepec

Still Crossing the Tehuantepec

Michael and I started our shifts in the afternoon trying to get little cat naps where we could and then in the evening we started our 3 hour shifts.  At about 12:30 a.m. I started mine and was greeted with a very bright colorful radar showing several squalls in our path.  I now graduated from Sandbar Susie to Stormdodger Susie as I changed our course in varying degrees dodging all the storm cells.  Once Michael’s shift began, he did the same and we made it past the cells without making contact with the edges thereby escaping the rain and lightning. 

 Though our passage was successful, we were very relieved to have completed it.

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