I’m writing a story where the characters need to travel by sea from New Orleans to Belize. The event takes place in late Summer 1867. I need to figure out the following:

  • What route they would take
  • What sort of ship would be most appropriated for the era and waters (schooner, steamboat, etc.)
  • How long it would take
  • What dangers they might face

The direct route from New Orleans to Belize is approximately 750 nautical miles. A medium-sized steamboat could go about 10 knots in the mid-19th century. But determining the time of travel isn’t as simple a distance / speed. The Gulf Stream runs in the opposite direction, so sailing directly across the Gulf might not be the best choice. Maybe skirting around the coast would be better.

I’ve scoured sailing forums and while some people talk about planning trips like this there’s no real information about the route they might take, expected travel time, etc.

General articles on sailing (e.g. Wikipedia) aren’t helpful. There are modern ferries from New Orleans to Belize, but again that isn’t helpful as these are huge modern day ships, not mid-19th century fishing or cargo boats.

I don’t expect anyone here to have the answers necessarily, but pointing me to resources I may have missed would be awesome. Thanks!

  • 1
    You take the boat going the right direction. Everything else is merely opinion. What time of year (as prevailing winds vary with season)? How much of a hurry are they in (medium sized boats tend to be the fastest, larger are more comfortable, smaller are cheaper and more plentiful etc.)? Do they have the funds to buy a whole boat? I suggest you do some actual research on sailing - let's say knowing the points of sail at a minimum - and come back with a more sensible question. Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 22:31
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens I have done research. Where I am coming up short is what route would be most appropriate in July/August. And what sort of ship would be best suited to making the trip (schooner, steamboat, etc.). Simple math says a sailing across the Gulf would take about three days at steady 10 knots assuming no currents. But with the Gulf Stream a direct route may not be the most efficient. Maybe it’s better to sail around the coast? Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 22:47
  • 4
    If you are looking to see what might have been in common use at the time, there is information in the congressional record concerning shipments of whiskey and tobbacco using schooners as the primary means of transport between New Orleans and Belize between 1866 and 1868.
    – justCal
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 23:28
  • 1
    A steamship is also mentioned running this route, the Trade Wind ran mail service and passengers .
    – justCal
    Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 23:52
  • 1
    Not an answer, but some things to consider. 1) In general, travel other than coastal or inland (river) travel would not have likely used steam, which required availability of refueling. Sail was still the major means of propulsion in that era. Your characters almost certainly sailed. 2) A trading schooner would have been most likely. A full rigged ship would had less reason to be used for such a relatively short hop. 3) Late summer is hurricane season there - are you sure they even made it? (OK, they made it, but had a dramatic interlude. Fiction? No need for a true, documented storm.)
    – user18963
    Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


New Orleans to Cancun is approximately 550 NM, so it would be considered an ocean passage. On a 40 to 50 ft sailboat in good conditions the trip would likely take 4 to 5 days. Source. July is early in the hurricane season, but there were no serious storms reported in that area in late Summer 1867 Wikipedia.

Looks like the greatest danger would be seasickness.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.