Monday, December 18, 2017

Cost to Cruise - FIJI

This month's cost to cruise was created by Emma for her Digital Literacy class where she is learning to use Microsoft Office products.

November was a month with access to a "big city" allowing us to purchase some much needed items. We were able to replace our old LED light strips, purchase wireless keyboards to accompany the girls Ipads (with access to reliable WiFi, we are now integrating technology into their studies) and pick up other basic supplies. We fueled up with diesel for the first time in  months, it had been since Tahiti that we purchased diesel. And to think we still came in under budget..always a relief!

Looking for more months of Cost to Cruise? Click here!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Slow Sailing in Fiji

For the past two weeks we've been creeping, slowly north along the Yasawa island chain. It's been fun to discover that each bay, within 10 miles of each other, offer completely different experiences. Thus far, our favorite anchorage has been in front of the Octopus resort. The snorkeling in front of the resort is fantastic, the resort staff is welcoming, their pool doesn't suck and they have a cheap happy hour for off season (till Christmas and New Years). What's not to love? We were mildly impressed with the Manta Ray resort. From the anchorage it looks pretty shabby, however, once on their property, it's a nice place with a huge wooden deck covered with Millennial's who scored off season discounts, all staring into their Apple products. Like the resort name would imply, this is where the manta rays come to feed and one can usually snorkel with schools of them. Unfortunately, we missed the manta rays, apparently, it's their off season too.

Since the start of cyclone season, over 4 weeks ago, we find ourselves one of only two boats in the anchorages, providing us with prime real estate. We'll be looking for the next weather window to head "home" to Savusavu, the girls are getting antsy to start Christmas preparations. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cost to Cruise - Fiji

After calculating the past few 'Cost to Cruise', something stuck out. Why if the South Pacific is more expensive, are we spending less on average per month than when we were in Mexico?

First reason why we're spending less: we're not nearly as shitty at sailing as we used to be. We left San Diego almost 3 years ago without really knowing how to sail. Now we know what we're doing, which sails to use, and how to deal with most wind situations. Our acquired sailing skills means buying less diesel (much less) and  has resulted in a huge savings for our cruising kitty. To be fair, we spent a small fortune on diesel in Mexico (Pacific side) because of the lack of wind. Here in the South Pacific, the trade winds are almost ever present.

 The second major reason why we're spending less: we're not spending money on marina slips. We're not fans of marinas and try to avoid them at all costs, however marina's in Mexico are cheap (some are $12 USD per night), but a few nights here and a few nights there, starts to really add up! Last week, after 8 months of cruising, we took our first marina slip and called it a Christmas gift.

Looking for more Cost to Cruise? Check out our Cost to Cruise tab loaded with years worth of costs.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Friendsgiving in Fiji

Thanksgiving 2017

We have spent that past few days anchored off  the Yalobi village on Waya Island. From the moment we came ashore, the local children warmly welcomed us and were eager to show us their village. 
The welcoming committee 
After a tour of the Yalobi village, complete with making new friends along every house we stopped at and meeting the village nurse, the local children whisked us away to their school. The school in Yalobi serves students between the ages of  6 and 13 and is where students from various parts of the island and other remote locations come for school.
Yalobi, Waya Island

Students arrive every Sunday night by way of the "school boat" that picks them up and brings them to the school on Yalobi where they will stay till Friday afternoon. After school on Friday, all students that are living in the dorms provided, pack up, and go home for the weekend. It's almost like weekly boarding school. 

School Boat

For the past three days, we spent several hours getting to know the students in Yalobi. The majority of these students speak English very well in addition to speaking Fijian. Each student was fascinated with our story of having sailed to Fiji all the way from the United States. We found ourselves fascintated with each of their stories about where they are from, how long they have attended the school and how many of them have several siblings with them at school. 

The local girls spent hours sharing with us their hand clapping and local songs (definitely different from the days of singing, "Down by the banks of the Hanky Panky" from when I was a kid) leaving us with sore hands every afternoon.

Phil, Jess and Emma all learning new hand clapping routines.

You could watch the looks on the locals girls faces, just dying to get their hands on both Jessica's and Emma's hair. Once our girls let down their hair, the local girls would push and shove for who got to braid hair first. As delicate as the local girls would attempt to be, their braid making techniques gave a slight headache!

On our second day visiting the school kids, we brought bags of clothes, shoes, a hat and one coveted football that the boys spent hours playing rugby with. 

One boy in particular, couldn't wait to get his hand on Jessica's hat that she purchased in Cabo San Lucas. With his new hat placed upon his head he became and instant local celebrity. 

With Christmas coming up, I asked the kids what they had put on their Christmas lists. The response I received was blank stares. In an attempt to prod them, I questioned, did you ask for a  new toy? Coloring books? Maybe new coloring pens or crayons".  Nothing. The idea that they would make a list for their parents of items they wanted for Christmas was totally lost on them. Fijian's do celebrate Christmas, however, it's a lot less about gifts and all about family time.

Then I asked, "Do you have a special meal for Christmas." Suddenly, there blank faces lit up and they each took turns telling me about the special meal they would  help prepare with their families. They spoke of chicken and the various foods that would be wrapped in banana leaves in preparation for the lovo. 

Emma sharing some of her dance moves.

What the local kids loved most, is when we turned Jessica's hair into a makeshift wig. Kids would stand in line to get a chance to see what they would look like with blonde hair. Each child would stand back to back with Jessica, put her blonde hair over their face and wait for me to take their photo. You can only imagine the laughs, giggles and delight when they saw their pictures.

A large map painted on a school building provided by the Peace Corp. 

School dorms with a breathtaking backdrop.
One the second day of our visit we had also brought with us music. The kids had asked for the one song heard around the world (we've heard it in every country since leaving the US).. Despacito. It was amazing to hear Fijian kids singing in Spanish to all the words.

Boys listening to music.
When we were leaving on our first day, girls had asked if we had any training bras they could have. We looked through the boat and found about six cotton training bras the girls could have. It was amazing that something so simple as a cotton training bra purchased in a three pack at Target could bring so much happiness to a little girl.

The girls and their new training bras
It's experiences like spending three days in a village with local children that make us grateful for the life we live. While I certainly appreciate beach combing another powdery white sandy beach or taking photos next to postcard picture palm trees, it's engaging with locals, hearing their stories, admiring their bright smiles and sharing laughs that we really treasure.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Musket Cove magnetism

 Each spring in La Cruz, Mexico, we attended the South Pacific seminars and every year the speaker would make a special mention of Musket Cove, Fiji. It was always described as an easy place to get stuck. Cheap beer, BBQ's available for cruisers to use, hot showers, salt water pool, bike rentals, a small store to buy provisions, basically everything one could want while floating in tropical paradise.  We found the magnet pull of Musket Cove to be quite strong.

 As we motor away today, our girls look like they haven't slept in weeks...actually, they haven't. They can attribute their exhaustion to riding bikes around the island with friends, playing games all day in the pool, running around at night playing capture the flag, BBQ's, sleepovers, jumping off Cloud 9, snorkeling...basically, living the awesome life of a boat kid. 

We were especially eager to get to Musket Cove to meet back up with most of the original Mexico crew from 2015/16. After 18 months, we reunited in Fiji! 

then we were photobombed by a gaggle of drunk Kiwi's and some random Italian couple,

I finally gave up attempting any photos without them.

Photo courtesy of SV Pesto
Posing for mom's cheesy photo in exchange for ice cream

Mike off Del Viento celebrating a birthday.

Tourist, Trump and 2 creepy dolls.

Till next time!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Terrapin's rough guide to a Pacific Ocean crossing and beyond

In the year of preparation to cross the Pacific Ocean and sail through the South Pacific we failed to find any concise resource that could help us prepare for what to expect after the initial crossing. Here is our attempt to provide a comprehensive resource for those considering crossing the Pacific. All information provided is from our own experiences from the year we crossed the Pacific, keep in mind that information provided may have changed since the publication of this blog post. Click here for some photos of our crossing.

SV Terrapin crossed the Pacific ocean in 24 days.

The best time to cross the Pacific Ocean is from February - May, departing from the west side of the America's. You can easily cross the Pacific without joining a rally, however joining the Pacific Puddle Jump sponsored by magazine Latitude 38, will help you navigate the requirements upon arriving in French Polynesia. Most boats entering French Polynesia are required to post bond that will not be returned until departure of French Polynesia at which time the bond will be returned in francs, a useless currency once leaving the area. By joining the Pacific Puddle Jump rally (free of charge) you can obtain a bond exemption and not have to worry about posting bond or getting reimbursed. Anyone, excluding European Union citizens, are given a 90 day visa to enjoy all of French Polynesia. One can apply for a long stay visa, however this must be done before entering French Polynesia and takes a few weeks to obtain. For further information regarding how to obtain a long stay visa, see this website. 

Health Insurance

A requirement upon sailing to French Polynesia is health insurance. Upon entering French Polynesia you will be required to provide evidence of health insurance for the duration of your stay. Our proof of insurance was given to the Pacific Puddle Jump agent at the time of requesting our bond exemption, something done before setting sail across the Pacific. Like many cruisers, we chose a high deductible plan to fulfill the insurance requirement, and after price shopping, chose to go with a Patriot Insurance plan with a $2500 USD deductible per person for roughly $108 USD per month. Hull insurance is not required to enter French Polynesia. If you're looking just to fullfill the health insurance requirement, an emergency evacuation policy with DAN would suffice. Hull or health insurance is not required anywhere else in the South Pacific.

Anaho Bay, Nuka Hiva

Provisioning before setting sail

We wished we had known more about the availability and price of provisions once in French Polynesia before sailing across the Pacific, we would have provisioned differently. Everything is more expensive in French Polynesia in particular; condiments, alcohol, eggs, toiletries, and cleaning products. Knowing what we know now, we wouldn't have wasted space on flour and rice and would have packed more black and pinto beans....which become more scarce to nonexistent the more west you sail.

New Zealand butter in a can. Guaranteed to be some 
of the best butter you've ever eaten.

Items such as mayonnaise (or ketchup) can easily fetch $10 USD for a tiny jar, a small bottle of cleaning product (Ajax or similar) will cost $20, toiletries like toothpaste, deodorant, and feminine products are extremely expensive.  Maple syrup costs over $20 for one regular sized bottle, (the cost for instant pancake mix is absurd). A bag of Doritos will cost $8 USD. The cost of alcohol is downright laughable. I saw $80 USD for a box of wine. Things you don’t really need to provision heavy with; oil, flour, butter, yeast (most baking goods), ramen, pasta, and rice. Unless you’re really particular about the brand you use, these items are readily available and at a reasonable cost in the South Pacific. The subsidized grocery items in French Polynesia all have a red label on them, look for the red label and you'll save some money. 

Your first opportunity to provision with Costco type items is in Tahiti at Maxi's near the Papeete Marina. For an amazing grocery store experience (we literally stood in awe at the mounds of fresh produce) visit one of the many Carrefour stores in Tahiti. Sailing further west, American Samoa has one of the best opportunities to provision with Costco and  American type items. A Cost U Less (mini CostCo) can be found in Suva, Fiji.

Rarioa, Tuamotus

Beer onboard

We broke one of the most important boat rules by bringing cardboard on the boat. But it was for the sake of beer! We had heard horror stories of people loading up their boats with large amounts beer, only to have soupy bilges midway to French Polynesia. Others had lost half their beer with the chaffing of cans along the passage. We decided to keep our cases of beer in the cardboard boxes, putting two cases together in one large construction type contractor bag in the event of leakage. We figured if any beer cans chaffed, the beer would collect in the contractor bag, which would be an easier clean up than an entire compartment full of beer. Our plan worked, we only lost about 4 beers out of 200 to chaffing and (knock on wood) there were zero coach roaches found on the boat. 

Spare parts to have before crossing

Latitude 38 has compiled and published years worth of Pacific Puddle Jump statistics including days of crossing, engine hours, highest wind speed seen and items broken. Over the past 6 years with roughly 163 boats reporting their breakages and breakdowns, here is a snapshot of just some of the most common items broken during the Pacific Ocean crossing.

While preparing our boat for the Pacific crossing we paid close attention to the previous years breakages and concluded it was a good idea to add a second autopilot, new halyards and have our sails restitched before leaving. Finding spare parts for anything that has broken during the crossing can be a real struggle, particularly in the Marquesas which is where boats make first landfall. If in doubt, buy a spare before you leave. Here's a look at our Pacific passage preparations while still in Mexico.

Guides to the South Pacific

For anyone who has cruised Mexico with the help of  Sean and Heather's beautifully bound Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser's Guidebookyou'll be disappointed that there is nothing in the South Pacific that remotely resembles these types of cruising guides. There are however the Soggy Paws Compendiums. Dave and Sherry have logged years worth of information into neat compendiums as helpful guides for the rest of us. While their information isn't always up to date (although they make a diligent effort) the compendiums provide great insight into the different areas. 

While crossing the Pacific, why not get a head start and read some of the different compendiums, which you can easily download on your tablet. Here's a few to get you started.

   Marquesas Compendium                    Tuamotus Compendium           Society Islands Compendium

Other guidebooks we found useful were


Equally important as provisioning before crossing the Pacific is getting reliable charts together. Updating electronic charts with reliable WiFi before crossing the Pacific, is an absolute must. In addition to Navionics, OpenCPN is a free chart plotting program available on Windows, Mac and Andriod. OpenCPN can be used in conjunction with Google Earth Charts which provides more accuracy in areas where other charts (Navionics) are not reliable (such as Fiji). In the event your electronics go out you'll want to ensure that you have paper charts on board and know how to dead reckon. 

Redundancy is key! In addition to our chart plotter we have 2 Android tablets that have Navionics and OpenCPN on them. Since sailing the South Pacific we have heard several cruisers who's Ipad's needed to connect to WiFi (in the middle of the ocean) in order to update, making their tablets inoperable. We've yet to have any issues with our Android tablets and highly encourage you to buy extra tablets (with waterproof cases) before crossing. For about $100 USD per tablet, you can easily have spares.  There is nowhere to purchase a tablet until you've sailed another 1000 miles west into Tahiti. As long as you're buying spare electronics, don't forget to purchase extra chargers

Moorea, Society Islands

Ditch Bag

The hardest part for me in getting ready to cross the Pacific Ocean, was the preparation of our ditch bag. Stuffing items into large dry bags in the event our family found itself floating in the middle of an ocean awaiting rescue, made my stomach hurt. Here's a list of items we put into our ditch bag.

In addition to our ditch bag items, we have our EPIRB, DeLorme and Inflatable PDF's with personal locator beacons in them that would have come with us in the life raft. 

Cell service, WiFi and Sat Phones

Throughout French Polynesia there are various restaurants where one can purchase unreliable WiFi. Only once did we come across free internet. The best (free and fast) WiFi was at the Custom's Building in Tahiti within walking distance of Marina Taini. 

American Samoa was the first place where getting a SIM card and using our Iphone as a hotspot made sense, as their WiFi was a bit more reliable. In American Samoa the SIM card was free and it was about $25 USD for 5 GB, same as Tonga. Here in Fiji we pay $25 USD for 100 GB....yup, 100 GB.  Most SIM cards purchased are for data OR voice use only. We found it was best to purchase the data SIM card for internet usage and to use Skype as a way of talking over the phone. Because we're staying in Fiji for an extended period of time, we wanted a Fiji phone number and purchased a separate voice SIM card to use in an unlocked cellphone we bought in Mexico.

An easy way to always have a  "American" phone number is to get one from Google Voice for free. We receive calls on our unlocked Iphone using the purchased SIM card of which ever country we are in whenever someone calls our American phone number.  If we are not available, people can leave us a voicemail for us to retrieve and listen to in addition to receiving a transcript of the message left via email. For outgoing calls we typically call out on Skype. There is a setting within Skype that allows you to use your Google Voice number, so that family and friends will see "your" number coming through and know it's you.

Special note for homeschoolers- WiFi in the majority of the South Pacific is expensive, hard to find and unreliable, making online schooling near impossible. Check out our Nance Academy page regarding how to build your own curriculum without purchasing the overpriced "school in a box" programs or needing to rely on Wifi.

In the event you're in the middle of the ocean or without any reliable WiFi, either the Garmin InReach or the Iridium Go is useful for communicating. We used the Garmin InReach to text family, friends and other cruisers during our passage. We have a basic plan for about $55USD per month, which works perfect for us. We can pull a basic version of weather,  send/receive texts from the device and also report  our  real time location on both a webpage and our blog.. The only advantage to having the Iridium Go (as we see it) is to have access to Predict Wind. With access to weather nets and  the availability of GRIB files through saildocs via SSB modem, we couldn't justify spending an addtional $100 a month just to have marginal internet access and Predict Wind.  We sailed 2 years in Mexico just fine without any satellite communication device.

Fakarava, Tuamotus

Visas and Advance Notice of Arrival

Each country is a little different with the amount of time they give visiting yachts and whether or not they require an advance notice of arrival. Us, along with many other cruisers stressed over whether or not we had the latest version of the advance notice of arrival or if the email addresses we were sending our forms were accurate. Don't worry! We used to locate the "latest" forms and email addresses. Almost 100% of the time, the forms were either outdated, something had changed,  the email addresses were wrong or the  recipients email inbox was full. Our suggestion based off of what we did, is to take a screenshot of your sent email (sometimes we sent one email to 6 different email addresses, just to cover our bases) to prove your effort to comply. In the Cook Islands (Suwarro), the park rangers never asked if we had sent our forms and in Fiji they just asked if we had sent the forms and then asked us to fill out new forms upon arrival. As long as you tried to comply with the rules, you'll be fine. 

Cook Islands -  Advance Notice of Arrival Required. Initial visa is good for 31 days and can be extended month to month for a total of 3 months. Suwarro National Park-  boats intending to visit Suwarro need to submit their advance notice of arrival (don't be surprised if you find 3 different email addresses to send your form to), a fee of $50 USD is required to enter and visitors are welcome to stay for 2 weeks. The only stop we made in the Cook Islands was Suwarro, which is not a port of entry. If you decide to visit Suwarro and an additional Cook Island, you will need to complete additional forms and pay additional fees. 

American Samoa- No advance notice is required and American yachts are welcome to stay as long as they wish. American's are also welcome to seek employment in American Samoa. The fees to enter American Samoa are all over the place, meaning if you asked 6 different boats what they paid to enter, you would receive 6 different answers. A complete write up about American Samoa is here. 

Tonga- No advance notice is required. Initial visas are good for 31 days with the opportunity to extend for an additional 6 months. During our time in Tonga there were changes being made to visa extensions...check on yourself for the most up to date information. Boat are issued a 4 month visa.

Fiji- Advance Notice of Arrival Required. Initial visa is good for 4 months with the option to renew for an additional 2 months. After the additional 2 months is exhausted another renewal can be purchased for an additional 6 months, giving cruising a total of 12 months. Boats are issued an 18 month visa. 

Money Matters

We use our ATM card to pull out local currency in every country, with no ATM fees! Every month Charles Schwab directly deposits a reimbursement of all ATM fees. We also use a credit card with zero international fees that gives us cash back with every purchase. Check out a previous blog post of how we set up our accounts to minimize loosing money while sailing.

Cost to Cruise

We had always heard that sailing the South Pacific was going to be extremely expensive. We've been pleasantly surprised that although cruising the South Pacific is indeed more expensive than Mexico, it's not a total budget buster. We post all of our expenses on a monthly basis, down to the last penny, and have provided years worth of expenses located on our Cost to Cruise page.

Our top 3 stops

In no particular order here are our family's top 3 places we've sailed to this season.

Fakarava, Tuamotus- Do NOT sail all the way to the South Pacific and miss this amazing stop. As soon as we grabbed a mooring ball near the south pass and could see a swarm of sharks circling the boat, we knew we were in for a real treat. Check out our Fakarava blog post and discover why we loved it there. 
Fakarava, Tuamotus

Mopelia, French Polynesia-  Mopelia lies 135 miles west of Bora Bora, and technically speaking after checking out of French Polynesia, cruisers shouldn't be exploring Mopelia. If you're willing to risk the butt puckering pass at the entrance of Mopelia (and ignore the fact you really shouldn't be there) it's an amazing paradise. The highlight to this amazing stop was the family who hosted 18 crusiers (proof many boats make this stop) for a sit down dinner. See our Mopelia blog post for more.

Tonga - Not sure why, but we didn't hear much about Tonga (good or bad) from other cruisers. We weren't really sure what to expect, but instantly fell in love. The Vava'u group was one postcard perfect anchorage after another, all within a few hours of each other. While we all agree that Tonga was one of our favorite spots, we can't agree on what we like most about Tonga. Was it the delicious Tongan feasts, swimming in caves, or the humpback whales swimming through the archipelago?  Our only regret was that we didn't extend our visas and stay longer. Visit our blog posts about Tonga and see for yourself. 
Swallows cave

Items wanted to trade

Trading is a common practice throughout the South Pacific. In Rarioa we traded a headlamp for a handful of pearls. In Toau, our friends off Cape D traded swim trunks, hats and t-shirts for their own handful of pearls. Local villagers are looking to trade for headlamps, snorkel gear, t-shirts, hats,  swim shorts, sunglasses, batteries and flip flops. Save your money, the villagers want items money can't buy ...if the local's don't have access to certain items, neither would you, think about this while buying spares of items before you set sail. 
Some of our pearls in exchange for a headlamp

What we would have done differently

We wished we had known more about just how wet and humid it was going to be in the South Pacific. Silly us, we had grown accustomed to rained 2 times in the 2 years we were there. I wish I had vacuum sealed my masa corn flour used to make tortillas. I practically cried dumping over 20 kilograms of masa into the ocean as each bag had become infested with larva.

Things we did right;

Bought sunscreen in gallon size. Sailed to the South Pacific with a dozen bottles of deet-- there's lot of bugs out here! Left Mexico with a years supply of peanut butter-- a small jar of peanut butter out here can cost $25 USD, no thanks! We packed the boat with enough beer and wine ---5 months after we left we're still finding bottles. 

We will be staying on our boat in Savusavu, Fiji for cyclone season. We are still not sure of our plans after cyclone season, which ends in April.