Friday, September 24, 2010

Getting closer to departure - at least by car!

Sorry ... for not posting much over the summer, but there was not much to say that would be of interest to anyone. Now it is starting to feel like time to head back to the boat from Mississauga (Great White North just outsideToronto for those from other than Canada). We have had a few cool days, although today is very warm and summery; but the leaves are turning so it must be fall (and I guess technically it is). Hard to imagine that more than five months have passed since we put Ainia away for h******** season (we don't use that word). Lucky so far, but there is still more than a month to go in that nasty season.

We have been working on how to best (and most cheaply) get to Florida from here - especially with the bunch of stuff that we have collected over the summer. Not sure how it will all fit in the boat since there was not much space open when we left. I think we can pack more efficiently though so I am sure we will be OK. We have been trying to get one of the driveaway cars - where you take a car to Florida for someone who is wintering there but does not want to drive there themselves. There are at least a couple of services here that arrangesuch trips but no luck - I think it is just too soon in the season. I think that late October through December would be much easier. We were considering flying and shipping all the stuff but are leaning towards renting a car one-way. It is a bit of a hassle since there are no one-way rentals starting in Canada so we will have to get a ride to Buffalo. The price is not too bad since I think the rental companies also want to move vehicles south. We will take the opportunity to be tourists and visit some of the sights on the way including Gettysburg and Williamsburg. Likely leave here around October 10th and take 5 to 6 days for the journey.

Summer preps -- There have been an astonishing number of things to do over the summer to get ready for a year away before we might fly back to Canada. These fall into two main categories: doing necessary house maintenance here (electrical work, painting, etc) and getting ready for the trip. The latter are obviously more interesting so here is an overview of some of the things we have done.

Medical - We have taken the opportunity to do general checkups, along with special tests on eyes, digestive systems and the like. For Bruce, a really big one was eye surgery. I have slowly been developing cataracts (to go with my glaucoma and generally lousy eyesight) which did not require attention yet but the eye specialist suggested the possibility of getting the cataracts fixed with special, multi-focal lenses that would fix my severe short-sightedness. Quite amazing since I no longer have to wear glasses for short or long distances (after 50+ years of wearing them). June has been working on diet and Chinese medicine remedies to address her cholesterol problem without taking medicines that can have serious side effects. Will know how it has worked out next week when she gets the results checked.

The other set of medical issues dealt with the trip itself. We researched online and visited a travel health clinic to consider our responses to a number of potential problems: malaria (parts of Panama, Ecuador/Peru, and some of the far western islands in the Pacific), dengue fever (lots of places), altitude sickness (Peru) and yellow fever (parts of Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. This resulted in two vaccines (yellow fever and typhoid), a few prescriptions and a lot of information about avoiding mosquitoes (malaria, dengue, and yellow fever are all carried by different mosquitoes with different lifestyles such as time of day to worry about).

Travel Requirements - A major concern is bureaucracy. Every country has its particular set of rules. For example, in some places you have to employ an agent to do the check in for you (in comparison, in the French islands in the Caribbean you sit down at a computer and do it yourself -often for free). In French Polynesia you can only stay for 90 days without getting what amounts to a French residency visa. This is a bit of a problem since FP is very lovely and immense with many places to visit. Also, you have to put a bond here to insure that you will leave - it amounts to the cost of a one-way ticket from Tahitito your own country (in our case to Vancouver) for each person. This would amount to more than $4000 and you get it back but it is complicated. In the Galapagos you can only stay for 21 days without spending literally several thousand dollars in fees. The Panama Canal has its own set of issues. The agent's fee is more than $500 and there are fees for everything including fumigation (they don't actually fumigate your boat, they just charge a fee for a fumigation certificate). It seems that major parts of the economies in Spanish-speaking countries, are administrative busy work.

Travel Planning -Much more enjoyable is planning the trip and finding out why we absolutely must visit places that we had never heard of such as Suwarrow (many spellings are used) Atoll in the Cook Islands . The result is our plan to go backpacking in Ecuador/Peru and visit some of the tiny atolls in the Pacific. We have four Lonely Planet guides along with several cruising guides.

Navigation - A related research need has been preparing for trip navigation. We rely on both electronic charting and paper charts (for redundancy and because I am somewhat old-fashioned in my geographic sensibilities). In some ways this turned out to be easier and cheaper than I feared it might be. We used Navionics electronic charts and their Gold series charts cover huge areas, albeit without the goodies of the Platinum charts like air photos and 3d underseas images. One Gold chart (a bit less than $300) covers almost all of the South Pacific). We were able to buy a set of paper charts (almost 130 of them) that cover virtually all of the islands of the Pacific as well as the coast of South America as far south as Peru for about $350. They are not up-to-date but will do fine as backups and for keeping track of where we are.

A major concern for navigation, in particular in areas like the Tuamotus, is that these areas are not well-surveyed. A fair number of charts will say something like, "From French surveys of 1883", while many areas were last surveyed during World War II. Many of these surveys are known to be out by at least half a nautical mile. Hence you want to have every other resource you can find from cruising guides to Google Earth images of islands to the blogs of other cruisers - many hours went into finding all of these.

Stuff! - Finally a lot of time went into looking after all of the minutiae that will make the trip more enjoyable. One example is that a couple who did the backpack trip in Peru said you must have ear plugs since they play the music so loud. I can appreciate this since similar conditions existed on the minibuses in Lesotho that I used a lot when I was there. The volume was way beyond what the speakers were designed for so it was very nasty, but there the trips were at most an hour - some of the ones in Peru will be many hours -so time was spent on finding the little package of ear plugs we now have. June has been spending many hours loading music and audiobooks onto our IPOD. We found in the Caribbean that an IPOD was a wonderful tool for the midnight to 4 am watch under the stars.

Bruce spent quite a few hours studying for a HAM radio license. This will prove handy in the Pacific where many of the cruiser webs seem to use HAM frequencies. The material for the exam (100 multiple choice questions) was not terribly hard but there was a great deal of it to learn - much of it to amateur radio enthusiasts who set up their own systems, antennas and the like. For those of us who have a commerical radio/tuner setup and a fixed (backstay) antenna it would not be of much help - but I can tell you a bit about the Radiocommunications Act and how impedance is calculated (at least until I forget it, which may be sooner than later I fear).

Our Route
We did a Google Earth of our approximate route to New Zealand. It is a bit intimidating I must say since it is really half of the Earth's circumstance. You can see it better in GE where you can zoom and scroll but this overview is pretty neat too. We will be starting in Florida which is just off the image (on the other side of the world!) in the upper right corner and finishing just off the image in the lower left corner. Different parts of the trip are shown in different colours which show up much better on a full screen in GE.