03/07/2009, Tumon Bay
Hideko and I ran a Bubble Maker intro to Scuba experience for kids from the yacht club today. The kids were awesome and everyone had a lot of fun.
We are still pretty broken up about losing Roq and have decided to shut down the blog for a while.
03/01/2009, Marianas Yacht Club
The saddest day.
We took Roq to visit Doctor "Smiles" today. We met his family here at the Marianas Yacht Club. Wonderful folks. Roq got cleared for shore duty and he also got a new Health Certificate. He has now received a new Rabies shot and will return on Monday for a shave, bath, and teeth cleaning. All set to woo the lady dogs and customs officials in Southeast Asia.
As I left the veterinarian's office I though to myself how opinionated some cruising guide books are. You may find comments like, "Leave your pets at home!" This is advice based on a very specific opinion. If you don't care much for pets, it is great advice. If your pet is part of the family, then perhaps you need a second opinion. If there is one thing that is true about cruising, it is that one size, most certainly, does not fit all.
Cruising with a pet has many unique benefits and challenges. That said, I believe that it is feasible anywhere in the world with enough energy put into the equation. The amount of energy depends on where you're going and what you want to do. This energy is also what you must weigh against how important it is for you to bring your pet.
I can only speak for dogs in particular, but where dogs are concerned I am fairly knowledgeable when it comes to Caribbean and the South Pacific customs. Much of what you hear about how hard it is to get pets through customs is similar to the hype about piracy.
There are some places that are fairly obsessive about animals importation, New Zealand and Australia in particular. In the Caribbean and tropical South Pacific you will find no place anywhere near as dog hostile as these two. The options are, skip these spots, or prepare well in advance. Do not listen to the advice of the many who will offer it, but have never been there before, nor the advice of those who went there in 1957. Call the officials in New Zealand and get the straight shot for the present day. If you fill out all of your forms, pay all of your fees and follow the rules, you can get Fido in. Whether you can stand the quarantine is another question, but even the quarantine clock can be started at sea, as soon as you leave Tonga, Fiji or wherever.
In the rest of the South Pacific we found no real hassles. Unfortunately in the tropical South Pacific, from the Galapagos (ok not really the South Pacific), to PNG you will need to keep the dog on board if you want a quick and easy clear in. If you have a Jack Russell this is probably fine. If you have a 2 year old Black Lab it may be impractical, or impossible given how well they swim. If you clear in the easy way (Spot stays onboard), and then dig into the officialdom after the fact, particularly by contacting a local vet to work with/through, you will generally find it easy to get your dog approved for shore access. This is worth the trouble in countries where you will stay for a while.
If you are not a stickler for the rules you will find many deserted, three palm tree islands and lonely beaches where no one will care, or know, if you walk your dog. I am not endorsing this behavior, but if you respect the concerns that are at the root of the dog laws then you are at least obeying the spirit of the law, which is the most important thing. The spirit of the law typically includes the following axioms:
1) Don't infect local dogs with disease. In most cases your dog is more at risk from the island dogs than they are from your dog. Island dogs are often nearly feral and rarely, if ever, have vet care. This is an easy rule to respect, simply don't go ashore in a place where there are dogs. You may be surprised how many places have dogs, man and dog seemed to travel together on those Polynesian canoes close to 100% of the time. Scout it out first, local dogs may attack new comers on sight or create other problems that you don't want to deal with.
2) Don't destroy local wildlife. Also easy to respect, simply stay with your dog and see that he doesn't bother wildlife, dig up ground nests, or hamper animals, plants or habitats in any other way. Again, the local, often feral, dogs are the real problem here.
3) Don't litter. Dog poo is biodegradable but no one wants to see it on that stretch of beautiful white sand beach. Leaving poo around is also a potential health risk. Pick up after your dog.
In the Caribbean you will have little problem with your dog and customs. Some places require onboard quarantine others don't. All of the islands that we ran across would allow the dog ashore after a vet check. The Bahamas were an exception and wanted a pet permit to be acquired in advance. The Bahamas are also a place that you could sail into and forget to mention your dog and never have a problem. We acquired the permit in advance without too much trouble when we visited, I'm just making an observation.
Many islands want to see a pet health certificate with proof of a rabies shot within the last year. A shot good for three years and only 1.5 years old may not be acceptable to the "one year only" countries. It is a good idea to get a health certificate and rabies shot each year from a good vet to keep onboard. The only place I can think of that actually looked at ours was Chuuk in the FSM. Many others asked if we had a heath certificate but never looked at it after we said we had one. If you keep the dog on the boat, the officials mostly seem to leave it at that.
We have visited the following countries/territories (in "just show up" with a health cert mode) with no problem: Turk and Caicos, Dominican Republic, USVI, British VI, Saint Martin, Saint Barts, Nevis, Montserrat, Guadalupe & the Saints, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, French Polynesia, The Cook Islands, Nuie, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Guam.
The Federated States of Micronesia were no problem for the dog just the people, Puerto Rico was no problem for us but we are Americans on a US flagged boat, and the Bahamas was easy but wants $300 for a cruising permit and a dog permit in advance.
So the real truth is that you will have a lot of hurdles to clear with your pet in New Zealand and Australia, but everywhere else is pretty straight forward. The only other chores are keeping them in food, dealing with poo and pee issues (can be a big one), keeping them onboard and out of trouble (like a kid), keeping them from overheating (don't bring your poor Samoyed to the tropics without a shave monthly), and picking up the fur.
On the up side, a dog will bring many benefits. If you love your dog, there is nothing like going on an adventure and being able to bring Bowser along. Also, if your dog is at all imposing, or even just loud, you will likely never have a boarder.
Our dog Roq, is getting pretty old and tired. He sleeps a lot and has a hard time getting around after his cruciate ligament surgery and considerable years. Even so, everyone who looks at him decides to stay off of our boat until invited aboard. More importantly he has been my loyal companion for over 14 years and I would not travel at length without him. He gave me the best years of his life and I am trying to make sure that his last years are as happy as they can be.
Actually they are already here. If you go to the tourist areas of Guam you will find scads of Japanese (mostly younger folks). The place is virtually tailored for the Japanese tourist. Lots of high fashion outlets and big stores with little knick nacks for the friends back home (buying gifts for friends when you travel is a long standing Japanese tradition).
Many signs in Guam give equal time to English and Japanese. Lots of people speak Japanese as well. Every menu has Japanese on it and even Denny's serves Ramen and other surprising eastern additions. There are some Korean tourists about and a few Chinese but these get by with English.
You really don't see any American tourists, unless you count the US Navy servicemen, 25% of Guam's population. Half the folks on Guam are of Chamoro descent (the native people of the Marianas Islands) and the other 25% are Philippino.
I was waiting in the parking lot at Kmart for Hideko when a guy came up to me wanting to sell his band's CD. It turned out he was from Palau, I got some good cruising tips in exchange for the CD (not my style). Another guy we met was from Saipan. He was surprised no one on Guam spoke the Chamoro language that all of his family on Saipan used daily. So while it seems that the American influence has created a fairly material situation here on Guam with the Japanese Yen and the US dollar running the show, it is one of the cleanest and safest islands, with the best schools, in this part of the pacific. Many islanders from all around come here to work and raise their families. The Marshal Islanders, FSM folks and Palauans can all come and go just like US citizens.
The Japanese we were interested in arrived today. There are normally 7 or more, but this year the economy dictated only two Japanese arriving to take part in the Marianas Yacht Club good will regatta. This weekend the two Japanese guests and a host of locals (plus Eric) will be taking part in a set of Laser races in the harbor. We still have winds 20-25 knots here so it will be an exciting, and likely wet, time for the whole club. The Japanese are reported to take 1st and 2nd every year.
Hideko is a wonderful ambassador for the Japanese folks we meet all over the world. She made short order of introductions and we all enjoyed chatting with the new visitors. We also have a new friend in the anchorage, Masa San. Masa San is a single hander who has sailed all around the Pacific on his Yamaha production sailboat Nuk (who knew Yamaha made a Beneteau like 37 footer?!). We first met Masa San in Tahiti. He is a big HAM and does weather in Japanese on at least one net from his boat.
As Hideko and I cruised the Caribbean we saw few Asians and it was an exciting time if we actually met another Japanese person. Now we are moving into an area where we see few westerners and it will be exciting to see another American. It is a vast and interesting world.
Guam gets our vote for #1 place to restock and buy gear in the Pacific (so far). You have to have a car to get around, but hey, what's new, it's America. Armed with a car (as little as $125 a week), a cell phone ($20 for a GSM sim) and a laptop (free wifi internet is everywhere) you can move mountains.
For food I would visit Cost-u-Less. Two to choose from located just down from the Premiere Outlets and a couple blocks past the Micronesian Mall, Cost-u-Less is like Costco with a great selection of food (boxed, canned, frozen and fresh). It is a perfect place for provisioning a yacht. There are many great US style grocery stores around as well. Payless is a US style grocery store a block behind Premiere Outlets (open 24 hours). California Mart is located next to the Premiere Outlets and has a lot of Asian stuff. Tokyo Mart is a Japanese grocery and is next to the Cost-u-Less, also just down from Premiere Outlets.
Electronics are not the islands strong point compared to a yachty type town in the US but you can get by. There is an ICOM dealer up by the airport with hand held VHFs, fixed mount VHFs and SSBs in stock. They will have or can get anything ICOM in about a week. They are also real radio professionals and can sort out problems and make cables, etceteras (I discovered that they work on island time though). They also do big solar and wind installations and have yacht suitable wind generators and solar panels.
For general chandlery there is the Coral Reef chandler. They are like a small West Marine. You can get most of what you need there and they can order anything you want (most shops lean on West Marine Port Supply pretty heavily). There's also a Mercury repair/dealer on the main drag (Marine Corp Drive) that has a fair stock of boat bits and they fix outboards for cheap ($35 for Eric's 8hp repair).
For general stuff there is a huge Home Depot and a big Kmart. This particular Kmart is also open 24 hours. There are two malls, the Micronesian Mall and the Primiere Outlet Mall, not to mention the huge tourist district shopping area. There are several well stocked Napa stores a big True Value Hardware and a larger Ace Hardware. You can easily get any kind of welding and other types of fabrication done here.
Several dive shops can supply your scuba and related gear needs. I found the perfect 1mm full suit that I had been looking for at Micronesia Divers Association (MDA) on Marine Corps Drive. MDA is a great place to get your gear serviced also.
You can get dinghies, surfer boards, and lots of beach wear in the tourist district. DNA is a great shop for beach cloths and water sports stuff. You can also eat to your heart's content at Tony Romas, various Sushi spots, Outback Steak House, Teppanyaki, Planet Holywood, Vietnamese, Hard Rock Café, Korean Barbeque, Steaks and Shakes, Mickey Ds, BK, California Pizza Kitchen, Taco Bell, or any number of fancy hotel restaurants or Mall food courts.
Tie all of this to the spectacular hospitality of the folks at the Marianas Yacht Club and you have a perfect setting. Guam is the US so you can ship anything that can go air here from the US for cheap, and with no customs! US Mail has been taking us about 2-3 days. You can ship to the yacht club's PO Box and then pick it up at the post office. This kind of cheap shipping means that products from the entire West Marine catalog, Harken catalog, and others, not to mention Amazon, are close at hand.
The down side is that there is no real cruiser friendly marina. There is a marina in Agat but they are pretty much locals only, full up and not interested in big boats (50' or more). There is a beautiful marina in the Navy base but you need a base pass for that one (I considered joining the Coast Guard Reserve for that one...). There is a small derelict marina in the harbor of refuge and a larger commercial marina in town but neither is a place that would welcome a cruising yacht. The Marianas Yacht Club is really the best spot for transient cruisers.
The island at large doesn't know what a sail boat is. This last point means that you will not find a rigger, sail loft or that bit of deck hardware you were looking for. Fiberglass work, engine repair or anything else needed to support the power boat world will be no problem. There is also no real haul out facility. You will read about hiring a crane in the old cruising snippets but this is a project you would need a fair amount of time to arrange and it could be very pricey (not to mention dangerous) unless you have the right contacts.
The yacht club is a wonderful slice of Guam. It is comprised of Americans from State Side, for the most part, who want to keep in touch with their sailing genes. The Apra harbor is big and very protected. The yacht club is nestled about half way back into the mangrove marine preserve.
It is a very reefy area and it would be a good idea to get a guide or come in with good light your first time. Once oriented you should be able to get around with no problem. There is no dinghy dock but there is a nice beach area for landing with trees to tie to and the tide is generally two feet or less.
The mooring field is not brand new. I dove on our mooring and found as much as 50% of the material missing from the inside cusp of the chain links here and there. It is big chain however and the chain runs from the mooring (which is substantial) to the main float. From the main float you have a rope pendant that is a little thin and under serviced from my perspective (I would prefer splices to knots and a bit of fire hose sewn on to the eyes for chafe protection).
There's enough room to anchor in the mooring field here and there but beware, the bottom is littered with huge chain and rode from prior naval denizens. Unhooking an anchor here could be tough because the visibility ranges from 10 to 0 feet and the depths are 20 to 60 feet.
If you pick up a mooring here I would definitely dive on it and check all of the shackles, the chain, the mooring itself and the rope pendant. I tied a safety line to the chain because I didn't like the condition of our pendant given the perpetual 25 knot winds. Some folks have put out anchors but I would recommend just anchoring if you are that concerned with the mooring.
The yacht club proper is a nice open air building with a bar and grill open on Friday night, as well as Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Everyone at the club knows everyone and the members are welcoming and friendly to the cruiser guests. The phone at the club is free to use for local calls and there is a phone book right there. The club has fast wifi internet access for free (though you can't pick it up in the anchorage with a normal external antenna). Water is available for free and there are clean restrooms and cold water showers behind the club (hot water is available if you pay for the heater's operation). The club room has a TV with DVD player and local cable. The club will receive your mail for you and you can dispose of trash in the dumpster (separate out the card board for recycling please). It is a wonderful place and hard to beat at $25 per week.