Part 2: Around the world with Dirona James & Jen­nifer Hamil­ton

Passage Maker - - Contents - Story and Pho­tos by Jen­nifer and James Hamil­ton

“Fan­ning Ra­dio, Fan­ning Ra­dio. This is Dirona on 16.”

For sev­eral hours we’d been try­ing to con­tact Fan­ning Is­land, a re­mote atoll about 1,000 miles south of Honolulu and our first for­eign port since leav­ing Hawaii. The atoll is part of Kiri­bati (pro­nounced ‘Kiribas’), an ar­chi­pel­ago strung across the Pa­cific Ocean near the equa­tor. Be­fore leav­ing Hawaii, we’d cor­re­sponded with a cus­toms of­fi­cial in the capi­tol city, Tarawa. They had ad­vised us on en­try pro­ce­dures and re­quire­ments, copy­ing their coun­ter­part at Fan­ning Is­land. Our in­struc­tions were to con­tact Fan­ning Ra­dio on VHF chan­nel 16 when en­ter­ing Kiri­bati wa­ters, but so far we’d had no re­sponse.

Not want­ing to miss slack wa­ter in the en­try chan­nel, we pro­ceeded through with­out ra­dio con­tact and an­chored off the main vil­lage with our Q flag fly­ing. A small skiff soon ar­rived with four peo­ple on board: cus­toms, im­mi­gra­tion, biose­cu­rity, and the boat’s op­er­a­tor. Af­ter in­spect­ing our boat and pa­per­work, ev­ery­thing was in or­der, but the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial levied a $500 fine for not hav­ing exit stamps on our pass­ports. The of­fi­cial in Tarawa had stated that we only needed a Zarpe, or clear­ance pa­per­work, for the ves­sel. (The U.S. doesn’t re­quire any for­mal clear­ance pro­cess­ing for de­part­ing U.S. plea­sure craft and their crew, but we did specif­i­cally ob­tain the re­quired Zarpe in Honolulu.)

We asked if one of the of­fi­cials was Jonathan (not his real name) and the cus­toms of­fi­cial looked very sur­prised and said yes. We showed him the email thread with Tarawa and this per­suaded the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer to drop the fine and process our en­try. When we later went ashore, we learned that the is­land’s gen­er­a­tor had bro­ken down long ago and the en­tire is­land had been with­out power since. That is why we couldn’t reach them by ra­dio, and all those emails from Tarawa copy­ing Jonathan were never seen.

Trav­el­ing around the world in a small boat is ro­man­tic and ex­cit­ing. But any sort of marine travel be­tween coun­tries brings the chal­lenges of clear­ing in and out, ob­tain­ing spares and pro­vi­sions, re­fu­el­ing, and in our case, trav­el­ling with our cat, Spit­fire. In this sec­ond of three ar­ti­cles, we’ll dis­cuss what we learned dur­ing our trip around the world to make the lo­gis­tic com­plex­i­ties fade into the back­ground so we could en­joy the trip. The first ar­ti­cle (56,000 Miles and Count­ing, Pas­sage­Maker April, 2017) cov­ered plan­ning and var­i­ous as­pects of be­ing un­der­way; the fi­nal in­stall­ment will cover how we rigged Dirona for the trip.

Clear­ing In and Out

Prior to de­part­ing Hawaii in early 2013, we had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence trav­el­ing into and out of the U.S. by boat, but only to and from Canada. Nei­ther coun­try re­quires clear­ance for de­part­ing plea­sure craft, only en­try pro­cess­ing, and we’d al­ways had CANPASS or NEXUS cards, so were able to clear through over the phone in most cases. Even upon re­turn­ing to the U.S. from St. Lu­cia af­ter nearly four years away, we still were able to clear en­tirely over the phone through Florida’s Small Ves­sel Re­port­ing Sys­tem

Ev­ery other coun­try we vis­ited around the world, how­ever, re­quired de­part­ing plea­sure craft to for­mally clear out of the coun­try and ar­riv­ing plea­sure craft to present exit pa­per­work from the pre­vi­ous port. Most clear­ance pro­cess­ing was done in per­son, typ­i­cally aboard the ves­sel. At a min­i­mum, we needed clear­ance from both cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion. We typ­i­cally also needed biose­cu­rity clear­ance for our cat, and pos­si­bly

any food­stuffs on board. And some­times ad­di­tional of­fi­cials were in­volved, such as lo­cal po­lice or Coast Guard of­fi­cers.

We re­search in ad­vance the clear­ance re­quire­ments and fees, then con­tact lo­cal of­fi­cials to con­firm our un­der­stand­ing of the rules. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when trav­el­ing with pets. A record of this cor­re­spon­dence smoothed our en­try on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. In some coun­tries, the process is time-con­sum­ing, be­cause of­fi­cials are lo­cated through­out town and have to be vis­ited in the ap­pro­pri­ate or­der to ob­tain clear­ance from each. In the South Pa­cific, where yachts of all sizes reg­u­larly clear in and out, a flour­ish­ing agent busi­ness sup­ports vis­it­ing yachts and ef­fi­ciently han­dles the process for a rea­son­able fee. We never needed an agent, but re­tain­ing one could save hours of time and frus­tra­tion and is a good value when the cost is suf­fi­ciently low.

Gen­er­ally the clear­ance process has gone most smoothly in coun­tries with well-doc­u­mented en­try pro­ce­dures, such as New Zealand, Aus­tralia, and St. He­lena. We found agent sup­port par­tic­u­larly help­ful in French Poly­ne­sia, Tonga, Fiji, and Van­u­atu, where the clear­ance process was less clear, more cum­ber­some, or had spe­cial re­quire­ments for pet en­try. Over­all, Fan­ning Is­land was our most dif­fi­cult en­try, and South Africa was the most dif­fi­cult coun­try to exit. We had to clear out of each South African port as we moved within the coun­try, and spent nearly a day meet­ing their pa­per­work re­quire­ments be­fore be­ing al­lowed to leave the coun­try.

Most coun­tries is­sue a vis­i­tor visa or en­try per­mit when you ar­rive, some bounded to no more than 90 days. Aus­tralia was the only coun­try we vis­ited that re­quired a visa be ob­tained prior to ar­rival. Be­fore leav­ing Hawaii, we also got six-month mul­ti­en­try visas for New Zealand, as we’d be stay­ing there at least that long. New Zealand gives visi­tors a three-month visa that can be re­newed if you leave and re­turn, but we didn’t want to be forced to leave the coun­try on a 90-day sched­ule.

Sep­a­rate from im­mi­gra­tion lim­its, all the coun­tries we vis­ited had re­stric­tions on how long a for­eign boat could be in the coun­try with­out tax im­pli­ca­tions. These lim­its were gen­er­ally quite long and had lit­tle im­pact on our trip de­ci­sions. Both New Zealand and Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, is­sued 12-month tem­po­rary im­port per­mits, and we were able to ex­tend the Aus­tralian per­mit for a sec­ond year.

We buy cour­tesy flags for ev­ery coun­try we ex­pect to visit and spread them out in the pilothouse in prepa­ra­tion for swap­ping with our Q flag once cleared through. Sev­eral of­fi­cials com­mented that they ap­pre­ci­ated our show­ing re­spect for their coun­try by hav­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate flag on board.

Our prin­ter/scan­ner gets heavy use dur­ing our trav­els. Of­ten in prepa­ra­tion for clear­ing in or out, an on­line doc­u­ment needs to be printed and filled out, signed, and submitted on­line or pre­sented in per­son. The abil­ity to scan, email, and pho­to­copy doc­u­ments is also es­sen­tial, so we rec­om­mend adding an all-in­one prin­ter/copier/scan­ner to your equip­ment list. We also want

to have records of our clear­ance pa­per­work in case we have to sur­ren­der them at the next port, or we must fill out pa­per­work brought by of­fi­cials who clear us. And for or­ga­niz­ing all that pa­per­work, a binder with A4-size di­vider pock­ets is quite use­ful.

Go­ing Lo­cal

Typ­i­cally the first things we do af­ter clear­ing into a new coun­try are to pur­chase a lo­cal cel­lu­lar data SIM card and ob­tain lo­cal cur­rency. Since James is work­ing full-time, we’re heavy satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions users. This is be­tween 100- and 1,000-times more ex­pen­sive than cel­lu­lar data, so we only use it where Wi-Fi and cel­lu­lar are un­avail­able.

The two ap­proaches to in­ter­na­tional cel­lu­lar data are to buy an in­ter­na­tional plan in your coun­try of ori­gin or use an un­locked GSM phone and buy cel­lu­lar data in the coun­try you are vis­it­ing. We found that pur­chas­ing lo­cal SIMs was the bet­ter per­form­ing and more eco­nom­i­cal ap­proach. We both have un­locked An­droid phones and have so far been able pur­chase lo­cal cel­lu­lar data SIM cards in nearly ev­ery coun­try we’ve vis­ited. Un­lim­ited com­mu­ni­ca­tions plans in any form, whether Wi-Fi or cel­lu­lar, are rare. Even Wi-Fi nor­mally is me­tered at many in­ter­na­tional lo­ca­tions, es­pe­cially in re­mote is­lands.

Be­fore leav­ing Hawaii, we pur­chased small amounts of lo­cal cur­rency for the coun­tries we’d be vis­it­ing in the South Pa­cific to han­dle any clear­ance fees. Ex­cept for Fan­ning Is­land and Ane­ityum in Van­u­atu, lo­cal cur­rency was avail­able from ATMs ev­ery­where we cleared through. Some­thing we had not con­sid­ered be­fore leav­ing was for­eign trans­ac­tion fees on ATM and credit cards. Part­way through the trip we no­ticed these fees mount­ing and switched to credit and ATM cards with­out for­eign trans­ac­tions fees.

In New Zealand and Aus­tralia, where we’d be for many months, we opened lo­cal bank ac­counts. Both coun­tries have good on­line fi­nan­cial in­fra­struc­ture and lo­cal ac­counts sim­pli­fied mer­chant trans­ac­tions. We also got bet­ter for­eign-ex­change rates when wire-trans­fer­ring a larger lump-sum to the for­eign ac­count in­stead of piece­meal through an ATM.

Sur­face Mail

We lived aboard for a few years while still in Seat­tle and set up a UPS box near our ma­rina. This gave us a real ad­dress, not a Post Of­fice Box, which worked for all couri­ers. The UPS box worked well for mail in ad­di­tion to pack­ages of all shapes and sizes. Where pos­si­ble, we set up all our ac­counts to be pa­per­less, re­duc­ing the amount of mail that we re­ceive and al­low­ing us to han­dle things re­motely. We also re­quested that mail-or­der com­pa­nies re­move us from their cat­a­log mail­ing list.

When we left Seat­tle, we kept the UPS box and it con­tin­ued to work well for us. Any sur­face mail we get just goes there. If we’re ex­pect­ing some­thing or it’s been a while, UPS will for­ward the mail to wher­ever we are for a rea­son­able price and dis­card any cat­a­logs or ad­ver­tis­ing fly­ers on re­quest.

Get­ting the Goods

While in New Zealand, we needed to re­place our house bat­tery bank. Sourc­ing the bat­ter­ies yielded some in­ter­est­ing sur­prises.

Al­most all pric­ing quotes were for the stan­dard New Zealand re­tail price, with­out any dis­count for buy­ing eight bat­ter­ies and spend­ing over $8,000 in a sin­gle pur­chase. Quotes in the U.S. for eight bat­ter­ies were at least 35% less than in New Zealand. We ex­pected the cost of ship­ping more than a half-ton of mer­chan­dise would ex­ceed the price ad­van­tage, so our nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion was to not even con­sider that op­tion.

The in­ter­est­ing les­son here was that ship­ping can be amaz­ingly cost-ef­fec­tive. We shipped the bat­ter­ies via sea freight from Florida to Auck­land for just un­der $800, in­clud­ing all clear­ance and trans­port fees, sav­ing more than $2,000 com­pared to pur­chas­ing the bat­ter­ies in New Zealand. The dis­ad­van­tage of sea freight is that it is slow, tak­ing just a bit more than 30 days.

Once we’d learned how eco­nom­i­cal sea freight was, we shipped a pal­let of goods to our­selves roughly once a year. Many prod­ucts we use are far less ex­pen­sive sourced from the highly com­pet­i­tive U.S. mar­ket. Other items, such as 60Hz ap­pli­ances or the marine coat­ing we use on our out­side teak, are sim­ply un­avail­able in many parts of the world.

Our ap­proach to sea freight is to de­cide where we’re go­ing to be in three months and use that as a ship­ping des­ti­na­tion. We then place our or­ders for de­liv­ery to our UPS store, which ag­gre­gates all of the boxes onto a pal­let. A re­gional trans­porter de­liv­ers the pal­let to a Seat­tle freight-for­warder, which ar­ranges trans­port to the des­ti­na­tion. On the des­ti­na­tion end, we ar­range re­gional trans­port to de­liver the pal­let to the ma­rina. Our Ama­zon Prime ship­ping time goes from two days to three months, but it sure is won­der­ful to see that pal­let ar­rive.

We also carry parts in our lug­gage when­ever we re­turn home. Ini­tially, we care­fully pack­aged the parts in card­board boxes, but ev­ery­thing was sub­ject to un­pack­ing for TSA in­spec­tion, and since card­board doesn’t take weather well, the air­lines won’t take any re­spon­si­bil­ity for dam­age to the boxes. We of­ten had to pick them up sep­a­rately from our lug­gage in the same area as over­sized bag­gage. We later bought large col­lapsi­ble duffel bags that we carry empty to the U.S. and bring back full on the re­turn. This is more ef­fi­cient and re­li­able.

When­ever ship­ping in­ter­na­tion­ally, whether by sea freight or checked bag­gage, theft, dam­age, or loss is a rel­a­tively small but al­ways present risk. We’ve had pretty good luck, where all sea freight has ar­rived com­plete and with­out any is­sues. We did lose one airline checked bag when re­turn­ing to Auck­land via Los An­ge­les.

All the coun­tries we’ve brought goods into had some pro­vi­sion for duty-free im­port of parts for yachts in tran­sit. Some, such as Fiji, re­quired no pa­per­work, but a cus­toms of­fi­cial had to per­son­ally de­liver the items to the boat for a nom­i­nal charge. In New Zealand and Aus­tralia, pa­per­work pre­pared by a cus­toms bro­ker was re­quired to im­port parts duty-free by pal­let or in checked lug­gage through the air­port.


We gen­er­ally or­ga­nize our fuel purchases in ad­vance, par­tic­u­larly be­fore and af­ter long cross­ings. Rarely is this dif­fi­cult. Where we have a choice, we pre­fer to fuel di­rectly from a truck rather than ma­rina fuel docks, partly be­cause we got bet­ter pric­ing, but also be­cause the fuel in a truck usu­ally hasn’t been sit­ting around long. In some cases, a truck is the only avail­able op­tion.

Most fuel fills went as planned, but at times there were a few chal­lenges. Tonga, Ro­drigues, and Cape Town, for ex­am­ple, only ac­cepted cash in lo­cal cur­rency for fuel purchases. In Tonga we used an agent who han­dled the fuel pur­chase on our be­half. For the other two we made ATM with­drawals in chunks over sev­eral days and stored the cash in our on­board safe. For Ro­drigues, we with­drew Aus­tralian dol­lars in Dar­win and con­verted the cash to Mau­ri­tius Ru­pees upon ar­rival. For Cape Town, we with­drew Rand lo­cally. An ATM card with a high daily limit and no for­eign trans­ac­tion fees was par­tic­u­larly use­ful here.

In Port Villa, Van­u­atu, the fuel dock doesn’t keep enough fuel on hand to fill our boat. We’d or­dered the fuel in ad­vance, but they still had to or­der a truck to fill their tank once we’d ar­rived at the dock. We would have pre­ferred to take the fuel di­rectly from the truck since the ma­rina tank was nearly empty and fill­ing it stirred up a lot of rust and sed­i­ment (al­though lit­tle wa­ter), but that op­tion wasn’t avail­able.

The two most dif­fi­cult fuel fills of the trip were in Nuku Hiva, French Poly­ne­sia, and in Ro­drigues, Mau­ri­tius. In Nuku Hiva we Med-moored in an open road­stead to pre­vent ocean surge from slam­ming Dirona into the solid con­crete dock and ran a fuel hose a few feet across the wa­ter to the boat. Even though we’d or­dered the fuel ahead of time, we still had to ne­go­ti­ate to get what we’d re­quested be­cause a su­pery­acht was at­tempt­ing to buy ev­ery­thing they had.

In Ro­drigues, we spent the en­tire morn­ing fill­ing a multi-page bunker­ing re­quest doc­u­ment for the Port Cap­tain, an­swer­ing ques­tions, such as “num­ber of tons of fuel needed” and “ini­tial and fi­nal de­liv­ery pres­sures re­quested.” Once the Port Cap­tain ap­proved that form, we then needed to de­posit our Aus­tralian cash di­rectly into the fuel com­pany’s bank ac­count, who needed to be present at the bank with us to ap­prove the de­posit. Then we could fi­nally take on fuel. The fuel truck ar­rived with only a four­inch di­am­e­ter hose used to bunker ocean-go­ing freighters and no noz­zle to con­trol the flow from their high-speed pump. We had to grav­ity-feed to avoid spills and were lucky to com­plete the job in just one day.

Spit­fire Around the World

When we first started plan­ning the trip around the world, we ex­pected that trav­el­ling with our cat, Spit­fire, would limit the coun­tries we could visit. In re­al­ity, the French ter­ri­tory of New Cale­do­nia was the only des­ti­na­tion that we opted not to visit due to a min­i­mum one-week on-shore quar­an­tine pe­riod. Over the en­tire four-year trip, Spit­fire only needed to be quar­an­tined a sin­gle time, for 10 days in New Zealand.

Many coun­tries have well-doc­u­mented en­try pro­ce­dures for pets, but most are ori­ented to­ward com­mer­cial air travel where ar­rival times are pre­dictable and the travel du­ra­tion is mea­sured in hours. When ar­riv­ing by boat, travel dates de­pend on weather and the trip’s du­ra­tion is mea­sured in days or weeks. We some­times had to ne­go­ti­ate with of­fi­cials to al­low for longer travel win­dows.

Trav­el­ling with Spit­fire taught us about sev­eral loop­holes where some coun­tries with strin­gent an­i­mal en­try re­quire­ments are more le­nient with an­i­mals trav­el­ing from spe­cific coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, pets brought by yacht into Aus­tralia are quar­an­tined for a min­i­mum of thirty days. But qual­i­fy­ing pets com­ing from New Zealand can en­ter quar­an­tine- free, and New Zealand’s min­i­mum quar­an­tine pe­riod is 10 days. An­other ex­am­ple is that pets can­not be brought into the United King­dom by pri­vate yacht at all, ex­cept from Ire­land. And Ire­land fol­lows stan­dard EU quar­an­tine- free pro­ce­dures.

New Zealand was the most dif­fi­cult coun­try to en­ter with Spit­fire. De­spite a rep­u­ta­tion for a dif­fi­cult clear­ance process, Aus­tralia was rel­a­tively easy (in part be­cause we were com­ing from New Zealand). Trav­el­ing be­tween two U.S. ports was un­ex­pect­edly the sec­ond-most in dif­fi­culty and over­head. Bring­ing a pet from the main­land to Hawaii free of quar­an­tine re­quires about four to five months ad­vance prepa­ra­tion, most spent wait­ing for test re­sults.

We only needed to for­mally im­port Spit­fire into Hawaii, New

Zealand, and Aus­tralia. All other coun­tries had no re­quire­ments so long as he re­mained on board. Fiji, how­ever, levied a bond of ap­prox­i­mately $500 to be re­funded when cus­toms sights the pet on exit. We’ve heard re­ports that it can be dif­fi­cult to “find” the ap­pro­pri­ate cus­toms of­fi­cials to re­cover the de­posit on exit. Our Fiji agent posted the bond on our be­half and re­claimed their funds af­ter we’d left.

Bar­ba­dos was the only coun­try where we had any is­sues with Spit­fire be­ing aboard and an­other ex­am­ple where a paper trail with an of­fi­cial was help­ful. We had an email from a Bar­ba­dos Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture ve­teri­nary of­fi­cer stat­ing we could bring Spit­fire into the coun­try with­out for­mal­ity so long as he re­mained on board. On ar­rival, though, we were told we needed an im­port per­mit. We pro­duced the email and that re­solved the sit­u­a­tion. Later in our stay, two Bar­ba­dian cus­toms of­fi­cials sighted Spit­fire on board and came to in­ves­ti­gate a pos­si­ble il­le­gal im­por­ta­tion. The paper trail was key to re­solv­ing that one, as well.


There is no ques­tion that travel be­tween coun­tries, whether by boat or oth­er­wise, brings ad­di­tional com­plex­ity. Each coun­try has its own re­quire­ments and con­straints, and, in re­mote lo­ca­tions, parts or sup­plies may be un­avail­able or dif­fi­cult to ob­tain. The two-day de­liv­ery time many of us have be­come ac­cus­tomed to may be closer to two months. But ev­ery­thing can be ob­tained and ef­fi­cient lo­gis­ti­cal solutions are avail­able for most prob­lems.

Many of the tech­niques we cov­ered here re­quire a bit more ad­vanced plan­ning, but we are happy to in­vest time up front to sim­plify our lives later. In our around-the-world trip, we had sur­pris­ingly few dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences with of­fi­cials, and we’ve wasted rel­a­tively lit­tle time try­ing to re­pair or source un­usual parts in re­mote lo­ca­tions. This makes the trip more en­joy­able and less stress­ful, and we can spend more time hav­ing fun. We’ve fin­ished this trip, but we’re nowhere close to done.

About the au­thors: Jen­nifer and James Hamil­ton are au­thors of Wag­goner com­pan­ion guide Cruis­ing the Se­cret Coast: Un­ex­plored An­chor­ages on Bri­tish Columbia’s In­side Pas­sage. They have been cruis­ing un­der power since 1999 and moved aboard full­time in 2009. In 2016 they com­pleted a four-year trip around the world in their Nordhavn 52, Dirona, and have since trav­elled the North Amer­i­can east coast as far north as New­found­land, Canada. They main­tain a blog at fo­cused on trip high­lights, me­chan­i­cal sys­tems, equip­ment, and ap­proaches they’ve found use­ful along their jour­ney. The site also in­cludes a live map show­ing a re­al­time lo­ca­tion fix on Dirona, cur­rent weather, fuel-on-hand, and fuel con­sump­tion rate.

Above: Head­ing to shore in the har­bor taxi at St. He­lena in the south­ern At­lantic Ocean. Two cus­toms of­fi­cials (left), and the har­bor mas­ter (right) came out to clear us through, then we com­pleted the clear­ance with im­mi­gra­tion at the po­lice sta­tion...

Above: Ro­drigues, Mau­ri­tius was among our most dif­fi­cult fuel fills of the trip. Af­ter spend­ing the morn­ing fill­ing out pa­per­work and pur­chas­ing the fuel, the truck ar­rived with only a four-inch di­am­e­ter hose and no noz­zle to con­trol the flow from...

On the fuel dock in Cape Town, South Africa, prior to de­part­ing for St. He­lena. Cape Town was one of sev­eral places where the fuel com­pany ac­cepted only cash in the lo­cal cur­rency.

Above: Tak­ing de­liv­ery of a 2- cu­bic-me­ter pal­let on the Gold Coast, Aus­tralia. When you only shop twice a year, it’s a big one. Mid­dle: Pur­chas­ing a lo­cal cel­lu­lar data SIM card at Dig­i­cel in Port Vila, Van­u­atu. We have un­locked An­droid phones and...

Dirona in spec­tac­u­lar Hall Arm in Fiord­land, New Zealand

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