We have a big trip ahead of us from Panama to French Polynesia (FP). The sail of over 3000 miles will take us around a month. Can I repeat that? Since we’re not going to The Galapagos, our sail will take about a month. Which is why we’ve spent most of our time prepping for our Pacific crossing. We want to do this right.
I had numerous checklists (I am that type) and our preparations fall into a few categories: making Sava ship-shape, getting everything we need for the passage, and mentally readying ourselves for the longest trip of our lives.
We are leaving today, so we’re done prepping for our Pacific crossing. We’ll see in a few weeks what we did right.
Getting Sava Ship-Shape
We’ve been pretty good about keeping Sava up-to-date, including our most recent lithium battery upgrade. But boats are like houses: something always breaks. Before we set sail, we want to make sure everything is in working shape, and that we have backups of our backups. It’s an important part of prepping for our Pacific crossing.
Now that we have lithium, Brian decided it was high time we upgraded our solar panels. Now we have double the power as before, which should make it a lot easier to run our electronics in cloudy skies. We’re super happy with the results: our solar is charging even when it’s not that sunny!
stocking up on boat supplies
Whenever we can, we seek advice from other cruisers. I joined The French Polynesia cruisers Facebook group and got a wealth of information. Unlike Caribbean French islands like Guadeloupe and Martinique, provisioning isn’t easy or affordable there. We’re stocking up on boat parts here in Panama while we can. What we don’t use on the Pacific passage we can sell or trade over there.
One of the first things we added was more diesel and diesel capacity. Our tank holds 65 gallons and we had a couple jerry to transport fuel to the boat easily. Well now we have a lot more, another 40 gallons in jerry cans. When we run the engine, we use about .8gal/hour. We plan to sail most of the way to French Polynesia. We need to conserve fuel, but we will need engine power to charge batteries and run our instruments and autopilot.
Fortunately, the anchorage and marinas outside of Panama City are well-located. We are close to a few fishing and marine supply stores, an excellent liquor store, and anything else is a quick and affordable taxi ride.
fixing things on sava
The truest adage in boat life:
Too bad for us it was something important less than a week before we planned to leave.
Iridium Go Battery Port
We thought we were in great shape after all our down time, but we had to do one last shakedown cruise and spent over a week in the beautiful archipelago of Las Perlas. But, while we were there, the battery port for our Iridium Go broke. Once it lost charge, that was it. The Iridium Go is our only contact with the outside world when we lose cell signal.
We bought the Iridium Go when we moved on board Sava, solely for long passages, and this is it. It’s so frustrating. We spent months in Panama, had multiple packages delivered, and now, days before we leave, our sat phone broke.
We were going to buy one off another boater while he waited for a new one. Unfortunately, that dude flaked on us. We took ours to a repair shop and as long as we leave it plugged in and NEVER TOUCH IT EVER it might last us the trip. Hopefully. So if our tracker stops working, please don’t panic. It’s most likely because of this battery charger. UGH.
While we were in Las Perlas, our water pump broke. Brian thinks this is one of the last original pieces of the boat from our purchase, so it’s good it broke while we were in Panama rather than out to sea. It’s just a little leak but we bought a new improved pump and will swap it out when needed.
What We Need In French Polynesia
I’ve heard from other cruisers that almost everything in FP is expensive and prices are similar to Bahamas for beer, wine and many foods. Yet I am more concerned with the passage that’s in front of us: 21-30 days at sea. While we often don’t eat much on voyages because it’s uncomfortable, we’re still going to need a variety of nutritious, easy to serve food that’s at least edible if not delicious.
Provisioning for A Month
I feel confident about this part of prepping for our Pacific crossing. We’ve spent long periods of time on the boat in places with no shops. Not as long as a month, but we’ve also never had to dip into our stores. Last week we spent 8 days in Las Perlas and barely made a dent in our food supply. We have a stocked freezer and a cupboard full of canned goods, rice, and sauces. Our larder is full. We are ready to go!
Before the Panama Canal transit I cooked, prepped, and canned some meals. I made a big batch of chili in our new pressure cooker, and served some of it during the transit, but froze some for later. I also made bolognese sauce we can use with pasta or for pizza bagels when underway.
Since our biggest concern on a multi-week passage will be lack of fresh produce, I’ve got some canned goods, and some frozen vegetables to mix it up. These are always great to add to stir fries, curries, and fried rice. Hopefully we will have enough calm days to cook those curries. Otherwise we’ll be eating crackers and canned foods. I’m prepared for a lot of both!
We like trying new foods and are used to not getting what we want but enjoying what we have. I consider us lucky to be unpicky eaters and only have 1 allergy between the two of us: cabbage. Being easy to feed makes the food part of prepping for our Pacific crossing simple. We were also berthed right next to a boat with 8 people doing the passage. You should see the amount of water they stocked for 8 people, let alone produce and snacks. We’re two people and a cat. Prepping for our Pacific crossing is easy in comparison!
FOOD SHOPPING IN PANAMA
Panama City has very good supermarkets. Riba Smith is excellent, with good produce, bread and packaged goods we haven’t seen since North America. Brian was excited because they even have Triscuits! We stocked up there!
We are lucky to have a freezer which came with the boat. Many cruisers have a small frozen section in their fridge or nothing at all to store excess meat, fish, bread and veggies.
We have not been lucky buying meat in Panama. We were spoiled by the quality and prices in Colombia, especially of their meats. In Panama, the cheap stuff is inedible and the decent stuff is very expensive. We heard of a butcher called House of Jamon and visited a few days ago. It means House of Ham, and they import a lot of products from Spain. To say we were impressed would be an understatement. We were just sad we hadn’t visited sooner. We bought cheese, cured meat, frozen meat, dips, rubs, and more.
Unfortunately, you can’t get everything in one place. There’s no one-stop shopping. So we schlepped to multiple stores to get everything we need before we set sail for French Polynesia. Fortunately, taxis and UBERs are very reasonable, so we get back and forth from the shops to the marina with all our provisions for $10-$12. That would be impossible in Toronto.
Panama City’s fruit and vegetable market has fresh produce at fair prices. What I like most about shopping here is that nothing is refrigerated. So I can keep the produce out on the boat, save space in my fridge, and extend the shelf life. That’s true: once the veg have been refrigerated, they won’t last as long, so I avoid buying at the supermarkets that keep their eggplants and peppers cold.
After 3+ years living on the boat all around The Caribbean, I know to buy it when I see it and how quickly it needs to be eaten. Lettuce gets eaten first, eggplants can last 10 days, potatoes, carrots, and squash a couple weeks. Buy bananas before they yellow and freeze them unpeeled when they go black; refrigerate passionfruit, apples, oranges, and grapefruit and eat them sparingly. And I bought a lot of fruit juice for when we have no more fresh fruit. No scurvy on this boat!
We’ve been building up to this crossing for so long, and going through the Canal meant it was really happening, so we feel ready. As ready as we’ll ever be at least. It’s a long time, but everyone tells us you get into a rhythm after a few days at sea. We love being on the water away from civilization, looking at the birds and marine life that visit, so we’re hoping for whale, dolphin, and other sightings!
Not having internet for up to a month is our biggest dilemma. I think that will get easier to deal with as the days go by, as we leave our screens behind (except for games and ebooks).
Our entertainment options include: multiple hard copy books, even more ebooks downloaded to our ipads, and a lot of podcasts. We also have games and cards if the situation allows. We’ll also keep busy with boat work, cleaning, cooking, a little exercise, and everyday tasks that never go away.
The weather isn’t looking ideal for sailing. Wind and currents make this the optimal time of year to cross from Panama (or Costa Rica or Mexico) to French Polynesia. However, the wind has died the last few days, and it doesn’t look like it will pick up until we’re at Galapagos, which means 1000 miles of floating. Since it looks like the wind will remain this way for a few weeks, we have to go. What wind there is will be at our backs, pushing us onward to French Polynesia and beyond into the South Pacific.
Fortunately, currents are going our way! Our friends who did the crossing last fall told us they had some days of 3 knot current pushing them. We are hoping for even a piece of that to help us get to FP even quicker.
Hopefully our Iridium stays connected and keeps working. If so, you can follow our journey.