How the other half lives

Just before the La Soufriere volcano erupted (life is now measured in BV, and AV) we spent three nights anchored off the private island of Mustique. Why three? Because the Mustique Company charges 220ec (about $82) per mooring ball, whether you stay for one night, two nights, or three. And the crew of Sanitas always get our money’s worth!

Mustique is definitely “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous” If you’ve watched The Crown, you know that Princess Margaret owned a home here, and visited for decades. Bryan Adams, Tommy Hilfiger, and Mick Jagger own homes, and several large villas are available for rent to the very wealthy at around 40,000 per week during the winter high season. Only small private planes can land here, and the rif-raf is definitely kept out. Except for us, lol! We’re considered “yachties” and we are allowed limited access to this beautiful island. ⛵🌴🌄 Of course our first stop was the world famous Basil’s Bar, clinging picturesquely to a wooden dock over the blue, blue water. It’s a lovely beach bar, decorated with carved wood, rattan lamps, and antique musical instruments. Unfortunately, we arrived one day too late for the weekly Wednesday “jump up” of live island music. We watched a mediocre sunset while sampling tasty but obscenely expensive cocktails and burgers. It was a bit of a shock seeing the menu in US dollars rather than in ec. Well I did say I wanted to see how the other half lives – so far, I think they get ripped off, lol 🤣

The mooring field in Brittania Bay is beautiful with tons of happy healthy sea turtles swimming around. We visited with Zach and Lindy on SV Holiday, and we shared this large bag with only two other boats. Unfortunately, it can also be rolly here. On Friday morning we experienced an insane roll as if we were sailing in one of our most difficult passages – we think caused by the volcano’s first seismic activity.

Visitors, like us yachties, are welcome to visit the amazing gourmet supermarket, gift shops, and a few restaurants.

Sean at the mooring office told us “When you see a Private Property sign, you turn around!” We didn’t realize how quickly we’d hit one of those signs on our attempt to go for a walk along the waterfront. Pretty much every road that heads inland from the bay is marked Private. 😡

Most of the island is kept natural and undeveloped, and I’d read about beautiful scenic hiking trails. So I wrote to Sean and asked very politely if we could do a hike to the southernmost point on the island. He said yes! As long as we stayed away from all homes, and didn’t take any photos of residents or their villas.

Nobody said we couldn’t take photos of pornographic tortoises

At this point in our stay, the volcano had started erupting, and the sky was grey and full of ash. So maybe, just maybe, going for a hike and breathing in all that crap wasn’t the smartest idea. But remember my goal of getting my Mustique money’s worth? We could feel the grit in our teeth and ended the hike with black streaks of dirt in our elbows and arm pits, but I honestly think it was worth it.

Rich people islands have gorgeous hiking trails! Great signage, mowed grass, and beautiful stone steps to climb the hills. In a distance of less than three miles we changed environments from bird watching in a blind on a salt pond, to a moonscape of exposed rock and cactus. We also glimpsed gorgeous wild beaches, of white sand on the Atlantic side and of black volcanic sand on the Caribbean side.

So is it worth visiting Mustique on a sailboat? Honestly, I guess it depends. If you follow royalty or you’ve always dreamed of rubbing shoulders with celebrities and CEOs, it’s probably the cheapest and easiest way to get here. I didn’t feel very welcome here; it felt more like we were just being tolerated But I have to say, Sanitas has anchored in many equally beautiful harbors where we could anchor for free. And I’ve enjoyed delicious barbequed lobster on the beach for the cost of a burger and a beer at Basil’s. Since we’re spending five months in The Grenadines this year, we’ve set a goal to visit every inhabited island in the chain (and some uninhabited!) so I think Mustique was worth a stop, especially with our lovely hike included. But if you’re here on a brief charter, or if the weather is bad, or if you prefer to spend 12ec for fruit juice and sunset rum instead of $20…. I’d probably pass 🤪

I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blows

The La Soufriere volcano on the north side of St Vincent has been active since we arrived in December. Back then, it was considered in an “effusive” state – some steam, a little smoke, growth of a new dome. That all changed Friday morning, April 9th, when a series of small earthquakes announced the start of explosive eruptions! 😯 I’m writing this on Sunday morning and scientists from the University of the West Indies don’t know whether the eruptions will end soon, or will continue for days or weeks.

Did I mention we just visited St Vincent on Tuesday? We took a day tour and visited attractions on the east side of the island; all the way to the northernmost village named Owia. On Tuesday, it was a scenic tropical paradise. Now, it’s residents have been evacuated and buildings and vegetation are covered in several inches of ash. Please take a moment to pray for the citizens of St Vincent. Over 20,000 people have been evacuated, and the damage to homes, property, and farm crops is going to be immense.

So how has an erupting volcano effected the crew of Sanitas? Well first of all, we are definitely safe. We were anchored off the island of Mustique on Thursday night into Friday morning when the first explosive eruptions occurred. It’s around 27 miles as the frigate flies from the volcano. I think we felt the effect of the earthquakes that occurred early Friday morning. Mustique is a notoriously rolly anchorage. But right about 4:00am, Sanitas started rolling so violently that items were thrown off the shelves. It took about 90 minutes for things to settle back down. The earthquakes occurred around 3:30, and since our harbor faces north, with very little protection, we think we experienced swell caused by the quakes.

Sanitas was anchored off Mustique when La Soufriere erupted on Friday

We woke up to a thin layer of ash covering the boat… and the table… and the floors… and the clean dishes. From that point on, we kept the boat tightly closed up. Which makes things hot and miserable inside, but it’s worth it to keep the indoor ash to a minimum. Volcanic ash is extremely fine and black – I’m thinking it’s much like the dust used by detectives to find fingerprints. It gets everywhere and is super hard to wash off. When it rains, it rains mud. Capt. Mike attempted the first of many wash-downs of Sanitas with bucket after bucket of sea water.

The cockpit is protected by a canvas cover… And it still got this dirty.
Ash really sticks to our new canvas, and to all the running rigging

The sky has been a heavy grey haze. Visibility is very poor, and we can’t even see the next island south in the chain. Air quality is bad, and we are constantly sniffling and dealing with headaches. When we went for a walk on the island, I could tap my teeth together and feel the grit in my mouth.

On Friday afternoon, we walked up to the hilltop village of Mustique. Little did we know, La Soufriere had just experienced it’s second eruption. We joined the group of villagers standing in the middle of the road, looking north and pointing at the huge grey volcanic plume.

It’s difficult to know where to go to wait out the eruptions and to find the best air quality and least amount of ash. Our sailing friends are mostly heading as far south as possible. In a normal (aka non-Covid) year, we’d probably turn around and sail straight to Grenada. They’re getting a bit of ash fall there, but not as much as we are in the Grenadines. If this continues for a while, we might start the process to head south about two months earlier than planned (requesting permission from the Coast Guard, PCR tests, quarantine, etc.) But for now, we’re just returning to the marina in Canouan, where we can access fresh water to clean the boat, and hot showers to clean ourselves.

I’ll share a few photos from the local newspaper, showing how bad the ash fall has been on St Vincent. It looks like snow on the ground, and some northern villages have seen several inches of ash accumulation. Roofs are starting to cave in from the weight and the entire island is water rationing because ash can get into the water supply. If you can spare it, please consider donating to relief efforts for this beautiful country and her strong people.

Invest Caribbean GoFund Me

This is a photo I took at Owia in the northern part of St Vincent on Tuesday
These pictures are from the same area after the eruptions, with vegetation and homes covered in ash

Feeling Fancy

Capt.Mike and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary by splurging on a week at beautiful Sandy Lane Yacht Club on the island of Canouan.

Back when we first started cruising, I made Capt. Mike promise that we’d keep enough money in the budget to stay in a marina once a month to preserve my mental health. But since those long ago and far away days, either I’ve toughened up, or we’ve made life on Sanitas much more comfortable. Now that we have a better mattress, a cockpit shower, and plenty of solar power, we live for free on the hook most of the time. However, in these Covid times, there are still so few tourists in the Eastern Caribbean that many resorts and marinas are offering stellar deals!

Sandy Lane is a new marina and absolutely gorgeous – I feel as though a bit of Miami Beach or San Tropez has been magically transported to the Grenadines. I’m pretty sure it’s designed for the sensibilities (and pocketbooks) of wealthy mega yacht owners. But all of the employees and staff were so welcoming, and treated us so well, you’d think we were spending thousands of dollars a night instead of the $55.50 we actually spent for our dock fees. 😉 That’s roughly what you’d spend for a KOA campsite in the US, or for a Boaty Ball mooring in the BVIs. But here at Sandy Lane, we spent a week living like royalty while having the whole place almost to ourselves (and with our friends Chuck and Lilli on Virtual Reality)

The marina facilities are built along a mile-long fairway, open on both ends, providing great clean water flow. There are fish and turtles living happily in the water. It’s so clean, we could probably make water right in the marina. At one end, there’s a plaza of pastel shops, restaurants, and condos with wrought iron balconies à la New Orleans. At the other end (remember the fairway is a mile long) there’s adorable Scruffy’s Beach Bar and salt water pool. And TWO MILES from the plaza and office, on the opposite side of the marina entry channel, is Shenanigans restaurant and pool club. We pretty much spent every afternoon at that pool- they even provide clean beach towels!

Now, did I mention the bath house? From the outside, it looks like a Greek temple, or maybe a bank. Inside, it’s delightfully air-conditioned, decorated with stylish and comfy seating, and has clean and spacious showers with unlimited hot water. It’s a cruiser’s dream!

Since it’s a long way from the boat to the pool, we inflated our SUP and paddled or way around the marina. The water was so calm, it was delightful, and great exercise.

Of course, we’re still actually on a cruisers’ budget, so we mostly avoided the pricy marina restaurant. (As Chuck on VR says, “the prices in the restaurant don’t look too bad… Until you realize they are in US dollars instead of eastern Caribbean dollars”😲 That means everything cost about the times what we’d expect) But we treated ourselves for our anniversary and had a lovely meal: watermelon feta salad, ceviche, loaded cheeseburger, and lobster wrap. The food, drinks, and service at Shenanigans are all first rate!

Lobster – It’s what’s for dinner

How did the biggest lobster I’ve ever seen end up in my cockpit?

  • Fisherman- You want lobster?
  • Me- How much per pound?
  • Fisherman- 20ec
  • Me- Nope
  • Fisherman- How much you pay?
  • Me- 12ec
  • Fisherman- 15?
  • Me- Ok
  • Fisherman- Holds up a gigantic 5-pound lobster
  • Me- Gulps. What have I gotten myself into?

That’s how, for 70ec (about $26) I ended up with a very large and very grumpy creature in my cockpit, and an unplanned afternoon of lobster butchering ahead of me.

I wasn’t planning on lobster for dinner
Size comparison to Mike’s snorkel gear

I’m usually in charge of lobster killing. When we have small lobsters it’s easy to simply put on a pair of gloves, hold the lobster over the side of the boat, and pull off the tail. The rest of the critter just goes back in the water. Then I use one antenna to pull out the poop chute. But this guy was so big (and wiggly) I didn’t think I could twist the tail off without killing it first. So I pulled Capt. Mike into the effort. He used our largest kitchen knife to make a quick stab behind the eyes to kill it as humanely as possible. Then we used a thin, long knife to cut around the tail in order to remove as much of the head meat with the tail as we could.

Putting him out of his misery

Looking back on it, I should have stopped right there. But… Such a big lobster also has some significant meat in the body and in the legs. And I was DETERMINED to retrieve as much of that meat as possible. So, while Capt. Mike took a nap, I proceeded to turn Sanitas’ cockpit into a disgusting crime scene. With a combination of knives and kitchen shears, a mixing bowl for the good bits and a plastic tub for the gross bits, I eventually ended up with a big pile of legs and “knuckles” to accompany the tail meat. I wish I had taken a photo of the aftermath. Did you know that lobster blood is originally clear, but it turns black when exposed to air? Or that it dries into a sort of jelly that sticks to everything it touches? Me neither! A couple of buckets of saltwater and a bit of deck brushing later, my butchering effort was finally complete.

After a nap and a swim I resumed the effort with cooking lobster for dinner. We don’t have a grill on Sanitas, or a super large pot. So my go-to lobster cooking method is to treat the tail with butter, garlic, and Old Bay and to roast it in a very hot oven. We try to conserve propane by always baking more than one thing at a time in the oven. So Capt. Mike sliced up some strange looking local sweet potatoes and threw them in to roast at the same time. I’m strict about us always eating our veggies, so I sauteed a bag of chopped callalou with more garlic and some curry spices. Layering the potatoes, callalou, and lobster with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce over the top, I think my little galley turned out a restaurant-quality meal!

Tail filling up my 9×13 cookie sheet
Tail meat filling up a Corelle dinner plate
The finished product!

Lesson learned… Next time I find myself with a monster like this, I’m gonna take it to shore to clean it on the beach, probably involving a machete. Preferably, the beach will have a fire pit for grilling so neither my cockpit nor my galley will end up the the huge mess they were yesterday 😁

Kiteboarding adventures in The Grenadines!

The southern Grenadines are a kiteboarding mecca: strong, consistent trade winds, relatively calm waters protected by coral reefs, and lots of east-facing harbors. Here on Union Island there are several experienced kiteboarding schools and, with plenty of time on our hands, Capt. Mike finally got his chance to take a week of lessons from Happy Kite Grenadines!

Kiteboarding has evolved from the sport of windsurfing. The newer gear is slightly less expensive, and consumes less space in storage, making the sport more accessible than earlier iterations. A rider wears a harness around his waist, attached to a leading-edge inflatable kite by approximately 60 feet of control lines. He stands on a bidirectional board, similar to a wakeboard, and uses the kite to generate power and to control the direction and speed of travel. Is that a dry and boring enough description for you? 🤣 Well, when watching Mike’s lessons, I could feel the excitement and invigoration of flying across the surface of the ocean at high speeds, hoping to avoid boats, reefs, and other boarders, and definitely hoping to avoid a sudden and violent crash!

Did I mention a crash?

Happy Kite is run out of a turquoise catamaran anchored off Frigate Island. We anchored Sanitas there, next to SV Holiday, and Mike and Zach signed up for five consecutive days of private lessons and equipment rentals. I’m pretty impressed with the way they run their school! One instructor drives a fast dinghy. A second instructor communicates with Mike through a Bluetooth-enabled headset, providing guidance and real-time feedback while he was out there on the board. They started out on the beach, learning to inflate and configure the kite, as well as learning about safety devices and how to detach from the kite in an emergency. The first lessons focused on kite control, power zones, and generally how you can use the kite to lift you up and propel you forward.

Happy Kite Headquarters

Next, they moved into the water, not with a board yet, and learned to use the kite to body-drag you through the water. I guess this is important because even experienced kiteboarders fall off their boards, and you need to have a way to pull yourself back to it. Otherwise, the kiteboarding session could end almost as soon as it began! This part of the lesson does not look ANY fun to me at all! Getting dragged through the water, waves and choppy water repeatedly slapping you in the face, no goggles, fins, or snorkel to help us land creatures to feel more at home in the water. Blech!

Soon enough, Capt. Mike mastered the kite (Mike here. I wouldn’t say mastered. More like comprehended kite control) and the drag and was ready to tackle the board. I think his years of snowboarding the Colorado mountains really helped! There are lots of similarities between the two sports: holding an edge to carve through the water, shifting your weight and foot position to change direction, soft knees, sinking back on your heels, and of course, balancing your weight to stay in control of that board at high speeds. I could feel his excitement when the lessons finally clicked and Mike was able to get up onto the board and fly downwind – finally starting to work intuitively with the kite – and really felt that rush of speed! But, just like on a sailboat, you can’t simply speed downwind for ever. At least not if you ever want to get back to your boat or to land again! So he next had to learn to carve up wind – always a bit counterintuitive, lol.

By the final day of lessons, Mike had: lost his new sunglasses, bloodied his big toe and shins, swallowed gallons of seawater, bruised his ribs with the harness, and spent hours on YouTube watching kiteboarding videos 😀 This was the big day! He’d finally mastered both kite and board, (Mike again protesting the use of the word mastered) and the goal of the day was to finally figure out how to link turns from downwind to upwind and back again without stopping and sinking down into the water. I went out on my dinghy and trailed Mike to get some photos and video on the final day. It was much more exciting than watching from Sanitas’ cockpit through binoculars! Not the easiest thing in the word to capture on a cell phone camera from a bouncing dinghy, and a fast moving kiteboarder way off in the distance, but I did my best!

He’s doing it!!

What’s next? Will Capt. Mike find some used kiteboarding gear to purchase down here? (And if so, where will we store it on teeny Sanitas?) Will Sanitas start anchoring in the windiest places we can find, instead of in the calmest? Will I become a kiteboarding widow, whiling away the hours, waiting for my adventure-seeking captain to return? Whatever happens, I’ll share it with you here!

Kite school graduates, celebrating with a ti punch on the Happy Kite catamaran