And so it begins….

I think we choose the worst day of the worst week of the worst summer to travel internationally. All the headlines read “Air traffic chaos spreads” as we drove to Buffalo airport at 6:30am on July 4th. Crazy early for our flight, just the way I like it! We boarded the plane exactly on schedule, and then sat. And sat. And sat. Finally, we learned the plane had a mechanical failure, and we de-planed to spend another six hours in the teeny tiny airport waiting for a new plane to arrive from New York City. On the plus side, Mike got one more meal of Buffalo chicken wings 😁

Miraculously, we made it to JFK in time for our red-eye to Lisbon, Portugal. Feeling very fuzzy due to the 6-hour time change, not to mention the 30+ hours of travel, we crossed our fingers and caught the final flight to Lyon, France more or less on time. Phew! On the train ride from the airport to the center of town, Mike pondered deep thoughts. “Isn’t it miraculous that the train tickets we bought on-line in Grenada in April, and printed in Endicott, NY last week, and showed the security guard in Lyon this morning, allowed us to seamlessly board the train that was leaving exactly as we arrived?”

We had scheduled a day off buffer in Lyon “just in case” and spent it on a walking tour of the old city, enjoying street art, a meticulously restored cathedral, and finally sitting down to our first French meal. As Mike said “this salad tastes like France” ♥️🇫🇷

But, as we were enjoying the views of the city from the cathedral gardens, I received a notification that our 2nd train between Lyon and Le Puy was cancelled. Wouldn’t you know it? All of France was under a nation-wide transportation strike “La Grève” and about 25% of all trains in our region were cancelled. We quit sightseeing and started the long walk back to our hotel (it’s a training hike, right?) where we had good wifi to research our options. Another train? A bus? BlaBlaCar?

Eventually, I deciphered the French on our tickets and decided we could get up super early and take an earlier train whose second, connecting train had not been cancelled… Yet. It all went swimmingly. We walked to Gare Lyon Part Dieu, found our train, and settled in. About 30 minutes in, we stopped suddenly and sat for a long time. After one of those “ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you” messages, I asked the young lady beside me how long of a delay. Her answer, with a very French shrug, “quelque minutes”. That means some. Or several. In other words, who knows?

We finally got off the train at the station and it looked like we would have to wait four hours for the next connecting train. Of course, I looked for a coffee. Next thing you know, I see Mike in the doorway of the train station, waving furiously. He said “I see a train to Le Puy on the board, leaving in two minutes, but I can’t tell which platform. I took a minute to decipher the sign and said “that’s because it’s a bus!”  Yikes! We grabbed our packs and my paper cup of hot coffee and started jogging toward the only bus in sight. As we got closer, a conductor recognized us as hikers and shouted “Le Puy?” We said “oui!” and jogged toward another bus. Just enough time to throw our packs in the luggage hold and we were off!

After a bumpy bus ride through beautiful scenery, we made it! Le Puy-en-valay, the start of our adventure. A little disoriented, we took a “training hike” through the suburbs to find a sporting goods store to buy hiking poles,  a post office to mail spare shoes forward, a store to buy pocket knives and a picnic lunch. Quite the oasis! We finished just in time to check into our lovely Airbrb. Believe it or not, we survived the chaos and made it! Two sleeps until the start of our Camino!

What will we do on our summer vacation?

The crew of Sanitas enjoyed another wonderful winter in the Eastern Caribbean, finally visiting the countries of Martinique and Dominica, as well as revisiting old favorites in The Grenadines. But all good things must come to an end, and we’ve once again tucked Sanitas securely into her summer home in Spice Island Maine boat yard. Fingers crossed for a quiet hurricane season!

So what’s in store for us this summer? How can we possibly fill the hours without boat maintenance, watching the weather, and trimming the sails?

Well, we are once again trading sea life for land legs and traveling to France to walk the Chemin de Compostelle from Le Puy-en-Velay (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain). All together, it will be about 1000 miles 😲

Our walk will follow a medieval pilgrimage route through some of the most beautiful villages in France, across the Pyrenees, and eventually (if our feet hold out) to Santiago. Here, according to legend, the remains of St James are buried in the crypt of an elaborate Romanesque cathedral. Pilgrims have walked to Santiago for thousands of years. More recently, seekers of all kinds; religious, spiritual, or simply those hoping to escape the hectic modern world, follow in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims for a week, a month, or more of foot travel. I anticipate taking two or two-and-a-half months to complete our Camino, with only a handful of zero-mile rest days along the way.

I’ve been researching for months, finding accommodations, studying French on Doulingo, and living vicariously through other pilgrims’ adventures on FaceBook. The French portion of our walk should be a bit less crowded and touristy than the better known Spanish portion…. And the food should be much better! 🇫🇷 I’m sure we will struggle with the language barrier. But hopefully, with an open mind and a positive attitude, the Camino (Chemin in French) will provide!

If you are willing, please follow along as this salty crew becomes a sweaty crew for the next couple of months 😬

Our “Best Of” tour of the Grenadines

After leaving Dominica, we had to come to grips with the fact that our cruising season on Sanitas is almost at an end. Hurricane season is right around the corner, and it’s time to head south to Grenada to get ready. The country of St Vincent and the Grenadines still requires a COVID test and expensive health check fee to enter, so we almost skipped it. But…we had so much fun in SVG last winter, we couldn’t imagine heading south without stopping at our favorite anchorages. So here’s a glimpse of our favorite places south of St Vincent and north of Grenada 😎

We sailed Sanitas past St Lucia, admiring the stunning beauty of the pitons. And we had a salty sail down the coast on St Vincent before dropping anchor in what feels like our winter home of Bequia.

Our favorite things to do in Bequia are to hike to beautiful viewpoints, enjoy the fish chowder at Coco’s, to lime on Princess Margaret beach, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  This year, we also had the privilege of participating in the naming ceremony for Popeye and Lisa’s beautiful homemade wooden sailing dinghy Velocette.

We tore ourselves away from bustling, exciting Bequia and headed south to the paradise of the Tobago Cays Marine Park. There’s nothing here but nature, but wow is it beautiful. we snorkeled with turtles and rays, climbed to gorgeous viewpoints, and ate a delicious barbecue on the beach cooked by our friends Romeo and Juliette ❤️ If you’re ever in the area, Tobago Cays can’t be missed!

Our next little downwind hop to Union Island was a short, sweet sail. We nestled Sanitas right into our favorite anchor spot behind the reef in Clifton and went ashore to look around. Clifton looks great! Perhaps the number of tourists who are returning now as COVID restrictions ease is bringing valuable money back to the island. Lots of buildings have had a new coat of bright colored paint, and there are some cute new bars and restaurants. We made the 30-minute trek over the hill to the most beautiful beach on Union and spent the afternoon at Sparrows Beach Club. I warned you that this would be our “best of” reel, didn’t I? Lunch at Sparrows really did feel like a vacation from our vacation.

After another easy downwind sail, we cleared into the country of Grenada on sleepy Carriacou. We hiked with baby goats, got our Pfizer booster shots, and reconnected with a friend we hadn’t seen since Grenada. Every Wednesday afternoon is Paint and Sip at Allison’s Paradise Beach Club. It’s a great chance to meet other sailors, enjoy a delicious cocktail, and eat a wonderful meal. Our boat name sign that we painted in November 2020 is still there – along with a couple hundred newer works of art!

Sanitas will be pointing her bow south again in a few days, enjoying her last sail of the season. Soon, we’ll be back in her summer home in Prickly Bay, and Capt. Mike and I will be working our butts off to get her ready for hurricane season storage. Yikes. Until then, we’ll enjoy every sunset we can experience on the water 🌅

Chasing waterfalls in Dominica

We met up with the incomparable Kish Richards to explore more of the beautiful island of Dominica. First, we joined Holiday for lunch at Kish’s place. When I asked what was in the thick spicy soup she made us, Kish gave us a sly grin and said “meat” and made a scrambling running gesture with her fingers. Hmmm…Later, she showed us a picture of the critter called an agouti which flavored our lunch – maybe something like a big tail-less rat?

Sanitas in Portsmouth Harbor

We set out on a full day tour of the southern part of Dominica with Kish and a van full of other sailors. As we drove, Kish told us about the dramatic effects Hurricane Maria had on Dominica back in 2017 and how the island’s economy has not yet recovered. Kish herself had a great job in security at the huge American medical school in Portsmouth before the hurricane hit and the school left the island for good, leaving a ghost town of empty buildings behind to be slowly reclaimed by jungle.

Our first stop was a short hike to Trafalgar Falls. Oh my gosh! If I thought the Bwa Nef waterfall was beautiful, this set of twin waterfalls blows it away in terms of beauty. We visited on a rainy day so the falls were simply raging. Not safe to get too close or to go for a swim, but we just soaked up the beauty.

After a coffee break, we sought out our next Dominican waterfall. This time, instead of an easy paved trail, we earned our views with a steep and slippery scramble. Middleham Falls is huge! I couldn’t even capture its full height in a single frame on my camera. Supposedly, you can swim there on lower flow days, but we didn’t have to swim to get completely soaked from the spray on the viewing platform. Thus the theme of the day was established – we were going to be wet!!! All..day..long.

Did I mention we were going to get wet? Our next stop kind of took me by surprise. Kish told us we were going to visit Titou Gorge and I envisioned another scenic nature hike up a scenic river bed. Not exactly. We we told to change into our swimsuits and pay 5ec to rent a life vest. Next thing you know, we were even told to kick off our water sandals and to jump one at a time into a pool of very cold water. After a few steps, the stream was too deep to touch bottom, and the line of us doggy paddled our way upstream. The gorge immediately narrowed to only a couple meters wide, and we craned our necks to look up at the undulating sone walls covered with moss and dripping ferns with a rim high above our heads. Again, because of all the rain, the force of the water was too strong for me to make it all the way upstream to the small waterfall, but Capt. Mike fought through it for the best view. Once he gave up on his grip of the rocky wall, the stream spun him around and spit him back out downstream like a water slide.

The thrilling conclusion of our island tour was a snorkel at Champagne Reef. Remember those seven volcanos? The geothermal activity at this point on the island manifests as a steady streams of bubbles making their way through the porous material of the coral reef. We swam along the reef in snorkel masks and fins, drifting through the streams of bubbles, catching the bubbles with our fingers. Colorful reef fish nibble at the coral and at the bubbles. I was surprised to find that I could hear the bubbles popping and fizzing. So peaceful, and a unique experience!

After a sunset rum punch on Champagne Beach and a fresh fish dinner at Sunset Bay Club, Kish dropped us off at the dinghy dock long after dark. We tumbled out of the van with armfuls of soggy clothing and dinghied back to our boats to rest up and dream of our next Dominican adventure.

My new Dominican friend Beverly

Dominica, the Nature Island

We’ve been trying to make it to Dominica since before COVID. Everyone told us we’d love it – the hikes, the rainforest, the waterfalls, the mountains! Finally, this April, Dominica eased their COVID entry requirements, and Sanitas pointed her bow toward Portsmouth harbor. From sea level, Dominica looks like Jurassic park. Verdant green mountains soar toward the sky with peaks wreathed in clouds, sparkling waterfalls flowing into one of the 365 rivers, crossing black sand beaches to rejoin the ocean. We dusted off our hiking shoes, and set out to explore.

To warm up, we hiked Cabrits National Park and historic 18th century Fort Shirley. Great views from both peaks, and we pretended the harbor was filled with tall ships and Buccaneers instead of cruising sailboats.

Curious about the gorgeous tropical vegetation all around us, we took a tour up Indian River with Titus, who knows the name and medicinal or cooking purpose of every plant or flower we passed. Titus taught us about the birds, snakes, and crabs that live along the river banks, and sent us home with a bouquet of tropical flowers and a big bag of cooking herbs.

Seven volcanos make up Dominica, and there are signs of geothermal activity everywhere. At Cold Soutrière, we dipped our fingers into the bubbly, sulphuric-smelling mud pools and got up close and personal with the first volcano. It was the first stop on a tour of the northern part of the island where our guide, Winston, told us every stop would be “a surprise.” Personally, I prefer the joy of anticipation…and knowing whether I need to wear hiking shoes or flip flops for each walk. 🤣 It was a easy walk to our first Dominican waterfall of Bwa Nef, but not all of them would be so easy to find no conquer!

Red Rock looks a bit like the Flinstone’s town of bedrock. The iron in this soft, crumbly rock turns it a distinctive orange-red and allows the rain to crumble and carve it away, constantly changing the shape of the coast over time.

Capt. Mike was in heaven when we finally stopped at Pointe Baptiste Chocolate Factory. This small family business produces gourmet chocolate from organic cacao beans and cane sugar and local spices into chocolate bars and rum truffles. Oh my gosh, delicious!