Where there’s no Amazon Prime 2-day Delivery

Hurricane season is our down time on Sanitas. We hunker down someplace safe, and we work on the endless list of repair and maintenance projects that have piled up during the Caribbean Cruising season. And…we shop. A lot. We shop for boat parts, we reprovision canned goods and paper products, and we replace the many, many household items that have rusted, ripped, broken, or otherwise wore out through daily use in a hot and humid and salty environment. But this year, for the first time, we couldn’t return home to the US, aka the Land of Plenty. No Walmart, Home Depot, or West Marine. Not even a short trip home, leaving with empty suitcases and coming back with them filled with oil filters, new hatches, and anchor chain. So once we’d made peace with the idea of spending the entire hurricane season in Grenada, we decided to bring the mall to us.

When you wear the same two pairs of shoes every day for over a year, they definitely get worn out! So happy to receive replacements!

I’m not gonna lie, it can be expensive and intimidating to order goods to be shipped to Grenada. Back in July, we shipped the supplies for our custom canvas project via air freight (essentially FedEx) which charges by weight and volume and that adds up quickly. Also, imported goods are subjected to both import duties and VAT – the sum of these taxes is 35% to 45% of the value of the item 😳 But, I learned there are two tricks to making this somewhat affordable:

1) We found a shipping company that uses sea freight. Yep – putting a cardboard barrel or box on a ship and sending it the slow way across the Caribbean sea from Miami to Grenada. For sea freight, we paid one price of 600 xcd (about $200) for shipping and handling based on the volume of the container, not on the weight. So it was in my best interest to order enough goodies to fill that box to the very top with the heaviest items possible, don’t you think? The guys at West Tech were great – they even sent us a photo of our box as it filled in Miami.

Almost full! It’s time to put this baby on the boat!
(Don’t blame me for the blurriness)

2. I worked through the red tape and paperwork to certify that the items we bought were all “transiting ships stores.” In other words, none of the boat parts, electronics, or clothing would stay in Grenada, but would be leaving with us when we continue to cruise north after hurricane season. Getting a C-14 form to certify this took a massive spreadsheet, lots of invoice tracking, half a ream of printer paper, and a lot of time at the Customs office. But it’s worth it – it reduced our overall duty from 45% down to 2.5%

You know how you order 6 things from Amazon and they ship them in 5 different boxes? We’ll imagine that frustration over a dozen Amazon orders. In fact, we ordered so much within a 48-hour period, after ordering nothing since last November, that Amazon locked our account and canceled an order because we triggered a fraud alert. TWICE. And that’s another reason for my massive spreadsheet. I tried to track when each package had arrived at the warehouse in Miami, so I knew when to tell the shipping company to go ahead and close up our box and put it on a boat. I now know the formats of UPS, USPS, and Fed Ex tracking numbers by heart!

You know how you hear stories about slow downs at the US Postal Service? Well we finally got bit by that chaos. Our final package was an envelope of documents that had to travel from Jacksonville, FL to Miami, FL. And it took three weeks. And apparently it only ever made it to the Miami post office and not actually to the address of the warehouse. Which means it never made it into our great big box. Good grief!

All the effort was worth it because last Friday Capt. Mike and I took a day off from the boatyard to celebrate Christmas in September. Our E-size shipping container was delivered right to our apartment where it was entirely too big and heavy to fit up the stairs, lol. So we spend the rest of the day shuttling shopping bags of boat parts to the boat and kitchen items to the kitchen and perform a fashion show of my new Skirt Sports wardrobe, and try out the new Soda Stream and really do feel just like kids on Christmas morning.

It’s a BIG box!

Was it worth it? Hard to say. When you add up the cost of shipping items within the US, and then across an ocean, and then pay import duty on top of the US sales tax, it’s sure no Amazon Prime free 2-day Delivery. But it allowed us to acquire a bunch of specialized spares and maintenance equipment for Sanitas. And it allowed me to replace the pair of sandals I’ve worn every day for two years until they are falling apart at the seams. And if all else fails, and I need a dry place to live, I’m pretty sure I could sleep comfortably in my size-E shipping container cardboard box!

How do we vote from our Sailboat?

This is the first year since we sold everything in 2017 and moved onto our sailboat, Sanitas, that we won’t be visiting friends and family in the USA in the fall. You know – COVID. 🤬 So how do we vote when we’re “stuck” in the tiny island country of Grenada 🇬🇩 with no access to the good old USPS? Well, it took a lot of research, a bit of trial and error, and about $15 but I think I’ve figured it out!

When we sold our house in Colorado, we established residency in Green Cove Springs, FL. (Yep. You can go ahead and call Capt. Mike “Florida Man.”) Florida is a no excuse vote-by-mail state. That means any registered voter can request a vote-by-mail ballot, without needing to prove a hardship or disability or that you’ll be out of town on Election Day. And, regardless of what the Pres says in his tweets, there’s no difference between an absentee ballot and vote by mail in Florida. in fact, in 2016, Florida removed the words “absentee ballot” completely from all government websites, ballots, and documents. When we registered to vote in Clay County, we ticked the box requesting to vote-by-mail and each time we return a ballot, we tick the box again stating we want to continue voting in this manner. That’s all well and good when we’re in the US, and we can get our mail forwarded to us, but what do we do when we’re overseas?

There’s an excellent government website called the Federal Voter Assistance Program or www.fvap.gov that provides tools and links to help US citizens vote from overseas. Being the government, it’s all acronym alphabet soup. First, we filled out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to certify that we’ll be living outside the US on Election Day and requesting our ballots by email, rather than USPS mail. It required filling out and printing a form, then signing it, scanning, and e-mailing it back. In just a couple days, I received an e-mail confirming that Clay County received the form, and we were good to go on e-mail ballots. Step 1 successfully complete!

FVAP also does a great job of providing the election timeline for each county, including deadlines to register, request vote-by-mail, to return your ballot, and more. It even provides contact info for each county board of elections. This might just be the most useful government website ever! And now I’m slightly embarrassed about how much I’m gushing over a government website.

On September 18, we received our ballots and voting instructions in an e-mail – right on schedule! I hopped on a local minivan bus and traveled to the only shopping mall on the island, where I found a business center and printed our ballots and instructions for 10.50 ECD ($4USD) Back home, I used resources at Ballotpedia.org and the League of Women Voters lwvfl.org to research candidates and constitutional amendments on the ballot. When we were ready, Capt. Mike and I marked our ballots, signed them, and filled out a fax transmission sheet.

Florida doesn’t allow you to return a ballot via email (some states do!) so we also signed a waiver acknowledging that our faxed ballots wouldn’t be private. And then I set off in search of a fax machine – remember those? I spent about a day and a half walking back and forth between the boatyard and the Budget Marine chandlery with a folder full of paperwork trying to make it there during business hours (Island time is no joke!) and trying to find one with a fax machine that would function correctly and stay connected for 5 whole pages. I phoned Clay County directly a couple of times and spoke to a lovely, polite southern woman who checked that the fax machine was indeed turned on, and even gave be a backup fax number when the first one didn’t work. You gotta love that southern politeness! Finally, and after paying 2ec per faxed page, success! My mantra is, “Well it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than FedEx!” I have fax transmission sheet to prove my ballot went through. Now, fingers crossed that my signature from 2020 matches the one I gave them when I registered back in 2017 and I should be confident that Capt. Mike and I did our part to make our votes count and our voices heard. Even from the islands, mon.

Sanitas gets a Makeover

Stuck in Grenada for hurricane season, this is the time of year we GET STUFF DONE! Each year, we invest time and money into a few big upgrades or maintenance projects that will make sailing life safer or more comfortable in the years to come. This year’s big project….replacing the canvas!

When new sailing friends ask “Which boat is yours?” in an anchorage, it’s kind of hard to answer. “Well, she’s the beige boat. With a beige sail bag. And a beige bimini and dodger. Never mind. She’s the cutter-rigged double ended of no particular color.” That’s practical – light fabric is cooler in the tropical sun, and it won’t fade. But that same strong sun has taken a toll on our canvas nonetheless, and it’s been right on the edge of falling apart this whole season. A couple of times a year, we hand sew the zipper back on the sail bag….again! And the metal frame that supports the dodger is showing right through the fabric there. We’re one tropical storm away from everything ripping right off!

So we made it a priority way back in July to meet with Ever After Canvas in Prickly Bay for an estimate and to take measurements. Because, we can’t just drive to Joann Fabrics to buy the supplies for this big job. Instead, to acquire Sunbrella fabric, plastic zippers, and 100% UV-proof thread that can stand up to the harsh marine environment, I ordered everything from the US and shipped it from Miami to Grenada using the EZone freight company. No free two-day-shipping here! I placed the order; got a C-14 form from Customs and Immigration to certify that all items would be leaving Grenada on our boat, and therefore I’m entitled to lower import duty; and eventually picked everything up almost four weeks later.

Jules and Frank, of Ever After Canvas, run their business from their boat, powering their sewing machine using a Honda generator. So we picked up a mooring ball just behind them in Prickly Bay and prepped to spend the next couple of weeks measuring, fitting, and installing. Frank’s a true artist; he tweaks each fabric panel and fitting until it fits perfectly. He was able to do most of the work on our sail bag before we even arrived, so we had the first piece of canvas installed quickly.

That gorgeous new sail bag whetted our appetite for progress, and we couldn’t wait to see the finished product. Along the way, we’d even added a few upgrades to our current system, such as shade panels on all sides of the cockpit, a water catchment system built into the bimini, and better rain protection. You know how you drive to Home Depot at least once a day while you’re in the middle of a big DIY project? Well Capt. Mike dinghied ashore just as often to buy new stainless fittings from Budget Marine, or added a mile-long walk to Ace Hardware for pvc pipes and bungees. And he and Frank worked together to get each piece installed perfectly. Frank worked his butt off, and got everything completed and installed within the two-week period we had free before we were scheduled to haul out at Spice Island Marine for the worst of hurricane season. Hooray! Finishing on schedule almost never happens! (Island time, and all 😁)

I think everything turned out great! Sanitas looks better than ever, and Capt. Mike and I are really looking forward to a more comfortable cockpit. Bring on the sundowner cocktails, and beautiful tropical sunsets!

A Trip to the Fish Market

Shopping for food can be expensive in Grenada. There’s only one big American style grocery store, and the tax and duty on imported goods sends the prices on American brands sky high. But… if you eat what the locals eat …. you can eat healthy, delicious fresh food for much lower cost! My favorite way to eat local starts with the adventure of a trip to the fish market in downtown St George’s.

It’s a short walk from our slip in the Port Louis Marina to the main road around the St George’s harbor. Before I even reach the road, a #1 bus slows down, honks, and the conductor waves to me. Why yes! I do want a ride! How’d you know? I hurry to the curb, don my mask, and allow the conductor to spray my hands with sanitizer. Then I clamber gracelessly aboard the van and squeeze into a seat. It costs $2.50 ecd per ride, no matter how far you go, so I get my 93 cents worth by staying on until the end of the route at the St George’s bus terminal.

(The bus system here is an adventure in and of itself. A fellow cruiser wrote this wonderful blog post that captures exactly the island bus experience. Feel free to check it out. Don’t worry! I’ll wait!)    Grenada Explorer bus blog

After I unfold myself from the crowded bus and wipe the sweat from my brow, I join the flow of humanity on the sidewalks and in the streets – shopping, eating, buying, selling. The fish market is just past the bus station, and it’s best to get there early for the best selection. This is truly “Catch of the Day” because whatever the fishermen caught this morning is on sale until it’s gone! Luckily, that’s pretty much always yellowfin tuna, so I’m not complaining! When we first arrived in Grenada back at the beginning of July, a cruiser told me “don’t buy the $20ecd bags of tuna.” So what do you think I did on my first over-stimulating fish market visit? I panicked! There was so much noise and smell and fish guts, I just stopped at the first vendor inside the door, pointed to a bag of fish, and said “I’ll take it” It was fine, I guess. And you really can’t argue with the $7.40 usd price. But it has bones, and some bits of skin, and who knows if it’s today’s catch or yesterday’s?

So I did my research and asked around, and on my second fish market outing, I arrived better prepared. I returned to the first vendor (you gotta have “a guy”, right?) and this time, I said “I’ll take three pounds of tuna, and could you remove the skin for me?” My fishmonger eyed the fish carcass in front of him, raised his machete, and let it fall – thunk! Then he picked up a worn piece of wood shaped like a club, and pounded on the machete until it successfully cut through the bone and a hefty chunk of dark red meat landed on the ice shavings. He placed it on the old school analog scale and presto! Three pounds exactly. A couple more passes of the sharp machete, and I’ve got a massive amount of amazing fresh sushi-grade tuna for $24ecd (about $9 usd)

Jeff, on SV Yagermeister, shopped for tuna for five boats, and shared this gorgeous photo- fish blood and all!

On my most recent fish market foray, I upped my game even more! Perhaps there were fewer shoppers on a Monday morning than on my usual Saturday shop, but “my guy” had tuna, sailfish, and shark. I did pass on the shark, but took about 4 pounds of tuna and 2 pounds of the sailfish. And THIS TIME I asked the fish monger to remove the backbone and bloodline as well as the skin. Look how far I’ve come since panicking and just pointing to the pre-packaged bag! I’ve also learned to ask for a scoop of ice to keep the fish cool on the hot bus ride home. And, since I’ve already made the trip, I walk a couple of blocks to the veg market and pick up a bag of eggs from a guy selling them out of a shopping cart. (Have you ever bought eggs in a plastic bag, lol? And then traveled home on a crowded mini bus? It reminds me of that school project where you pretend an egg is a baby and you fail if it breaks before the end of the semester 🤣) Other market options are totally appropriate to buy in bags, so I also grab some limes, and tomatoes and cucumbers. Everything super fresh and organic!

So what do I do with all of this wonderful fresh tuna? Pretty much everything I can think of! For the first couple of days, we eat it raw: sushi rolls, sashimi, or my new favorite – poke bowls. With all this sushi, I’m running low on siracha, wasabi, and gluten free soy. Darn! I’m going to have to hit up that overpriced grocery store after all! After those freshest sushi days, I mix up a rub of dried spices, and quickly sear the tuna – definitely keeping it pink or even red on the inside – and serve it over a bed of sautéed vegetables. Last night, I used the last of our white-fleshed sail fish in a coconut curry. Oh my goodness, so good!

Sanitas and her crew will be farther away from “town” and the fish market for the next couple of months, but I’m pretty sure I’ll pay my round trip bus fare every couple of weeks to restock the fridge with the bounty of Grenada’s seas 🐠.

Thanks to our friend Jeff, on SV Yagermeister, for this photo of HIS fish guy (actually a fish girl) who smiles way more than my guy and actually seems happy to have customers!

Special Treat! A Sailing Video!

For some reason, I rarely post videos…Maybe because I’m the old-fashioned writer type? Or because video editing is hard? Or just because we’re not very telegenic? 🤣 Lucky for you, we’ve got friends who are great at this stuff. For a sense of what this sailing is really like, click the link below for a 20 minute YouTube video of highlights from last week’s Race around Grenada, filmed by our good friend Zach on SV Holiday!

Fun on Holiday Race around Grenada