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.

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

Grenada Summer Camp

I’ve heard fellow cruisers describe a hurricane season in Grenada, West Indies as “Grenada Summer Camp” and now I know why!

The crew of Sanitas spent July 2020 anchored in Woburn Bay on the south coast of Grenada. Every morning, we’d listen to the Cruisers’ Net on the VHF radio and there were so many social activities announced every morning, we had to create a little cheat sheet calendar to keep track of them all! Yes, this is still the age of Coronavirus, but Grenada was COVID-free by July and gatherings of up to 25 are allowed, especially outdoors. For more info on “Where are the masks?” click the link to my previous blog post.

We reunited with sailing friends who cleared quarantine a few weeks earlier than us on the 4th of July at a Bar-B-Q at Whisper Cove Marina. This lovely small marina became our home away from home – a place to do laundry, fill water jugs, dispose of trash – as well as mingling with other cruisers at happy hour or pizza night or acoustic jam sessions.

Sanitas was anchored just a short dinghy ride away from Le Phare Bleu Marina, a welcoming spot WITH A POOL where for the price of a happy hour cocktail, cruisers are welcome to socialize while floating about. Kids splash and chase each other at one end, and adults share buckets of beer at the other, and everyone has a wonderful time until sunset.

Grenada summer camp (or is it retirement community? 🤔) isn’t all eating and drinking. It’s the first time in months we’ve been able to go ashore and get some regular exercise. Meghan, on SV Clarity, is kind enough to lead beach boot camp a couple of days a week. And, while the Hash House Harriers aren’t running (they can’t guarantee groups of less than 25 people) there are lovely trails within the Mt Hartman Dove Preserve, and we’ve participated in several small group hikes. Sometimes, the hikes end at the West Indies Beer Company. Ok, maybe it is all eating and drinking!

Hog Island is the center of cruising social life. On Sunday afternoons, cruisers and locals alike gather at Roger’s Barefoot Bar to chat and to buy burgers, ribs, and lobster from the informal vendors. Have grill, will sell Bar-B-Q! You can also buy a sarong or some fresh veggies from vendors in the shade of the island trees if the curious cows don’t eat it first! There’s a mile-long trail on the island with great views of the anchorage too. One evening, we gathered on the beach with Leef Nu and Holiday and had a cookout – grilled delicious Italian sausage with a potluck of sides. We had a rollicking good conversation about the differences between American candy brands and Canadian candy brands. Did you know Smarties and called Rockets in Canada? And, to add the the confusion, Canadian smarties and bigger crunchier m&m’s! Isn’t this an educational blog?

What’s next for the crew of Sanitas?

So we survived quarantine in St George’s Grenada, though not without a bit of drama. On Day #15, we headed to shore with great anticipation to take our COVID-19 tests. Once we passed, we’d be free to officially clear into the country and to have our freedom of movement back! But… Capt. Mike’s rapid antigen test came back inconclusive, which was treated the same as a positive. So he had to undergo the nasal swab PCR test, and we both had to return to Sanitas to wait three more days for the result. Oh my gosh, I could have divorced him! Those were the hardest three days of the entire quarantine. Of course, he didn’t actually have coronavirus and the test eventually came back negative, but those extra three days of confinement were emotionally very difficult to take.

That’s all behind us now, thank goodness! Now we are free to move Sanitas between Grenada anchorages, and to go ashore at will – with masks and social distancing, of course. Several of you have reached out to ask what’s next for Sanitas and her crew. What are our plans for hurricane season? Keeping in mind that plans are really hard to make in a global pandemic, with things constantly changing….

We are probably going to spend all of hurricane season here in Grenada.

Our original plan was to haul Sanitas and store her in a boatyard while we flew back to the US for the summer. In fact, on Plan A we’d be at a family reunion in Boston right now. Sadly, that got cancelled. (Sound familiar?) In 2020 reality, the international airport in Grenada is still closed, and there are no commercial flights scheduled to or from the United States. Grenada clamped down hard on the virus back in March and as a result, this small island country is currently COVID-free. The government is easing restrictions and gradually reopening the economy, but they’re serious about protecting their citizens and residents, so it’s happening slowly. They will be opening to Carribean regional flights first, then commercial flights from low-risk countries such as Canada, and eventually (hopefully) to high-risk countries such as the United States.

I put quite a bit of effort into renegotiating with our marine insurance company. I wrote a new hurricane plan and begged and pleaded and sweet talked our insurance agent, and finally got permission to keep Sanitas in the water for July and August while still keeping our hurricane insurance coverage. That’s good news, because it means we still have a place to live for those months. In July, we’re living at anchor, exploring Grenada’s southern harbors and bays. For August, we have a reservation for a slip in Port Louis Marina in St George’s. Hurricane season is low season, so an entire month will cost us about $600 plus water and electricity. And speaking of electricity, the J-Dock at Port Louis is the only spot in Grenada with 110 power for American boats. You know what that means – air conditioning! Also, access to marina showers, and a laundry room, and a pool. 😲 It’s just a short bus ride away from beautiful Grand Anse beach, and from the hustle and bustle of downtown St George’s.

For insurance reasons, we still have to store Sanitas on the hard for September and October; the months that are historically more likely for hurricanes to impact this part of the Caribbean. We’ll look for a small apartment to rent during that time, and we’ll do some work on Sanitas in the boat yard. If the Coronavirus situation improves by then and flights resume, we’d love to have the chance to fly home and visit family and friends during that time. But it’s too soon to count on it. Plus, what happens if we successfully make it back to upstate New York and then a fall second wave hits and Grenada closes borders again? We wouldn’t want to be stuck thousands of miles away from our home and all of our belongings, with no place to live and no health insurance for Covid. That feels like it would be a pretty precarious situation, and not one that our retirement savings could handle.

None of this is ideal and we really, really miss our friends and families. Keep posting all those Colorado summer mountain pictures and Florida running group pictures and crazy New York State weather pictures please! But we’ve got everything we need (if not everything we want) and we think we can make it work this summer if we can’t make it home. I hope you all are hanging in there on your Plan B or Plan C or Plan D and are staying safe and healthy and sane through these crazy times! Sending virtual hugs!

A Few Days in the Big City

After 35 days on anchor at remote Bird Island, it was time to venture briefly back to civilization. My “toxic waste” laundry pile had gotten huge, even though we’d done some hand washing. We had a long shopping list for groceries and medication. And we needed to equalize our house battery banks. So we raised a super dirty anchor (we’ve never anchored in a single spot for so long!) and sailed downwind to the Jolly Harbour Marina.

Downwind sailing is delightful!

Antigua is still under a limited state of emergency, but curfew rules have recently relaxed a bit. We’re now allowed to leave the home between 6am and 6pm for essential errands. Masks are required in public and gatherings are banned. When we planned to move Sanitas, we were required to call the Antigua Coast Guard to request permission to change anchorages. They asked for our boat name, the captain’s name, the reason we were moving, and then granted us permission. They told us to call back in the morning when we were ready to leave, and also to call when we arrived at our destination. The Coast Guard is really on top of things!

Antigua Coast Guard is on it!

It was quite a shock to return to civilization after so long. Sailors are lucky that marinas here in Antigua are considered essential services, so boaters have been able to access fuel and water and arrange for boat repairs. Jolly Harbour Marina has been super supportive of sailors, and has been extremely professional through these extraordinary times. But it’s quite clear which services are considered essential and which aren’t. The grass and landscaping at the marina and around town are very overgrown. Garbage bins are overflowing. The pool has a permanent sign “Closed for cleaning.” All the outdoor restaurants still have tables and chairs sitting outside and chalkboards still advertise specials, but only two are open at all, offering take-out within curfew hours. Everyone wears masks. Everyone! Some are made from the coolest patterns and prints ever. It’s also clear that Antiguans are feeling the crunch financially. Every time I left the dock, someone asked me if I had any cleaning projects or repair projects on the boat that I need help with.

But not everything is grim! The beaches reopened for exercise on the day we arrived. But no sunbathing, picnicking, or “liming” is allowed. In fact, the beaches are still eerily empty.

Beaches are open, but empty

And a small number of restaurants are open for takeout or delivery. OMG! I was absolutely thrilled to eat a meal filled with new and different flavors that I did not have to cook myself. We went a little bit crazy, ordering Bouillabaisse from La Brasserie, and smoked chicken and Serbian specialties from Fort Medieval. It was almost worth the 4-hour sail to Jolly for this wonderful treat! The cruiser community here has kept each other supported and entertained through lockdown by hosting morning and evening VHF radio nets. The evening net is a virtual happy hour. It starts with each boat sharing what they accomplished today, and what adult beverage they’re drinking now. Then each night a different boat hosts a trivia contest. It’s the highlight of the day!

Bouillabaisse from La Brasserie
Fort Medieval Serbian specialties

The highlight of our marina stay was a quarantine haircut adventure! My last haircut was in a local barber shop in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. With my super-short hairstyle, three months without a trim is insane! Forget how shaggy I looked, and how glorious my Elvis pompadour was growing….long-ish hair is too hot on a boat and requires too much water to wash and rinse. We used the marina WiFi to watch several YouTube videos on cutting hair, dug out Capt. Mike’s clippers and an old pair of scissors, and locked ourselves into a marina bathroom. I really had to close my eyes and hold my breath for that first snip of the scissors. Ooh. I still get a shiver of nervousness just thinking about it. But he did a really good job! Especially if you don’t look too closely 🤣

While it was great to take care of business, we felt a sense of relief when we untied the lines and eased slowly away from the marina dock. Our Gilligans’ Island paradise feels safer, cleaner, and less restrictive than life in the city during a state of emergency. And, of course, we have friends to return to! We shopped for 4 or 5 boats, and brought back treats for everyone. We’re home!