My Favorite National Park

While St Thomas is cruise ships and duty free shops (and beautiful beaches, let’s be honest), St John is its more laid back, hippy cousin. So guess which one appeals to this Boulder, Colorado chick?

When we learned that SV Wilfull and SV Tanda Tula were spending one last night in St John before heading to the British Virgins, Capt. Mike and I raised anchor and hurried over to St John to see them one more time. Heading east means upwind, but we’re in no hurry, so we kept the motor off and enjoyed the sail tacking as close to the wind as our staysail would allow.

Once we’d settled in on a mooring ball in Maho Bay we could start to appreciate all that St John has to offer. About 2/3 of the island is National Park with protected rainforest and coastal waters. And it’s kind of hard to get there – no airport, a ferry ride away from Red Hook, only one big international resort. Which means the beaches are lovely, but not covered with lounge chairs. The waters are perfect for swimming, and the giant sea turtles aren’t the slightest bit afraid of us inconsequential humans. Independent travelers rent a van and pack a cooler and circle the island, exploring the differing delights of each bay just around the next corner or hiking the steep trails from the island’s mountainous spine down to its beaches.

Maho Bay is sea turtle paradise – small agile turtles, big turtles with remora fish clinging to their shells, and huge ancient turtles that stare back at you placidly when you dive down to their level. Mike and I never got tired of calling out, “Look! Turtle! Look! Turtle!” from the cockpit. And when we got tired of snorkeling, usually coincidentally right around happy hour, we’d head ashore to the new Maho Collective. This combination tiki bar, food truck park, paddle board rental, and boutique has an inviting island vibe and feels like a backyard barbecue at your cool friend’s house. The owner, Dave lived in Vail for a while so we sat on a wicker sofa after closing time and told island stories and mountain stories. Fabulous guy that he is, he even bought all six of us a round of drinks!

Once our friends moved on, Capt. Mike and I set out to explore all the new and happening spots on St John – well, at least all the spots that the weather conditions allowed. After hiking St Francis bay, we dropped our national park mooring ball and sailed east to Hansen’s Bay just outside the park boundaries. Being outside the park, we were able to anchor for free, rather than spending $26 per night for a mooring ball. Hmmm… what to do with that extra money? Spend the afternoon at a floating taco and cocktail bar, of course!

Lime Out is a lime green barge, only accessible by boat, kayak, or paddle board. Tie up, jump in the water, and drift over to one of the huge floats or to the swim up bar. Look over the short menu of gourmet tacos (think seared tuna, shrimp with pesto, or surf and turf) and craft cocktails. Place your order with one of the cheerful, efficient young waitresses who can answer any questions about ingredients and allergies. Even when the place is jammed with people, your order will come out super fast – drinks served in insulated stainless steel mugs, so no trash or single-use plastics. Tacos come in these cute little divided take-out containers made of compostable material. If you’re sitting on a yellow float, they’ll place your order on a pool float and give it a push to drift across the water to you. Finished, and have empty taco containers? The waitress reaches out with one of those long handled swimming pool skimmers to collect your trash. They’ve got this whole thing figured out. And speaking of trash, if you eat your scrumptious tacos at the swim up bar, a few scraps of guacamole or lettuce are bound to fall in the water. Never fear! A school of fish hang out under the barge just waiting to swoop in and snatch up your scraps. I have to admit, it’s a bit unnerving the first time it happens! When you get hot, slip into the water and borrow one of Lime Out’s swim noodles or floating chairs. When you get chilly, clamber up onto one of the sectional-couch-sized floats and chat with your neighbor. All in all, spending an afternoon at Lime Out is tons of fun.

After the Lime Out restaurant raised anchor and motored away on Sunday evening, Sanitas was left alone for a quiet evening. The next morning, we ducked around the corner to Salt Pond Bay, back inside the park. The beach here is a bit off the beaten path, and it’s quieter than on the north shore. From the beach, there’s a lovely easy hike to Ram’s Head with wonderful views. The trail meanders through clusters of barrel cactus with bright red blossoms. If you look closely, you’ll find a few with bright pink fruits shaped like chili peppers that grow right out the top of the cactus. Very cool! If you’re visiting St John, the hike to Ram’s Head is a must!

After all this traveling around, somehow the holidays snuck up on us. Southerly winds drove us away from St John’s south coast anchorages, so we turned the corner to the west coast and ducked into Cruz Bay on Christmas Eve. Cruz Bay is the “big city” on St John, with all the services we were missing after our stay in the park – grocery stores, hair salon, restaurants, and strong free wifi at the ferry dock. We certainly took advantage of all these things, and soaked up the tropical holiday atmosphere. As an added bonus, we caught up with Carina on Northern Star who we met back in St Petersburg, FL in 2017. At the time, she and her husband and two adorable dogs were in the process of moving from Texas to the Virgin Islands on their sailboat. Lots of fun to check in two years later to find out how it went, and how much they are enjoying their new island home!

I hope all of you had happy and healthy holidays! Here’s to the best for you in 2020!

Splash Day! We’re back on the water!

At long last, all of our hard work in the boatyard has paid off and it was time for Sanitas to go back in the water where she belongs. Back in May, we picked a pretty arbitrary date toward the end of November to schedule our put-in. It was the only entry on Google calendar, except for our flight from Puerto Rico back to Colorado for the Skirt Sport retreat. Now suddenly; after six months away, a summer spent in the US and Europe, and nearly a month of sweaty, dirty work in the boatyard, the magical day had arrived.

We went to the marina office as soon as it opened, to pay our boatyard bill and to get our wet slip assignment. Engineers that we are, we showed up at the boat with a long list of things to do before our 10:30 appointment.

Everything went fairly smoothly, so we weren’t too upset when the travel lift operators showed up early. Sanitas did the long walk to the water in reverse of her spring trip: first a ride on a narrow, hydraulic trailer, then transfer to the slings of the travel lift. We were relieved to see Reuben of RBS Marine show up to touch up the anti-foul paint and to put down plastic before the dock hands lowered her into the slings. We followed the travel lift in its slow, lumbering transit out of the boatyard and to the water’s edge.

When they lowered Sanitas into the water bow-in, we clambered over the bow spirit and climbed aboard, checking first for leaks or open throughcocks, or anything else that could cause us to immediately sink. All looked good, so we signaled the dockhhands to tie us into the slip, and to drop the slings. That’s when everything went pear-shaped.

I turned the key to start the diesel motor and – click click click – nothing happened. We checked fuses and battery settings: nothing. Capt. Mike went below and started throwing things all over the saloon the get access to the engine, the battery banks, and the switches and lots of tools. He pulled up the cockpit floor to get access to the back side of the engine. The dock master started yelling at us; “You need to start your engine or call Sea Tow. See that boat right there? They’re waiting to get hauled out from this slip.” Now it’s pretty much impossible to work through a problem in a calm and reasonable manner when somebody is yelling at you and pointing at the clock. It made me very cranky, and Capt. Mike quickly hit the limit of his troubleshooting abilities without taking time to ready the bugs or research online. We confirmed power was getting to the starter, but that’s it. So we texted Bianca, our boat caretaker, and asked if she knew of an electrician or diesel mechanic who could help us.

By this time, I’d been ignoring the dock hands or responding “ok, ok” for about 15 minutes and they were getting very irritated with me. The new threat was, “We’re going to bring the lift back and haul you out again in two minutes” an action that would have cost us several hundred dollars NOT in the cruising budget. Just then Bianca sped up in her truck and introduced us to an electrician who’d been working on the boat next to her in the yard. He hopped aboard and followed Capt. Mike below decks to investigate.in less than five minutes, he found a grounding wire that had hosted free, reconnected it, and magic! The engine started right up on the next turn of the key. We handed him a couple of 20s, helped him back ashore, and we escaped the put-in slip at last.

I’m still pretty angry about the whole thing. We had that appointment from 10:30am to 12:30pm reserved for six months. There was no call for them to try to fit an extra boat haul out during our very expensive appointment window. It’s the only thing so far I have not been happy about in our Puerto del Rey experience. But all’s we’ll that ends well, and I’m grateful that we had a good relationship established with a boat caretaker who could get us a resource to solve our problem so quickly.

AND…at least Sanitas is back in the water, in a slip, and we can start to get back into cruising life!

Why is is so hard to give up “stuff”?

When we sold our house and most of our belongings before moving onto our 37 foot sailboat, several friends told me, “It must feel so good to simplify and get rid of stuff!” Well it did feel good up to a point: emptying closets of outdated technology, getting rid of clothes that hadn’t fit in years, eliminating duplicate camping gear. Even clearing out kitchen cabinets of clutter was kind of fun. And I got really good at my downsizing mantras. Does it bring me joy? Does it fit on a boat? But eventually….. I had gotten rid of the junk, and all that was left was things that I loved, and clothes that fit me, and stuff that, darn it, DID bring me joy! And it was still WAY too much to fit on a boat.

So then sh*t got real. And we kept downsizing: digitizing photos, giving away the coffee bean grinder and any kitchen items that could be replaced at Target, giving away running clothes and cycling kits (’cause who can run or bike on a boat?) We finally caved in a bit and decided to store a few boxes at Capt. Mike’s mom’s house – our road bikes, glassware and pottery from our travels and a box of winter jackets for when we eventually leave the topics and visit Buffalo. That decision probably saved my sanity, because t allowed me to keep some belongings.

Jump ahead to the end of our second cruising season. And somehow… We still have too much stuff! There’s clothes in hard-to-get-to storage that I haven’t worn all season. We have a bag of bags – yes really. Insulated cups always sit on the counter because there’s not enough room in the cup cupboard. Don’t even ask how many pairs of shoes I have. Sigh. So at the end of the season, we downsized again. I really think Netflix should feature Sanitas on an episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

When we moved from the boat to an Airbnb while working in the yard, the pile of stuff we moved into the condo was pretty huge.

But, to be fair, we were still cooking all our meals (with vegetables!) And using up food and toiletries from the cruising season. We downsized a bit more before flying to Colorado for a month. But packing light didn’t turn out quite how I envisioned it.

Good thing we borrowed a friend’s car! We had cold weather clothing (it snowed in Colorado the day before we arrived, plus we planned to spend time in New York in October) and running clothes and yoga clothes and going out to dinner clothes and backpacking equipment. So not too bad, considering.

But then a crazy thing happened. During the month we spent in the land of plenty, we bought more stuff! Newer cuter clothes. Toiletries. Makeup (which you sure don’t need on the boat). Gluten free snacks galore. Newer, lighter packaging gear. By the end of the month, we again had way too much stuff and had to ship some to new York. By the time we flew out from Denver to Europe, we’d once again skinnyed things down to a comfortable walking around level.

I think we’re pretty good now! I’ve got hiking clothes and gear. I’ve got everything I need for hot temps, chilly temps, and rain. I’ve got a couple of drinking-wine-and-eating-pinxtos outfits. I even packed some gluten free snacks. Why was it so hard to get here?

Who knows! Like most of us, I get sentimentally attached to things I’ve owned that trigger fond memories. And I hate the idea of re-buying something I used to own. It seems like such a waste! Plus there’s always an element of, “what if I need it someday?” But, with everything I need for 3 months traveling Europe in my backpack, I hope to channel my inner Marie Kondo and get rid of the clutter and excess in my life! And on my boat 😁

What do we do when we’re not on the boat?

For the past two years now, we’ve been “seasonal cruisers.” That means we live on Sanitas full time from approximately November to June, and then we store her in a safe place on land during hurricane season. So far, we really like this approach. It keeps things fresh – we’ve always got something different to look forward to, and it gives Capt. Mike a break from worrying about boat safety, weather, and navigation for a few months. It’s like a vacation from our vacation! But where do we live and what do we do when we’re not on the boat?

To make this cruising lifestyle work, we had to sell our home, our cars, and most of our things (Does it bring me joy? ….. Does it fit on a boat? ….) so we don’t have a home to return to during hurricane season. The good news is – we can go anywhere! The bad news is – we can go anywhere! … which involves a lot of research, planning, and an adventurous attitude. This year, we tucked Sanitas safely into storage in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and flew back to Colorado where we are blessed with generous friends and family who open their homes and their guest bedrooms to us when we visit.

I was lucky to be able to attend a retreat of Skirt Sports brand ambassadors from around the country during our first weekend in Boulder. It was really wonderful to meet such positive and supportive women in person after being “friends” on social media for years. We heard TESS talks from inspiring women, hiked, ran, ate, drank, and had a lot of fun together. The weekend culminated in a half marathon that I was not sufficiently trained for, but was still a lot of fun.

Capt.Mike and I moved to Colorado in 2003, so we have LOTS of friends and family here. By the time we moved onto our boat in 2017 we had mountain biking friends, road biking friends, running friends, work friends, Skirt Sports friends, book club friends, snowboarding friends, and UK friends. We tried to fit in a visit with every one of them in the past month. This involved a lot of driving, and a lot of eating and drinking!

Did I mention eating and drinking? After six months of cooking one-pot meals in my tiny galley, and eating beans and rice, the variety of food available (even gluten free beer!) in Boulder, CO was dizzying. Plus, I couldn’t resist going on taco and margarita tour.

We were extremely happy that it stopped snowing in Boulder days before we arrived – on May 29th!?! You might notice Mike and I are wearing jackets and hats in a lot of these photos, while Coloradans are wearing shorts and t-shirts. Apparently your blood really does thin while living in the tropics for six months. 🤣 Once summer arrived in Colorado, we took every opportunity possible to hike in this beautiful state. We were so lucky to have amazing trails right in the Boulder City limits, or within a 15-minute drive! I even hiked a few new-to-me trails that I somehow missed while we lived here. I love the Colorado blue skies, snow capped mountains, and variety of vegetation; everything from pine trees to cactus.

In between hikes, we fit in a few particularly fun events. Did I mention we consider this time in Colorado a vacation from the stresses and discomforts of boat life? When in Colorado, we always need to see a concert at the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater concert venue.

And we borrowed cruiser bikes from Brittany and Erik so that we could participate in bike-to-work day.

All of our socializing involved our good friends – playing cards, doing pedicures, cycling around Boulder.

We have a leave-no-trace policy for our guest room stays. Or, as Capt. Mike says, “take only memories, leave only carpet vacuum stripes.” Since we aren’t working, and we have plenty of extra time, sometimes we can help out around the house. Mike has hauled rocks, repaired bikes, and even put together IKEA furniture.

All in all, our visit to Colorado went much too quickly. Tomorrow we head to the airport for the next stage of our land adventures. Tomorrow we fly to France and then to Spain where we plan to hike the Camino de Santiago – approximately 500 miles across Spain!

The Last Hurrah

All good things must come to an end, and we were rapidly approaching the end of Sanitas’ 2019 cruising season. So Capt. Mike and I decided to end the season on a high note. While our buddy boats continued on to Culebra and then to the US Virgin Islands, we decided to spend our last few days quietly at anchor off the coast of Vieques. I’m so glad we did! The public beach at Sun Bay is the prettiest we saw in Puerto Rico – white sand stretching for over a mile, with strategically placed palm trees for shade, calm blue water, and wild horses! And only two boats anchored here!

Each morning, we’d check off a couple of items on the “get Sanitas ready for hurricane season” checklist. Then we’d go ashore and walk the length of the beach (stopping by the cafe, just in case they might actually be open one day and willing to sell us a pina colada) and we’d visit our horse buddies. That cafe never actually was open. Sigh. Since it was spring, it was baby season, and I saw some of the cutest wobbly new-born foals I’d ever seen. Don’t worry! I kept my distance so mama wouldn’t get nervous. One small herd of wild horses staked out a primo spot by the outdoor beach showers, and Capt. Mike would turn the showers on for a few minutes each day to give them fresh drinking water. Watch out for those big teeth and sharp hooves, though!

On our last full night at Sun Bay, we booked a tour with Jak Water Sports to visit the bioluminescent bay at Mosquito Bay. Remember when we visited the bioluminescent bay at La Paguara? Well, everyone told us that the bright and active bioluminescence here on Vieques would make La Paguera look like a dim has-been by comparison. We dinghied ashore around 8:30 and the tour bus picked us up at the end of the dirt road. For $50pp, they set us up with a glass-bottomed kayak, paddles, PFDs, and a super knowledgeable guide. We probably spent an hour and a half gliding across the bay, watching the bioluminescence streak like warp speed beneath the glass bottom of our boat. We were encouraged to dip our hands and feet into the water and to watch the glowing sparkles run down our arms. The only no-no was swimming in it. Apparently, prohibiting swimming and motor boats has protected the bay and its microscopic inhabitants. It really was considerably brighter than La Paguara, although being able to swim in the bioluminescence was a true highlight, so I am very glad that we had the privilege of experiencing both.

One our last day of cruising, we had a lovely short sail around to the west coast of Vieques to anchor at Green Beach. It was wonderful to sail downwind after weeks of sailing straight into the trades. We didn’t even turn on our motor on this last beautiful day! This section of the island used to be controlled by the US Navy who performed armaments testing on Vieques. But today, the few military buildings have been abandoned, and all that remains is a lovely and quiet small beach. If we hadn’t just come from beautiful Sun Bay, I might have even considered it the most beautiful beach on the island. Of course, there’s also the famous Black Beach that we didn’t visit- sounds like another trip to Vieques is in order!

We toasted to our success in traveling all the way from St Petersburg Florida with our last bottle of Prosecco. It’s truly amazing to me that we got ourselves and our boat all this way! Capt. Mike agrees that our second cruising season has been much more relaxing and enjoyable than our first. This last quiet night was a chance review the stories, adventures, and wonderful people we met this season, and to prepare ourselves for the long list of jobs awaiting us in the marina. Cheers to a wonderful cruising season!