On the road (water) again!

Once we got Sanitas’ engine fixed, we didn’t waste any time! Laundry, groceries, filling the water and fuel tanks, moving from the marina to the anchorage…in about 24 hours we had Sanitas ready to move. A good weather window was coming up at the beginning of April and we wanted to be ready to take advantage of it.

Take advantage of it we did! Around noon on Tuesday we raised anchor and started north. The engine purred like a kitten (or maybe more like a tiger) when we used it to navigate out of the anchorage and get ourselves on our point of sail. But as the Captain says, “We’re a sailboat!” and we didn’t use the engine for long. We had a glorious sail up the west coast of Martinique, past Diamond Rock, and anchored in St Pierre just before sunset.

We set the alarm for 4am and were underway well before sunrise. Setting off in the dark is always a bit disconcerting, but the harbor in St Pierre is wide open with few hazards, so it wasn’t dangerous. We mainly had to watch out for fishing boats and floats for lobster pots. Sunrise at sea is always glorious, and this morning we even had a beautiful bright double rainbow to welcome us back to the sea.

Conditions were perfect for a fast, salty sail. We had easterly winds pretty consistently from 90 degrees between 12 knots and 20 knots. However, we encountered a lot of variation in conditions as we traveled part of the day between the islands of Martinique and Dominica (where seas can be quite big, and winds are strong and sometimes swirl as they are funneled between the islands) and partly in the leeward protection of mountainous Dominica (where wind and waves were lighter, and we actually had to motor sail for about an hour when we had no wind at all). Capt. Mike was kept on his toes putting in reefs and shaking them out. Bringing out the headsails and furling them in. We both ended up with callouses as our soft little hands had to become accustomed to line handling again.

Seas hit us on the beam which makes for a very rocky and rolly ride. There was a period of about an hour when we experienced the worst of the wind funneling effect with consistent 29 knots and I mostly just held on for a very wild ride. Capt. Mike took a picture of me in what he calls my gecko pose. You probably can’t tell from this photo but we are heeled over about 30 degrees so I’m bracing myself with my legs and holding onto the companionway and the winch. I’m kind of huddled in the protection of our bimini because waves on the beam create a great deal of splash.

Speaking of splash! We had a huge wave hit us without warning, and Mike and I were both soaked. The cockpit was swamped – good thing we have good scupper drains – and both bilge pumps turned on, and an alarm started beeping loudly. The worst part of the chaos was that we had forgotten to close the companionway with the sliding boards. So at least a couple of liters of that huge wave ended up with in the cabin. We spilled a bit of wind off the main and once I was sure that the Captain had things under control, I went below to survey the damage. Bilge pumps seemed to be doing their job. The alarm came from the lpg propane gas sensor, so I turned the propane solinoid off at the breaker panel. Mike disconnected it back at the tank just to be sure. I mopped up the saltwater lake on the cabin sole, rolled up the rugs, and did my best to dry off the port settee. I wiped down the breaker panel and port bulkhead. It’s the first time ever that I had to wash saltwater off the INSIDE of the portlights as well as the outside. Looking back on it, we weren’t in danger, but things were pretty darn exciting for a while.

Speaking of water in the cabin, I found a new leak, or what sailors call euphemistically “saltwater incursion.” I noticed that small drops of water were landing on the cushions of the port settee. I first thought that we hadn’t closed the cowl vent well enough. Nope. Watching for a while, I observed a drop forming on the zipper of the headliner, growing, growing, and then falling onto our lovely comfy couch. Darn it! That’s a problem to investigate for another day.

All in all, we averaged over 6 knots today which is crazy fast for little Sanitas. We made it to the mooring field near Terre-de-Haut in The Saintes, Guadeloupe with plenty of time to pick up a ball before sunset. After a day and a half of very active sailing, we were much too tired to go ashore. But after taming the chaos of the boat a bit, we could enjoy a magical view of the island during dinner and then a well-deserved early bedtime.

Our diesel engine has “un mal de tete” (a headache)

On the last day we sailed with our guests Micki and Nathan, we had a bit more adventure than they signed up for.

We sailed down the western coast of Martinique and then east from beautiful Anse d’Arlet to Sainte Anne. For most of the day, we were heading straight into the wind, using the diesel engine as well as the sails to give us a little boost in speed while cutting through big waves. All hands were safely wearing PFDs, and our guests got a lot of practice tacking. It was a bumpy and salty day for sure.

This boat felt awfully close!
So did this kite surfer!
So did this rock!

A couple of miles out from Ste Anne, with the masts of that massive anchorage in sight, we could no longer keep the staysail full of wind, so we attempted to furl it. Nope! The furling line was snagged on something so every attempt to put the sail safely away for the day resulted in loud and violent flogging instead. Capt. Mike went forward to investigate and discovered that we had an overwrap on the furling drum. It was going to be much too difficult to resolve it in the rough seas and high winds, so he decided we were better off simply dropping the staysail to the deck and fixing the furler later when we’d arrived in the protected anchorage. I took the helm to keep us pointed into the wind. And Mike, Micki, and Nathan went forward to wrestle the sail to the deck by dropping its halyard. Good thing it was the small sail!

While I was at the helm, I discovered a new and even more disturbing problem. Even with the throttle fully open, I couldn’t get enough power from the engine to keep us moving forward. And a sailboat needs to be moving at about 2 knots in order to be able to steer. We’d dropped down to less than a knot of speed-over-ground, so I really couldn’t steer at all. I got the Captain’s attention and explained as calmly as possible what I’d observed. That convinced him to stop messing around with the staysail and come back to the cockpit pronto!

Capt. Mike did a quick bit of troubleshooting and confirmed I was telling the truth. Almost no power coming from the engine. So, after an already long and difficult day, we were looking at another hour or more of sailing upwind and tacking in slow motion through the anchorage. We probably could have dropped anchor in deeper water far back in the harbor. But with guests aboard, we prioritized calmer water closer to shore, and a shorter dinghy ride to the dock when we had to offload people and luggage in our little dinghy Bug. Capt Mike took over at the helm and did an excellent job maneuvering Sanitas through the crowded anchorage, finding a spot just barely big enough for us to drop anchor between all the other boats.

We were all pretty much exhausted. Micki and Nathan helped clean up the boat from our rough passage, and then went ashore for an hour or so, giving Capt. Mike and I time to get the rest of the place organized with fewer adult bodies in the small space. Dinner was simply cartons of french vegetable soup – surprisingly good! – and we went to bed early. We’re safe and sound, and we’ll worry about that engine tomorrow.

Another day in paradise

Would you like to hear a story about a regular old day for Capt. Mike and I? Just a Sunday that started our perfectly normal, and ended up a little bit special? Well, here goes!

Sunday January 2nd started slowly on anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia. The holiday buzz was over, and our energy levels were a bit low. Capt. Mike eventually motivated to cook leftover lobster into a red pepper-onion-lobster omelette, and I perked up a bit after a cup of strong coffee. Friends on SV Camino messaged, asking if we’d like to go for a hike. Why, yes! Of course! So we left the dirty dishes in the sink, grabbed our backpacks, and hopped into our dinghy, Bug.

Capt. Mike as Chef Mike in the morning

Sunday roads are always light on traffic, so we enjoyed a peaceful walk away from Port Elizabeth, past several churches, ringing with hymns. Past the local pottery, and up, up, up the hill through the Springs community with its fabulous houses and colorful gardens.  Only one wrong turn before we found ourselves at Spring View Park with its stunning views of the rough white caps between Bequia and St Vincent, and of the busy and populated southern coast of the main island of St Vincent itself. We shared the mystery of the massive rock labeled “Ursula” (When the founder of this community cheated on his wife Ursula with their nanny, did she drive over the cliff on her own violation in a state of despair? Or did hubby put a rock on the gas pedal to help get her out of his way?) For the first time ever, we weren’t the only people visiting this lovely park. Mike got the phone number of Meakly who has the key to the grill and kitchen facilities. Maybe we’ll come back with lots of friends and have a picnic next time!

That’s St Vincent in the background
Ruins of the old sugar mill

Down, down, down a steep concrete road that has definitely never seen snow and ice, past the Firefly and the so called “Bequia Golf Club.” (You get to choose one club, and you go around the three-hole course twice. It’s pretty much cross country. Try not to lose your ball in the downed leaves, or in the thicket of dead palm fronds at the top of the tree on hole #2.) A quick ramble past an ornery mama cow on Spring Beach, and we were hot, tired, and thirsty and ready to finish the loop back to town. In search of a cold beverage and lunch, we climbed the steep wooden staircase to Coco’s restaurant where a party for a nine-year-old girl was going strong.

Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed except for this private party, but we were able to order cold rum punches and we all admired the little girl’s impressive blue dragon cake and sang Happy Birthday. Her grandfather, Mr Lulley came by to chat about his 30-year career in the US Merchant Marines, and his son who hoped to attend Maine Maritime College. What a coincidence! Our hiking buddies Shawn and Chantal’s sun graduated from Maine Maritime. And their best friend back home in Vermont went to the school with Mr. Lulley at maritime college back in Baltimore. We all exchanged cards and offers of “If you ever need anything…” and took selfies.

After the big party crowd cleared out, the owner of the restaurant, Coco, came out to chat about the business, the holidays, and COVID (we all can’t help but talk about COVID these days, right?) Then he said, “I’m going to offer you something, and I don’t want you to say no. I’m going to let you try my homemade West Indian food, and I don’t want any money for it. You can pay for the drinks, but the lunch is on me.” So, lo and behold, we’re now eating stewed chicken, rice and peas, green salad, and coleslaw, all on the house. Everything was delicious, the view from the patio was stunning as always, and of course we tipped very generously. I can’t wait to visit Coco on a regular business day to have another bowl of his fish chowder – the most delicious thing to eat on the island.

The view from Coco’s patio

So the day that started with no plan except for breakfast, ended with a lovely hike, a birthday party, meeting friends of friends, and a free lunch! You never know what the day will bring when you leave yourself open to whatever happens 😀

Christmas in the Islands

“I don’t want an icy Christmas, I’ve had enough. The only ice I wanna see must be in my cup.”

Shaggy: “No Icy Christmas” from the 2020 album Christmas in the Islands

Thank you Shaggy! My sentiments, exactly. While I sure miss my family desperately each festive holiday season, I don’t miss snow and ice one bit. I have fully embraced the sunny beach Christmas. And Bequia is a fabulous place to spend Christmas as a cruiser. The ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) finishes in St Lucia in December, so there are suddenly dozens of European boats that just crossed the Atlantic and over a hundred cruisers in a celebratory mood. And Bequia is so incredibly welcoming to boaters over the holidays, hosting potlucks and parties and events. This is our second year in a row celebrating Christmas and New Year’s here, and I can see why some cruisers return here year after year.

Of course, even this corner of paradise is not immune from Covid. This year, the Christmas light displays and fireworks were canceled. When I asked around to find out why, I received two answers: “The government wants to discourage large gatherings,” and “The community is really suffering economically due to the pandemic and the resulting loss of tourism. Electricity is the most expensive resource on the island and it feels wrong to light up the parks when so many families are struggling to pay their electric bills.” But the stores and restaurants are decorated, sometimes even in a nautical theme.

The nautical-themed Christmas tree at Dockside Marine

I tried to bring a bit of that Christmas spirit aboard Sanitas through baking festive treats. Now, I hate to bake. I get kind of tense and twitchy just looking at the ingredients and knowing I’ll have to measure accurately to get this thing to turn out properly. Plus, I’m a celiac and eat strictly gluten free and I try to stay healthy by limiting carbs. But it’s Christmas! So I whipped up a batch of gf chocolate chip cookies with red and green m&ms. (I had to buy two packets of m’s and dug through to pick out the red and green ones). I bought colorful dried fruit and peel in syrup from Knight’s Trading and baked it into a gf Irish soda bread. And I spread a thick layer of mince meat over an almond flour tart to approximate mince meat pies. I kind of think I nailed it. 😀

A holiday baking extravaganza

Now, every restaurant on the island was competing for our business for holiday dinners. But I accidentally wandered into the Porthole one afternoon and ordered a soda water and started chatting to the owner. The Porthole restaurant and mini mart is a Bequia institution, operated by Mr and Mrs T for 40 years and famous for its delicious rotis. The couple have gotten older and struggled to keep it up (not to mention Covid) so their son Gladwyn and his partner Linda moved back home from New York City to take over. They’ve put a ton of work into painting and modernizing and the place looks fantastic. Linda told me they were planning a grand opening party for Christmas Eve with lobster and Mrs T’s traditional recipes for salads and sides so I jumped at the chance! We shared a table with three other cruisers and had a lovely evening – Elvis played Christmas songs on the steel pan, the food was delicious and the wine flowed, and we finally experienced some Christmas cheer. Even if the dinner we were promised at 7:00 didn’t actually get served until 9:00. Island time, lol!

New and improved Porthole Restaurant
Poached lobster, breadfruit salad, stewed pigeon peas, cinnamon yams, green beans and christophene, green salad

The main event of a Bequia Christmas is without a doubt the Cruisers’ pot luck at the Fig Tree. The owners, Cheryl and Lafayette open the restaurant to sailors free of charge and light of the grills. And folks from all countries and all languages gather to grill meats, share sides and desserts, and drink festive cocktails. All within feet of the lapping waves against the Belmont Boardwalk. It’s a total blast, and I’m so grateful for the Fig Tree’s hospitality.

Last year on New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999….and then four out of the eight people at our table came down with COVID and had to isolate on their boats for weeks. This year, since we’re vaxed and boosted, we planned to go to the Frangipani for steel pan music and a DJ – we even bought tickets. But on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, two of the most popular tourist restaurants on the island shut down suddenly because staff tested positive for Covid. We hemmed and hawed and decided not to risk it. Instead, a friend invited us over to his catamaran and we had a lovely little 5-person party on the deck with charcuterie and champagne. We could hear the music just fine from the anchorage – we didn’t miss a thing. And as midnight struck, the boaters made their own firework show, lighting off expired flares in the harbor (Cap. Mike did not like firey things raining down near Sanitas at all)

I bought myself flowers for New Years!

All in all, it was a lovely holiday, spent with good friends, and I enjoyed every minute of it! I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday also – maybe even with a little snow, if that’s your thing.

A quick spin through the southern Grenadines

Phew! We finally finished all of our boat maintenance and received all of our parts and packages and untied the lines from our mooring in Grenada. Hooray!!!

We picked a tight little weather window in the heavy Christmas winds and headed north with the goal of making it to Bequia in time for Christmas. First stop, Carriacou – the little sister island to Grenada with a much more laid back, island time feel. With only a couple nights in Tyrell Bay, we made sure to hit our favorite spots. Paradise Beach Club is absolutely amazing. It’s owner, Allison, remembered our names and Sanitas’s name, even though we last visited almost a year ago 😲 We spent a wonderful afternoon on the beach during Paint and Sip, admiring the wall of boat signs and enjoying delicious seared tuna Greek salad and fresh lime margaritas.

We were among the first to paint a sign. Now the entire wall is full!
Doesn’t this look amazing?

Well fortified with that delicious meal, I prepared for our first international border crossing of the cruising season. I don’t know about you, but I sure never thought we would still be dealing with border closures and COVID restrictions at the dawn of 2022. This year, things are honestly a bit easier for fully vaccinated travelers – there are fewer requirements for long quarantines, for example. To travel by sea from Grenada to St Vincent and the Grenadines Team Sanitas took the following steps:

  • Submit an on-line pre-arrival form for each passenger
  • Submit a “Request for entry and quarantine aboard” form
  • Create a SailClear departure declaration for Grenada
  • Create a SailClear arrival form for SVG
  • Submit digital vaccination certificates
  • Document recent travel history
  • Get a PCR test at the clinic where swabs are sent the Grenada’s main island for processing. Wait impatiently for results
  • Wait for permission to enter SVG on our desired day
  • Upon arrival at Union Island, grab a quarantine mooring and dinghy ashore for health checks and processing

Processing at Clifton, Unions Island went quite smoothly, although it was slow and expensive. We joke that they slow-rolled the paperwork so that the Bougainvillea restaurant would get more of our tourist dollars as we sat at the bar waiting for nearly two hours. Hmmm, maybe it’s not a joke 😜 By contrast, friends who cleared into SVG at Bequia found a somewhat chaotic process and were required to stay in quarantine for over 24 hours. Pandemic travel is still not easy!

We’re not afraid of these tests anymore but they still aren’t fun!
Ouch! It all adds up!
Leaving Tyrell Bay and getting sails up
Celebrating a successful entry to SVG

If you ever visit The Grenadines, you must, must, must visit the Tobago Cays Marine Park. It’s a little slice of paradise on earth, with a cluster of small uninhabited islands nestled within a protective coral reef. Even with our high wind conditions, we were able to squeeze Sanitas right in between the two largest islands and picked up a park mooring ball. We were snug as a bug up close to the beach, where we could swim with turtles, linger on the white sand beach, and climb to the top of the island for stunning views. Last year, we and our sailing buddies had the park almost completely to ourselves. This year, tourism has picked up slightly. The number of French charter boats has increased quite a bit, and there are definitely more huge mega yachts in the grenadine waters. On the beach where we used to cook casual beach barbecues, there are now catered lunches for wealthy clients, complete with a steel pan band! We sunned ourselves on the small beach next to passengers from a French cruise ship where champagne corks were popped and everyone received a chilled glass before tenders fought them back to the ship. Too bad my French isn’t good enough yet for me to fit right in and sneak a glass! Of course, we met back up with our favorite hustler Romeo for a delightful lobster dinner on the beach. This is one of my favorite experiences in the islands – toes in the sand, sunset over the water, fairy lights, and an absolutely delicious feast of grilled Carribean spiny lobster, seasoned rice, veggies, garlic potatoes, and fruit. If you go, tell Romeo that Mike and Jenn of Sanitas say hello!

View from our cockpit
Palm beach selfie
Best lobster in the Caribbean
Turtle Sanctuary beach

All too soon, we had to leave this paradise to continue our sail north to Bequia just to make sure we’d get there in time for the holidays. Winds were still quite fresh and between 30-50 degrees from the north, and seas about two meters high, but consistent. We kept the main double-reefed, and Capt. Mike chose a sail plan that kept us in deep water and sailing as close to the wind as Sanitas can manage. It was an exhilarating salty sail, and we arrived in Bequia just before sunset, ready to settle in for a month in our favorite grenadine island.