Christmas in the Islands

It wasn’t a white Christmas (unless you count the sand) but I truly think we’ve had as nice a holiday as we could manage while being stuck far from home in the days of coronavirus.

Within the sailing community, everyone talks about “Christmas in Bequia” in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. So as soon as we’d cleared into the country at Union Island, Capt. Mike and I started planning to sail about 55nm north to arrive in Bequia before bad weather moved in and to ensure we’d make it before the holiday. It was a brisk sail, with higher than expected seas, but Sanitas did great. We arrived and anchored just in front of the floating Bar One where friends from SV Jono and SV Maracudja cheered and jeered our anchoring attempts. Sometimes you watch the show, and sometimes you are the show!

It was a lovely welcome to this particularly welcoming island! Bequia is all about boats – they build boats by hand here, and fishing is a big part of the culture. Bequia is one of the few places remaining in the world where residents have approval to hunt whales. But they can only do so using small open sailboats (without motors) and using hand thrown harpoons. 😲 You can find any sort of marine service you might require here, such as canvas work, engine maintenance, or sail repair. And ferry boats run daily to the main island of St Vincent in case you can’t find a repair part here. It immediately felt like a place we could stay quite happily for a while. And the best part was that many of our sailing friends from Grenada and elsewhere had also gathered, so we could look forward to celebrations with friends to make us feel a little bit better about that fact that we were so far away from family.

St Vincentians have a unique Christmas tradition known as the “Nine Mornings.” For the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve, some folks attend early morning church services and then gather in the main square in town to listen to music, dance, and participate in contests like “longest earrings”, “best female dancer”, and “fastest juice drinker.” I have to admit, we didn’t participate very much – even hearing loud music from shore at 4:30 am isn’t enough of an enticement to get me out of bed before sunrise. And then…once the sun does come up, everybody heads to work or school and the party’s over. But we did enjoy the lights and decorations at a much more reasonable hour of the evening, lol!

On Christmas Eve, we were invited over to Andres and Elisbeth’s sailboat to join in a Norwegian tradition of sharing rice porridge (risgrøt) and mulled wine (gløgg) with friends and family. This tradition is new to me, but I love it! The “more the merrier” vibe felt so kind, and it was a great chance to meet new cruiser friends – several of who had just crossed the Atlantic in time for the holiday. Wow! Impressive! Our hosts were festively attired – those Santa hats are hot in the tropics!

We had Christmas lunch with some good friends at Coco’s Place. And while I *could* have ordered Turkey and the fixings, when in Bequia, you must celebrate Christmas with fresh fruit, right? And a cool rum punch 🍹Tourism is way, way down because of Covid, and it felt good to support a small local restaurant owner with our holiday business. And we’ll definitely be back for Coco’s famous fish chowder. Luckily, we have good cell phone signal here, so both the captain and I were able to call home on Christmas to speak to our families and to dream of the more traditional snowy, cozy Christmas we wish we could be spending with our loved ones.

Thanks to Cheryl on Leef Nu and Lindy on Holiday for the photos of Christmas lunch! I guess I was having too much fun to take pictures.

Speaking of difficulties due to Covid, The Fig Tree restaurant is an institution in Bequia- long a gathering place for cruisers, as well as a resource for local school children who attend Miss Johnson’s reading program in the afternoons. But the owners were contemplating closing down because of the lack of visitors in 2020. So a group of Fig Tree supporters, including the owners and crew of Sailing Yacht Ananda, planned a fundraiser party for New Year’s Eve. I’m thrilled to report that every single table sold out, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening of cocktails, local Caribbean food, and dancing knowing that we were helping Miss Johnson and her team stay in business through this unusually quiet “high” season.

You may be wondering about exactly HOW we can safely have these types of celebrations during Covid. St Vincent and the Grenadines has used closed borders, mandatory Covid testing, and mandatory quarantine to do a good job of keeping the number of cases imported into the island nation low. There are limits of the size of gatherings, and requirements for hand sanitizer and contact tracing, but otherwise things feel pretty relaxed. Except….at about 7:00 on New Years Eve, the government decided that the big street parties and all night celebrations that usually usher in the new year would be too risky this year. So at the last minute they prohibited “amplified music” and sent policemen around to share that message. It definitely meant things were quieter than expected! But the Fig Tree party was granted an exception, because our entertainment was provided by a violinist playing pop hits with great enthusiasm. The authorities said he could play during dinner…..so dinner went on for a very, very, long time – right up to midnight! 🤣 He did have backup music, and a supporting DJ, but I guess they figured a violinist couldn’t get in too much trouble!

I hope you and your families had a safe and peaceful Christmas, and that you were also to do the best you could to make new traditions in this crazy year. ❤️

On On! Grenada Hash House Harriers

Every Saturday afternoon, a group of self-proclaimed “drinkers with a running problem” gather in a remote corner of Grenada to hike or run through the bush with a couple hundred of their closest friends. After the run, there’s always a fun party, with food, beer, and maybe even a DJ. Capt. Mike and I joined in as often as possible during our stay in Grenada, to see different parts of the island, meet locals, and get a bit of exercise. If you’re curious about the history and rituals of the Hash House Harriers around the globe, check out this Wikipedia link. Grenada supposedly has the largest HHH organization in the world!

Our first Hash was the first held since COVID-19 restrictions. It was a BLAST as everybody was able to finally get together again in the great outdoors. COVID protocols were definitely in place – masks required when you’re not eating, drinking, or running; social distancing with separation between groups; allowing extra time to register by spreading people out. But it didn’t dampen the fun one bit.

We finished our first Hash
Lots of masks!

The thing that came closest to dampening the fun was in fact the bus ride to this first Hash. It was so popular that local taxi driver Shademan ran two whole busses from the cruiser-popular areas in the south bays of Grenada to the event. Now, the “bus” is really just a van with 4 rows of bench seats. Our bus to the hash crammed in 22 people (and one dog) for a ride that took over an hour and a half in the late summer heat. We had to alternate who could sit back in the seats, versus who had to sit on the very edge to fit so many full sized adults and kids.

Luxury Transportation

But we made it! If you have any picture in your mind of trail running on flowing single track through an aspen grove in the mountains of Colorado…. that’s NOT what a Hash in Grenada is like 🤣 They call it a run through the bush, but to me, it’s a jungle! You push through greenery and vines grab at your ankles. You wade through mud, and sometimes streams. You pass avocado and mango trees, sometimes trampling rotting mangos underfoot, cacao bushes with their bright red pods, the trail (when there actually is a trail) is frequently crossed by lizards and spiders.

This is where chocolate comes from…

There are no switchbacks. The ups and downs are steep and slick, and your best bet is to grab the trees and vines to control the rate of your fall. This may or may not sound like fun to you, but I’ve gotta say, once you get over the fear of getting dirty, it’s a heck of a lot of challenging good time. On a later, even muddier Hash, I fell on my butt three separate times on the same long downhill stretch. Good thing there was a water tap for hosing down at the finish line of that one!

A Hash is more of a game or a puzzle than simply a run. Each week, a different member acts as the “Hare” and sets out the trail ahead of time. The rest of us are the hounds, essentially chasing down the hare. The trail is marked using small piles of shredded paper. When you see one of these paper markers, there’s a sense of relief – phew, we’re still on the trail. Except…when you’re not. A couple of times during each Hash, I’d be streaming along quite happily, huffing and puffing, following the trail, until suddenly, the dreaded X. When you come across an X made of paper, you’ve arrived at a dead end in the trail. At some point prior, maybe at an “O” of paper suggesting you’ve arrived at a crossroads, you’ve taken a wrong turn. Possibly even still following innocent looking paper trail markers. Until you realize the Hare outsmarted you again, and it’s time to turn around and start hunting the one real true trail. If you suspect you might very well be lost, you can shout out “Are you?!?” to ask whether other hashers within the sound of your voice are on the right trail. If so, hopefully someone will shout back, “On-On!” Or, if they’ve already found the dreaded X, they might respond “On back!” to let you know you should go no further; the pack is backtracking. Usually, this whole thing is part of the fun. But once, I took a wrong turn and got separated from the pack. I’d covered at least four miles, and was longing for the finish line and a cold beverage, but I couldn’t even hear the music blaring from the finish party yet. At that point, I’d had enough of tricks and false trails, thank you very much!

One of the best parts of hashing in Grenada is that it gets us outside the cruiser bubble and gives us the chance to meet real local Grenadians. One Saturday, Mike and I took the local bus to get to the Hash at the Westerhall Rum Distillery. Wearing our bright blue hash t-shirts, everybody knew exactly where we were going. Usually, the bus drivers ignore us, but this time the driver and conductor joked and chatted. At the Spice Island Mall stop, a young woman got on and said, “Hey, I didn’t know the Hashes were happening again!” Fun to get even the smallest chance to feel like a local!

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!

Little Boat in the Big City

Sanitas spent the month of August in Port Louis Marina in St George’s – the capital of Grenada. You know what a stay in a marina means, right? Shore power! Air conditioning! Real showers! A swimming pool! Ooh la la! We blinked, and the month flew by.

For the first time ever, we docked Sanitas stern-to a stone wall on the “Village Dock”. That should be easy, except Sanitas is “canoe-sterned”, aka a “double-ender.” While our pointy rear end is great for managing following seas, it doesn’t make it easy for her crew to step off the transom onto a dock. I worried about the situation for several days, but we bought a 10 inch wide, 12 foot long plank from Hubbard’s lumber yard, added some chafe protection and a few good knots, and several times a day I screwed up my courage and dashed across the narrow plank. So far, I haven’t fallen in, knock on wood!

The marina staff does a great job of making life here easy. Jenny’s Farmers’ market sets up shop each Friday selling produce, local coffee, beef, and juices. Convenient Market shows up in a big van full of produce every Monday selling a wide variety of whatever’s in season. It’s definitely on island time though – the super nice driver shows up sometime between noon and three o’clock – unless it’s one of the many Monday Grenadian holidays, when he doesn’t come at all.

Every afternoon around 5:00, marina-folk meet at the small swimming pool with insulated cocktail mugs in hand to float and chat until security kicks us out at 6:30. This ends up being a great way to meet new people and to learn about all the social events and hot spots in the area. One of my favorite hot spots is Grenada Yacht club, just a short dinghy ride across the harbor. This yacht club is our kind of place – casual, open air, overlooking the harbor with a lovely breeze, and a great place to meet up with cruisers and locals on Wednesday jerk chicken night or Friday barbecue. You can’t beat the 20ecd price (about $7.50) for a quarter chicken, rice and salad, with the best jerk sauce on the island. After our second Wednesday visit in a row, Capt. Mike submitted his membership application because, come on! Haven’t you always wanted to be a member of a yacht club? Dues also go to a good cause – sailing lessons for local Grenadian kids. (How do you like the Captain’s salty sailor shirt?)

I know I’ve only talked about fun events so far, but we actually got a lot of work done in the marina. We reversed our anchor chain – so the part we never use in shallow anchorages is now the part we use first all the time! This maneuver should let us get a few more years out of the galvanized chain. And we hired a local guy, Patrick, to repair some gel coat damage. Lesson learned for next time – negotiate the job price in advance, instead of agreeing to pay by the hour. AND… approve the color of the gel coat before each layer goes on, so you can prevent the mint-toothpaste-green debacle BEFORE it’s applied all over your boat. We also had several doctor appointments (that’s another blog post in and of itself), and researched sea freight shipping companies (yet another blog post), defrosted the fridge, and bought a new solar panel.

We really enjoyed our time in the well-run, secure marina, and it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment to return to living off grid! But that’s what this sailing life is all about, right?

We’re in Quarantine! (Again)

For those following along at home, we’re on our third quarantine of this pandemic, in our third country. This is the strictest one yet: 14 days of quarantine on our sailboat, no trips ashore for any reason (no groceries, no exercise, no essential shopping), no water sports. At the end of the two week quarantine, we’ll take a Covid-19 test and once we pass we’ll finally be free to clear customs and immigration and enter Grenada officially.

So what do we do to pass the time in quarantine? A whole lot of nothing, lol! 😀 I’m not even kidding. We definitely experienced a sort of quarantine malaise…where the priority is simply enduring until it’s over and hopefully surviving with our sanity (and our marriage) intact.

We arrived at the early side of our week’s window. So Capt. Mike stayed fully engaged over the next few days watching new boats arrive, following them on the VHF radio and using binoculars. When a boat attempted to anchor near Sanitas, Mike would pull on his fins and snorkel, jump in the water, and help the new arrivals place the anchor securely in the mix of shallow sand and dead coral. Mango Mike’s Anchoring Service, open for business! For the entire quarantine period, he kept an eye on “his boats” making sure they stayed in place through squalls and wind shifts. We learned a new anchoring technique that they don’t teach you in ASA 101 – pile a few rocks on your anchor to weigh it down. Bonus points for a smiley face.

After the rough passage, our salon is always a huge mess, so we killed a day or so airing out the sheets and making everything ship-shape.

And there’s always boat chores! During periods of great motivation we defrosted the fridge, and I cleaned all of the stainless steel on Sanitas’ deck.

Spirits lagged around Day #5, so we dug deep for entertainment. Three times per week, fellow cruisers took turns hosting trivia over the radio for happy hour. Apparently we need a bigger trivia team – Team Sanitas was lucky to score over 50% One day, I put together a Bingo card for objects we might see around the anchorage and invited every boat within shouting distance to join our WhatsApp group and radio finale. It kept us entertained all afternoon: “Hey! I see someone rowing his dinghy!”, “Is that boat the Coast Guard? Darn, it’s just marina staff”, “Why isn’t anyone exercising on their deck?” At the end of the day, Sanitas was the only team without a BINGO – I’ll have to make it harder next time.

Sometimes I was motivated to cook….

Other times, especially when the temperature hit the mid-90s, I could barely be bothered to prepare cheese and crackers or to add a few sautéed veggies to a carton of soup. One very special Friday, we ordered takeout from Eden Sushi 🍣 with our friends on Holiday and enjoyed a virtual meal together over video chat. The closest marina allows deliveries from approved vendors, but only to the Q dock with all payments made on-line, and masks required, and deliveries only allowed on certain days before 5:00 pm.

I killed the better part of an entire afternoon trying to open a coconut I bought during our last provisioning trip in Antigua. It’s harder than you’d think!

And we read … and watched Netflix … and listened to podcasts … and played games … you didn’t expect this to be an exciting blog post, did you? I really, really wish we had unlimited wifi!

Just this morning, a rogue squall came out of nowhere and wind speeds changed from less than 10 knots to over 40 knots in seconds. You know what they say about long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror? I was washing the breakfast dishes and Mike was talking to his mom on the phone when we both had to drop everything. We started the engine (without all of the usual pre-start checks), turned on the anchor windlass, dropped our dinghy Bug in the water before she flew away, and braved torrential rain while making sure that none of the boats whose anchors dragged in the high winds ran into us. Mango Mike’s Anchoring Service had a lot of satisfied customers!

Thanks for following along on this tale of boredom. Good news! Writing this blog post killed most of the afternoon of Day #12. Less than two days to go!