The La Soufriere volcano on the north side of St Vincent has been active since we arrived in December. Back then, it was considered in an “effusive” state – some steam, a little smoke, growth of a new dome. That all changed Friday morning, April 9th, when a series of small earthquakes announced the start of explosive eruptions! 😯 I’m writing this on Sunday morning and scientists from the University of the West Indies don’t know whether the eruptions will end soon, or will continue for days or weeks.
Did I mention we just visited St Vincent on Tuesday? We took a day tour and visited attractions on the east side of the island; all the way to the northernmost village named Owia. On Tuesday, it was a scenic tropical paradise. Now, it’s residents have been evacuated and buildings and vegetation are covered in several inches of ash. Please take a moment to pray for the citizens of St Vincent. Over 20,000 people have been evacuated, and the damage to homes, property, and farm crops is going to be immense.
So how has an erupting volcano effected the crew of Sanitas? Well first of all, we are definitely safe. We were anchored off the island of Mustique on Thursday night into Friday morning when the first explosive eruptions occurred. It’s around 27 miles as the frigate flies from the volcano. I think we felt the effect of the earthquakes that occurred early Friday morning. Mustique is a notoriously rolly anchorage. But right about 4:00am, Sanitas started rolling so violently that items were thrown off the shelves. It took about 90 minutes for things to settle back down. The earthquakes occurred around 3:30, and since our harbor faces north, with very little protection, we think we experienced swell caused by the quakes.
We woke up to a thin layer of ash covering the boat… and the table… and the floors… and the clean dishes. From that point on, we kept the boat tightly closed up. Which makes things hot and miserable inside, but it’s worth it to keep the indoor ash to a minimum. Volcanic ash is extremely fine and black – I’m thinking it’s much like the dust used by detectives to find fingerprints. It gets everywhere and is super hard to wash off. When it rains, it rains mud. Capt. Mike attempted the first of many wash-downs of Sanitas with bucket after bucket of sea water.
The sky has been a heavy grey haze. Visibility is very poor, and we can’t even see the next island south in the chain. Air quality is bad, and we are constantly sniffling and dealing with headaches. When we went for a walk on the island, I could tap my teeth together and feel the grit in my mouth.
On Friday afternoon, we walked up to the hilltop village of Mustique. Little did we know, La Soufriere had just experienced it’s second eruption. We joined the group of villagers standing in the middle of the road, looking north and pointing at the huge grey volcanic plume.
It’s difficult to know where to go to wait out the eruptions and to find the best air quality and least amount of ash. Our sailing friends are mostly heading as far south as possible. In a normal (aka non-Covid) year, we’d probably turn around and sail straight to Grenada. They’re getting a bit of ash fall there, but not as much as we are in the Grenadines. If this continues for a while, we might start the process to head south about two months earlier than planned (requesting permission from the Coast Guard, PCR tests, quarantine, etc.) But for now, we’re just returning to the marina in Canouan, where we can access fresh water to clean the boat, and hot showers to clean ourselves.
I’ll share a few photos from the local newspaper, showing how bad the ash fall has been on St Vincent. It looks like snow on the ground, and some northern villages have seen several inches of ash accumulation. Roofs are starting to cave in from the weight and the entire island is water rationing because ash can get into the water supply. If you can spare it, please consider donating to relief efforts for this beautiful country and her strong people.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
After a month in beautiful Guadeloupe, with Covid-19 finally present in the Caribbean, Capt. Mike and I were feeling increasingly unwelcome in the French island and made the difficult decision to return north to Antigua. Why’d we decide to move?
The government asked all foreign flagged boats to leave.
Guadeloupe followed the French lead, and was increasingly locked down: all non-essential businesses closed, stay home at all times, if you must leave for groceries or medical care you need a form which will be checked by police, no moving boats between harbors, no walking on shore, even no swimming (!)
Confirmed cases increased rapidly on the island, to epidemic levels. We stayed on the boat for over a week straight with only one trip to land for groceries.
We were running low on propane for our cook stove. When it runs out, we can’t refill in the French islands because they only have butane. The possibility of going weeks or months without a hot meal was daunting.
We had no support network of fellow liveaboard sailors in Guadeloupe, and can’t speak French well enough to make new friends. When our dinghy motor conked out half way back to the boat, it really brought home how much we were on our own.
All around us, Caribbean islands were closing their borders. I belong to Facebook groups for sailors and twice a day admins shared the latest and greatest news on borders. The situation was changing so quickly that some sailors left one open port to make a passage to another open port in a different country, only to find those borders closed when they arrived. Here’s a portion of the the last edition of the closure list from March 23.
Latest updates as of 09:30 March 23
This will be my last update. If you haven’t figured out that moving around is risky, I can no longer enable reckless behaviour. When restrictions start being relaxed, I’ll be back. This is for yacht/pleasure craft clearances only. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this. This was truly a community effort.
TRINIDAD is closed. ST LUCIA is closed. ARUBA is closed BONAIRE is closed. CURAÇAO is closed. BVI’s are closed. MARIE-GALANTE and THE SAINTS are closed. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC is closed. ST MAARTEN (Dutch) is closed Monday. It appears the French side will be doing the same. ANGUILLA has a mandatory 14 day quarantine. BERMUDA is closed. DOMINICA is closed. GRENADA is closed. MONTSERRAT has a mandatory 14 day quarantine. MARTINIQUE is closed. GUADELOUPE is closed. TURKS & CAICOS will be closed as of Tuesday, March 24. PUERTO RICO is in lockdown. Ports are open.
If you are told to quarantine, don’t mess around. You asked that country to take you in and trust you, it is now up to you to do your part. Fines and jail time are possible, never mind jeopardizing the health of those around you. Good luck all.
So….Capt. Mike and I made the decision to leave as soon as possible for Antigua, while borders were still open, even though the sailing conditions were less than ideal. But – we had another problem. With all non-essential businesses closed, we couldn’t clear out of Guadeloupe, and we didn’t know if Antigua would accept us without the proper paperwork. We spent all afternoon on the phone with Antigua customs and immigration until we found someone who could answer our question. Finally, at 5:30 pm, we were told “You can come”.
So I cooked a big dinner, prepped everything for the sail, and set the alarm for 5am. We’re definitely out of practice with these early starts, but we were anchors up and outside the harbor channel by official sunrise at 6:02 am. Conditions were definitely “sporty” all day with winds over 20 knots and very high waves hitting us on the beam and knocking Sanitas sideways. As we rounded the point at the southeast corner of Guadeloupe, seas were very confused causing a “washing machine effect” and I found myself feeding the fishes a little bit of last night’s dinner. Capt. Mike was amazing all day. He stayed at the helm for over 12 hours, through rain showers and crazy seas, managing the sails, adjusting course to get us to Antigua as directly and quickly as possible. Floatation device on and tethered to the boat, at one point a big wave crested over the cockpit, half-filling the cockpit with seawater. Good thing the cockpit scuppers (drains) weren’t clogged! On the positive side, there were absolutely no other boats out there to get in our way, and with those strong winds, Sanitas was flying! She averaged 6.1 knots over those 12 hours, which is absolutely unheard of! Conditions were never actually dangerous, and our sturdy 37 foot Pacific Seacraft handled it great, but it is just slightly possible that I am less hardy and tough than our boat. 😜
We made it as far along the Antigua coast as we could before sunset, but we couldn’t make it to the one remaining open port of entry in St John’s. So we dropped the anchor, raised the yellow Q flag, had a bowl of soup, and went right to sleep. After another early start, with a coast guard boat escorting us part-way, we sailed into the channel of St John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda. It’s an industrial port, and sailboats rarely come here. We hailed the port authority on the VHF radio to let them know we were coming, dropped anchor in the middle of a bunch of other boats all flying the Q flag, lowered our dinghy into the water and headed ashore. The building at the top of the dinghy dock has been turned into a new customs and immigration office. As soon as we walked through the door, we were asked to sit down at a card table and had our temperatures taken and recorded. An officer from the Antiguan Health Ministry asked us a series of questions about our travel history and current state of health: “Which countries have you visited in the past 30 days?”, “Why did you return from Guadeloupe?”, “Have you had any crew members join and leave your vessel?”, “Have you visited any of these countries?” We filled out several sets of forms and they all got gathered into our file. The Health Minister signed off on our entry and sent us to Customs and Immigration. We were immediately asked for the missing clearance paperwork from Guadeloupe. Luckily, the customs officer allowed Capt. Mike to write a letter to the government explaining the reason for the missing papers. After standing in a few more lines, and paying a few fees, we were in! We have a 90-day immigration visa, a 30-day cruising permit (renewable) and no restrictions on moving between anchorages.
We did a quick walk into town to pick up some veggies, a phone charger cord, and takeout for lunch. It was strange to see so many people out on the streets after the complete lockdown of Guadeloupe. We went back to Sanitas, replaced the yellow Q flag with the courtesy flag for Antigua, and sailed south to Deep Bay which is quiet and calm to rest up and recover.
So what will we do next? I don’t exactly know. It’s just been announced that the Antigua international airport will close at midnight tomorrow. The prime minister is talking about implementing a nightly curfew this weekend to keep people at home. There have been three confirmed cases of Covid-19 here in Antigua – which is pretty low compared to other countries and islands. Basically, Mike and I are planning to hunker down on Sanitas, eat the food we’ve got stored away, and go ashore and be around people as little as possible. Our immigration status is good until June 22. We can move from harbor to harbor as the weather conditions change to find a safe anchorage. We’ll top up with diesel, gas, and propane to ensure we are well-positioned in case businesses close or supply chains are impacted. We’ll get a little extra cash (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) from the ATM. We’ll lock the boat every time we do leave – in case our cans of tuna fish start to seem very attractive to other people. We’ll think about alternative plans for hurricane season – researching if we can haul out here for the summer instead of in Grenada, and asking if Grenada will roll over our non-refundable deposit to next year, or if we’ll lose it 😢 All in all, we feel pretty safe here and feel in control of our own safety. We even have plenty of toilet paper! Honestly, it feels safer right now than getting on a plane, squished in with lots of people, and returning to the US where we don’t have a home or any supplies. Stay tuned! We’ll keep you posted as we figure it all out!
Another “keeping it real post” about nomadic life. Since only about three people actually read this blog (Hi Mom and Dad! Hi Sharon! Love you guys ♥️) I guess it’s ok to go public with my love of thrift-store finds, and maybe even to admit what I spent on my 30th reunion outfit.
One of the toughest transitions from land life to boat life was getting used to the idea that I could no longer buy in bulk, and couldn’t keep things around just in case I might need them someday. There’s no room! There’s high humidity! You gain weight! You lose weight! Basically, if I manage to keep stuff around, by the time I need it either it’s no good anymore, or I don’t like it anymore. Capt. Mike shared with me a great article on minimalism that suggested using Craigslist like your own personal storage unit. If you don’t need it on a regular basis, sell it! When you need it again a few years later, odds are you’ll find something just like it on Craigslist or eBay. Great advice. I feel better now about parting with something that rates marginal on the “brings me joy” scale.
When we were packing last June for our summer in Europe, a record-setting heat wave was blanketing the continent. So we carefully packed light, and left thermal jackets behind. But we knew we’d end our trip at northern England in September when weather conditions could be very different. I stayed firm, forcing Mike to leave those wool tops and jeans behind: “We can spend $50 each at Primark when we get there. It’ll be fine.” And, for the most part, it was!
I think I walked off a layer of fat in the 900km between St Jean Pied-de-Port and Finisterre, and by the end of the Camino de Santiago I shivered through the chilly fall evening temps. But no problem! I discovered the European sporting goods chain Decathlon and bought my favorite color purple long sleeve top for €9.99. Plus, they have gluten free energy bars!
And yes, it was every bit as cold and rainy in Harrogate, North Yorkshire as we anticipated in September. But that was ok too. We spent our first afternoon wandering the town where we lived for four years in the late 90’s ducking into all of the charity shops and really enjoying the vibe of the town. We did great too! Mike found a pair of khakis and a navy blue sweater. I found a cute winter jacket for £9 and a pair of Converse sneakers for £15. After that promised trip to Primark, we were set for anything the cool and rainy English countryside could throw at us. You wouldn’t even recognize us by looking at our Camino photos and comparing to our English selves, and we didn’t have to carry all those warm clothes or have to pay to ship them ahead while backpacking.
The coup de grace of our thrift store shopping adventure was preparation for my 30th high school reunion. The dress code was “cocktail” and we sure didn’t have anything in our backpacks to fit the bill. In fact, Capt. Mike decided he wouldn’t even attempt to achieve cocktail status, he’d be happy just hitting the halfway point between hiker and formal, lol. I think he hit the mark: black Gap jeans with the tags still attached and grey dressy button down shirt from Plato’s Closet with black leather shoes from Thrifty Shopper. Grand total – $28. I was feeling a bit more conflicted. After all, it was actually my reunion, and and hadn’t seen any of these people in 30 years. And I was more geek than cheerleader in college. I didn’t want to LOOK like I’d shopped in a thrift store. But … I’m a retiree on a fixed budget now, so I’m not going to spent a lot of money on fancy clothes I’ll never wear again, right? My outfit: dress from Plato’s Closet, purse from Thrifty Shopper, tall boots from MoShop30. Grand total = $22. I cheated and bought new high heels from TJ Maxx for another $20. We salty sailors / backpackers / homeless nomads clean up pretty good, don’t ya think?
After several short days near Burgos, we are back to walking all day – today we walked 30km. We are walking through the Maseta, which is high desert and flat, but a completely different terrain than a week ago.
Today, while walking the Camino de Santiago, we crossed another ancient pilgrimage route, called El Camino Lebaniego – a pilgrimage to the monestary which holds the largest relic of the “true cross” of Christ’s crucifixion. While the Camino continues west to Santiago, this route diverges south, and again it is a reminder of the countless people who have walked this way before me. The crossroads is a lovely spot along a canal where we walk across a lock.
The sign describing the pilgrimage to the cross was my favorite part of the day. At the bottom of the English portion it reads: “If you walk for religious reasons, or you walk for cultural reasons, you are welcome. Whatever intention you bring is good.” I think this means whatever reason brought you to the Camino today is the right one – it is where you are meant to be right now.
After a very long day, when we bypassed lovely hotels and beautiful gardens and even swimming pools…
We finally arrived in Población de Campo. The albergue at La Finca is lovely, with each pilgrim having her own little private space of bed, and shelves, and light, and locker – all for 10€ pp. I joked with Mike that the little privacy curtain has super powers, and would even block out snoring.
But when we walked across the garden to the restaurant, we learned that, for the first time in our Camino, they had absolutely nothing gluten free than we could eat. We were pretty much ok if the pilgrims’meal contained pasta – we were prepared to order off the regular menu and to spend more money. But the woman at the bar clicked her tongue and said “muy dificile, muy dificile” repeatedly, and didn’t offer us a single gluten free thing we could eat. So I was ready to have peanuts for dinner, but we decided to put our tired feet in shoes and walk into town to see what we could see.
We stopped at a small hotel and asked if they had a Pilgrim’s menu. The response was an absolute torrent of Spanish (I have GOT to become fluent in Spanish) but the gist of it was, “we don’t have any pilgrims starting here tonight, so we aren’t doing the pilgrims menu. You’re staying at La Finca, right?” So Mike and I said yes, and proceeded to look very sad, and senior spoke to senora and soon decided that if we came back at 7:00, we could have dinner. So we walked down the street and killed an hour in a local bar where my elbow literally stuck to the table and we had to pull the barkeep away from his telenovelas. But after we ordered wine and peanuts, he warmed up to us. He asked where were were from, and showed us his collection of currency from pilgrims who have visited from all over the world: USA, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, Bulgaria… He gave us each a shell (the symbol of St James), and wished us a Buen Camino!
So we made it back to the hotel right at 7:00, and seriously had one of the best meals of our entire Camino. The whole dining room was set, with a table just for us. A bottle of water, a bottle of wine… Senior brought a tureen of the best soup I’ve ever had – white beans and clams, still in the shell. Then a plate of tomato salad. Then pork ribs that just fell off the bone. Then dessert – but the cream dessert had a cookie crust, so in distress, senior gave it away to the front desk clerk instead and replaced it with the most delicious ripe melon. And, to go with the melon, he brought us two shot glasses of house-made after dinner liquor, that tasted like sunshine and honey. After all this, he only charged us 9€ each. We did leave an appropriate tip (trying not to be stupid Americans) and a glowing Google review, but their hospitality to these two starving pilgrims will be one of my best memories of the Camino.