What’s next for the crew of Sanitas?

That’s a great question! When you figure it out, could you let us know? 🤣 Just kidding. Sure, we’ve found a calm spot in Antigua to wait out coronavirus quarantine and curfew. But we can’t stay here forever.

Our 90-day visa expires on 22 June. Even more importantly…HURRICANE SEASON IS COMING! (Say it in your best Robb Stark, Game of Thrones voice). Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea officially starts 1 June. But as I write this on May 15th, tropical storm Arthur is already forming between Florida and The Bahamas. Insurance companies usually require boaters to be safely outside the hurricane box during this timeframe, and they define the hurricane box as the area north of St Vincent in the eastern Caribbean and south of the Chesapeake Bay on the US east coast. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a hurricane outside the box, but they are much less common. If your geography is a little bit rusty, Antigua is smack in the middle of that box. 😲 Hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors plan to spend the summer in Grenada or Trinidad in order to get “outside the box”. But with borders closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, all those boats are stuck in place and chomping at the bit to move south as soon as Caribbean governments allow.

We made a reservation ages ago to store Sanitas in a boatyard in Grenada and we planned to fly back to the USA for the summer. We also put a deposit on a boatyard here in Antigua as a Plan B. But now, like everyone else, all of our summer plans have been canceled. And we don’t know when flights between the Caribbean and the States will resume. If we do make it back to the States, we don’t have a home to go to, and we don’t know when we’d be allowed back to our boat after the visit. A recent study suggests Covid-19 has been contained within the Caribbean, but many countries view visitors from the US as high risk to their health and safety because so many new cases are still being identified there. Heck, what if we do make it “home” this summer and one or both of us gets sick? We sure can’t afford a hospital stay under the US health care system. I don’t think our international medical insurance covers us for Covid-19 treatment if we travel back while State Department “Do Not Travel” warnings are still in place. That alone makes it feels safer to stay in our small island bubble that to get on an airplane back to New York.

The Marine and Yachting Association of Grenada has been working behind the scenes on a proposal to the Grenadian government on how to open the borders to incoming yachts safely while protecting the residents of the country from importing coronavirus. We’ve been waiting impatiently to learn the results, but things are finally looking positive! Over 1100 boats have registered in a database to state that they want to travel to Grenada when borders open. Yesterday, MAYAG posted the first details on the plan. Of course the cruising community was immediately abuzz with excitement. Here’s the plan as we understand it so far….

We had a meeting today with the various authorities in Grenada who we are coordinating with and have agreed on an implementation protocol for arriving yachts. This needs to be approved by cabinet, which will be one of the final steps before we get the go ahead.

  • All yachts intended to come to Grenada need to complete the Maritime Health Declaration Form 48 hours ahead of your scheduled arrival.
  • A designated quarantine area has been set up. The GPS coordinates of this area will be given to you.
  • Quarantine will be 14 days with no shore leave granted and this will be on your yacht in the quarantine area. Provisioning supply chain has been set up for you during this time but we advise provisioning as much as you can before you leave for Grenada.
  • After the quarantine period you will be required to take either a PCR test or a Rapid Test. The cost will be EC$200 for the PCR Test or EC$75 for the Rapid Test. There will be a Statutory Regulation published requiring you to do this. If you object to taking this test then please make alternative arrangements as you will not be able to clear into Grenada.
  • There will be an arrival schedule set up where yachts will book an arrival date and be expected to arrive within 48 – 72 hours of that date. There will be a small admin fee of US$20.

That all sounds pretty reasonable, don’t you think? It’s still gonna be a little bit tricky. If we can’t stop in any countries between Antigua and Grenada, we’re looking at about a 300 nm passage, taking us about three days in good weather conditions. Capt. Mike and I will have to take turns on watch for the entire time – it will be our longest passage so far. I’m sure glad this isn’t our first cruising season! And we’re not really looking forward to another 14-day quarantine on our teeny tiny boat. Especially in the designated quarantine zone which is going to be crowded, rolly, poor anchor holding, and filled with lots of other frustrated and cranky sailors 🤪 But we’ll make the best of it because we also want to ensure that our Grenadian hosts can stay healthy and safe. I guess this is our Plan A for now, and we anxiously await news from Grenada on our scheduled arrival date. I hope we remember how to sail after sitting at anchor for so long! Wish us luck!

It sure ain’t Instacart…

So we’ve been under a 24-hour curfew to limit the spread of Covid-19 here in Antigua since April 2. And as of yesterday, it had been 10 days since I’d set foot on land and gone shopping for groceries and other supplies. Talk about self-isolation! On the plus side, Capt Mike and I are pretty confident that we’re cornavirus-free after such a long period of social distancing. But on the down side, our fresh food stores were down to a cabbage, a few carrots, and a lime. So, a few days ago, I had a brilliant idea…..In a Facebook group for cruisers in Antigua, I found an advertisement for a business that is willing to deliver fresh vegetables to various parts of the island. So I sent a What’sApp message out into the void letting Farmer George know I wanted a delivery to North Sound Marina which is located about 2.5 miles by dinghy from our remote anchorage. I let three of four friends on nearby boats know that I planned to place an order. Then…BOOM! Everything got a little bit crazy. The word spread quickly, and I was suddenly receiving veggie orders via FB messenger and What’sApp and SMS text from 13 boats, most of which I hadn’t even met in person yet, and several who don’t speak english as a first language. Some submitted orders in pounds of each type of veg, some in quantities of each kind of veg, some added “wish list” items that weren’t even on the price list! I buckled down and created a spreadsheet to track the orders and estimate the cost for each boat. I created a What’sApp discussion group to keep everybody informed. And I walked a thin line between harassing the veggie delivery rep, Petra, and trying to be polite and understanding because she said she was sooooo busy managing individual deliveries during lockdown and leading up to Easter weekend, that she was only getting a few hours of sleep each night.

Finally, I got a hold of Petra and submitted an order for approximately $900 Eastern Caribbean dollars of produce to feed thirteen families. At 2:00 am Thursday morning, I received a message from Petra: “We should be there by 11:30. Given the volume of orders, we need a tight turnaround. Add 70.00EC for delivery. And the eggs are”…..Yep. That’s where it ended. I hoped we were both talking about 11:30 on Thursday. I hoped we agreed on meeting at the marina. I had no idea the total cost of the order and how many hundreds of dollars I had to bring in cash. And the Antiguan government had just announced that 24-hour curfew was extended for another week, with absolutely everything on the island closed down on Friday through Sunday for Easter. So this Thursday morning was go time!

I sent an email to the Marina, letting them know we’d be coming in for “essential business” to buy food for our families, so they wouldn’t get us in trouble for breaking curfew. Chuck on SV Virtual Reality and Jason on SV Mimzy have the biggest, fastest dinghies in the anchorage, so the three of us donned mandatory face masks, grabbed shopping lists and cash, and headed ashore. We got there about a half hour early so we could speak to the boatyard manager and find our way through the huge yard to the front gate. And then we sat in the shade by the side of the road and waited. And waited. Now remember, I hadn’t heard from Petra since 2am. Chuck made a little side trip to talk to some local fisherman, and ended up buying us 10 pounds of mahi mahi fillets!

By noon (when we were all supposed to be back in our homes for the strictest form of curfew) I still hadn’t heard from Petra, and the number of cars and trucks passing by had slowed to almost none. Then I got a What’sApp message! Hooray! She said the eggs we’d ordered showed up really late, and she was headed back to pick the up. So we settled in and waited some more.

At 1:00 I sent another nessage, “Hi Petra, are you still coming?” and I got a terse response back – “yes”.

At 1:15, she messaged me “No tomatoes today. Someone stole my box. Sigh.” Now, we had ordered a total of 33 pounds of tomatoes, so I knew I was going to have some grouchy sailors! So I responded, “Please feel free to substitute something else. Spinach? Cucumbers?” At 1:30 Petra said “Heading to you now. 12 to 15 minutes” We had to move to a new spot in the dirt, because the sun had moved so far across the sky, the shade had moved!

An hour later, at 2:30…. “I am on the wrong side….coming.” A few minutes later….”I went to the wrong place…coming.” I walked over the the security gate for the marina and asked the security guard to call her and give directions. FINALLY, at almost 3:00, after sitting by the side of the road for four hours, Petra arrived! Hooray! Her little 4-door sedan was absolutely stuffed with cardboard boxes FILLED with fresh picked fruits and vegetables!

We had her drive as close to the dock as she could get and my big burly guys took turns hauling heavy boxes to the dinghies. It barely fit! We unloaded it all onto the stern of Mimzy, a big spacious catamaran, and set up a human assembly line to call out the orders from my spreadsheet, weigh pound after pound of vegetables, and load everything into shopping bags. Finally, I sent out the long awaited message – “The veggies are here! Come and get them!” Dinghies zipped in from all corners of the anchorage and we had the pleasure of handing heavy bags of pumpkin, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, zucchini, onions, lettuce, and thyme to quarantined sailors who were getting close to risking scurvy. 😜

I left Sanitas at 10:30 in the morning, and got back to the boat around 6:00 pm. It’s sure not as easy as going to the local Whole Foods. Or ordering quarantine groceries to be delivered from Walmart or Instacart. But all of our veggies were grown right here on Antigua – picked that morning or the day before. And we’re supporting a local business that’s trying their best to survive the closure of restaurants and resorts by figuring out how to switch to an individual delivery model. And we’ll be eating like kings and queens for the next week of curfew. After that, who knows? Maybe things will go back to normal and we’ll be able to visit grocery stores again. Or …. maybe I’ll be planning another epic trip to meet with Petra. There are about another half dozen boats in the anchorage now. I’ll bet some of them want fresh vegetables!

Nomad Life in the Time of Corinavirus

Several folks have reached out and asked if Capt. Mike and I are ok with all the Covid-19 stuff going on. Well… So far, so good. Sanitas is currently in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe which at the time of writing had one confirmed case of the Corona virus. So, more than West Virginia, but less than most other regions. 😉

Last night at midnight, France directed that all bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses must close in order to stop the spread of the virus, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I dingied ashore to the small town of Terre de Haut this morning. But, surreal as it seemed, things were pretty much the same as usual. Restaurants were open, ferries were running, the sun was shining. The small grocery store (about the size of a 7-11) was quite busy. But they always are on Sunday mornings when most shops close at noon. There was plenty of toilet paper on the shelves, and I found everything on my list – even fresh veggies and eggs. I did see two women great each other with the usual French kiss on both cheeks. And then they threw up their hands and looked a bit sheepish and tapped the toes of their right feet together instead. People aren’t freaking out here like they are in the States. Or… Maybe they are but because I don’t speak French, I’m missing it all.

Mike and are feel like we’re in pretty good shape on little old Sanitas. We went grocery shopping in the big supermarket in Point-a-Pitre a few days ago, so we have lots of French cheese and fresh veggies. And when that runs out, the bilge is full of canned goods, nuts, gluten free noodles, and energy bars. We have full water tanks and diesel, and our solar panels are working great.

That’s not so say we aren’t watching what’s happening and taking precautions though. We wash our hands a lot – and certainly every time we return to the boat. I belong to several sailing and cruising Facebook groups that share information on each island’s travel restrictions and entry procedures. I guess that’s our biggest concern right now – what if every island closes its borders to everyone except residents? Where will we go then? What if cargo ships stop sailing and the grocery stores DO get empty? What if we run out of propane for our cook stove? I checked today, and we can stay in Guadeloupe for 90 days without a visa, so I think we’ll sit tight and wait to see what happens. Our hurricane season plans call for us to haul out in Grenada for the summer on 1 July. Hopefully things improve by then, and if we really have to, we could sail straight to Grenada without stopping in less than 48 hours. We could also self-quarantine at anchor for 14 days if Grenada requires it. Although Mike and I would REALLY get on each other’s nerves by that time! 🤪 Imagine being stuck with your spouse for 14 days in a space the size of your master bathroom!

For now, we’re in a small, quiet place, with relatively few people. The weather is good. We’ve got plenty of food, water, and medicine. If everything shuts down, we can still swim and go for walks. It only costs 11€ per day to stay on a mooring ball. The main island of Guadeloupe is only a 4-hour sail away if we need more provisions or medical care. Right now, it feels like the right decision to stay put and see what happens. Which is pretty much all anyone can do, right? Now if only I had more books and a slightly bigger boat!

So how’s that medical insurance thing going?

About six months ago, I wrote a popular blog post about how I price-shop around for medical, dental, and vision services. So what do you do about medical insurance? So how’s that working out for us?

Prescriptions:

Have you ever heard anyone say “You can actually get that medicine in (insert name of country here) without a prescription!” During our summer in Europe, I decided to find out if it’s true. By the end of our Camino hike across Spain, I’d finished the years’ worth of prescription thyroid medication that I’d filled at the Walmart in Florida. (Don’t forget -if you pay out of pocket, you can buy all of your refills at once, instead of 90 days at a time!). I was pretty stressed out thinking about getting my prescription filled in Santiago. I needed to find a Farmacia, ask for a pharmacist who speaks English, explain which medicine I need (I kept the pill bottle), possibly get sent to a clinic to see a doctor and get a blood test (all by public transportation), possibly wait for the results, and hopefully get a new prescription by the end of it all. I’d worked myself into a bit of a frenzy thinking about it, but Santiago was the only place we’d be staying for more than one night at a time, so I bit the bullet and gave it a shot. I walked to the closest Farmacia, and timidly asked “Hablas usted Inglés?” The pharmacist answered, “a little” and took a look at my pill bottle. My thyroid medication is extremely common, so in less than ten minutes, I walked out of the Farmacia with 100 pills of my exact dosage for 9.95€. Yahoo! Emboldened, I walked down the street to the next Farmacia and asked again. This time, I walked out with 100 thyroid pills for 4.95€ Double yahoo! For 15 Euros or about $16.75 I had enough medication to carry me over until I’m in one place long enough to find a doctor and get settled. I also take a slow-release pain reliever for osteoarthritis. When I ran out of the pills in Portugal, I MAY have used my status as a pilgrim walking to Fatima to ask for a little bit of sympathy from the pharmacists. In Porto I was able to buy two boxes of 60 pills of meloxicam each for a total of 20€ Once again, it’s enough to last me through the rest of my European summer and until I could sort out something more permanent, and the price was quite reasonable.

What else have I done to keep medical costs down in the past six months?

Vision:

I’m extremely happy with the quality, style, and durability of Warby Parker prescription eyeglasses. My first pair of prescription sunglasses lasted for two years in the extremely harsh environment of sailing – even spending one whole night at the bottom of the ocean in the harbor under our boat, requiring a snorkel rescue the next day. So during our brief trip to Colorado this summer I ordered two new pairs: a clear lens pair for $95 and a pair of polarized sunglasses for $175. Not dirt cheap by any means, but try comparing to prices in the optometrist’s office and you’ll find it’s a pretty darn good deal. Stylish too!

Dental:

I bought another Groupon this year for Capt. Mike’s and my dental cleaning and x-rays. It’s a great deal for new customers, but of course they are going to try to find something else that needs fixing in your mouth, because that’s how the dental office makes their money. This dentist found two old fillings that she recommended replacing, and it think it’s legit. I have a mouth full of fillings and the old ones do fail eventually. The dentist’s office manager gave me the option to pay cash using their dental discount plan. But wait! With an hour of research on the internet, I found a different dental discount plan that allowed me to pay by the month rather than subscribing for a full year, and I could cancel as soon as the fillings were complete. AND the fillings were cheaper too even provided at the same office by the same dentist. Lesson learned – it never hurts to shop around, and don’t hesitate to ask for a few days to decide before agreeing to treatment.

Flu Shots:

Sure, my international insurance plan doesn’t cover preventative care like free flu shots. But honestly, I’d rather pay between $20 to $40 out-of-pocket once a year rather than paying thousands of dollars in premiums for high-deductible plan I don’t use! Once again, I did a bit of internet sleuthing. The drug store chains don’t post flu shot prices on their web sites, but you can easily Google it and find bloggers who have done the price comparison research. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Costco offers the cheapest flu shots this year at $19.99. But you MIGHT be surprised to learn that ANYONE can use the Costco pharmacy services for prescriptions or shots even without a membership. I was surprised! And I’m going to keep it in mind for future cost cutting. There weren’t any Costco warehouse stores near where we were staying in upstate New York, so I went to the next cheapest option at Sam’s Club. $35 with a normal membership, $30 with a Plus membership. There was no line at the pharmacy, I walked right in and had my flu shot complete for the year in less than ten minutes. Drug stores, such as CVS and Rite Aid, are more convenient locations for getting a flu shot, but they’ll charge at least $40. Sometimes they’ll give you a gift certificate or coupon toward a prescription discount to offset the higher cost.

Doctors and Accidents:

Thankfully, I haven’t had any injuries or accidents or gotten very ill, so I haven’t had to see a doctor since I signed up for the IMG international medical plan. But I do have a United Health Services insurance card with an individual and group id number that works both in the US and overseas. The premiums for Mike and I are affordable, and the deductible is “only” $1000 so if a big accident did take place, we could cover those costs more easily than we could with a high deductible plan. I’ll be in Puerto Rico for at least a month this fall, so I’ll go to a medical center there (after doing some cost comparisons, of course) and get prescriptions for the next year.