Back to the Boat!

International travel is possible again, but you’ve really gotta want it

After our epic Long Trail backpacking adventure, Mike and I spent a few more weeks visiting family and attending the Annapolis Sailboat Show and then, suddenly, it was late October and time to return to Sanitas and the Caribbean. Who would’ve thought we’d still be dealing with border closures and COVID restrictions in fall of 2021? Definitely not me!

We found a pirate in Queens!

Our first challenge in returning to the islands was to figure out what to do with all of our stuff. Somehow, whatever we packed to bring home back in June bred and multiplied in the back of our Ford Escape and we suddenly owned way more junk than fit in our luggage. Visiting “The Land of Plenty” will do that to you. Also, a Costco membership card.😜 Some of it, we’d bring back with us – American toiletries and supplements are very expensive in the islands, as are gluten-free foods. Extra clothing we donated to charity. Luckily, almost all the clothing I bought as “land clothes” for our visit came from a thrift store so it was easy to part with – almost like renting warm clothing that we wouldn’t need when we returned south. Speaking of thrift stores, here’s a great nomad life hack for you…if you are returning home from your trip with a little more than you started with, consider buying an extra suitcase from Goodwill. We bought 2 huge pieces of luggage for $6.99 each and filled them as close as we could get to the 50-pound airline limit. Then we donated them on arrival in Grenada. Just don’t forget to pay for your bags in advance to avoid paying more at the airport! Even international flights don’t always include free luggage these days.

Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger luggage cart

The next challenge is to comply with all the entry requirements of your destination country. That’s complicated by the fact that restrictions change quickly, based on the number of active cases in a country, and on whether the US is considered “high risk” at the time. When we traveled from New York to Grenada at the end of October, the rules were:

  • Only fully-vaccinated visitors are allowed to enter. We brought hard copy and digital copies of our vaccination cards
  • Apply for a Travel Authorization form one week before your flight
  • Have a negative PCR test result, taken within 72 hours of travel
  • Pre-pay for a 2nd COVID PCR test to be administered at the airport upon arrival in Grenada
  • Book two nights in an approved quarantine hotel in Grenada where you’ll stay until your arrival test results are available
  • Print everything to show the airline prior to checking in, or use an app such as New York’s Excelsior Pass

Our flight from JFK left before 7:00am on a Monday morning, so our covid tests were complicated by the weekend. We tried to take advantage of free testing at a Rite-Aid on Friday morning. But when we didn’t receive results by Saturday afternoon I panicked and paid $160 per person to get a test that guaranteed results by Sunday at 5:00 pm. It was a good decision. Capt Mike didn’t get his free test results until we arrived to the airport – I would have been totally freaking out if the results of our paid tests hadn’t been available!

Nomad man
You gotta wear your hat, so you don’t crush it!

After that, everything went smoothly. A 3am alarm got us to JFK in plenty of time for Mike to drop off me and my massive pile of luggage while he parked. I have nothing but positive feedback for JetBlue. Just a week after the Southwest flight cancelation fiasco, and a week before the American Airlines meltdown, every JetBlue employee we interacted with was professional and helpful. Our flight was about half full and on time, and it felt wonderful to take our first breaths of warm, humid island air when we deplaned at Maurice Bishop international airport. We arrived on a local holiday, but the clear-in process was still smooth and efficient. After our third nose swab in four days, we collected our bags and hopped into a taxi for the short trip to Sunflower Apartments.

I’d planned ahead and ordered delivery of grocery basics (eggs, fruit, pasta, potato chips, and booze) for our 48-hour quarantine. It was brilliant! The delivery van from IGA arrived at the apartment at the same time as our taxi. After Lauren in security took our temperature and showed us around, we settled in for quarantine, aka well-deserved rest and recovery period. With air conditioning and lots of Netflix movies, we barely minded, and we were officially cleared around 4:00 pm on Tuesday. Just in time to go out to eat at Greek Kitchen before restaurants closed round 5:00 for COVID curfew.

Sanitas is one of those masts, way over there. (View from our quarantine apartment)

Do all these Covid protocols sound strange to my fellow Americans? Well, Caribbean island nations are still taking Covid quite seriously, especially since many have limited medical facilities. But they are also balancing safety with the need to improve the economy and to restore tourism. Both Grenada and St Vincent have recently removed the quarantine requirement for fully-vaccinated visitors. Grenada now only requires a rapid antigen test on arrival, rather than the costlier PCR test. And they’ve significantly lowered the cost of the tests for departure, which are required when you return home to the States. While Covid-related protests have turned violent in the French islands, Grenada feels safe and peaceful – especially as the beautiful weather means we live our lives almost entirely outdoors all winter long. I’m very glad we were able to return to Sanitas this fall, and I’m really looking forward to being able to sail more and explore more than we’ve been able to for the past two years!

Celebrating our freedom from quarantine

A nice month for a walk in the woods …

Warning – for the next three weeks, this sailing blog will be pre-empted by the trail journal of my end-to-end hike of the Long Trail in Vermont.

Instead of The Grenadines, we’ll be walking 273 miles from Williamstown, MA to the border of Canada. Instead of the gin-blue waters of the Caribbean, you’ll see the emerald greens and deep earthy browns of the Green Mountains. Instead of Jenn and Capt. Mike, we will henceforth be known as Dingle and ToeJam.

Read on if you dare… You have been warned!

Goodbye Colorado

Wow, time really does fly! Somehow our summer in Colorado is over already. We spent our last week squeezing in as many visits with friends as humanly possible…. Oh, and eating lots of Mexican food!

We spent our last weekend in CO with Micki and Nathan in Denver. We got to enjoy a beautiful summer evening on their Caribbean themed patio, the Rhum Shack… with very non-Caribbean oysters, champagne, and cheese.

We were especially lucky to be able to celebrate Micki’s graduation from the Lighthouse creative writing program – she’s one talented lady!

We managed to squeeze in brunch with our former ski condo besties, and with little Ester 😍

And just like that, we loaded up the Bat Mobile, with way more junk than we started with (Darn you, Costco!) and pointed the bow back east. Three loooooooong days on the straight, fast highways through Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and (finally) Vermont. We made it! This beautiful green slice of paradise will be home for the next month or so as we hike the Long Trail from Massachusetts to the Canadian border. Wish us luck!

Don’t worry though, Capt Mike’s still got a little pirate in him. He managed to find a painkiller in Burlington, VT🏴‍☠️

Getting Our Land Legs Back

In case you were wondering, the crew of Sanitas are land lubbers this summer. Like most everyone, we’ve been separated from our friends and family way too long due to Covid, so we’re making a grand USA cross country tour this hurricane season. We’re loving the quality family time (with lots of hugs – thanks vaccines!) the opportunity to cook delicious meals in a full size kitchen, and the chance to stretch our legs and run, hike, and go on bike rides. There have been a few instances of culture shock for sure, as we readjust to life in “the land of plenty” but we’re having a great time. Have you SEEN how huge a Walmart Superstore is? Especially compared to a typical grocery store on Bequia in The Grenadines?!?

The long flight home

First stop has been visiting family in Upstate New York. We bought a used car (we sure have good timing, huh? Buying a car during a nation-wide car shortage?) installed a bike rack, and hit the road. We told our folks to have the ToDo lists ready – what’s the point of all those boat projects if we haven’t learned something to help out with our parents’ home maintenance while we visit? We helped with lawn work, cleaned out basements and garages, configured streaming accounts and Bluetooth speakers, and even rebuilt a fieldstone wall. Or at least Capt. Mike did. I mostly supervised and took photos. Did you know you can put almost any old junk by the side of a country road and SOMEONE will stop and take it?

But it’s not all work! We’ve also caught up with high school friends, and been tourists in our home towns.

We had a great time looking through photo albums at my parents house in the southern tier of New York. Recognize this future sailor?

I’m really enjoying the chance to get some land-based exercise again. Not much of a swimmer, I’m loving alternating between hiking in the national forest, building my running endurance with the C25K app, and getting used to my road bike again. You know what they say – it’s just like riding a bike, lol.

I know, I know. It’s not as exotic as life on a small sailboat. But we’re enjoying it! Please follow along, as we start our epic road trip to Colorado on Monday, and as we attempt to get in shape to backpack the Long Trail in Vermont this fall. Watch out mountains! These sea level sailors are coming for ya!

Everybody’s favorite topic – medical care for nomads!

It’s been two years since Capt. Mike and I have had medical insurance in the USA. Part of our travel plan for 2020 was to fit in a little medical tourism trip to Cancun to get dental work, blood work, and recommended cancer screenings done. But…. it’s 2020….all plans are off! Instead, we spent 6 months in Grenada so we tried our best to find healthcare providers to take care of our needs here.

Although there’s a massive medical school on the island, training America’s future doctors, there’s not really a robust healthcare system or a modern public hospital. There is a small private clinic, St Augustine’s Medical Center, or SAMS, that’s a good option for emergencies. Our friend Cheryl on SV LeefNu had a good experience there treating broken ribs. But I don’t think I’d want to undergo a major surgery here if I had the option to go elsewhere. Many residents, who can afford it, also travel off island for significant medical care.

We started out with the easy stuff – a dental cleaning. Well, I THOUGHT it would be easy! Of the 5 or 6 dentists recommended in my local cruisers FaceBook group, most were taking appointments 4 months out! So I went with the only one I could see within two weeks. I found that the quality of the dental care was….ok. COVID precautions were in place (masks, hand sanitizer, chairs blocked off in the waiting room). A very pleasant young woman dentist, working out of a faded old fashioned office, gave us a thorough exam and a good cleaning. However, no X-rays, and no measurements for gum disease. She pretty much just poked at our typical American teeth and said “everything looks good.” There’s no lab to fabricate crowns on the island, so dentists must order such devices from the US and that takes another three months turnaround. I guess “Replace slowly failing crown” will stay on my to-do list for another year.

Cost for routine dental exam and cleaning = 165 ecd or $61US

Look at those pearly whites!

Up next, annual skin cancer screening. We are two very pale people, living outdoors in the Caribbean, so we make it a priority to get every spot checked out every year. There’s exactly one dermatologist in Grenada, Dr Jenny Issacs. The directions to find her office are “go to the downtown vegetable market, walk up the hill, look for the hand-written sign on the wall next to the used book store.” Again, covid precautions made us feel safe. We even had to bring our certificate from the health ministry stating that we’d passed a covid test and completed quarantine. Dr Issacs has been practicing in Grenada for over 30 years, and she’s licensed as a GP as well as a dermatologist. She’s very kind and thorough, and she listened to all of our concerns and requests for prescriptions to top up the boat first aid kit, writing us prescriptions for antibiotics and my thyroid pills. She examined Mike’s bald head and told him “you have so little melanin in your skin, you should be cruising in Scandinavia”, lol. She wrote him a prescription for Efudix, a cream used to treat pre-cancerous spots. We carefully followed the directions for a two-week treatment, and it seemed to work great! No more rough, red spots! She found one tiny irregular dark spot on my cheek and recommended a biopsy “Out of an abundance of caution”

  • Cost per person for dermatologist appointment = 150ecd or $55US
  • Cost for large tube of Efudix = 460ecd or $170US

Prescriptions are kind of expensive here… But so is everything imported, I suppose! It seems strange to me that prescription meds are priced by the pill, rather than by the month or by the dose. I take a very common generic thyroid medicine, but in the entire time I’ve been in Grenada, I could not find the dose I need in a single pill. Is there a conspiracy in all of Grenada’s pharmacies to make twice the money by selling twice the pills?

Cost of generic thyroid meds = about 55ecd or $20US per month

So that dermatologist appointment led to a biopsy appointment. Sheesh. The spot was so small, I had to point it out to the nurse. The surgeon was very nice – also a sailor who plans to retire and move into a boat in a few years (although he said his wife wouldn’t want to live in one as small as ours). I was nervous about the procedure (after all, it was on my face) but Capt. Mike was there to take care of me, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Three days later and I had the stitches out. Two weeks later, I got the biopsy results – negative – and I could pretend the whole thing never happened. Don’t forget your hat and sunscreen!

Cost for biopsy: including surgeon fees, lab fees, facility fees, initial consultation, and suture removal = 780ecd or $289US.

In addition to these doctors appointments in Grenada, I saw a doctor in Antigua to follow up on my shingles case, and to get routine bloodwork and a cervical cancer screening. So all in all, I got quite a bit of medical care outside the USA this year! If you are used to $20 co-pays and $10 generic prescriptions, these out-of-pocket expenses might sound like a lot. But, when you consider that the premiums alone on my high-deductable ACA plan were over $900 per month, and compare that to the emergency-only international plan that we currently have for about $2600 per year, we can pay for a lot of doctor’s appointments and prescriptions and still come out ahead! Maybe I’ll finally get around to that crown in 2021?