The saga of the SIM card

I know, I know. For hundreds of years people sailed the high seas without technology, and more recently navigated with paper charts and SSB radios. But the crew of Sanitas has become very accustomed to cell phones and the data access they provide. We use our cell data for route planning, weather forecasts, researching destinations, downloading Netflix shows, and writing this blog. Oh, and Wordle. Usually, we’ve found it easy to get cell service internationally by buying a local SIM card and signing up for a pre-paid plan. But for some reason, we’ve had an incredibly difficult time getting cell service in Martinique. It’s been a real comedy of errors.

Attempt #1 – Wizzy

Capt. Mike researched a new low cost cell phone provider named Wizzy which runs on the Digicel network and advertises 70Gb for 17€. Too good to be true? The tricky part is they have no storefronts, so you communicate with them on their website and we mailed the SIM card we ordered to the post office in Sainte Anne Martinique. At first, everything went swimmingly, and Mike reveled in his ability to download anything he wanted without rationing. But…three weeks into using Wizzy, Mike’s internet access stopped working, and he received a very cryptic message about a payment problem (in French, of course). We tried and tried to figure it out but low cost internet means no real live customer service people and eventually we gave up. SIM card #1 went in the trash. For the record, a couple of fellow cruisers had great luck with Wizzy but at least one cruiser we know never even received his paid-for SIM card. It’s a real mixed bag.

Attempt # 2 – Digicel

There are two different Digicel cell phone providers in the eastern Caribbean: one that serves the French speaking islands and one that serves everyone else. Cruisers speak of the French Digicel in reverential tones “You can get soooo much data each month!” they say. “Sign up in a French island, and it’ll work anywhere!” I’ve been told. “If you ever get a French Digicel sim card, don’t give it up!” I’ve been warned. So our next stop was the Digicel store near the huge Le Marin marina. The young man working there is fantastic- he speaks just enough English to help us get our account set up and confirmed that we were good to go before we left the shop. It’s more expensive, of course, about 45€ per month. But it felt good to be back on a reliable plan with good service.

All was well on Sanitas for the next few weeks until…. Three weeks in, there’s no internet access. Again. Back on the bus to the Digicel shop and the very nice agent who tried lots of things on the computer, spoke to customer service on our behalf, and tried every credit and debit card in our wallets to no avail. Something about our “foreign” credit cards was offending them. Digicel did not want our money. So much for the unicorn of a French digicel SIM card. We were back to square one.

Attempt 2.5 – Orange

There’s an Orange cell phone shop in the same plaza as Digicel, so Mike poked his head in and asked about SIM cards. He was told emphatically “No!” Mike put on his best “I’m-a-stupid-American-who-can’t-speak-French-but I’m sorry-about-it-and-I’m-not-a-jerk” face and tried again. He was told that they’re out of SIM cards and try again next week.

Attempt 3- SFR

So I’ve been telling you about Capt. Mike’s trials and tribulations, but my path has not been smooth either. I planned to choose a different cell phone provider than the one Mike was using, so that as we moved from anchorage to anchorage, within sight of different provider’s cell towers, we’d always have one service that works for weather files and charts. I ended up going with SFR whose billboards advertise “Coverage for 99% of the population of Martinique”. The coverage area and data speeds have been great, but my in-store customer service was the opposite of Mike’s good experience at Digicel. My customer service clerk told me the 3-month promotional rate wasn’t available and charged me twice what I really owed. Then she set up my account incorrectly so I couldn’t see or pay my bill online. And SFR Caraibe doesn’t use an app to manage your account, just a slow, outdated website. There was no way I would suggest that a cruiser buy an SFR SIM card….until that was the only option left for Capt. Mike. Back on the bus to Le Marin! Honestly, Mike had a bunch better experience at SFR than I did, with a different much more helpful agent. He left the shop with a working phone, for the correct price, AND we had the chance to eat lunch at our favorite “big meals for working men” lunch spot next door. I suspected the French culture was finally rubbing off on Mike when he told me, “You know, I’m a bit disappointed in this roasted lamb with wine and mushroom sauce. It’s a tad over cooked. And the rosé is just drinkable” Zut Alors, Captain Mike!

SFR only works in the French islands. It’s been fantastic in Martinique and in The Saints, Guadeloupe. But now that we’ve traveled to English-speaking Dominica, we found ourselves back in the Digicel shop, buying yet another SIM card for the week or two we’ll be anchored here. (Apparently, this sim will only work in Dominica and St Lucia. Insane!) Our next challenge will be figuring out how to cancel our SFR plans when we head south for hurricane season…and dare I even hope to get my deposit back? As our French diesel engine mechanic exclaimed repeatedly, “The system, c’est bizarre!”

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 😀

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.

How the other half lives

Just before the La Soufriere volcano erupted (life is now measured in BV, and AV) we spent three nights anchored off the private island of Mustique. Why three? Because the Mustique Company charges 220ec (about $82) per mooring ball, whether you stay for one night, two nights, or three. And the crew of Sanitas always get our money’s worth!

Mustique is definitely “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous” If you’ve watched The Crown, you know that Princess Margaret owned a home here, and visited for decades. Bryan Adams, Tommy Hilfiger, and Mick Jagger own homes, and several large villas are available for rent to the very wealthy at around 40,000 per week during the winter high season. Only small private planes can land here, and the rif-raf is definitely kept out. Except for us, lol! We’re considered “yachties” and we are allowed limited access to this beautiful island. ⛵🌴🌄 Of course our first stop was the world famous Basil’s Bar, clinging picturesquely to a wooden dock over the blue, blue water. It’s a lovely beach bar, decorated with carved wood, rattan lamps, and antique musical instruments. Unfortunately, we arrived one day too late for the weekly Wednesday “jump up” of live island music. We watched a mediocre sunset while sampling tasty but obscenely expensive cocktails and burgers. It was a bit of a shock seeing the menu in US dollars rather than in ec. Well I did say I wanted to see how the other half lives – so far, I think they get ripped off, lol 🤣

The mooring field in Brittania Bay is beautiful with tons of happy healthy sea turtles swimming around. We visited with Zach and Lindy on SV Holiday, and we shared this large bag with only two other boats. Unfortunately, it can also be rolly here. On Friday morning we experienced an insane roll as if we were sailing in one of our most difficult passages – we think caused by the volcano’s first seismic activity.

Visitors, like us yachties, are welcome to visit the amazing gourmet supermarket, gift shops, and a few restaurants.

Sean at the mooring office told us “When you see a Private Property sign, you turn around!” We didn’t realize how quickly we’d hit one of those signs on our attempt to go for a walk along the waterfront. Pretty much every road that heads inland from the bay is marked Private. 😡

Most of the island is kept natural and undeveloped, and I’d read about beautiful scenic hiking trails. So I wrote to Sean and asked very politely if we could do a hike to the southernmost point on the island. He said yes! As long as we stayed away from all homes, and didn’t take any photos of residents or their villas.

Nobody said we couldn’t take photos of pornographic tortoises

At this point in our stay, the volcano had started erupting, and the sky was grey and full of ash. So maybe, just maybe, going for a hike and breathing in all that crap wasn’t the smartest idea. But remember my goal of getting my Mustique money’s worth? We could feel the grit in our teeth and ended the hike with black streaks of dirt in our elbows and arm pits, but I honestly think it was worth it.

Rich people islands have gorgeous hiking trails! Great signage, mowed grass, and beautiful stone steps to climb the hills. In a distance of less than three miles we changed environments from bird watching in a blind on a salt pond, to a moonscape of exposed rock and cactus. We also glimpsed gorgeous wild beaches, of white sand on the Atlantic side and of black volcanic sand on the Caribbean side.

So is it worth visiting Mustique on a sailboat? Honestly, I guess it depends. If you follow royalty or you’ve always dreamed of rubbing shoulders with celebrities and CEOs, it’s probably the cheapest and easiest way to get here. I didn’t feel very welcome here; it felt more like we were just being tolerated But I have to say, Sanitas has anchored in many equally beautiful harbors where we could anchor for free. And I’ve enjoyed delicious barbequed lobster on the beach for the cost of a burger and a beer at Basil’s. Since we’re spending five months in The Grenadines this year, we’ve set a goal to visit every inhabited island in the chain (and some uninhabited!) so I think Mustique was worth a stop, especially with our lovely hike included. But if you’re here on a brief charter, or if the weather is bad, or if you prefer to spend 12ec for fruit juice and sunset rum instead of $20…. I’d probably pass 🤪

Feeling Fancy

Capt.Mike and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary by splurging on a week at beautiful Sandy Lane Yacht Club on the island of Canouan.

Back when we first started cruising, I made Capt. Mike promise that we’d keep enough money in the budget to stay in a marina once a month to preserve my mental health. But since those long ago and far away days, either I’ve toughened up, or we’ve made life on Sanitas much more comfortable. Now that we have a better mattress, a cockpit shower, and plenty of solar power, we live for free on the hook most of the time. However, in these Covid times, there are still so few tourists in the Eastern Caribbean that many resorts and marinas are offering stellar deals!

Sandy Lane is a new marina and absolutely gorgeous – I feel as though a bit of Miami Beach or San Tropez has been magically transported to the Grenadines. I’m pretty sure it’s designed for the sensibilities (and pocketbooks) of wealthy mega yacht owners. But all of the employees and staff were so welcoming, and treated us so well, you’d think we were spending thousands of dollars a night instead of the $55.50 we actually spent for our dock fees. 😉 That’s roughly what you’d spend for a KOA campsite in the US, or for a Boaty Ball mooring in the BVIs. But here at Sandy Lane, we spent a week living like royalty while having the whole place almost to ourselves (and with our friends Chuck and Lilli on Virtual Reality)

The marina facilities are built along a mile-long fairway, open on both ends, providing great clean water flow. There are fish and turtles living happily in the water. It’s so clean, we could probably make water right in the marina. At one end, there’s a plaza of pastel shops, restaurants, and condos with wrought iron balconies à la New Orleans. At the other end (remember the fairway is a mile long) there’s adorable Scruffy’s Beach Bar and salt water pool. And TWO MILES from the plaza and office, on the opposite side of the marina entry channel, is Shenanigans restaurant and pool club. We pretty much spent every afternoon at that pool- they even provide clean beach towels!

Now, did I mention the bath house? From the outside, it looks like a Greek temple, or maybe a bank. Inside, it’s delightfully air-conditioned, decorated with stylish and comfy seating, and has clean and spacious showers with unlimited hot water. It’s a cruiser’s dream!

Since it’s a long way from the boat to the pool, we inflated our SUP and paddled or way around the marina. The water was so calm, it was delightful, and great exercise.

Of course, we’re still actually on a cruisers’ budget, so we mostly avoided the pricy marina restaurant. (As Chuck on VR says, “the prices in the restaurant don’t look too bad… Until you realize they are in US dollars instead of eastern Caribbean dollars”😲 That means everything cost about the times what we’d expect) But we treated ourselves for our anniversary and had a lovely meal: watermelon feta salad, ceviche, loaded cheeseburger, and lobster wrap. The food, drinks, and service at Shenanigans are all first rate!