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.
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 🤪
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!
So in grand total, Sanitas ended up spending 9 weeks on the hard in Spice Island Marine boatyard this summer. If you’ve been following along, you’ve read about how our bottom job got a little bit out of control and how we tackled the huge project of rebuilding our hatches. I was feeling pretty down about things for a while there – especially when every project was moving backwards rather than making progress. Eventually, I decided to reframe the issue. We weren’t simply doing a bottom job on steroids – in reality, we had taken on a mini refit without even noticing! 😂 But as of Friday, November 13, we’re back in the water. Good thing I’m not superstitious!
When I look at the list of tasks we accomplished while in the yard, I really do feel a sense of accomplishment:
Refinished the hull and keel from bare gel coat and lead.
Raised the waterline.
Changed the Diesel engine oil, filters and impeller. Changed the transmission oil. Changed the oil on the outboard motor and lubed the lower unit.
Rebuilt the hatches.
Upgraded the electrical system to better isolate the starting battery, route solar power to the house battery bank, included safety fuses, improve the efficiency of the inverter.
Waxed and polished the hull.
Cleaned and oiled interior teak. Removed corrosion from portlights.
Improved the insulation of the refrigerator.
Repaired some gel coat damage.
Replaced leaking hoses.
Upgraded the solar energy system from about 300 watts to 600 watts of solar.
That last project, the solar upgrade, is HUGE! Last spring, one of our two 100W flexible solar panels failed and the remaining one want in good shape either. Even with long summer days and good sun angles, our solar couldn’t keep up with our needs, and we had to run the Honda generator daily (with the noise, gas fumes, and messy cockpit and salon chaos that go along with it) Capt. Mike did a huge amount of research, consulted with other cruisers and Clarity Marine Services, and came up with a design that doubled our solar capacity.
We bounded the project by deciding not to build a new arch on the stern, and not to replace our canvas bimini with a hard top. That saved us a ton of money, but limited the physical size and space for the new solar panels. But we still found great options! Solar technology has improved a great deal since we bought Sanitas – smaller solar panels are much more efficient and less expensive than they used to be.
We replaced the large 140W 12V rigid panel on the arch with a brand new 310W 24V panel. We paid a welder to replace a portion of our lifelines at the stern with rigid stainless steel tubing and installed two 140W 24V “wings” one on each side. (That was my idea😃) We got a great deal on used panels for the wings from friends in Port Louis Marina who were upgrading their solar even more than we were. One sailor’s trash is another’s treasure! And just as important as the panels themselves, we bought new Victron MPPT solar controllers, battery monitor and temperature sensor, and had them shipped in our sea freight box.
What so great about these upgrades? Let’s see if I can explain it. It’s been a looong time since my last E Sci class. Well, going from 12 volt solar panels to 24 volt solar panels dramatically improves the efficiency of the system, especially on cloudy days. Now we are much more likely to achieve the 13-14 volts required to charge our house battery bank. The solar panels generate as much power as possible, based on the amount of unobscured sun, the sun angle above the horizon, and the angle the panel is tilted toward the sun. Then the Victron controller is able to quickly adjust the amount of current and voltage flowing to the house battery banks to charge the batteries as efficiently as possible. These new controllers are configurable and allow us to define the current and voltage parameters and thresholds for Bulk, Absorb, and Float charging profiles to values that keep our Lifeline AGM batteries healthy. Marine batteries are expensive, so we want them to last as long as possible. AND, the controllers have this nifty display on a smartphone that shows a graph of the load on the batteries and the charging profile, in real time and historically. Capt. Mike can sit and watch that thing for hours. (I hope he gets tired of it soon) For the first time in years, we actually know when our batteries are 100% charged, and we actually achieve it!
So what will we do with all this new solar? I’m now much more confident that we have the power to keep our fridge cold and our navigation systems running while on passage. We can run more of our small power tools on the inverter. We can charge our phones and iPads without rationing. And for the first time ever, we can run out desalination water maker using solar rather than running the boat Honda generator. Big win! Capt. Mike had started hinting about an ice maker. Hmmm… Where would we put it?
At long last, the big day arrived! We registered for an arrival date in St George’s Grenada during the week of June 15th. We completed all of our preparations: repaired our wind instruments, AIS, and autopilot, planned a course that would provide us with the best wind angles, checked the weather several times a day to plan our safest passage dates, and cooked LOTS of passage food. On Saturday, June 13th, we raised anchor and headed out of English Harbour around 11:00pm. Friends remaining in the anchorage flashed lights and blew horns to give us and our two buddy boats an energetic send off. I could feel the adrenaline rush – we were setting out to cover approximately 310 nautical miles, and we’d estimated it would take us 60 hours without any stops.
It’s a bit disconcerting to set the sails and start navigating out into the blackness of a night without a moon. You haul on a halyard, but you can’t see its effect on the sail. When you do break out the super bright spotlight, it destroys your night vision, and then you’re blind for a few minutes while you adjust. Plus, being so close to land, you really hope the charts are correct and you aren’t going to run into an errant coral head or a bit of sandbar. But we left at night on purpose – we only planned to sail close to one island over the entire trip, the island of Guadeloupe. And we’d been told that we’d have sketchy wind conditions and lots of floats for fish traps in Guadeloupe waters. We decided it would be safer to navigate that coast during daylight, which meant leaving Antigua at night. We actually experienced very good conditions for the first night. Winds about 12-17 knots, sailing on a close reach. We even had fairly calm seas. We were able to purely sail, with no need for the motor, averaging 5.7 knots for the entire night. I took over the helm from Capt. Mike at 3:00 am. At 4:30, the eastern sky was already getting light – there’s definitely something to be said for making a passage on one of the longest days of the year! The absolute best part of an overnight passage is when the sky gradually fills with light. And no matter how tired or wet or seasick you might be, your soul lifts because the light means everything is going to be ok!
Capt Mike is going to chime in with some technical sailing mumbo jumbo. If this isn’t your thing, feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph…. Our first night couldn’t have been better. We had the engine off within 20 minutes of raising anchor, the weather forecast was accurate so far, and we were flying along on Sanitas’ favorite point of sail: 60 degrees apparent. If you visualize straight ahead being 0 degrees, follow the compass around to port (left) and the wind is hitting Sanitas at about 10 o’clock. For night time safety we had agreed to keep a double reef in the main, which means we’re only using about half the sail. In addition we had a reefed jib and full staysail. That combination of sails balances very easily at this point of sail and it’s possible to disengage the autopilot and lust let go of the helm. “Look Ma, no hands!” We don’t actually do that but it does mean the autopilot barely does any work in keeping the course. This sail configuration also puts all three of our sails at the same height for maximum visual beauty which scores some sailing bonus points. 😉
Well, maybe not everything. Eddie on Music hailed us on the radio soon after sunrise as we approached the northwest coast of Guadeloupe to inform us that their engine had cut out. Sanitas and Virtual reality dropped sails and slowed way down and waited for a couple hours while Music caught up under sail while troubleshooting the issue. The good part about making a passage with other boats is even if we are several miles apart, we can usually stay in contact via the VHF radio. In this case, we shared ideas of what might be causing the engine problem, and suggested things that Music’s captain could check while underway. We also started thinking of bail-out options: they could stop in Guadeloupe, but they’d be required to complete a 14-day quarantine for Covid-19 before a mechanic could come to the boat; or they could turn around and sail north to return to Antigua with no quarantine required, and still try to make Grenada during this week’s window; or they could commit to continuing south for 2 more days completely under sail, and address the engine problem in Grenada. Eventually, Eddie changed out the Racor diesel fuel filter which was clogged with some yucky black goopy stuff, and decided that was the root cause of the problem. With a clean filter and at least two backups in case he needed to change it again, Music decided to continue south with us. Good news!
Capt. Mike again… did you know that algae can grow in diesel? It’s one of the many things we’ve learned since we’ve started cruising and was the cause of Music’s clogged filter. It happens when water gets into the fuel tank; think condensation, leaky deck caps, bad fuel or even water on the deck as you’re filling the tank. This water becomes the breeding ground for the algae and the issue is made worse in fuels low in sulfur. The unfortunate thing is that the algae usually sits quietly in the tank away from the pick up hose that feeds the engine. You don’t know you have an impending problem until you go sailing in bouncy seas and the fuel gets all mixed up. People will sometime “polish” their fuel by running the contents of the tank through filters. On Sanitas we have been meticulous about putting our fuel through a filter before it goes into the tank and we also add a biocide to keep anything from growing.
We experienced a significant wind shadow along the coast of Guadeloupe. The mountains of Basse-Terre create their own weather, and they interrupt the normal flow of trade winds from east to west. So for this section, we had to motor sail, first because winds were too light to fill the sails, and later to drive Sanitas through the growing waves. Without the motor, our forward speed dropped to less than 2 knots and with a long way to go still, we fired up the engine. Winds finally picked up to 22 knots between Guadeloupe, The Saints, and Dominica which would have made for great sailing, however funneling water between those islands created very confused seas. I pretty much just wedged myself into a corner and held on. Capt. Mike promised me that these were the worst conditions we should expect for the entire passage, and (spoiler alert) I’m so glad he was right! Finally, as we passed Dominica, about 13 miles off shore and we had enough wind to sail again. I was on watch, and when Capt. Mike woke up from his nap I bragged that Sanitas was FLYING along at 7 knots. He popped his head up into the cockpit, took one look around, and said “We’re over-powered!” Oops. So much for my sailing skills. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but …. as we were attempting to decrease the amount of sail we had out by furling the jib under high winds, Capt. Mike was straining and grunting and groaning…. It ends up he was hauling on the staysail furling line instead on the jib furling line. Oops again. Lack of sleep is starting to take its toll. (Remember Mike: Staysail = Starboard) Those confused seas drove lots of big waves over the bow, and even over the cabin into the cockpit. At one point, I was sitting on the port side of the cockpit and a big wave SMACKED into Sanitas’ rear quarter just exactly right and completely washed over me! Don’t worry, I was never in any danger, but wow! I was completely soaked, from my hat down to my underwear. That’s why we wear PFDs and tethers during offshore passages!
Capt Mike again… a few things about this leg. First, the island of Guadeloupe manipulated the wind so much that for several miles on the southwestern coast we were sailing on a starboard tack. So instead of having 15 knots from 110 magnetic, we were seeing 10 knots from 285 magnetic. We took advantage of this by motor sailing (sails up, motor on) at a more easterly course. Second, the next wind effect was something we anticipated. The wind and waves between the islands gets amplied. A LOT. When we left the wind shadow of Guadeloupe we saw the winds increase to about 27 knots. We were ready and Sanitas handled it brilliantly under reefed main and staysail, while still flying along at 7ish knots. Lastly, in my defense about pulling on the wrong furler… I had just gotten my only 1 hour nap in the last 24 hours and clearly wasn’t fully awake yet. But Jenn will also say (and she’s not wrong) that the little word association we have (staysail=starboard) is for me because I get it wrong too often to admit.
The second night was no fun. Neither of us had gotten any sleep. I hadn’t managed to eat or drink very much in the rough conditions. We were both tired, and it was hard to stay awake and to focus. Mike turned the watch over to me around 11:30pm. Did I explain how our watches work? On shorter passages, we’ve been kind of casual about watch schedules. Sometimes Mike just sails until he’s too tired to go any further, and then I take over. But on a passage of this length, we decided we had to be more careful. I consider myself more or less competent crew, but I don’t have the physical strength to manage all of the sails under adverse conditions. So it’s important that we take turns getting as much rest (even if we can’t actually sleep) as possible so that we can still function if and when things turn pear-shaped. We decided on a schedule of 4-hour watches during the day when we tend to be more alert, and 3-hour watches at night….with a little bit of flexibility, so we can adjust based on how we’re feeling. While on my night watch, the winds died down fast and I eventually had to motor to make forward progress until until 3am. At one point, while I was in the middle of a call-of-nature-break, I smelled something rotten and heard a weird flapping and flipping noise. I looked across the cockpit at the opposite bench, and there was a foot-long flying fish! I told him that he’d have to wait until I was finished…but then I did grab his slimy little tail and released him back into the wild. Sanitas is a little boat and she sits very low in the water (she has a low freeboard) so we probably “caught” a dozen flying fish of various sizes on the passage. One went right down the cockpit drain! I’m pretty sure we’ll start smelling him in a couple of days.
Capt Mike here to confirm the small flying fish did not clog our deck drain. Thank goodness because those fish are stinky!
Monday was much better. (Are you keeping track? We’ve been underway now since Saturday night) South of Guadeloupe and Dominica, we pretty much set a straight course for Grenada. That meant we sailed further away from land, which could be risky if we had mechanical problems, but also meant that the wind and waves were much more consistent without the funneling effect of bending around mountainous islands. Once we were 25-30 miles offshore, the winds were consistently on a beam reach (my favorite point of sail). The only thing ruining an otherwise perfect sail was the Equatorial Current. It showed up on all the charts as a vague force, somewhere in the vicinity. In reality, we experienced currents of 1kt to 2kts against us for the entire trip. If it wasn’t for that pesky current we would have made amazing time! Also, winds were higher than expected, consistently 20-25kts. (We really need to start adding 5kts to every weather forecast)
Capt Mike here with more technical blabber. I had anticipated the equatorial current and even did some calculations to determine the minimum magnetic wind direction that we could sail in for each leg. It took me awhile to shake the cobwebs out of my brain where trigonometry lessons were stored. I’m pretty sure that knowledge was about to be overwritten by something less useful like how many chocolate bars are left and where did I stash them. Anyway, armed with the wind direction info it was easy to assess the weather forecasts and find a suitable time to make our trip. For anyone learning trig in school and wondering when you’ll use it, this is it!
Sanitas sailed all day Monday at around 6 kts. (You should really be excited 🤩this is really fast for us!) Of our buddy boats, Virtual Reality is a gorgeous fast catamaran who can travel much faster than little old Sanitas. So she quickly got 10-12 miles ahead of us, and we only saw her on AIS on the chart plotter for the rest of the trip. Music is a 40-foot monohull, so they also can travel a bit faster than we do. (I think I slept through the sailing lesson where they taught us that longer boats can travel faster than shorter boats because …. physics! I had this crazy idea that smaller boats would be agile and nimble and fast, like Mario cart) At one point, Music slowed down to put more diesel in the fuel tank, but due to the rough seas, they lost a full jerry can of diesel overboard. I consider it an offering to Neptune, what do you think? Music decided they had enough fuel to make it to Grenada, as long as they sailed with the motor off as much as possible. So Capt. Mike helped them improve their sailing efficiency by reading out the wind speed and current conditions from our new and improved instruments, and walking them through advice on trimming the sails to get the best speed under the current wind conditions. It worked out great! Music sailed all afternoon without the engine and made great progress.
On our third full day of sailing, we experienced really good conditions. I’m so glad we left Antigua when we did! But we still were traveling through 1.5 meter swells on the beam that often splashed through the cockpit. (Note to self: we need to invest in a better cockpit enclosure) We we’re out of sight of land for this entire day. Mike fixed the super loud creak in galley that was keeping us awake all of the time. He had a flash of inspiration and applied winch lube oil to the joint where the wood cabinet meets the fiberglass hull. What a relief! I returned to the cockpit around 6:30 am on Tuesday after a nap to find we could actually see Grenada. Hooray! We made it! It took a couple more hours to sail to St George’s in the southwest corner of the island, but that gave us time to clean up a bit and to prepare Sanitas for docking.
There are strict protocols in place to allow yachts to enter grenada for hurricane season while protecting Grenada’s citizens from Covid-19. We paid 20£ to register for an arrival date in Grenada. I believe they have limited new boats to 50 per week. When we arrived, we were required to dock at Port Louis Marina where health officials checked our temperatures and gave us permission to anchor in a special quarantine anchorage just outside. For 14 days, we are not allowed to go ashore or to interact with any other boats or sailors in the anchorage. At the end of the quarantine period, we will pay for a rapid antigen test. If our test results are negative, we can proceed to customs and immigration and finally officially enter Grenada. Some of our sailing friends traveled from Antigua to Grenada two weeks ahead of us, and that long line of people on the dock is the line waiting to get their Covid tests.
So you won’t hear much from me for the next 14 days as I simply hunker down and wait for quarantine to be over. Then, at long last, we look forward to exploring this beautiful island!
On June 1, Antigua reopened her boarders after 2.5 months of Coronavirus lockdown. At the same time, restaurants and retail establishments reopened with strict protocols in place to continue to protect Antiguans from the virus which could be reintroduced by visitors.
Every restaurant must have a hand washing station at the entrance. It’s kind of interesting – where a restaurant doesn’t have running water at the entrance, they use a 5-gallon bucket with a spicket. Or even this creative water vessel, which I’m pretty sure was intended to serve draft beer, lol.
Masks are required, of course, although not when you’re eating or in the beach or in a pool. Bars have tape lines on the floor showing where patrons can stand in order to stay 6 feet apart. Cash registers also have tape markings, and ask that only one person queue at a time. In grocery stores, plexiglass barriers have been installed. Every business, no matter how small, has hand sanitizer at the entrance. And employees make sure you use it!
Some business have found the protocols, and the inspections that come with them, to be too difficult to implement. Others have significantly reduced their hours. This British pub is only open Friday, Monday, and Tuesday from 4:00 to 8:30. Their curry is delicious!
So far, there’s only been one commercial flight bringing residents and visitors to Antigua. That first American Airlines flight was flown by an Antiguan pilot who said he was proud to be able to bring about 100 of his countrymen home after being stuck overseas for months. It also brought about 60 tourists to Antigua, who can stay at one of about 10 resorts who have been inspected and received approval to reopen. Each tourist must take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. The newspaper reported that all 60 tested negative. Hooray!
We took advantage of the re-opening of “The Admiral’s Inn” by having lunch and a pool day at Boom. We pretended to be tourists or vacationers rather than salty sailors for an afternoon. It was a great way to celebrate the end of strict lockdown, even though there’s still a curfew in place from 9pm to 5am. (We’re not wearing masks in this photo, because we’re in the pool. But we have them, and all the staff wore them consistently)
So if you were thinking about visiting Antigua, this might be a good time! There’s plenty of room on the beaches for social distancing, the restaurants are open and serving delicious food, mangos are in season, and Antiguans are very welcoming. Just bring a mask and be prepared to follow the rules. Maybe I’ll see you on one of Antigua’s 365 beaches!