Tap ah you yard!

So, we’ve been under a Covid-19 lockdown here in Antigua since midnight on April 2nd. Under lockdown, essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations are only open from 8am to 12 noon. Gatherings of more than 2 people are banned. No recreational sailing is allowed, and boats aren’t allowed to move between anchorages. The coastguard patrols at least once a day, counting boats and making sure we aren’t moving around. They’ve been very polite and professional! Antigua has 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19, but they haven’t tested many people yet, because tests have to be sent to Trinidad to be processed.

The day before lockdown, Sanitas, along with several other American and Canadian cruising sailboats, moved to an isolated anchorage far from towns and civilization to wait it all out far from the drama and the busybodies in the popular harbors, lol. 🤣In the local island slang, the hashtag “Tap ah you yard” is trending. It means “Stay in your yard” and is similar to the “Stay home, Save lives” hashtags that I see on social media posts of my friends back in the states. It’s tough – with most businesses closed and all tourism shut down, many islanders aren’t getting paid and don’t have enough money to buy groceries for a family for a week. And not all islanders have comfy homes to hide out in – no air conditioning, cisterns for water, no unlimited WiFi. So even though Sanitas is starting to feel very tiny, we are grateful to have solar power, a low-capacity water desalinator, and plenty of canned goods! I’ve even managed a few impressive meals with all this extra time!

Everybody carries little countdown clocks in their brains these days. On Saturday, Capt. Mike and I celebrated 14 days since the last time we went ashore in Guadeloupe! This was a big milestone, since the number of Covid-19 cases on the French island hit epidemic proportions while we were there, and we didn’t want to inadvertently carry the virus to Antigua. So we’ve been carefully self-isolating from other cruisers and local Antiguans until we made it 14+ days without symptoms. 😀 We’re counting lockdown days now – this is Day 6 of a 7-day lockdown, but… the prime minister says to plan on several more weeks. So THAT countdown clock is a wee bit unrealible at the moment. It’s been 8 days since we last went ashore here in Antigua for groceries and to empty our trash. So we’re getting pretty close to 14 days of social isolation here as well!

There are at least 20 boats sharing this calm and peaceful anchorage with us. As we all approach 14+ days since we’ve been around any other people, we’re starting limited socializing amongst our own little isolated boat family. Our rules? Swimming and paddleboarding are totally allowed – you have to have some way to get off the boat and get a little bit of exercise, or you’ll go crazy! Plus, social distancing is built right in to those activities. If we need something from another boat, to pick up a spare part for a boat repair project, or to borrow some food, or to trade paperback books, you stay in the dinghy and hand stuff over. No one goes aboard another family’s boat. Everyone’s responsible for disinfecting the items they borrow or otherwise acquire. Even without the joys of unlimited high-speed internet, we’ve found a few ways to entertain ourselves….

At 5:30 in the evening, we have a virtual trivia game via the VHF radio. Each night has a different theme, and we run through the boat names in alphabetical order, each taking a turn to ask a question and to be the judge of the right answer. Sometimes, we all talk over each other on the radio, and sometimes we forget to key the mike, and sometimes we get laughing so hard, we need a few minutes for a time out. Right around the end of the game, we all enjoy sunset together from our separate cockpits.

Yesterday, Brian on Sava had the fantastic idea of a standup paddle board poker run. ⛵️♥️🤣 Here’s how it works: Over the course of the day at any time they’d like, each person paddles (or kayaks, or swims) to each of the seven boats in our little buddy boat group. At each boat, you can’t go aboard, of course, but you tie up alongside and get the chance to have a few minutes of conversation with someone who isn’t your spouse or your kid. What an amazing novel and fun experience! I had the chance to learn about my fellow sailors’ backgrounds, former professions, stories behind their boat names, goals for their cruising seasons, favorite recipes, and more! It was like speed dating by paddle board! Then each boat randomly chooses a card for you from a deck of cards. No need to touch it or carry it around in a soggy pocket – through the wonders of technology, we took a picture of each person with their card, and texted it to them. By sunset, every sailor had visited every boat, and the best 5-card poker hand was the winner. Ta-da! Have you realized the flaw in our grand plan yet? Because we played with seven different decks of cards, the final hands were VERY interesting. Capt. Mike had a pair of Kings of Clubs. That didn’t beat three Aces (two of which were Aces of Hearts 🤣) And the winning hand…. a flush of clubs, containing three 5’s, one 6, and one 10!

Tonight, we’re planning an acoustic guitar concert on Sava. Those of us anchored close enough will listen from our cockpits. Otherwise, we’ll dinghy or paddle board close enough to listen and will drop an anchor line. Something to look forward to in order to break up the long boat-bound days while still responsibly social distancing. Oh, and did I mention that an 8pm to 6am curfew doesn’t really bother us anyway? Cruisers are pretty much always back on the boat by sunset even in the best of times!

What are you doing to keep yourselves sane during social distancing and quarantine?

We finally seek medical care in the islands…

Poor Capt. Mike has been having knee problems for a few months now. It started back in the boat yard in Puerto Rico when he slipped on the ladder and ended up back on the ground much sooner than planned. Since then, every few weeks something triggers that knee, and he’s limping and in pain for the next few days. A stereotypical guy, he’s been dealing with it by ignoring it and hoping it goes away. (Don’t tell him I said so) But when it happened again this week, we had to address it. Should we start looking for an orthopedic surgeon? Should we start planning our summer around medical tourism in Mexico? Or do we both just need to toughen up and start an exercise regimen to strengthen the muscles around the knee?

I know what I’d do back home in Boulder if I still had good insurance: I’d make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon at CU Sports Medicine. He’d order X-rays that wouldn’t show anything. We’d schedule an MRI and another appointment to go over the results. If it’s a torn ACL or meniscus, we’d schedule surgery. Otherwise, we’d talk options like injections and shots and physical therapy. But what do we do on an island in the Caribbean, where we don’t speak the language?

Well I started by Googling physiotherapists in Guadeloupe, and got a long list of “Kinésithérapie” practitioners in return. I scanned the photos in each listing, looking for fitness equipment and weights in addition to massage tables in order to choose a physical therapist, not just a massage therapist. I translated Google reviews from French to English. And since none of them had web pages, I screwed up my courage and finally made some phone calls. Now, talking to someone who doesn’t speak your language is hard enough in person. But it’s REALLY, REALLY hard over the phone with no facial cues or acting things out to help. After asking “Parlez-vouz anglais?” and getting “a bit” in return, I made an appointment for Jeudi (we agreed it was the day after mercredi) at 1400h.

“Salle d’attente” -the waiting room

Mike and I loaded Google Translate on our phones, and practiced what to say simply and clearly (Not too many words. Bottom line up front.) And we rented a car to travel from the marina to Kinésithérapie Les Salines to meet with Ana at 2pm on Thursday. And … Ana is wonderful! She’s originally from Spain, now lives in Guadeloupe, and she speaks Spanish, French, and a little bit of English. And she’s a sailor! She evaluated Mike; bent, manipulated, and twisted his leg in all kinds of ways. In a mixture of French and English she told us that the ACL felt fine. But that it might be a combination of a strained ligament and bone bruise and that he should rest and ice and buy a brace at the pharmacy. She taped Mike’s knee using blue kinesiology tape that matches his toe nails. And she manipulated his leg a bit to help it get back into alignment. She gave us her card and asked us to call within a week to let her know if it felt better, or to make another appointment.

In Ana’s capable hands

And what did it cost? NOTHING! Ana asked if we had the local French insurance card. I said no and that we’d pay in cash. She said not to worry about it. If we return next week for a follow up appointment, we can pay her for that session. But for about a 30-minute evaluation, KT tape, and the relief of knowing Mike’s ACL isn’t actually torn (priceless!) she said as a fellow sailor she wanted to help us out, and we’d do the same for other sailors. Of course, I’m paraphrasing our multi-language conversation and hand gestures 😉 What a relief, and a reminder that there are good people everywhere! We’ll still have to keep an eye on it, and maybe start seeing a physio on a regular basis the next time we’re in one place long enough. But I think we made the right decision to work through the difficulties and make that first appointment.

Old Year’s Night at Foxy’s

On the day after Christmas, we made the short hop from St John to Jost van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Along with our friends Zach and Lindy on Holiday, we planned to find the perfect spot to wait for New Year’s Eve. The annual party at Foxy’s bar and restaurant is legendary. This year’s theme was “Aladdin” with costumes encouraged, and we’d learned that Foxy had already sold over 100 VIP tickets at $600 each. Yikes! Way above our cruisers’ budget, but we could hang out with the little people for free (or at least for the cost of a couple of rum punches).

We picked up a mooring ball for $30 per night – sort of like paying for a spot in a campground on land – and settled into the neighborhood. Great Harbor is the biggest “town” on Jost van Dyke, but that’s not saying much! One sand-covered road follows the curve of the bay, there’s the ferry dock and customs, and a few restaurants and bars. It’s the only place on the island where you can clear into the BVIs, so there’s plenty of boat traffic and comings and goings.

Just around the corner is the famous White Bay – home of the Soggy Dollar Bar and inventor of the painkiller cocktail. It’s named the Soggy Dollar because power boats anchor just off the beautiful sandy beach and their passengers hop in and wade ashore – ending up with wet wallets in the process. It’s a beautiful beach for a float!

One beach bar over from Soggy Dollar is Gertrude’s where, as the sign says “You are allowed to pour your own drink.” For $10 you get a cup, a pitcher of painkiller mix, a bottle of rum, and a nutmeg grater – get to work! Our buddy Zach might have had a bit of a heavy hand with the rum bottle. Gertrude gave him a stern look and said in her best mom voice, “I tink that’s enough now.”

As New Year’s Eve approached, the harbor got steadily more crowded. In addition to the usual cruiser and charter boats, a small cruise ship, a handful of mega yachts, and a triple masted schooner showed up and anchored just outside the bay. The theory that there’s always room for one more made for some interesting situations. We watched a moorings charter boat that had run aground on the shoal at the edge of the harbor get towed off the rocks. And a 54 foot monohull tried to anchor in the middle of the mooring field but their anchor kept dragging. Mike and Zach had to leap into action to rescue it when, unattended, it dragged quickly during a wind shift and almost ran into a huge catamaran. As Mike started the motor and put the boat in forward and Zach worked the anchor, the captain of the catamaran kept yelling at them, “I told you not to anchor there!” Capt. Mike finally had to set him straight, “It’s not my boat man! I’m just keeping it from hitting you!”

Finally, the night of the party arrived! There’s a term “Cruiser’s Midnight” which roughly equates to 10:00 pm. Maybe earlier on some boats! We’re kind of a rise with the sun sort of crowd. So I wasn’t quite sure how we’d deal with a social event that required us to actually stay awake until real midnight.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the party’s not only at Foxy’s. Instead, the whole town is one big street fair, with pop-up bars, barbecue restaurants, and little shops lining the one main street. In the crowd overflowing from Corsair’s we met the skipper of the boat Mike and Zach rescued earlier. He was very nice and thanked them profusely, even buying us a round of VooDoo cocktails.

Eventually we did make it over to Foxy’s where the band was fantastic and the crowd was sparkly and in a great mood. It was a super fun night and a great way to ring in 2020. I even made it past midnight!

Hard at work in the boatyard

We start our stay in the boatyard with a very manageable list of projects – mostly just standard maintenance and cleaning this year. But one thing leads to another, and then to another… I think in the week since we’ve been back, I’ve added more items to my To-Do list than I’ve crossed off!

I do the boring, non glamorous jobs. Like cleaning every surface inside the boat to remove the layer of boatyard dust. And unpacking and putting away everything that we stored on land. And doing an inventory of the provisions that we didn’t eat last season that seem to have survived heat and humidity and we’ll put right back in the rotation for this year. And touching up the interior teak with oil where it has been dulled and faded by sun or water leaks.

Just for fun, here’s a picture of Mike’s flip flop – glued together with silicon caulk and with a big hug of water holding it in place to dry!

Capt. Mike does the important jobs that will actually keep us safe at sea. For example, replacing the swivel hardware that connects our big, heavy Bugel anchor to the rode chain. While the anchor has performed fabulously over the past two seasons, the connector has been known to fail, which could allow Sanitas to drift into another boat or onto shore, or at the very least could allow us to lose that expensive anchor! Our German friend, Andreas, recommended a Wasi anchor swivel, so Mike replaced it is an abundance of caution. Hopefully this will let us sleep soundly at night once we’re living on the hook again!

For his next trick, Capt. Mike replaced the stuffing material around the rudder post. My very nontechnical understanding of this is: there are two things that have to go from the inside of the boat (where the motor and steering mechanism are) to the outside of the boat (where they actually propel us or steer us through the water). These two items are the prop shaft which moves the propeller and the rudder shaft which moves (can you guess?) the rudder. The boundary between the inside and the outside is called the stuffing box. A thin strand of Teflon material, that looks kind of like an extra fat shoelace, wraps around the rudder post inside the stuffing box and forms a fairly tight seal. If installed properly, it keep MOST of the water out, just allowing a slow drip into the bilge.

Mike replaced the prop shaft stuffing material last season – there was so much water flowing in, we decided it wouldn’t be prudent to cross the Gulf Stream in that condition! That repair was complicated by the fact that Sanitas was in the water at the time, and keeping the wet stuff on the outside was pretty important so we’d stay afloat. It made much more sense to finish the job and replace the rudder post packing this time while she was safely on the hard and no chance of sinking.

Thanks to Al, who gave us this fancy tool which was perfect for removing the old packing material.

It’s definitely the most difficult space in the boat to work in. Capt. Mike has to do some serious boat yoga to fit into the space. And it’s almost unbearably hot. He had to use the big wrenches for this project!

Right about in the center of this next photo, you can see a circle of textured material around the shaft. That’s the nice, new, clean stuffing!

Not quite as dramatic, but still on the To-Do list, Mike made a small shelf for the bottom of our chest refrigeration. Condensation gathers at the bottom and this shelf will let me keep food out of that water. Plus i can never actual reach what’s way down there at the bottom of the fridge anyway!

And then… After all this productivity, we ran into our first unpleasant surprise of the season. While testing the propane system, Mike discovered a leak. When he turns the propane on at the tank, we can hear the hiss of gas escaping, and can smell the propane. Luckily, the solenoid still works (we replaced it our first year) so we can narrow down the source of the leak to the external part of the system – not something leaking within the living space of the boat. Theoretically, this should be easier to trouble shoot and fix. However, we’ve squirted soapy water in ever hose and connection, watching for bubbles, and we haven’t found the source of the leak yet. Wish us luck as the search continues!

The Camino in Spain vs the Camino in Portugal…

I’ve walked more than 1250km, over the better part of two months now, so I think I’m entitled to an opinion on this. And so far, I enjoyed my time walking the Camino Frances across Spain MUCH better than the Camino Central in Portugal. Now some of that could very well be mental attitude:

After two months of travel, most of it walking, it is entirely possible that I am a little bit tired.

And it’s much more exciting to be walking toward Santiago with hundreds of other pilgrims than to be walking away from Santiago by ourselves.

But there are a lot of external reasons that I prefer the Camino in Spain as well.

There are fewer services oriented toward pilgrims in Portugal: fewer albergues, cafes, pilgrim menus, and shops.

There is much less history and art to experience – few grand cathedrals, museums, and palaces. And the lovely white churches we do walk past are always locked. There ARE quite a few Roman bridges, but they get old.

The language barrier makes things tricky. I had finally learned enough Spanish to make myself understood ordering in a restaurant or an albergue or to ask directions. I even dusted off my high school French a few times. But Portuguese is wacky! In writing, it kind of looks like Spanish spell-checked by a drunk. But when spoken, it sounds like Martian! My entire vocabulary consists of “good morning” (bom dia) and “thank you” (obrigado).

But the biggest downside to walking the Portuguese Camino is that it is almost entirely on roads. Sometimes in the narrow shoulder of very busy roads with trucks zooming by at 60mph. Sometimes on what our guidebook describes as “delightful country lanes” which really just means narrower roads with stone walls on both sides with less frequent trucks zooming by at 60mph. And maybe worse than the traffic is the surface of these roads – small square cobblestones that twist your ankles and make your feet ache after 25-30km under the weight of a backpack.

We came upon a road crew placing the stones on a new stretch of road – fascinating! It’s very labor intensive. The road bed is covered in sand. Strings are put in place to make straight lines to guide the cobblestone placement. Then two men sit in the road with a hammer in one hand and a pile of square rocks nearby and dig a hole, place a stone, and tap it into place. Over and over again. I wish they’d just leave them all as dirt – so much better for walking!

I know, I know… I’m not getting much sympathy from you as I complain about sore feet while spending two months in Europe. And you’re right! It’s time to snap out of it and enjoy the beauty of this small country. On the positive side, people are very friendly and keep warning us that we are walking the wrong way, lol. And there are way more English-speaking pilgrims than we encountered in Spain. So we get the chance to have several two-minute conversations with northbound travelers each day. And coffee and wine are both dirt cheap! There’s no tortilla option in the cafes, but cabbage soup is a pretty reliable gluten free option. And I learned how to say “without bread” in Portuguese (sem paõ). And we’re planning to take a three-night vacation from pilgrim-ing in beautiful Porto, so I think we’ll feel renewed and energized again as we continue south. Wish us luck!