A marathon day of boat maintenance

If you’ve been following me on social media (and if you haven’t, why not? 😆) you’ll know that Sanitas has been experiencing a real run of bad luck lately. Pretty much every day we’ve found something new that’s broken, worn out, or just downright failed. There’s a saying, “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” And that’s certainly how it’s felt since we returned to Grenada this fall. After more than a month of playing Whack-a-Mole and trying to fix each problem as it cropped up, things finally came to a head this week.

Capt. Mike inside the engine compartment
The list of surprise boat projects we’ve had to address since we splashed on Nov 1st

Our most serious issue so far has been a  leak in our transmission. This isn’t one of those leaks that you just monitor and hope it doesn’t get worse. This is one that prevents us from using the engine (for propulsion) for more than 15 minutes at a time and then requires pouring in another half quart of transmission fluid. If we blew the transmission completely, that would also blow our budget for the year, and maybe cut our sailing season short. Capt Mike has done tons of research and ordered parts to replace the rear shaft seal from the USA (that’s another whole blog post) and did everything in his power to fix the darn thing himself while we were afloat in Prickly Bay. To no avail! There just isn’t enough room to take the transmission apart to fix it without either lifting Sanitas’ diesel engine, or removing the prop to gain that half an inch of space we desperately need.

And so here we are. Back in the boatyard of Spice Island Marine almost exactly one month after we splashed. We made it harder on ourselves this time. Since our transmission was in pieces, we enlisted two of our cruiser friends, Dave on BooRie and Zach on Holiday, to serve as tow trucks and tug boats to bring us into the yard without a motor. They did amazing! Especially considering that when we showed up at our scheduled time, expecting a straight shot into the haul-out slip, the crew waved us off and forced us to side tie to a concrete wall first to wait for another boat to splash. Jeez Louise! Sanitas is not very maneuverable at the best of times, but under tow? Capt. Mike says he hasn’t experienced his heart pounding that fast during docking since our first season as sailors!

Our dinghy tow
Here we go again
At least the bottom pain still looks good

Once the crew hauled us out of the water and put us up on stands, Capt. Mike went to work. He removed our fancy MaxProp after making a few marks on the outside with my brightest nail polish in hopes he’d be able to put it back together again the same way. Returning to the engine compartment, he slid the shaft as far as it would go, until we could hear the shaft hitting the rudder. Success! With the prop removed, he had enough space to disassemble the transmission. Phew! I was afraid we’d have to drop the rudder too!

Strange to see the prop on the work bench
There’s a lot going on in a prop!

Using a tool he made from scratch (saving us a few hundred dollars) he removed the nut from the rear of the transmission, pulled off the rear seal, and surveyed the damage. Sure enough! It was easy to see where the seal had failed.

This keyed lock nut was a bear to remove
Et voila! Mike’s homemade tool
Success! Here’s the rear transmission seal
Can you see the busted seal?

After replacing the seal and the o-rings, and refilling the transmission fluid (and cleaning up the huge mess) Capt. Mike considered the transmission repair a success. Hooray! Next trick, putting the prop back together… While we had it all apart, Mike took the opportunity to reduce the pitch of the prop blades from 20 degrees down to 18 degrees. We’re really geeking out here, but apparently when the prop is over-pitched it creates too much resistance when cutting through the water and prevents the engine from achieving maximum rpms. For the geekiest of MaxProp geeks, 18° means X=E, Y=H. You’re welcome 😆

Now let’s see if he can put it back on
Concentrate!

The final job for our stay in the boat yard required a trip up the mast to replace the spreader light. I find it kind of scary to hoist Mike up the mast in the yard – if he falls, he falls onto solid ground instead of water. But the Captain tells me I’m thinking of it all wrong. He says it’s much easier, and less scary, to work on the mast when the boat’s not moving. Makes sense I guess.

Don’t look down!

It stinks that we had to spend so much time making repairs and waiting for critical parts this year. And it was quite the unexpected expense to haul out again 😳 But I’m very impressed with Capt. Mike’s research and preparation that allowed us to accomplish all of this work in 24 hours, getting us back in the water with a (hopefully) fully functioning motor and transmission as quickly as possible. Now let’s go sailing!

We’re Back!

Capt. Mike and I spent hurricane season having wonderful land-based adventures in Europe and in New York State. If you follow us on social media, you already know we hiked about 1650 kilometers across France and Spain on a Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, fueled by cured meats and cheeses and rosé! If you don’t, here are a couple of photos of that epic adventure….

But all good things must come to an end. And now it’s time to trade hiking boots for flip flops as we return to our little floating home in the Caribbean. Sanitas spent the summer on the hard at Spice Island Marine Services in Prickly Bay on Grenada, West Indies. We’ve hauled out there three times, so it feels a bit like our home away from home. We did A TON of work in June to clean and prep Sanitas for summer storage and that work paid off! No major surprises – no mold, no insect infestations, no storm damage….just a hot, dirty, dusty, crowded mess of a boat.

This year, we challenged ourselves to complete our entire boat prep spreadsheet in a single week in the boatyard. Eek. We were paying way too much money to stay in a crummy room in the yard, and we really didn’t want to stretch it out any longer than that. One thing we hadn’t counted on was experiencing the rainiest week we’ve ever seen in Grenada. I’m talking roads turning into rivers, boat yard turning into a mud pit, barely a break in the deluge to do exterior work and painting. Yes, painting was really the tricky part. We needed to repair some spots on Sanitas’s keel and put on another couple of coats of bottom paint, and the constant rain was really putting a damper on our plans (get it?) Capt. Mike was a true hero, and worked literally from sun-up to after sun-down on our only overcast-but-not-actively-pouring day to get all the painting done. Phew!

Entirely due to the heroics of my Captain, we did it! Exactly one week after our plane landed in Grenada, we splashed Sanitas into the murky waters of Prickly Bay and she became a sailboat again! That’s the good news. Now for the bad news… She’s still a sailboat and and a wise sailor once said “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” When we had the chance to test all of our systems, we found that the transmission has a fluid leak, the hot water tank leaks, the chart plotter screen is partially burned out, the dinghy motor doesn’t run without flooding, and we forgot to order a replacement auto pilot display that stopped working in the spring. Ay yi yi. Time to start a new To Do list. We’re also finding that supplies are difficult to source in Grenada this year, and prices have really gone up for the imported goods that are available. Maybe those global supply chain problems have finally reached Grenada? We’ve needed to order a bunch of parts from the States, with all the shipping and brokerage fees and red tape that entails. Wish us luck! I’m sure there’s a whole blog post in there somewhere.

What else do we do, besides boat projects? Well, I’m in charge of provisioning, and stocking the boat with non-perishable food for our adventuring. Since prices are pretty high in Grenada these days, I’m trying not to go overboard on shopping here. But when we live on anchor, it’s really not possible to run to the store every time I want a can of tomatoes or chick peas or a bag of gluten free pasta. So I still need to do some serious shopping. Without a car, I experimented with the local IGA delivery service for canned goods and heavy items. And I’ve done the 2-mile walk to the big grocery store a couple of times, filling up a backpack with as much as I could carry, and squeezing onto the local busses for the heavier trip back to the dinghy dock. Have I mentioned how much I miss the wonderful grocery stores in the French islands? I think I’m making progress on provisioning! I’ve just submitted an order for the local fancy butcher shop, and I need one more trip to the Indian grocery store for rice and spices. I’ve finally got the hang of where to find local fruits and veggies (Tuesday in the parking lot of Budget Marine, Sunday morning at the Brewery, Wednesday morning in the parking lot behind the mall) and I just learned about a place to buy fresh fish from local fishermen at the medical school campus. There’s really no such thing as one stop shopping in Grenada.

With all that shopping, you’d think I’d be cooking up a storm in my cozy galley. But, honestly, I’m struggling to get my boat cooking mojo back. Can I admit I miss big refrigerators, dishwashers, unlimited running water, and the fantastic array of fresh ingredients I could find in both Europe and the US? Oh well, I’ll get there. I have concocted a couple of tasty curries made with local pumpkin and callalou greens, and last night we baked the most delicious gluten free pizza ever consumed on the island of Grenada 🤣

What’s next for the crew of Sanitas this season? That’s a good question. Travel agent Jenn needed all of her skills to get us safely and comfortably across Europe this summer, working in French, Spanish, and German. She’s a little burned out on planning! So far, we’re just planning to get Sanitas back in good working order and then to island hop up the eastern Caribbean chain again, revisiting our favorite spots in The Grenadines, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. We’ll put some effort into planning where we want to be by the start of next hurricane season. And THAT should inspire us to get a little more specific on plans. So if you have any vacations in the Eastern Caribbean planned this winter, let us know! It’s just possible we might anchor in front of your resort and stop by for a visit 😎

And so it begins….

I think we choose the worst day of the worst week of the worst summer to travel internationally. All the headlines read “Air traffic chaos spreads” as we drove to Buffalo airport at 6:30am on July 4th. Crazy early for our flight, just the way I like it! We boarded the plane exactly on schedule, and then sat. And sat. And sat. Finally, we learned the plane had a mechanical failure, and we de-planed to spend another six hours in the teeny tiny airport waiting for a new plane to arrive from New York City. On the plus side, Mike got one more meal of Buffalo chicken wings 😁

Miraculously, we made it to JFK in time for our red-eye to Lisbon, Portugal. Feeling very fuzzy due to the 6-hour time change, not to mention the 30+ hours of travel, we crossed our fingers and caught the final flight to Lyon, France more or less on time. Phew! On the train ride from the airport to the center of town, Mike pondered deep thoughts. “Isn’t it miraculous that the train tickets we bought on-line in Grenada in April, and printed in Endicott, NY last week, and showed the security guard in Lyon this morning, allowed us to seamlessly board the train that was leaving exactly as we arrived?”

We had scheduled a day off buffer in Lyon “just in case” and spent it on a walking tour of the old city, enjoying street art, a meticulously restored cathedral, and finally sitting down to our first French meal. As Mike said “this salad tastes like France” ♥️🇫🇷

But, as we were enjoying the views of the city from the cathedral gardens, I received a notification that our 2nd train between Lyon and Le Puy was cancelled. Wouldn’t you know it? All of France was under a nation-wide transportation strike “La Grève” and about 25% of all trains in our region were cancelled. We quit sightseeing and started the long walk back to our hotel (it’s a training hike, right?) where we had good wifi to research our options. Another train? A bus? BlaBlaCar?

Eventually, I deciphered the French on our tickets and decided we could get up super early and take an earlier train whose second, connecting train had not been cancelled… Yet. It all went swimmingly. We walked to Gare Lyon Part Dieu, found our train, and settled in. About 30 minutes in, we stopped suddenly and sat for a long time. After one of those “ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you” messages, I asked the young lady beside me how long of a delay. Her answer, with a very French shrug, “quelque minutes”. That means some. Or several. In other words, who knows?

We finally got off the train at the station and it looked like we would have to wait four hours for the next connecting train. Of course, I looked for a coffee. Next thing you know, I see Mike in the doorway of the train station, waving furiously. He said “I see a train to Le Puy on the board, leaving in two minutes, but I can’t tell which platform. I took a minute to decipher the sign and said “that’s because it’s a bus!”  Yikes! We grabbed our packs and my paper cup of hot coffee and started jogging toward the only bus in sight. As we got closer, a conductor recognized us as hikers and shouted “Le Puy?” We said “oui!” and jogged toward another bus. Just enough time to throw our packs in the luggage hold and we were off!

After a bumpy bus ride through beautiful scenery, we made it! Le Puy-en-valay, the start of our adventure. A little disoriented, we took a “training hike” through the suburbs to find a sporting goods store to buy hiking poles,  a post office to mail spare shoes forward, a store to buy pocket knives and a picnic lunch. Quite the oasis! We finished just in time to check into our lovely Airbrb. Believe it or not, we survived the chaos and made it! Two sleeps until the start of our Camino!

What will we do on our summer vacation?

The crew of Sanitas enjoyed another wonderful winter in the Eastern Caribbean, finally visiting the countries of Martinique and Dominica, as well as revisiting old favorites in The Grenadines. But all good things must come to an end, and we’ve once again tucked Sanitas securely into her summer home in Spice Island Maine boat yard. Fingers crossed for a quiet hurricane season!

So what’s in store for us this summer? How can we possibly fill the hours without boat maintenance, watching the weather, and trimming the sails?

Well, we are once again trading sea life for land legs and traveling to France to walk the Chemin de Compostelle from Le Puy-en-Velay (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain). All together, it will be about 1000 miles 😲

Our walk will follow a medieval pilgrimage route through some of the most beautiful villages in France, across the Pyrenees, and eventually (if our feet hold out) to Santiago. Here, according to legend, the remains of St James are buried in the crypt of an elaborate Romanesque cathedral. Pilgrims have walked to Santiago for thousands of years. More recently, seekers of all kinds; religious, spiritual, or simply those hoping to escape the hectic modern world, follow in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims for a week, a month, or more of foot travel. I anticipate taking two or two-and-a-half months to complete our Camino, with only a handful of zero-mile rest days along the way.

I’ve been researching for months, finding accommodations, studying French on Doulingo, and living vicariously through other pilgrims’ adventures on FaceBook. The French portion of our walk should be a bit less crowded and touristy than the better known Spanish portion…. And the food should be much better! 🇫🇷 I’m sure we will struggle with the language barrier. But hopefully, with an open mind and a positive attitude, the Camino (Chemin in French) will provide!

If you are willing, please follow along as this salty crew becomes a sweaty crew for the next couple of months 😬

Our “Best Of” tour of the Grenadines

After leaving Dominica, we had to come to grips with the fact that our cruising season on Sanitas is almost at an end. Hurricane season is right around the corner, and it’s time to head south to Grenada to get ready. The country of St Vincent and the Grenadines still requires a COVID test and expensive health check fee to enter, so we almost skipped it. But…we had so much fun in SVG last winter, we couldn’t imagine heading south without stopping at our favorite anchorages. So here’s a glimpse of our favorite places south of St Vincent and north of Grenada 😎

We sailed Sanitas past St Lucia, admiring the stunning beauty of the pitons. And we had a salty sail down the coast on St Vincent before dropping anchor in what feels like our winter home of Bequia.

Our favorite things to do in Bequia are to hike to beautiful viewpoints, enjoy the fish chowder at Coco’s, to lime on Princess Margaret beach, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  This year, we also had the privilege of participating in the naming ceremony for Popeye and Lisa’s beautiful homemade wooden sailing dinghy Velocette.

We tore ourselves away from bustling, exciting Bequia and headed south to the paradise of the Tobago Cays Marine Park. There’s nothing here but nature, but wow is it beautiful. we snorkeled with turtles and rays, climbed to gorgeous viewpoints, and ate a delicious barbecue on the beach cooked by our friends Romeo and Juliette ❤️ If you’re ever in the area, Tobago Cays can’t be missed!

Our next little downwind hop to Union Island was a short, sweet sail. We nestled Sanitas right into our favorite anchor spot behind the reef in Clifton and went ashore to look around. Clifton looks great! Perhaps the number of tourists who are returning now as COVID restrictions ease is bringing valuable money back to the island. Lots of buildings have had a new coat of bright colored paint, and there are some cute new bars and restaurants. We made the 30-minute trek over the hill to the most beautiful beach on Union and spent the afternoon at Sparrows Beach Club. I warned you that this would be our “best of” reel, didn’t I? Lunch at Sparrows really did feel like a vacation from our vacation.

After another easy downwind sail, we cleared into the country of Grenada on sleepy Carriacou. We hiked with baby goats, got our Pfizer booster shots, and reconnected with a friend we hadn’t seen since Grenada. Every Wednesday afternoon is Paint and Sip at Allison’s Paradise Beach Club. It’s a great chance to meet other sailors, enjoy a delicious cocktail, and eat a wonderful meal. Our boat name sign that we painted in November 2020 is still there – along with a couple hundred newer works of art!

Sanitas will be pointing her bow south again in a few days, enjoying her last sail of the season. Soon, we’ll be back in her summer home in Prickly Bay, and Capt. Mike and I will be working our butts off to get her ready for hurricane season storage. Yikes. Until then, we’ll enjoy every sunset we can experience on the water 🌅