A series of unfortunate events – boat work edition

Every time we return to Sanitas after hurricane season I say, THIS time will be different. THIS time, we prepared so well, and maintained Sanitas so well, that we’ll be back on the high seas and cruising in tropical paradise in no time. And each year, I’m wrong.

This year, we booked an apartment for two weeks, while working in the boatyard. It’s so, so nice to have a shower and air conditioning at the end of a hot and dirty day. I’ll save you the details, but we worked our butts off and got tons of work done, including painting the bottom with that super, super expensive red anti-foul paint. I even took a couple of days off to celebrate my birthday. We had a smooth splash, and headed over to Woburn Bay ready to jump right back into cruising life. We needed to wait for a sea freight shipment of boat parts we’d ordered to arrive from the States, but as soon as it arrived and cleared customs, we’d be good to go. And then, it all went pear shaped.

On a mooring ball, or at anchor, we rely on our dinghy to get from the boat to shore for shopping, socializing, and basically everything. So, of course, the first time we tried to dinghy ashore in Bug, the outboard motor didn’t start. Welcome to boat life! One day into our season of freedom, and we might as well hav been in quarantine. Ever resourceful, Capt. Mike hacked into a nearby marina’s wifi, watched a few YouTube videos on tuning the carburetor, poured in half a bottle of Sea Foam, and in less that two days he had Bug up and running again. And we’re off to a good start.

Next, we took advantage of the clean water far back in Woburn Bay (NOT near the stinky runoff from the Clark’s Court Distillery!) to run our desalinating water maker. First test came in at 400 ppm of total dissolved solids…then 600…then 800…then 1200. We can’t drink that! Dagnabit! We had been gambling that the three rebuilds we performed on the watermaker last year would do the trick to keep us going at least one more year but alas, it was not to be. So back to that free wifi to shop for a replacement. We found the best price, placed an order to have it shipped from the US, and then got an email stating it was back ordered and wouldn’t ship for 6-8 weeks. To add insult to injury, Mike’s Visa card was compromised in the transaction, and Visa canceled the brand new card. Back to square one. Eventually, we found our watermaker model in stock (NOT at the lowest price), placed another order, and began the wait for a shipment from the US all over again.

I’ve lamented the cost and complexity of marine insurance in the past. Well, we’ve had the same Jackline policy through Markel Insurance for four years now, and this year they required a professional survey on Sanitas before renewal. This is similar to hiring a home inspector before you buy a house – an independent third party inspects the entire boat for any potential safety or maintenance issues and documents all of the findings. On our dime, of course. Sanitas came through the survey with flying colors, and we only had to make minor corrections, such as replacing outdated flares to address the findings. We thought we were in good shape there until, one day after we splashed and we’re back on the water, our insurance agent sent us an email stating they now require an aloft rigging inspection as well. What the deuce? We just went through the whole survey rigmarole using the old guidance, which did not require a rigging inspection. The good news, we were able to find a company that would inspect in the water, so we didn’t have to pay for another haul out. The bad news, they found a small flaw in the wire cable of our backstay, and we had to replace it. By now our dreams of a quick departure from Grenada without spending a fortune were shattered.

I told Capt Mike, “Don’t look for any more problems! I don’t want to find anything!” And he responded, “Remember what BOAT stands for – Bring On Another Thousand” I don’t find that joke so funny any more

I’m just going to run out for a loaf of bread

I keep telling people that sailing life is NOT glamorous, but nobody believes me. Possibly because I keep posting pictures like this….

Sunset in Benji Bay

But today was grocery day, and as I sweated my way through the day, I kept thinking “none of my American friends would believe how much effort goes into shopping in the islands” So if you’re curious, here’s a shopping-day-in the-life of SV Sanitas.

Capt. Mike and I decided to divide and conquer on errands today. But, we only have one dinghy, so the day starts with a “dinghy-pool.” We left the boat at 8:30 all packed, sun-screened, and watered up for a day ashore. After bailing out the couple inches of rain that fell overnight, it was only a ten minutes ride in little Bug to the Le Phare Bleu marina where Capt. Mike caught a ride to downtown St George’s with a friend to pick up our new watermaker (hooray!) Then I piloted the dinghy 15 minutes in the opposite direction to Clark’s Court Marina on the far side of Woburn Bay. I’m not a very experienced dinghy driver, so I don’t go at full speed, and I have to admit I overcompensate a bit on steering, so I tend to zig zag, and by now my butt is completely wet from salt water splashes. But I arrive with about 30 minutes to spare before the shopping bus is scheduled to arrive, so I order a coffee and a ham and cheese stuffed arepa from the Cruiser’s Galley restaurant for 15ec ($5.50) while I wait.

Breakfast arepa

The shopping bus costs another 15ec. Patrick (aka Shademan) makes the rounds of all the marinas on Tuesdays and Fridays, picking up cruisers who don’t have land transportation and makes a loop of the most popular businesses: the bank, Ace hardware, Budget marine chandlery, IGA grocery store, and CK’s Warehouse store. I didn’t need anything other than groceries this time, but the stores are air-conditioned and the bus isn’t, so of course I stopped at each place for a few moments of cool. Grenada takes its COVID protocols seriously. Masks are required indoors, and each time I enter a shop I must take my temperature, use hand sanitizer, and sign into a log book for contact tracing. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s easier to wait in the bus. I know I said I didn’t need anything at the other stores but – peer pressure! A fellow bus rider recommended a 16ec bottle of sparkling wine at the hardware store (don’t you always buy your sparkling wine for $6.00 from a hardware store?) and I couldn’t resist.

A particularly fancy island bus (photo credit: Christopher Bancroft)
Signing the contact tracing log

Finally, about an hour after we left the marina, we arrive at the Spiceland Mall which has a small food court, some souvenir shops, an optician, and the only big American style grocery store on the island. I make a quick stop at the pharmacy and the pharmacist is very helpful in finding me treatments for a recent burn on my arm. She doesn’t even ask for a prescription for the silver sulfide cream, and she walks me around the small shop, gathering up natural cocoa butter and vitamin E to prevent scarring. 48ec ($17) later, and I’m good to go on burn treatments.

Finally, around 11:00, I make it to IGA grocery store which is the whole reason I left the boat today. In the States, I think of IGA as a small local grocery store, but here, it’s da bomb! It’s where the tourists and medical school students and expats and wealthy Grenadians shop for imported foods in air-conditioned comfort, and the only place on island where I can find gluten-free bread. The funny thing is, IGA sells their own store brand foods, and also sells the store brands from British grocery store chains. So I buy liquid hand soap from Tesco and gluten-free pasta from Waitrose, and spices from the Trinidadian brand, Baron. Luckily, it’s a good day for produce, but a bad day for eggs (completely empty shelf) and my heart gives an anxious little flutter, ‘cause we’re down to only three eggs back on the boat.

Surprise! I run into Capt. Mike here at the grocery store. Karen, on SV Soulshine who gave Mike a ride to town, also needed groceries, and IGA is the place to be! So I tell Shademan I no longer need a ride home (he doesn’t offer me any money back) and I load my three heavy bags into the back of Karen’s rental car. Where, we find that a previously bald tire is now also completely flat. Maybe I should have stuck with the bus? Capt. Mike is our hero, and he replaces the flat tire with an even balder spare, and off we go. Karen gives a turkey sandwich that she bought at IGA to the homeless man who always begs at the parking lot exit. I donate to the Salvation Army bell ringer.

My hero!

Back at he marina, it takes us two trips to get all of our bags and our new watermaker from the car to the dinghy, and it’s a very tight fit for the Captain and I to squeeze in as well. Bug is moving a lot slower with this load. We make a pit stop at the concrete fishermen’s dock in lower Woburn bay, where I duck into a local restaurant / convenience store and buy a tray of thirty non-refrigerated eggs for 30ec ($11) The owner admonishes me for not bringing my own egg cartons, and makes me promise to bring the tray back to her tomorrow. I balance the tray of brown eggs on top of the watermaker box, and Capt. Mike and I carefully maneuver around our pile of stuff and stand up in the dinghy all the way back to Sanitas to avoid getting totally soaked as we motor upwind.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat

Finally back to the boat around 1:00, we hoist everything into the cockpit, then down the companionway stairs into the galley. Then the real fun begins – figuring out where to put everything we bought! I wrestle with my top-loading fridge, trying to keep the meat and dairy in the coldest part, and the bread and condiments in what our thermometer calls “the danger zone.” Too bad the warmer danger zone is the only part of the fridge that’s easy to reach. I spread out the fruit and veg that will be stored unrefrigerated to let it dry – air conditioning in the supermarket makes for a lot of condensation, and storing away wet onions or apples will cause them to go bad more quickly.

Drying veggies
Refrigerator chaos

Phew! By about 2:00, I’ve put everything away, drank a huge glass of water, and I’m beat. I feel a sense of accomplishment for the day, like I’ve done something momentous, although looking back on it, I’ve done nothing but buy a week’s worth of groceries. Good thing we’ve learned to slow way down in this nomad life!

Back to the Boat!

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

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

We found a pirate in Queens!

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

Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger luggage cart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating our freedom from quarantine

We made it to Canada!

Sorry if you’ve been worried about us! Yes – we actually did finish the Long Trail, more or less in one piece.

After all of our injuries, hiking challenges, and bad weather we lucked out with beautiful sunny days for the last five days on the trail. And it’s a good thing too! That far north, the days got noticably shorter by the end of September and we were grateful to have some sunshine and no rain during the shorter hiking hours.

We reached the monument at the US-Canadian border at the same time as three other hikers we’d spent time with along the way. So it was good fun to celebrate our accomplishments and to congratulate each other. And of course, to take lots of pictures against the backdrop of red fall maple leaves 🍁

IRL, Mike and I are back in Grenada on our sailboat, Sanitas. So I promise a blog post soon about all of the trials and tribulations involved in traveling internationally when Covid just won’t go away!

Long Trail Section #3: The Inn at Long Trail to Waterbury, VT

Day 10 – Wednesday Sept 8, Day off in Woodstock, VT

0 miles, very few steps

We hitchhiked from the Inn at Long Trail to Woodstock, VT where our college friends Sean and Scarlett treated us like royalty. Not only did they show us to a very comfortable guest room with a warm bed and a hot shower, they drove us all around town to get supplies, treated us to delicious meals, and best of all – were great company. It was lots of fun catching up on life after many years and meeting their daughters again as young women. Thanks for a wonderful day off, you two!

Day 11 – Thursday Sept 9, David Logan Shelter

13.1 miles, 36,830 steps

I’m a bit down today. I guess it’s understandable after such a fun day off, then returning to the trail with full, heavy food bags, on a day that looks like rain. Also, I have a touch of tendonitis in my left wrist – it’s swollen and painful, and I can’t use my hiking poles until it clears up. I have to admit, I didn’t realize how much I’ve grown to rely on my poles for balance and rhythm both on uphills and downhills. I knew this trail would be physically hard because I’m not really in shape for this kind of long distance hiking day after day. And I knew it would be mentally challenging to hike through the rain in the autumn cold weather. But I didn’t realize I’d experience so much physical pain. It’s maybe not as much fun as I thought it would be. 🥺

Day 12,  Friday Sep 10, Sucker Brook Shelter

13.3 miles, 36,892 steps

Still can’t use my poles. Still a very muddy, technical trail with lots of short, steep climbs. Still swollen wrist. Still cold. But at least it’s not supposed to rain much for the next couple of days.

Day 13, Saturday Sept 11, Cooley Glen Shelter

16.7 miles, 49,700 steps

A sunny day today with good views. Dingle and I decided to take advantage of the sunshine to do a really long day, giving ourselves the chance to make the next day a short one in case the rain returns. One of our trail friends was having a tough time today, so we worked together to get through the miles safely, making it to the shelter just as it got truly dark. Dingle had the tent set up, a cup of tea waiting, and water hot to make dinner. Thank goodness!

Day 14 – Sunday Sept 12 Battell Shelter

7 miles. Today was fun! Our friends Sean and Kyle met us at the Lincoln Gap road crossing and joined us on the trail overnight! We hiked in two miles from the road to Battell Shelter and spent the evening chatting, catching up, and hanging out with other Long Trail end-to-enders. They even hiked in a couple of Vermont hard ciders as a treat. It was fun getting the chance to introduce “civilians” to backpacking life. Both Sean and Kyle admitted the next morning that they had a really tough time going to bed at 8:30 in the evening, lol. And that they were sure glad they packed ear plugs!

Day 15 – Monday Sept 13, Cowle’s Cove Shelter

14.6 miles. Sean and Kyle hiked with us for about eight miles today, over the top of Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen (both over 4,000 feet) and through Mad River Glen ski resort. We lucked out and had a gorgeous sunny day to be hiking up high. I think everyone enjoyed the hike and the views, and Dingle, the social butterfly, had hiking and chatting partners all day long. We were a little bit sad to say goodbye to our friends at Appalachian Gap, where they got back in the car to head home to the real world, and we had about another six miles to hike to our shelter for the evening. Dingle and I joked that they were probably saying to each other, “I’m sure glad WE don’t have another six miles to walk today!” as they turned on the heated seats and drove to the nearest burger joint.

Day 16 – Tuesday Sept 14, US Route 2 Waterbury, VT

15.6 miles. Holy cow, today was a rough day. We started out a bit tired and sore from yesterday’s elevation change and a poor night’s sleep. And we started right out climbing again. This far north on the Long Trail, it’s not just the elevation gain that gets you – it’s the fact that the trail gets much more rocky, root-y, and technical than in the south. And they don’t believe in switchbacks in Vermont. The trail just goes straight up….and then straight down. We passed a south-bound Long Trail ridge runner (volunteer) and dingle asked “How much longer does the trail stay this messy and difficult?” And he replied, “All the way to the Canadian border.” Thank goodness he was exaggerating (slightly) but that answer sure got stuck in our heads and messed with our mojo for the next few days.

We hiked over Mount Ethan Allen, at ALMOST 4,000 feet, and took a lunch break at Montclair Lodge before starting the long climb up to Camels Hump. Another south-bound hiker named Limerick had told us that he did a five-mile day over Camels Hump and hadn’t considered it a particularly easy day. Yet here we were committing to over 15 miles to get ourselves to the next road crossing and a day off in Waterbury. If it wasn’t for that hotel reservation, we’d have probably have broken this section into two days and spent an extra night on the trail – even if it meant just eating a Kind bar and one Lara bar for dinner. But I had visions of a hot shower and a comfy bed motivating me up and over this beast of a mountain.

Camels Hump is one of two places where the Long Trail rises above tree line and into the alpine zone. It’s a pretty unique environment for the northeast, with shelves of granite separated by shallow soil and miniature, hardy plants that can somehow manage to survive in this cold and rugged environment. The trail itself simply climbs above, around, and over these rocks, making for some interesting hiking moments, especially for those of us (ahem, Dingle) who are afraid of heights! Once again, we were lucky to have no rain and some pretty good views from the top! But no time to linger because we literally had miles to go before we slept.

For my old lady knees, hiking down Camels Hump has harder than climbing up. Dingle thinks they intentionally put the Long Trail on the worst route down the mountain: sometimes down a rocky stream bed, sometimes down huge slippery moss-covered rocks, and sometimes down a couple hundred yards of steep exposed tree roots. Is this even a real trail?!? Eventually, we made it to the trailhead right about at sunset, and were lucky enough to to finish at the same time as a lovely woman named Tamara who provided us with some well-needed trail magic and drove us directly to the front door of The Old Stagecoach Inn of Waterbury. I could finally have that magical hot shower I’d been longing for!