Nomad Life in the Time of Corinavirus

Several folks have reached out and asked if Capt. Mike and I are ok with all the Covid-19 stuff going on. Well… So far, so good. Sanitas is currently in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe which at the time of writing had one confirmed case of the Corona virus. So, more than West Virginia, but less than most other regions. 😉

Last night at midnight, France directed that all bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses must close in order to stop the spread of the virus, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I dingied ashore to the small town of Terre de Haut this morning. But, surreal as it seemed, things were pretty much the same as usual. Restaurants were open, ferries were running, the sun was shining. The small grocery store (about the size of a 7-11) was quite busy. But they always are on Sunday mornings when most shops close at noon. There was plenty of toilet paper on the shelves, and I found everything on my list – even fresh veggies and eggs. I did see two women great each other with the usual French kiss on both cheeks. And then they threw up their hands and looked a bit sheepish and tapped the toes of their right feet together instead. People aren’t freaking out here like they are in the States. Or… Maybe they are but because I don’t speak French, I’m missing it all.

Mike and are feel like we’re in pretty good shape on little old Sanitas. We went grocery shopping in the big supermarket in Point-a-Pitre a few days ago, so we have lots of French cheese and fresh veggies. And when that runs out, the bilge is full of canned goods, nuts, gluten free noodles, and energy bars. We have full water tanks and diesel, and our solar panels are working great.

That’s not so say we aren’t watching what’s happening and taking precautions though. We wash our hands a lot – and certainly every time we return to the boat. I belong to several sailing and cruising Facebook groups that share information on each island’s travel restrictions and entry procedures. I guess that’s our biggest concern right now – what if every island closes its borders to everyone except residents? Where will we go then? What if cargo ships stop sailing and the grocery stores DO get empty? What if we run out of propane for our cook stove? I checked today, and we can stay in Guadeloupe for 90 days without a visa, so I think we’ll sit tight and wait to see what happens. Our hurricane season plans call for us to haul out in Grenada for the summer on 1 July. Hopefully things improve by then, and if we really have to, we could sail straight to Grenada without stopping in less than 48 hours. We could also self-quarantine at anchor for 14 days if Grenada requires it. Although Mike and I would REALLY get on each other’s nerves by that time! 🤪 Imagine being stuck with your spouse for 14 days in a space the size of your master bathroom!

For now, we’re in a small, quiet place, with relatively few people. The weather is good. We’ve got plenty of food, water, and medicine. If everything shuts down, we can still swim and go for walks. It only costs 11€ per day to stay on a mooring ball. The main island of Guadeloupe is only a 4-hour sail away if we need more provisions or medical care. Right now, it feels like the right decision to stay put and see what happens. Which is pretty much all anyone can do, right? Now if only I had more books and a slightly bigger boat!

A rhum tour of Guadeloupe

The island of Guadalupe is famous for producing rhum agricole – which is rhum (with an h) produced from the juice of sugar cane, as opposed to rum (without an h) made from molasses. It’s famous around the world, and extremely popular in its parent country of France. So when Capt Mike and I rented a car from the marina in Point-a-Pitre, the first stops on our island tour were at distilleries. Literally our first stops! All the rhum distilleries are only open until lunch time, so you have to be willing to stiffen your spine and go rhum tasting in the morning.

First stop was the boutique family-owned distillery Montebello. Unfortunately, there were no tours being offered the day we visited, because all of the machines were up and running, making rhum, and it wasn’t considered safe for visitors inside the factory. Drat! But we were encouraged to pour our own samples of several young (white) rhums and vieux (aged) rhums, as well as fun fruit flavored rhum punches. We got chatting with the young man working the shop and learned he’s a member of the only punk rock band in Guadeloupe, The Bolokos. They filmed a video in the distillery and released a special commorative rhum bottle with cute little cartoon punk rockers on the lable 🤪 He called up the video on the shop’s computer and let us watch their signature anthem “We drink white rhum”. Super fun – and if we’d still been in the area on Friday night, we’d definitely have attended their gig in the next town over. But as it was, we just bought a bottle of 4-year aged rhum and continued on our tour.

The Bolokos video – We Drink White Rhum

Next stop: the larger and more commercial Distillery Longeuteau. The man in the shop said he speaks a little English, but the tour would only be in French. When I said that  I didn’t think I wanted to pay 8€ for the tour in French, he put a finger to his lips to show it was our little secret, and handed me two tour entry tickets for free. I’m so glad we did it! Here, the machinery was also running, but apparently Longeuteau doesn’t consider it dangerous to give tours – at least not if they’d lose 8€ per person, lol. Mike kept saying, “they’d never let us get this close in the US!” A very nice gentleman from Toulouse France offered to help translate for us, and really made the whole tour more enjoyable.

Step 1: Juicing the sugar cane – A big front end bucket loader scoops up a massive amount of red sugar cane chunks and dumps it into a hopper that starts a series of conveyor belts, crushers, and presses. The end result is a gush of cloudy yellowish liquid. This part really didn’t seem Heath and Safety endorsed. In fact, a French couple finished taking their photos and stepped side just before – plop – a small avalanche of spent sugar cane fiber landed right where they’d been standing 😁

Step 2 – Fermentation – The cane juice spends several days in big open fermentation tanks building a thick froth of bubbles. It doesn’t even need to be stirred; the fermentation is so active, that the cane juice bubbles and mixes and churns automatically.

Step 3 – Distillation – Fermented cane juice is pumped to the still where the vapor from the distillation process is now high in alcohol content. The distilled alcohol exits the still at about 80% alcohol – which is not as delightful as it sounds. Our guide poured a generous dose of pure cane distillate into our cupped palms and urged us to breathe the fumes in though our noses and to sort of huff the fumes by breathing into our mouths. I definitely felt it in the back of my throat! Then he gave us a smaller pour to taste. Nothing even slightly resembling the sweet delicious aged rhum it could eventually turn into! He urged us to rub our palms back and forth to dry our hands until hardly a trace of smell or stickiness remained. If I run out of hand sanitizer, a bottle of pure sugar cane alcohol would certainly do in a pinch!

Step 4 – Aging – The pure distillate is diluted to about XXX proof and then aged briefly in steel tanks for white rhum, or at least 4 years in oak barrels for vieux (aged) golden brown rhum. Punch is also very popular. You can buy a bottle of fruit flavors, spices, and rhum that’s ready to pour over ice and enjoy. My favorite punches are coconut or passion fruit. (I’m kookoo for coco punch 🤣)

Speaking of punch, I wanted to thank the French gentleman for translating for us and making our tour so much more enjoyable. So I practiced in my head how to tell him (in French) that I wanted to give him a thank you gift and to ask which kind of punch he preferred. He really seemed to appreciate the gesture – and the bottle of Planteur Punch. I thought I’d end this post by leaving you with the recipe for a ti punch. You’re welcome!

Ti Punch

  • 2 oz of white rhum agricole
  • 1/2 tsp of turbinado sugar
  • 1 lime wedge

Use a small spoon to muddle the lime into the sugar in the bottom of a short glass. Add the rhum, stir, and serve. I prefer mine with a couple of ice cubes. For variations, use a stick of sugar cane or cane syrup instead of sugar. That’s all there is to it!

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.

Winner winner, lobster dinner!

After our tour of the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, our guide George Jeffreys steered his Boston Whaler north in the lagoon to a spot near the ruins of the old Lighthouse Hotel. Capt. Mike and I kind of looked at each other, like “Where’s he going? I thought he was taking us back to our boat” But George found some magical unmarked spot and lo and behold! Raised up a big lobster trap and dumped it in the boat. Silly me wondered whether there would be a lobster in the trap. Well, there were at least a dozen! George used a stick to pull out all of the lobster that were over the legal size for fishing – seven in all. For $15 we had the makings of a wonderful dinner!

Treasures from the deep
George teaching us the difference between male and female lobster

At least we WOULD have a good dinner if we could herd those grumpy lobsters onto our boat, and could figure out how best to clean them and cook them. So Capt. Mike is in charge of sailing, and I guess I’m in charge of killing lobster. I googled “how to clean a Caribbean lobster without tools”, and it goes something like this…. First, put on a pair of work gloves to protect your hands from the spiny bits. Then grab the body of a lobster in one hand, and it’s tail in the other and pull and twist. Drop the body overboard quickly, so you don’t have to watch it twitch or confront the reproach in its beedy little eyes. Save one of the long tentacles because you’ll use it to pull the digestive tract (aka the poop chute) out of each tail. Then rinse well with seawater.

Before all the killing and cleaning
After all the killing and cleaning

I trimmed the soft inner shell off each tail, topped with melted butter, garlic, and Old Bay spice, and roasted in the oven for 15 min. With a side of mashed sweet potatoes, and a fresh tomato salad concocted by Melinda on SV Sava, we had an amazing lobster dinner while watching the sunset.

The finished product! Bon appetit!

Beautiful Barbuda – Frigate Bird Sancuary

Have you heard of the Caribbean island of Barbuda? If you have, do you only know it as “That island where every single resident was evacuated after hurricanes Irma and Maria”? If so, you might wonder if there’s anything left to visit. I’m here to tell you enthusiastically – YES! This special and beautiful island with its courageous residents is open for business and well worth a visit!

We departed St Barthelemy at 4am and arrived at Low Bay, Barbuda about 12 hours later, anchored in gorgeous turquoise water, just off an empty white sand beach. We raised the yellow quarantine flag, had dinner, and went early to bed. The next morning, we lowered our dinghy, Bug, into the water and headed to town to clear into the country. Barbuda is part of the country “Antigua and Barbuda” and it has a teeny tiny customs and immigration office in the only town on the island, Codrington Village. We sent an email 48-hours in advance, requesting permission to clear into the country here, and received permission just before we left St Barts. We had to ask several times for directions to customs as we wandered through the sleepy town with no street signs and little commercial development. When we found it, the customs agent said “Clearing IN? Really?” And then the immigration officer showed up and she said “Clearing IN? Really?” Apparently this doesn’t happen very often!

The highlight of our trip was a visit to the largest Frigate Bird colony in the Western Hemisphere, and home to approximately 5000 magnificent frigate birds.

Our guide, George Jeffreys, has lived in Barbuda his entire life, and has raised eight kids here, who now live all over the Caribbean and New York City. George told us a lot about the history and culture of Barbuda on the boat ride to the bird sanctuary. He told us that Barbudans are the biggest, strongest… and best looking people in the Caribbean. And from the folks I met on our visit – I believe him 😃 He told us what it was like to grow up on this quiet, remote island. As a teenager, he and his friends would swim across the Codrington Lagoon from town to the barrier island, walk a mile or so along the beach, and swim back – each returning with a bag full of lobsters from the adventure. Now to put this feat in perspective, it took Capt. Mike and I over half an hour to cross that lagoon one way in our dinghy, with a 5hp motor!

Frigate birds (or Man-o-Wars) can live 30 to 40 years, and grow to have a wingspan of up to 8 feet. They can fly over 20 mph. That’s four times faster than Sanitas’ average speed! They don’t seem to mind at all that a boat full of tourists drifts close by in a small boat to stare at them. The males are large and glossy black, and during mating season, they inflate a huge red neck pouch to attract the attention of the females. The yearlings are almost as big as the adults, but white and fluffy. And the chicks! Each mother lays a single egg, and nurtures her teeny fluffy white chick, with help from her mate finding fish to feed them both. George didn’t rush us, but gave us plenty of time to ooh and aah and take photos. And then we just put the cameras down and watched and enjoyed.