Travel in the time of Coronavirus

Here we are in December of 2020 – are you longing to travel? Me too! We’ve been in the tiny island nation of Grenada for six months. That’s the longest we’ve been in any one country (including the US) since 2017. Hurricane season is over and Caribbean nations are starting to cautiously relax their coronavirus restrictions and to reopen for tourism. Hooray! But that sure doesn’t mean that it’s easy or cheap to travel yet. Follow along with me on the thrilling adventure of sailing twelve miles and overcoming infinite bureaucratic red tape to get from Grenada 🇬🇩 to St Vincent and the Grenadines 🇻🇨

First of all, the protocols for entering each country have been changing weekly – it’s hard to keep track! St Vincent has actually done a pretty good job of updating a web page with their requirements. In a nutshell, we have to pass a Covid test in Grenada, then travel to SVG and take a second test, quarantining while we wait for the results. If both tests are negative, we are free to clear in and explore the country. Sounds easy, right? 😜 Obviously, you are not familiar with the concept of island time. (Skip to the end if you just want to know how much it cost)

We’ve spent the past three weeks on the island of Carriacou, a pleasant day sail north of the big island of Grenada, and still part of the country of Grenada. From our anchorage, we could look northwest and see Clifton Harbor Union Island – the southernmost island in St Vincent, less than 12 miles away. But …. until last week, the only open port of entry for SVG was on the main island of St Vincent, over 50 miles further north. AND the only clinic in Carriacou that does Covid tests only performs the tests on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:00pm. Then they put the tests on a ferry and ship them back to Grenada for processing. Talk about adding time and complexity to the process! We waited until Union Island reopened to visitors (giving them a week to work out the kinks) and then Cheryl on SV LeefNu put together a spreadsheet of all of the steps in the process and we went to work!

Step 1: Request permission to travel to St Vincent

On Wednesday December 2, I sent an email to SVGARRIVALS requesting permission to travel from Carriacou to Union Island over a week later, on 10 December. I attached a “Request to quarantine aboard” form with lots of details about our boat, crew, travel history and health status.  I didn’t receive any sort of response until late Friday afternoon when I wrote back and asked politely whether I should cancel my PCR test appointment on Monday. That did it. I received an email stating we were approved!

Step 2: Pre-travel Covid PCR test

I can’t believe I made it all the way to December 2020 without a q-tip up the nose! Well, no longer. We dinghied ashore and joined a small parade of other sailors walking toward the L’esterre Health Clinic. The nurse looked a bit taken aback to see us all lined up at the front door. She muttered, “I hope I have enough swabs” and directed us one at a time to the office to pay. Then another long wait in the hot airless clinic until being called into the nurse’s office to get poked. She had exactly enough tests for the 16 people who showed up that day. The nurse was surprisingly gentle, and we were free again one hour and 820ecd ($300) later. Yikes! Now the clock is ticking. We need to make sure we can get to SVG within the 72 hours that this test is valid. I’d cry if we missed our chance and had to get a second test and shell out ANOTHER $300 bucks.

Step 3: Wait for test results. Stress out. Jump each time you get an email notification

There’s a long list of paperwork we need to submit to St Vincent 24-hours before we arrive. But the very first item on the list is our negative test results. So we hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope the tests made it onto Monday night’s ferry to Grenada and hope that the General Hospital isn’t too overwhelmed to process our tests quickly. Did I mention that St Vincent only performs tests on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday? So if we miss our scheduled arrival on Thursday, we’ll have to go on Friday, wait on a quarantine mooring ball until Monday to get tested, and THEN stay in quarantine until we get the results. Or, they might not let us in at all because our Grenada test results would be older than 72 hours. Oh, the stress!

Step 4: Lots more paperwork – finalize permission to travel to SVG

On Wednesday morning at 8:30, our friends on SV Holiday and SV LeefNu received their negative test results via email. But nothing for Sanitas. I sent an email. I made a call. Nothing. We waited…and waited…and grew more and more nervous. Finally, around 11:00 we hopped in the dinghy and traveled back to the clinic. Apparently they spelled our name wrong when they wrote down our email addresses. That’s an easy fix! With the correct address, they sent the results and we were good to go. Negative, as expected, of course- there’s only one active Covid case in all of Grenada, and it was imported on a flight from the US 😞

I rushed to a picnic table outside the grocery store where I could get free wifi and started filling out the rest of the required paperwork. My goal was to get everything submitted before noon (island bureaucrats take long lunch breaks) and to meet the “submit 24 hours in advance” requirement. I barely made it!

Step 5: More waiting…for final approval from St Vincent

Now we needed to wait for St Vincent to reply to my paperwork with a “Stamped Approval Form.” If we show up without this approval, St Vincent can use their coast guard to turn us away from entering the country. However, we still need to clear out of Grenada, and the customs and immigration office is only open until 3:45pm. So more nervous waiting. Finally, I emailed St Vincent customs. They replied that they were waiting for my negative Covid test results. Aargh! That’s what I spent an hour at a supermarket picnic table working on! So…I sent all that paperwork in again. Finally, I received approval.

Step 6: Clear out of Grenada

Captain Mike took our passports and boat paperwork to customs and immigration, paid to catch up on our cruising permit fees, and successfully acquired our exit papers. Phew! We celebrated with burgers and gin & tonics at Big Citi grill 🍔🍸😎

Step 7: Travel to Union Island. ANOTHER Covid test

We woke at first light, as excited as if it were Christmas morning. It feels great to be moving again! Anchors up at first light, and we had a lovely sail to Clifton Harbor on Union Island. Upon arrival, a gentleman in a dinghy marked with a yellow flag met us and escorted us to a mooring ball in the quarantine area. More waiting. Eventually, we were paged via VHF radio “Sanitas, you are cleared to come ashore.” We donned clean clothes, masks, and actually remembered shoes. We dinghied to the Bougainvillea dock, also marked with a yellow flag. Only one boat was allowed ashore at a time and once there, we handed over our boat paperwork and passports (Gulp. I hate to give up our passports. But they are successfully ensuring we won’t skip out on quarantine). We got our second PCR test in less than a week, and boy this nurse really went after it! She didn’t just tickle my brain with the swab, she really twisted and turned it and ground it around – ouch! Back to our mooring ball to wait. Again…. Did I mention the test swabs in SVG also have to take a ferry ride north to St Vincent to be processed? 🙄

Our quarantine view…

Step 8: Another quarantine

We kept ourselves busy through yet another quarantine by cooking, studying French, doing our Christmas shopping, and doing boat projects. But after a few days with no update on our test results, we stayed to get antsy.

Haircut time!

Final Step: Clear into SVG. And hand over a bunch of cash.

Finally, around 4:30 on Monday afternoon, a dinghy with a yellow flag approached. “Do you have good news for us?” Capt. Mike asked. “Unfortunately, I have bad news,” he said “You failed your test and have to take another.” What?!? How is that possible? The man in the dinghy let out a big laugh. “I’m just messing with you!” he said, and handed back our passports and paperwork, as well as a bill for the tests and processing fees. I don’t think that’s very funny, do you?

How much did all this cost?

  • Covid test in Grenada (2 people) = 820ecd or $305US
  • Covid test in SVG (2 people) = 324ecd or $120US
  • Clearing agent fees = 205ecd or $76US
  • Quarantine mooring fees (4 nights) = 245ecd or $92US
  • Cruising permit (1 month)= 70ecd = $27US
  • Total in US dollars = $619
  • Stress and worry about missing a deadline, and all those swabs up the nose = priceless 🤣

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining about the cost or the process. I understand that we’re very lucky to be able to visit these beautiful countries. And, of course, I respect the desire to protect islanders from Covid-19. The hospitals here really couldn’t handle an outbreak. I’m not even upset about the cost – these islands have had their economy tank with the lack of tourism. But now that we’ve got a 6-month visa in SVG, I don’t anticipate moving around much this season!

Celebratory drinks at Happy Island 🏝️

A Trip to the Fish Market

Shopping for food can be expensive in Grenada. There’s only one big American style grocery store, and the tax and duty on imported goods sends the prices on American brands sky high. But… if you eat what the locals eat …. you can eat healthy, delicious fresh food for much lower cost! My favorite way to eat local starts with the adventure of a trip to the fish market in downtown St George’s.

It’s a short walk from our slip in the Port Louis Marina to the main road around the St George’s harbor. Before I even reach the road, a #1 bus slows down, honks, and the conductor waves to me. Why yes! I do want a ride! How’d you know? I hurry to the curb, don my mask, and allow the conductor to spray my hands with sanitizer. Then I clamber gracelessly aboard the van and squeeze into a seat. It costs $2.50 ecd per ride, no matter how far you go, so I get my 93 cents worth by staying on until the end of the route at the St George’s bus terminal.

(The bus system here is an adventure in and of itself. A fellow cruiser wrote this wonderful blog post that captures exactly the island bus experience. Feel free to check it out. Don’t worry! I’ll wait!)    Grenada Explorer bus blog

After I unfold myself from the crowded bus and wipe the sweat from my brow, I join the flow of humanity on the sidewalks and in the streets – shopping, eating, buying, selling. The fish market is just past the bus station, and it’s best to get there early for the best selection. This is truly “Catch of the Day” because whatever the fishermen caught this morning is on sale until it’s gone! Luckily, that’s pretty much always yellowfin tuna, so I’m not complaining! When we first arrived in Grenada back at the beginning of July, a cruiser told me “don’t buy the $20ecd bags of tuna.” So what do you think I did on my first over-stimulating fish market visit? I panicked! There was so much noise and smell and fish guts, I just stopped at the first vendor inside the door, pointed to a bag of fish, and said “I’ll take it” It was fine, I guess. And you really can’t argue with the $7.40 usd price. But it has bones, and some bits of skin, and who knows if it’s today’s catch or yesterday’s?

So I did my research and asked around, and on my second fish market outing, I arrived better prepared. I returned to the first vendor (you gotta have “a guy”, right?) and this time, I said “I’ll take three pounds of tuna, and could you remove the skin for me?” My fishmonger eyed the fish carcass in front of him, raised his machete, and let it fall – thunk! Then he picked up a worn piece of wood shaped like a club, and pounded on the machete until it successfully cut through the bone and a hefty chunk of dark red meat landed on the ice shavings. He placed it on the old school analog scale and presto! Three pounds exactly. A couple more passes of the sharp machete, and I’ve got a massive amount of amazing fresh sushi-grade tuna for $24ecd (about $9 usd)

Jeff, on SV Yagermeister, shopped for tuna for five boats, and shared this gorgeous photo- fish blood and all!

On my most recent fish market foray, I upped my game even more! Perhaps there were fewer shoppers on a Monday morning than on my usual Saturday shop, but “my guy” had tuna, sailfish, and shark. I did pass on the shark, but took about 4 pounds of tuna and 2 pounds of the sailfish. And THIS TIME I asked the fish monger to remove the backbone and bloodline as well as the skin. Look how far I’ve come since panicking and just pointing to the pre-packaged bag! I’ve also learned to ask for a scoop of ice to keep the fish cool on the hot bus ride home. And, since I’ve already made the trip, I walk a couple of blocks to the veg market and pick up a bag of eggs from a guy selling them out of a shopping cart. (Have you ever bought eggs in a plastic bag, lol? And then traveled home on a crowded mini bus? It reminds me of that school project where you pretend an egg is a baby and you fail if it breaks before the end of the semester 🤣) Other market options are totally appropriate to buy in bags, so I also grab some limes, and tomatoes and cucumbers. Everything super fresh and organic!

So what do I do with all of this wonderful fresh tuna? Pretty much everything I can think of! For the first couple of days, we eat it raw: sushi rolls, sashimi, or my new favorite – poke bowls. With all this sushi, I’m running low on siracha, wasabi, and gluten free soy. Darn! I’m going to have to hit up that overpriced grocery store after all! After those freshest sushi days, I mix up a rub of dried spices, and quickly sear the tuna – definitely keeping it pink or even red on the inside – and serve it over a bed of sautéed vegetables. Last night, I used the last of our white-fleshed sail fish in a coconut curry. Oh my goodness, so good!

Sanitas and her crew will be farther away from “town” and the fish market for the next couple of months, but I’m pretty sure I’ll pay my round trip bus fare every couple of weeks to restock the fridge with the bounty of Grenada’s seas 🐠.

Thanks to our friend Jeff, on SV Yagermeister, for this photo of HIS fish guy (actually a fish girl) who smiles way more than my guy and actually seems happy to have customers!

Grenada Summer Camp

I’ve heard fellow cruisers describe a hurricane season in Grenada, West Indies as “Grenada Summer Camp” and now I know why!

The crew of Sanitas spent July 2020 anchored in Woburn Bay on the south coast of Grenada. Every morning, we’d listen to the Cruisers’ Net on the VHF radio and there were so many social activities announced every morning, we had to create a little cheat sheet calendar to keep track of them all! Yes, this is still the age of Coronavirus, but Grenada was COVID-free by July and gatherings of up to 25 are allowed, especially outdoors. For more info on “Where are the masks?” click the link to my previous blog post.

We reunited with sailing friends who cleared quarantine a few weeks earlier than us on the 4th of July at a Bar-B-Q at Whisper Cove Marina. This lovely small marina became our home away from home – a place to do laundry, fill water jugs, dispose of trash – as well as mingling with other cruisers at happy hour or pizza night or acoustic jam sessions.

Sanitas was anchored just a short dinghy ride away from Le Phare Bleu Marina, a welcoming spot WITH A POOL where for the price of a happy hour cocktail, cruisers are welcome to socialize while floating about. Kids splash and chase each other at one end, and adults share buckets of beer at the other, and everyone has a wonderful time until sunset.

Grenada summer camp (or is it retirement community? 🤔) isn’t all eating and drinking. It’s the first time in months we’ve been able to go ashore and get some regular exercise. Meghan, on SV Clarity, is kind enough to lead beach boot camp a couple of days a week. And, while the Hash House Harriers aren’t running (they can’t guarantee groups of less than 25 people) there are lovely trails within the Mt Hartman Dove Preserve, and we’ve participated in several small group hikes. Sometimes, the hikes end at the West Indies Beer Company. Ok, maybe it is all eating and drinking!

Hog Island is the center of cruising social life. On Sunday afternoons, cruisers and locals alike gather at Roger’s Barefoot Bar to chat and to buy burgers, ribs, and lobster from the informal vendors. Have grill, will sell Bar-B-Q! You can also buy a sarong or some fresh veggies from vendors in the shade of the island trees if the curious cows don’t eat it first! There’s a mile-long trail on the island with great views of the anchorage too. One evening, we gathered on the beach with Leef Nu and Holiday and had a cookout – grilled delicious Italian sausage with a potluck of sides. We had a rollicking good conversation about the differences between American candy brands and Canadian candy brands. Did you know Smarties and called Rockets in Canada? And, to add the the confusion, Canadian smarties and bigger crunchier m&m’s! Isn’t this an educational blog?

What’s the Covid-19 situation in Grenada? (aka: Where are your masks?!?)

I get it! You’re all wondering what the global pandemic is like in “Paradise” 🌴 🏖️⛵  Well, since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, Grenada has had 23 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 and has experienced zero Covid-19 deaths.

The prime minister closed borders and implemented lockdowns early, in an effort to protect the residents of this tiny country which does not have a very robust health care system. Officially, borders are just now starting to open. Letting “yachties” into the country was sort of an exception – remember how we had to comply with strict protocols such as sailing directly from Antigua, 14+ days of Quarantine, and multiple Covid-19 tests?

It seems to have worked. Since the beginning of July, Grenada has been completely Covid-free. And they’ve started to relax restrictions such as curfew and prohibitions on gathering. Here are the current rules:

  • The curfew has expired
  • Beaches are open
  • Gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed
  • Some restaurants have reopened for dining in, with social distancing, temperature checks, and contact tracing
  • Masks are mandatory for indoor businesses and on public transportation

As guests in this country, Capt. Mike and I are very careful to follow the rules. We’re starting a collection of colorful cloth facemasks that cost between 5-10 Eastern Caribbean dollars each (between $1.85 and $3.70 US – (Hey! That’s pretty cheap! Maybe I need another cute one!) We avoid large gatherings, and we bump elbows or mime blowing kisses instead of shaking hands or hugging. That being said, we’ve also got a little sailing bubble of couples who arrived here and quarantined the same time that we did and all tested negative for the virus around the same time. We stay in the same southern bays off the coast of the island, and we trust each other’s precautions.

So…. In many of my photos, we aren’t wearing masks. It’s the topics! So almost everything takes place outdoors – with the high temps, high humidity, and sweat that goes along with it! Good thing this blog post isn’t Scratch ‘n’ Sniff! 🤣 And once we’ve entered a bar or restaurant (with the entry restrictions I described above) we can remove our masks at our table or within our group. Or, thank goodness, in the pool! I’ll try to take more pictures of the hand sanitation stations, and social distancing markets on the floor, AND my growing cute mask collection, just to even things out.

However, the airport is not yet open to international commercial flights. In August, the government plans to allow flights from “medium-risk” countries, such as Canada and the UK. Sometime after that, they’ll open to flights from “high-risk” countries, such as the United States. The entry protocols will require Covid tests and possible quarantine. That’s why we come up with a backup plan, to ensure we could spend the summer here in Grenada if necessary.

Like all of you, we’re playing it by ear this year, and adjusting plans as we go. I hope Grenada, and all of the small Caribbean countries,  can continue to keep their citizens safe. And I also hope I can sail between Caribbean islands next winter instead of staying here indefinitely!

We’re in Quarantine! (Again)

For those following along at home, we’re on our third quarantine of this pandemic, in our third country. This is the strictest one yet: 14 days of quarantine on our sailboat, no trips ashore for any reason (no groceries, no exercise, no essential shopping), no water sports. At the end of the two week quarantine, we’ll take a Covid-19 test and once we pass we’ll finally be free to clear customs and immigration and enter Grenada officially.

So what do we do to pass the time in quarantine? A whole lot of nothing, lol! 😀 I’m not even kidding. We definitely experienced a sort of quarantine malaise…where the priority is simply enduring until it’s over and hopefully surviving with our sanity (and our marriage) intact.

We arrived at the early side of our week’s window. So Capt. Mike stayed fully engaged over the next few days watching new boats arrive, following them on the VHF radio and using binoculars. When a boat attempted to anchor near Sanitas, Mike would pull on his fins and snorkel, jump in the water, and help the new arrivals place the anchor securely in the mix of shallow sand and dead coral. Mango Mike’s Anchoring Service, open for business! For the entire quarantine period, he kept an eye on “his boats” making sure they stayed in place through squalls and wind shifts. We learned a new anchoring technique that they don’t teach you in ASA 101 – pile a few rocks on your anchor to weigh it down. Bonus points for a smiley face.

After the rough passage, our salon is always a huge mess, so we killed a day or so airing out the sheets and making everything ship-shape.

And there’s always boat chores! During periods of great motivation we defrosted the fridge, and I cleaned all of the stainless steel on Sanitas’ deck.

Spirits lagged around Day #5, so we dug deep for entertainment. Three times per week, fellow cruisers took turns hosting trivia over the radio for happy hour. Apparently we need a bigger trivia team – Team Sanitas was lucky to score over 50% One day, I put together a Bingo card for objects we might see around the anchorage and invited every boat within shouting distance to join our WhatsApp group and radio finale. It kept us entertained all afternoon: “Hey! I see someone rowing his dinghy!”, “Is that boat the Coast Guard? Darn, it’s just marina staff”, “Why isn’t anyone exercising on their deck?” At the end of the day, Sanitas was the only team without a BINGO – I’ll have to make it harder next time.

Sometimes I was motivated to cook….

Other times, especially when the temperature hit the mid-90s, I could barely be bothered to prepare cheese and crackers or to add a few sautéed veggies to a carton of soup. One very special Friday, we ordered takeout from Eden Sushi 🍣 with our friends on Holiday and enjoyed a virtual meal together over video chat. The closest marina allows deliveries from approved vendors, but only to the Q dock with all payments made on-line, and masks required, and deliveries only allowed on certain days before 5:00 pm.

I killed the better part of an entire afternoon trying to open a coconut I bought during our last provisioning trip in Antigua. It’s harder than you’d think!

And we read … and watched Netflix … and listened to podcasts … and played games … you didn’t expect this to be an exciting blog post, did you? I really, really wish we had unlimited wifi!

Just this morning, a rogue squall came out of nowhere and wind speeds changed from less than 10 knots to over 40 knots in seconds. You know what they say about long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror? I was washing the breakfast dishes and Mike was talking to his mom on the phone when we both had to drop everything. We started the engine (without all of the usual pre-start checks), turned on the anchor windlass, dropped our dinghy Bug in the water before she flew away, and braved torrential rain while making sure that none of the boats whose anchors dragged in the high winds ran into us. Mango Mike’s Anchoring Service had a lot of satisfied customers!

Thanks for following along on this tale of boredom. Good news! Writing this blog post killed most of the afternoon of Day #12. Less than two days to go!