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!

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.

48 Hours in Anguilla

We left the British Virgin Islands at least a week earlier than planned, because weather forecasts predicted very strong trade winds for the next few weeks. As Chris Parker from the Marine Weather Forecasting Center said, “Head east from the BVIs on Sunday January 5th – or don’t count on leaving until some time in February.” Yikes! That got our attention!

So we got everything prepped, staged ourselves in the north sound of Virgin Gorda, and took off on our first big passage of the season the next day. We left the sound around 1:00 pm and sailed 20 hours into wind, waves, and current. Uncomfortable, but never unsafe. The trip was soooo bouncy, that both Capt. Mike and I had wacky dreams when we tried to nap between watches. Mike dreamt that gravity no longer worked, and he kept floating away. I dreamed that we’d gotten into such shallow water that we were plowing Sanitas through mud, and then I had to jump out and push her up a dirt road. Obviously we didn’t get much rest, lol! Our buddy boats Tanda Tula and Willful headed straight to St Martin and it was comforting watching their mast lights all through the night. But Mike and I decided to squeeze in a quick visit to Anguilla before the big winds show up.

Visitors to the British island of Anguilla will find two main pastimes: going to the beach, and eating delicious food. Sometimes these pastimes are combined – eating delicious food while sitting on a beach! It doesn’t get much better than that! With 33 beaches to choose from you’d sure need more than two days to visit them all and to find a favorite!

We anchored in Road Bay and after a brief nap, cleared customs with the nicest customs agents in the world. It’s free to clear in for little boats like ours. I’m pretty sure they figure we’ll spend the money we saved in the restaurants! Road Bay was a nice change from the forced merrymaking of the BVIs in high season. The beach is made of the softest sand ever and is lined with beach bars and restaurants. There were only about four charter boats and a handful of cruisers in the anchorage. And the town of Sandy Ground is right there – so it’s a dynamic mix of visitors and locals.

After a long walk around the salt pond, talking to the ducks, we had one of Ivy’s famous rum punches at Dad’s Bar and Grill. Reviews from other cruisers said they have the fastest WiFi on the beach, so it was worth the price of the drink to catch up on our podcast downloads and to edit photos. For dinner, we had tapas at The Sandbar. You’d never guess by looking at this beachside shack during the day that after sunset, it turns into a world class restaurant and cocktail bar. After a plate of seafood fra diavlo and cumin crusted pork loin, we understood all the rave reviews.

The next day, we hiked from Road Bay on the north side of the island to Rondezvous Bay on the south. Google maps said it would take us 2 hours, but we found some shortcuts and shaved off 20 minutes. Whatever the distance, it was worth it! This beach has the softest, whitest sand I’ve ever seen.

I meant for us to walk the whole length of the longest beach in Anguilla before stopping for lunch. But the quirky Sunshine Shack beach bar pulled us into its orbit. We just stopped for a cold beverage, but the plates of ribs coming off the grill looked and smelled amazing. So we broke down. Ribs for Mike and whole grilled snapper for me, and it was every bit as delicious as we’d hoped. That’s the best thing about Anguilla – whether you eat it a high-end resort or at a beach barbecue, the chef takes great pride in her food, and stakes her reputation on every dish.

We FINALLY made it to Bankie Banx’s Dune Preserve just before the music started. It’s a bit different than your usual beach bar – a rambling wooden property built a bit back from the beach, with sea grape bushes and other dune vegetation growing through the gaps. And there’s definitely a pirate theme. Capt. Mike felt right at home. Bankie Banx is a world-renowned musician, so even though we’d planned to be back at the boat before dark, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see him live. Besides! All the celebrities come here on their visits to Anguilla. The bartender showed us where Cuba Gooding Jr signed the wall last summer. And he regaled us with stories about when Justin Bieber arrived unannounced and asked to perform. (Bankie Banx had never heard of him 😜) We thoroughly enjoyed Bankie’s set, which ranged from raggae to blues to soul, and we’d have stayed much later except that the wind picked up sending a thick cloud of that sugar-fine white sand through the bar, and chasing us out. I’m pretty sure we fit as much into our short stop in Anguilla as we possibly could!