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!

Returning to St Thomas – on MY OWN boat!

We took our ASA sailing classes in St Thomas back in 2013. You could say that’s where this whole crazy boat life thing began. We returned several times to charter sailboats on vacation and to hone those sailing skills. But how fun is it to return in 2019 on OUR OWN sailboat?!?! We grabbed a one-day weather window to motor-sail over from Culebra when the easterly trade winds were very light. We squeezed Sanitas in between all the other boats in the anchorage at Honeymoon Beach on Water Island. Wow! It’s really changed in the past six years! Now there are two beach bars, and tons of booze cruise boats come over from the main island for a swim and a little beach time. I took a whole album’s worth of photos of the strange crafts: pirate ships, the Kon Tiki bar boat with its steel drum version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and of course, the huge cargo ferries! We enjoyed the beach and the live music and dancing at Dinghy’s Beach bar on a Sunday afternoon. Also, a lovely island to explore by foot, enjoying the lovely vegetation and huge land tortoises.

After a couple of days of beach vacation, it was time to get to work! About two weeks since we left Puerto Rico, we were out of veggies, eggs, and low on water, so we motored over to the main town of Charlotte Amalie to get stuff done!

Errands take a lot longer when you’re doing them by foot. And in 85deg temps! We felt the need to sustain ourselves with tacos and a margarita at Greengos about halfway through.

Of course, our most important errand was to pick up the new water maker membrane that we’d shipped to a St Thomas post office via General Delivery. The question is: which St Thomas Post Office? We’d used the street address of the historic downtown post office, since we knew we could walk there from the anchorage. However, once we arrived, the clerk told us they don’t accept General Delivery. Uh oh. Worst case scenario, did that mean they’d returned our critical water maker part back to Defender? To my relief, the clerk told us it was probably at the main post office, and we could get there by riding the dollar bus to its last stop. So we were off again, hunting for the main post office. This one’s definitely off the tourist path! Second time’s a charm, we were thrilled to find our package had arrived, and we could put another boat project on the to-do list and could start making fresh drinking water again.

Frankly, one night in the busy and industrial Charlotte Amalie anchorage was enough. We popped over to Christmas Cove on Great St James Island (also known as pedophile Island ’cause it was owned by Jeffrey Epstein) Mike loves this anchorage, but there’s no access to land so it’s never going to be one of my favorites. There’s excellent people watching here as day charters stop by the bay for a snorkel and to pick up a pizza from the floating Pizza Pi restaurant.

The best part of our stop at Christmas Cove was catching up with TC and Suzanne – our first sailing friends who we met the day we pulled into the St Petersburg Municipal Marina in 2017. They untied the lines and started cruising last year, but we never ended up in the same place at the same time. We had a fun reunion, playing games and having sundowners in the cockpit of Anna Bella.

Our last stop on St Thomas was the best! We sailed to the north side of St Thomas to Magens Bay. It’s a gorgeous white sand beach, ringed with palm trees, and hosting the obligatory beach bar. With four cruise ships in town, the beach got pretty busy during the day. But that’s the best part of sailing – we shared the bay with only two other boats, and in the mornings and the evenings, we had the whole place to ourselves. In another attempt to beat the crowds, Capt. Mike and I walked the 3-mile “Nature Trail” which kicked our lazy sailing butts. The heat and climb were tricky, but the hardest part was the mud bog we had to fight our way through right at the start. I almost lost a Keen sandal in the mud, and expected to wind up on my butt and covered in mud at any moment. Mission accomplished though- we got a bit of exercise AND we didn’t see a single cruise ship tourist the entire time!

Exploring the Spanish Virgin Islands

If you’ve ever dreamed on sailing in the Caribbean, you probably have a picture in your mind of the Virgin Islands – St Thomas and St John in the USVI, and Tortola and Virgin Gorda. The Soggy Dollar Bar and Willy T’s. But have you heard of the Spanish Virgins? Just east of mainland Puerto Rico, the islands of Culebra and Vieques are technically part of PR, but have a much more laid back, island-time feel.

We untied the lines from the Puerto del Rey marina on Thanksgiving Day, and made the short trip to Los Palominos island. We celebrated the holiday with a quasi-traditional thanksgiving dinner (substituting the worlds smallest rotisserie chicken for turkey) and a mojito float party with Zach and Lindy of SV Holiday. Sanitas’ third year of cruising is off to a good start!

The next day, we sailed for 5.5 hours to Vieques and anchored back in Sun Bay where we finished our journeys last May. We were super lucky to be able to sail the whole way without motoring, because it’s pretty much straight east from the mainland. It gave Capt. Mike the opportunity to brush off those rusty sail trimming skills, and first mate Jenn the chance to tack and tack and tack! I measured the length of the white sand beach at Sun Bay while jogging barefoot one morning – 1.1 miles from the dinghy drop off on the east side on the bay to the last point of land on the west near Esperanza. It’s a gorgeous place to relax and wind down after the never ending boat chores and trips to Costco, Walmart, and West Marine in San Juan traffic!

It’s also a great place to check out all of the boat systems that we didn’t need to use in the marina….and to find new problems. Our dinghy outboard motor is super reliable. It always starts with one or two pulls. Until it doesn’t. Capt. Mike sweated through his t-shirt pulling the outboard starter dozens of times with just a small cloud of grey smoke to show for his efforts. We decided we must have gotten some bad gasoline, and luckily Zach on Holiday had some SeaFoam fuel conditioning additive to lend us. Over the next couple of days of frequent use, she went back to purring like a kitten.

But then our water maker broke. Ok, maybe it didn’t exactly break, but the water that came out smelled foul, and measured at 750-900 ppm. Might be better off just drinking seawater! So we replaced the filter, ran an alkaline cleaning cycle, put it all back together, and tried again. STILL over 600 ppm. Good thing we stayed close to civilization on this shakedown cruise! We ordered a new water maker membrane from Defender and had it sent to the USPO General Delivery in St Thomas. Phew! That’s a lot of work for our first few days of cruising life!

We recovered by hanging out on the beach, walking to nearby Playa Media Luna, and dinghying over to the town of Esperanza to check out the tourist scene and the beach bars. I give two thumbs up to Lazy Jacks for drinks, and Duffy’s for food!

One of the highlights of our stay on Vieques was a tour of the island with Angie of Vieques Tours and Transportation. Angie’s a native of Vieques and she and her entire family have lived here her whole life, except for a year of college in Connecticut (Too cold. Too far from home) She knows everything about the history of the island, and what she doesn’t know, she’ll make up! She described the sugar cane plantation history of the island, and how that led to a diverse population that came here from islands all over the Caribbean, and how the last names of prominent families still show those origins. She took us to Isabela Segunda, the capital of Vieques, where pastel painted colonial architecture abounds and the one main road is known to locals as “the wide street”. Compare it to the rest of the island roads that look pretty much like bike paths and you’ll get it! Fort Conde de Mirasol was the last fort built by the Spanish in the New World, constructed between 1845 and 1855. Pretty much, they ran out of money and colonial power right about then, but the building is almost entirely original and it sits on a lovely viewpoint and contains a museum of archeological finds dating back to the Taino indigenous people. Robert, the tour guide and caretaker of the fort, was Angies’s high school social studies teacher back when he first arrived from the mainland US and didn’t speak any Spanish!

But the most interesting part of the tour was learning how life on Vieques has changed since hurricanes Irma and Maria back in 2017. Angie’s family had no electricity for nine months after Maria. Since then, half of the schools on the island as well as the only hospital have closed with no plans to reopen. There’s no longer any landline telephone service on the island – the provider couldn’t come up with the money to replace the poles and wires. Most families started to grow their own fruit and produce because grocery shipments were so unreliable. And many of the mature trees that used to form a shady canopy of green over the island roads are gone. Many small businesses have closed, and tourism (particularly the stellar bioluminescent bay tours) is the only industry. Now, none of this is meant to scare you away! I’ve only visited Vieques after the storms and I found it stunningly gorgeous. There are cute boutique hotels and delicious seafood restaurants and beautiful beaches that put the ones on mainland Puerto Rico to shame. But when you hear of the problems Puerto Ricans had in the aftermath of the storms, just think of their small island brethren who feel completely abandoned by the government and by FEMA.

From Vieques, we sailed over to Culebra – a new island to explore! From calm Ensenada Honda, we dinghied over to the one main town of Dewey and watched the ferries come and go, and watched the town put up Christmas decorations. I don’t know about you, but doesn’t it seem weird to decorate with snowmen in the tropics? And shouldn’t southern Santa have a more weather-appropriate outfit?

Capt. Mike and I sweated our way to the only beach within walking distance from the town dock. Within two minutes of hopping into the water, Mike kicked a sea urchin and had to perform emergency surgery to remove painful spines from his second toe. Good thing I’m always prepared and carry a Swiss Army knife! His injury made the walk back seem longer than the walk to the beach, but I made it up to him with a Painkiller at the Dinghy Bar

Still milking the great toe injury of 2019 🤣 we shared a rental car with SV Holiday for $45 per day and explored pretty much every beach on the island. I can see why you need a Jeep if you live here! Those island roads run straight up, and straight down, and suddenly and unexpectedly turn to dirt! But at the end of every road in another stunning white sand beach, and I made it my mission to walk the length of every one.

After all that exertion, I think I earned the right to sit in our fabulous new beach chairs on the white sand of Flamenco Beach, sipping a Pina Colada from the beach shacks and enjoying the fabulous people watching. (Are people really still wearing neon? And thongs? Who is Daddy Yankee? So THAT’S how you keep a beach umbrella from blowing away)

Two military tanks sit on the west end of Flamenco Beach, reminding folks of the controversial history of the US Navy in these islands. Back in the 40s and 50s the navy took over large portions of Culebra, forcing the folks who lived there to pack up and move. Then they performed military exercises and target practice with live munitions for decades. Even now, large parts of the islands are off limits to visits because of the huge amount of unexploded ordinance. While sailing to Vieques, we heard the Coast Guard announcing ordinance removal activities. In the 70’s residents of Culebra staged protests and called world-wide attention to what they considered an occupation of their home island. Eventually, their tactics worked, and the Navy left Culebra in 1975, but stayed active in Vieques until 2003. The rusting, graffitied tanks remain on the beach as a memorial to the protestors and a symbol of peace.