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!

Getting Our Land Legs Back

In case you were wondering, the crew of Sanitas are land lubbers this summer. Like most everyone, we’ve been separated from our friends and family way too long due to Covid, so we’re making a grand USA cross country tour this hurricane season. We’re loving the quality family time (with lots of hugs – thanks vaccines!) the opportunity to cook delicious meals in a full size kitchen, and the chance to stretch our legs and run, hike, and go on bike rides. There have been a few instances of culture shock for sure, as we readjust to life in “the land of plenty” but we’re having a great time. Have you SEEN how huge a Walmart Superstore is? Especially compared to a typical grocery store on Bequia in The Grenadines?!?

The long flight home

First stop has been visiting family in Upstate New York. We bought a used car (we sure have good timing, huh? Buying a car during a nation-wide car shortage?) installed a bike rack, and hit the road. We told our folks to have the ToDo lists ready – what’s the point of all those boat projects if we haven’t learned something to help out with our parents’ home maintenance while we visit? We helped with lawn work, cleaned out basements and garages, configured streaming accounts and Bluetooth speakers, and even rebuilt a fieldstone wall. Or at least Capt. Mike did. I mostly supervised and took photos. Did you know you can put almost any old junk by the side of a country road and SOMEONE will stop and take it?

But it’s not all work! We’ve also caught up with high school friends, and been tourists in our home towns.

We had a great time looking through photo albums at my parents house in the southern tier of New York. Recognize this future sailor?

I’m really enjoying the chance to get some land-based exercise again. Not much of a swimmer, I’m loving alternating between hiking in the national forest, building my running endurance with the C25K app, and getting used to my road bike again. You know what they say – it’s just like riding a bike, lol.

I know, I know. It’s not as exotic as life on a small sailboat. But we’re enjoying it! Please follow along, as we start our epic road trip to Colorado on Monday, and as we attempt to get in shape to backpack the Long Trail in Vermont this fall. Watch out mountains! These sea level sailors are coming for ya!

It’s Shopping Day Again

I love island shopping day! It’s always hot and sweaty, but also, always an adventure – you can’t say the same about a trip to Safeway 😉

It starts with a wet dinghy ride to the tiny town of Ashton. Before jumping into the dinghy, don’t forget to grab a small bag of trash to throw out at the dock, and don’t forget shoes (been there, done that). We usually stand up in the dinghy to attempt to get soaked with salt water only from the knees down. Then a two mile walk to the slightly larger town of Clifton – luckily there’s only one big hill to conquer on the way. I keep a running contest going to find the cutest baby goat family on our “urban hikes”. Extra points for little black sheep. Clifton is bustling with many small grocery stores, veggie stalls, and even a few clothing shops. Streets are busy right before lunch time – I guess you could call it Union Island rush hour.

Always a wet ride!
Ashton, Union Island
Baby goat rush hour

I wouldn’t call it one stop shopping… We stop at the cheapest, most rustic veggie stand next to Determination Bar first, where the super nice ladies help me pick out the best grapefruit and the local spring onions. But no chance of finding imported delicacies such as green peppers, green beans, or the kind of big ripe bananas us Americans are used to. So I finish my fruit and veggie shopping at Jenny’s brightly painted veg stand down by the town dock. She has chopped callalou and much nicer tomatoes, but I still have to keep searching for green peppers. About 130ec later ($48) our backpacks are full of about 10 days worth of fresh fruit and veg. Just one more stop at the grocery store for cheese, butter, and eggs and we’re good to go. No, scratch that. It’ll be better to return to the market for unrefrigerated eggs – they’ll last longer.

Now this is not at all the way the islanders shop. They seem to buy a day or two of food at a time and shop more often. Island friends say it’s because they rarely have enough cash to buy much at one time. Grocery stores usually have staples such as rice, flour, and sugar repacked into small plastic bags of a pound or 2 cups in addition to the 5- and 10-pound bags I’m used to finding. I really appreciate how lucky I am to be able to afford fresh, healthy food – we can stretch our cruising budget by cooking fresh food on the boat instead of eating in pricy tourist restaurants regularly. And when I stock up like this, we can take Sanitas off grid and get away from civilization for a week or more at a time. I know that the islanders are really suffering due to the lack of tourist income in Covid times, so I don’t negotiate on the price of produce. Sometimes I’ll exclaim, “Really?!? That much?” and the shop keeper will throw in a piece of citrus or a few extra bananas 🍌🥭🍈🍋

Jenny’s veggie stand
Vine-ripened tomatoes in winter

Another 2-mile walk back to the dock (we never seem to time the mini buses right here in Union Island), another dinghy ride (it’s not quite as wet in this direction) and then I have to clean and repackage all the veg. Take everything out of the plastic bags, check for bugs, pack in green produce bags to make things last longer, rotate the contents of my top-loading fridge to store the newest and most durable items on the bottom and the fragile things I need to eat first on top. While I’m at it, check the contents of the fruit hammock – make sure nothing’s going bad. And… Since I’m really on a roll…I found tiny bugs in the cornmeal last night. Good thing I package all my dry goods in sealed containers! But just in case, let’s take everything out of the galley cupboard, wipe everything down, and make sure the bugs didn’t escape their plastic prison. Phew!

A pretty good haul
These grapefruits are HUGE!

When people ask, “What do you actually DO all day when you live in a sailboat?” I answer, “all the things you do – everything just takes a heck of a lot longer”. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into island shopping… I’m going to get started making falafel, a tomato cucumber salad, and maybe some butternut squash for dinner. What are you having?

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!

It sure ain’t Instacart…

So we’ve been under a 24-hour curfew to limit the spread of Covid-19 here in Antigua since April 2. And as of yesterday, it had been 10 days since I’d set foot on land and gone shopping for groceries and other supplies. Talk about self-isolation! On the plus side, Capt Mike and I are pretty confident that we’re cornavirus-free after such a long period of social distancing. But on the down side, our fresh food stores were down to a cabbage, a few carrots, and a lime. So, a few days ago, I had a brilliant idea…..In a Facebook group for cruisers in Antigua, I found an advertisement for a business that is willing to deliver fresh vegetables to various parts of the island. So I sent a What’sApp message out into the void letting Farmer George know I wanted a delivery to North Sound Marina which is located about 2.5 miles by dinghy from our remote anchorage. I let three of four friends on nearby boats know that I planned to place an order. Then…BOOM! Everything got a little bit crazy. The word spread quickly, and I was suddenly receiving veggie orders via FB messenger and What’sApp and SMS text from 13 boats, most of which I hadn’t even met in person yet, and several who don’t speak english as a first language. Some submitted orders in pounds of each type of veg, some in quantities of each kind of veg, some added “wish list” items that weren’t even on the price list! I buckled down and created a spreadsheet to track the orders and estimate the cost for each boat. I created a What’sApp discussion group to keep everybody informed. And I walked a thin line between harassing the veggie delivery rep, Petra, and trying to be polite and understanding because she said she was sooooo busy managing individual deliveries during lockdown and leading up to Easter weekend, that she was only getting a few hours of sleep each night.

Finally, I got a hold of Petra and submitted an order for approximately $900 Eastern Caribbean dollars of produce to feed thirteen families. At 2:00 am Thursday morning, I received a message from Petra: “We should be there by 11:30. Given the volume of orders, we need a tight turnaround. Add 70.00EC for delivery. And the eggs are”…..Yep. That’s where it ended. I hoped we were both talking about 11:30 on Thursday. I hoped we agreed on meeting at the marina. I had no idea the total cost of the order and how many hundreds of dollars I had to bring in cash. And the Antiguan government had just announced that 24-hour curfew was extended for another week, with absolutely everything on the island closed down on Friday through Sunday for Easter. So this Thursday morning was go time!

I sent an email to the Marina, letting them know we’d be coming in for “essential business” to buy food for our families, so they wouldn’t get us in trouble for breaking curfew. Chuck on SV Virtual Reality and Jason on SV Mimzy have the biggest, fastest dinghies in the anchorage, so the three of us donned mandatory face masks, grabbed shopping lists and cash, and headed ashore. We got there about a half hour early so we could speak to the boatyard manager and find our way through the huge yard to the front gate. And then we sat in the shade by the side of the road and waited. And waited. Now remember, I hadn’t heard from Petra since 2am. Chuck made a little side trip to talk to some local fisherman, and ended up buying us 10 pounds of mahi mahi fillets!

By noon (when we were all supposed to be back in our homes for the strictest form of curfew) I still hadn’t heard from Petra, and the number of cars and trucks passing by had slowed to almost none. Then I got a What’sApp message! Hooray! She said the eggs we’d ordered showed up really late, and she was headed back to pick the up. So we settled in and waited some more.

At 1:00 I sent another nessage, “Hi Petra, are you still coming?” and I got a terse response back – “yes”.

At 1:15, she messaged me “No tomatoes today. Someone stole my box. Sigh.” Now, we had ordered a total of 33 pounds of tomatoes, so I knew I was going to have some grouchy sailors! So I responded, “Please feel free to substitute something else. Spinach? Cucumbers?” At 1:30 Petra said “Heading to you now. 12 to 15 minutes” We had to move to a new spot in the dirt, because the sun had moved so far across the sky, the shade had moved!

An hour later, at 2:30…. “I am on the wrong side….coming.” A few minutes later….”I went to the wrong place…coming.” I walked over the the security gate for the marina and asked the security guard to call her and give directions. FINALLY, at almost 3:00, after sitting by the side of the road for four hours, Petra arrived! Hooray! Her little 4-door sedan was absolutely stuffed with cardboard boxes FILLED with fresh picked fruits and vegetables!

We had her drive as close to the dock as she could get and my big burly guys took turns hauling heavy boxes to the dinghies. It barely fit! We unloaded it all onto the stern of Mimzy, a big spacious catamaran, and set up a human assembly line to call out the orders from my spreadsheet, weigh pound after pound of vegetables, and load everything into shopping bags. Finally, I sent out the long awaited message – “The veggies are here! Come and get them!” Dinghies zipped in from all corners of the anchorage and we had the pleasure of handing heavy bags of pumpkin, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, zucchini, onions, lettuce, and thyme to quarantined sailors who were getting close to risking scurvy. 😜

I left Sanitas at 10:30 in the morning, and got back to the boat around 6:00 pm. It’s sure not as easy as going to the local Whole Foods. Or ordering quarantine groceries to be delivered from Walmart or Instacart. But all of our veggies were grown right here on Antigua – picked that morning or the day before. And we’re supporting a local business that’s trying their best to survive the closure of restaurants and resorts by figuring out how to switch to an individual delivery model. And we’ll be eating like kings and queens for the next week of curfew. After that, who knows? Maybe things will go back to normal and we’ll be able to visit grocery stores again. Or …. maybe I’ll be planning another epic trip to meet with Petra. There are about another half dozen boats in the anchorage now. I’ll bet some of them want fresh vegetables!