A series of unfortunate events – boat work edition

Every time we return to Sanitas after hurricane season I say, THIS time will be different. THIS time, we prepared so well, and maintained Sanitas so well, that we’ll be back on the high seas and cruising in tropical paradise in no time. And each year, I’m wrong.

This year, we booked an apartment for two weeks, while working in the boatyard. It’s so, so nice to have a shower and air conditioning at the end of a hot and dirty day. I’ll save you the details, but we worked our butts off and got tons of work done, including painting the bottom with that super, super expensive red anti-foul paint. I even took a couple of days off to celebrate my birthday. We had a smooth splash, and headed over to Woburn Bay ready to jump right back into cruising life. We needed to wait for a sea freight shipment of boat parts we’d ordered to arrive from the States, but as soon as it arrived and cleared customs, we’d be good to go. And then, it all went pear shaped.

On a mooring ball, or at anchor, we rely on our dinghy to get from the boat to shore for shopping, socializing, and basically everything. So, of course, the first time we tried to dinghy ashore in Bug, the outboard motor didn’t start. Welcome to boat life! One day into our season of freedom, and we might as well hav been in quarantine. Ever resourceful, Capt. Mike hacked into a nearby marina’s wifi, watched a few YouTube videos on tuning the carburetor, poured in half a bottle of Sea Foam, and in less that two days he had Bug up and running again. And we’re off to a good start.

Next, we took advantage of the clean water far back in Woburn Bay (NOT near the stinky runoff from the Clark’s Court Distillery!) to run our desalinating water maker. First test came in at 400 ppm of total dissolved solids…then 600…then 800…then 1200. We can’t drink that! Dagnabit! We had been gambling that the three rebuilds we performed on the watermaker last year would do the trick to keep us going at least one more year but alas, it was not to be. So back to that free wifi to shop for a replacement. We found the best price, placed an order to have it shipped from the US, and then got an email stating it was back ordered and wouldn’t ship for 6-8 weeks. To add insult to injury, Mike’s Visa card was compromised in the transaction, and Visa canceled the brand new card. Back to square one. Eventually, we found our watermaker model in stock (NOT at the lowest price), placed another order, and began the wait for a shipment from the US all over again.

I’ve lamented the cost and complexity of marine insurance in the past. Well, we’ve had the same Jackline policy through Markel Insurance for four years now, and this year they required a professional survey on Sanitas before renewal. This is similar to hiring a home inspector before you buy a house – an independent third party inspects the entire boat for any potential safety or maintenance issues and documents all of the findings. On our dime, of course. Sanitas came through the survey with flying colors, and we only had to make minor corrections, such as replacing outdated flares to address the findings. We thought we were in good shape there until, one day after we splashed and we’re back on the water, our insurance agent sent us an email stating they now require an aloft rigging inspection as well. What the deuce? We just went through the whole survey rigmarole using the old guidance, which did not require a rigging inspection. The good news, we were able to find a company that would inspect in the water, so we didn’t have to pay for another haul out. The bad news, they found a small flaw in the wire cable of our backstay, and we had to replace it. By now our dreams of a quick departure from Grenada without spending a fortune were shattered.

I told Capt Mike, “Don’t look for any more problems! I don’t want to find anything!” And he responded, “Remember what BOAT stands for – Bring On Another Thousand” I don’t find that joke so funny any more

The end of another great cruising season

It’s June and you know what that means – the official start of hurricane season in the Atlantic. Sanitas is in her summer home at Spice Island Marine Services in Grenada, and her crew is hard at work in the yard.

We’re engineers, so we love spreadsheets! We’ve got our hurricane prep spreadsheet all ready to go, color coded, prioritized, and sorted. We gave ourselves two weeks to get everything done, plus to fit in time for a little bit of fun. Most of our projects are intended to keep Sanitas safe in the event that a tropical storm or hurricane hits grenada while we are gone. For example, we take down all the sails and the bimini and dodger so there’s as little to catch the wind was possible. We also do a bunch of spring cleaning, although boat yards are so dirty, it’s pretty much a lost cause.

And… We always do a couple of big projects too! This spring we replaced our ancient stove and oven with a shiny brand new one. How exciting is that? All three burners work. And there’s even an electric lighter. And a thermostat on the oven. Wozza! And unlike most boat projects, this one actually went smoothly. The Budget Marine had a perfectly sized stove in stock, and let us borrow a cart to wheel it across the boat yard. Mike and I managed to raise it up to the boat using the main halyard and a winch, without having to ask for help. And it was easy to install – even though the propane attachment is in a decent location that our old stove. We even found someone to buy the old one so we didn’t have to figure out what to do with it. Cooking will be an absolute delight next year!

Our anchor light died about a week ago, so I hauled Capt. Mike up the mast to investigate. I know that it’s not actually more dangerous to have him up in the air in the boatyard than up in the air in an anchorage, but it sure feels scarier to have him up so high above solid ground. It’s a good thing we don’t have a bigger boat. It’s hard enough to get his big butt to the top of our short mast 🤣 Mike found some corroded wires and had to order a new part. I guess we’ll be doing this up the mast thing again in the fall!

The chaos inside the boat is really getting to me. I’m so glad we decided to get an apartment rather than trying to live on the boat in the yard while doing all this work. It’s wonderful to have a peaceful place to return to every night. With hot showers! And air conditioning!

Remember I said we left time for a little fun? We ate some delicious meals, spent a Sunday Funday on Grand Anse Beach, and even attended a wedding! Our friends Jill and Jørn had a lovely intimate ceremony on the beach in front of The Aquarium restaurant, and we were honored to help them celebrate.

It’s always sad when the season ends. But this time, we’re looking forward to visiting family and friends in the US for the first time since 2019. You’d better believe there will be lots of hugging. Thanks again to St Vincent and The Grenadines for letting us get vaccinated. We’re gonna miss our sailing friends (and of course, we’ll miss Sanitas!) But we’re really looking forward to a summer of land-based adventures. After the culture shock wears off🤣

I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blows

The La Soufriere volcano on the north side of St Vincent has been active since we arrived in December. Back then, it was considered in an “effusive” state – some steam, a little smoke, growth of a new dome. That all changed Friday morning, April 9th, when a series of small earthquakes announced the start of explosive eruptions! 😯 I’m writing this on Sunday morning and scientists from the University of the West Indies don’t know whether the eruptions will end soon, or will continue for days or weeks.

Did I mention we just visited St Vincent on Tuesday? We took a day tour and visited attractions on the east side of the island; all the way to the northernmost village named Owia. On Tuesday, it was a scenic tropical paradise. Now, it’s residents have been evacuated and buildings and vegetation are covered in several inches of ash. Please take a moment to pray for the citizens of St Vincent. Over 20,000 people have been evacuated, and the damage to homes, property, and farm crops is going to be immense.

So how has an erupting volcano effected the crew of Sanitas? Well first of all, we are definitely safe. We were anchored off the island of Mustique on Thursday night into Friday morning when the first explosive eruptions occurred. It’s around 27 miles as the frigate flies from the volcano. I think we felt the effect of the earthquakes that occurred early Friday morning. Mustique is a notoriously rolly anchorage. But right about 4:00am, Sanitas started rolling so violently that items were thrown off the shelves. It took about 90 minutes for things to settle back down. The earthquakes occurred around 3:30, and since our harbor faces north, with very little protection, we think we experienced swell caused by the quakes.

Sanitas was anchored off Mustique when La Soufriere erupted on Friday

We woke up to a thin layer of ash covering the boat… and the table… and the floors… and the clean dishes. From that point on, we kept the boat tightly closed up. Which makes things hot and miserable inside, but it’s worth it to keep the indoor ash to a minimum. Volcanic ash is extremely fine and black – I’m thinking it’s much like the dust used by detectives to find fingerprints. It gets everywhere and is super hard to wash off. When it rains, it rains mud. Capt. Mike attempted the first of many wash-downs of Sanitas with bucket after bucket of sea water.

The cockpit is protected by a canvas cover… And it still got this dirty.
Ash really sticks to our new canvas, and to all the running rigging

The sky has been a heavy grey haze. Visibility is very poor, and we can’t even see the next island south in the chain. Air quality is bad, and we are constantly sniffling and dealing with headaches. When we went for a walk on the island, I could tap my teeth together and feel the grit in my mouth.

On Friday afternoon, we walked up to the hilltop village of Mustique. Little did we know, La Soufriere had just experienced it’s second eruption. We joined the group of villagers standing in the middle of the road, looking north and pointing at the huge grey volcanic plume.

It’s difficult to know where to go to wait out the eruptions and to find the best air quality and least amount of ash. Our sailing friends are mostly heading as far south as possible. In a normal (aka non-Covid) year, we’d probably turn around and sail straight to Grenada. They’re getting a bit of ash fall there, but not as much as we are in the Grenadines. If this continues for a while, we might start the process to head south about two months earlier than planned (requesting permission from the Coast Guard, PCR tests, quarantine, etc.) But for now, we’re just returning to the marina in Canouan, where we can access fresh water to clean the boat, and hot showers to clean ourselves.

I’ll share a few photos from the local newspaper, showing how bad the ash fall has been on St Vincent. It looks like snow on the ground, and some northern villages have seen several inches of ash accumulation. Roofs are starting to cave in from the weight and the entire island is water rationing because ash can get into the water supply. If you can spare it, please consider donating to relief efforts for this beautiful country and her strong people.

Invest Caribbean GoFund Me

This is a photo I took at Owia in the northern part of St Vincent on Tuesday
These pictures are from the same area after the eruptions, with vegetation and homes covered in ash

Lobster – It’s what’s for dinner

How did the biggest lobster I’ve ever seen end up in my cockpit?

  • Fisherman- You want lobster?
  • Me- How much per pound?
  • Fisherman- 20ec
  • Me- Nope
  • Fisherman- How much you pay?
  • Me- 12ec
  • Fisherman- 15?
  • Me- Ok
  • Fisherman- Holds up a gigantic 5-pound lobster
  • Me- Gulps. What have I gotten myself into?

That’s how, for 70ec (about $26) I ended up with a very large and very grumpy creature in my cockpit, and an unplanned afternoon of lobster butchering ahead of me.

I wasn’t planning on lobster for dinner
Size comparison to Mike’s snorkel gear

I’m usually in charge of lobster killing. When we have small lobsters it’s easy to simply put on a pair of gloves, hold the lobster over the side of the boat, and pull off the tail. The rest of the critter just goes back in the water. Then I use one antenna to pull out the poop chute. But this guy was so big (and wiggly) I didn’t think I could twist the tail off without killing it first. So I pulled Capt. Mike into the effort. He used our largest kitchen knife to make a quick stab behind the eyes to kill it as humanely as possible. Then we used a thin, long knife to cut around the tail in order to remove as much of the head meat with the tail as we could.

Putting him out of his misery

Looking back on it, I should have stopped right there. But… Such a big lobster also has some significant meat in the body and in the legs. And I was DETERMINED to retrieve as much of that meat as possible. So, while Capt. Mike took a nap, I proceeded to turn Sanitas’ cockpit into a disgusting crime scene. With a combination of knives and kitchen shears, a mixing bowl for the good bits and a plastic tub for the gross bits, I eventually ended up with a big pile of legs and “knuckles” to accompany the tail meat. I wish I had taken a photo of the aftermath. Did you know that lobster blood is originally clear, but it turns black when exposed to air? Or that it dries into a sort of jelly that sticks to everything it touches? Me neither! A couple of buckets of saltwater and a bit of deck brushing later, my butchering effort was finally complete.

After a nap and a swim I resumed the effort with cooking lobster for dinner. We don’t have a grill on Sanitas, or a super large pot. So my go-to lobster cooking method is to treat the tail with butter, garlic, and Old Bay and to roast it in a very hot oven. We try to conserve propane by always baking more than one thing at a time in the oven. So Capt. Mike sliced up some strange looking local sweet potatoes and threw them in to roast at the same time. I’m strict about us always eating our veggies, so I sauteed a bag of chopped callalou with more garlic and some curry spices. Layering the potatoes, callalou, and lobster with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce over the top, I think my little galley turned out a restaurant-quality meal!

Tail filling up my 9×13 cookie sheet
Tail meat filling up a Corelle dinner plate
The finished product!

Lesson learned… Next time I find myself with a monster like this, I’m gonna take it to shore to clean it on the beach, probably involving a machete. Preferably, the beach will have a fire pit for grilling so neither my cockpit nor my galley will end up the the huge mess they were yesterday 😁

No more holes in the roof!

Remember when I said we may have bitten off more than we could chew with the boat yard projects this year? (Catch up here) Well, the decision to remove both of our hatches, take ‘em apart, and refinish them, wasn’t even on our project list so that might have been a big, big bite.

Early days, still smiling

Five or six weeks ago, when we scheduled the boat yard crew to sand-blast Sanitas’ keel, Capt Mike had the brilliant idea to have them sand-blast our aluminum hatches at the same time. So we disassembled both hatches, leaving two large gaping holes in the “roof” of our cabin and salon, and threw a tarp over the holes. It really was a good idea to address the blistering paint and fix any small leaks. Except…

  • The yard didn’t get around to the sanding for two weeks (Island time!)
  • And we learned they couldn’t sandblast until after we manually removed old adhesive and glossy paint
  • Rainy season started immediately
  • And the project was much, much harder than we expected! 😳
So much for machine sanding
How do you paint all sides of a 3-dimensional object?
This is what Sanitas like like in the middle of a big project

Six weeks later, we’ve survived sanding, torrential island rains, and oh so many coats of paint. After a bit of swearing, we even figured out how to put it all back together again! What a relief. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that simply writing this brief summary is bringing on a few PTSD flashbacks. I am so relieved to have Sanitas waterproof again, and I hope I never have to do this particular project again!

Why doesn’t it fit back together again?
Finished! Even the captain is smiling!