Paradise in the Tobago Cays

Picture that perfect Caribbean beach – soft white sand, photogenic coconut palms, gin-blue water – you know, the sort of beach you THINK we visit every day. For the past week, you’d be right! We’ve spent that week anchored in the Tobago Cays marine park which is the quintessential tropical Paradise. In a “normal” year, during high season, there would probably be 100 boats here fighting over the mooring balls, but in Covid times there are no charter boats and only between four and maybe twenty cruisers each night.

Our park fees of 20ecd per day (around $7.50) allow us to anchor inside a coral reef and next to a sea turtle preserve. We can snorkle right off the boat with these gentle creatures who munch on sea grass all day long, pausing every 5 to 15 minutes to surface for a breath of air. They seem to know they are safe here, and don’t swim away from medlesome humans. Although they certainly don’t look enthused at the sight of us! I’m pretty sure green turtles invented Resting Bitch Face, lol!

On one unusually calm day, we dared to take our little dinghy, Bug, outside the protective reef and into the wide open Atlantic. A journey of about a mile and a half over open water brought us to the beach at Petit Tabac where scenes from the original Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed 🏴‍☠️ This teeny island is absolutely stunning. A narrow point of sand stretches east and a line of waves from the north meet another line from the south forming a mesmerizing triangle of constantly moving water. Our friends on SV LeefNu and SV Holiday joined us for a sunny beach afternoon and for hunting and gathering a delicacy of green coconuts. Add a splash of dark rum and you’ve got yourself a coco loco!

Petit Rameau is the only island in the park to boast any man-made structures. Now we’re not talking hotels or spas. Nope, we’re talking a few picnic tables, a couple of barbeque grills, and a latrine. We paid a “boat boy” 20ec to bring us charcoal from Union Island and had ourselves a fabulous beach barbeque, dominos tournament, and ukulele concert on the beach. I think we beat most island restaurants in terms of delicious food and homemade margaritas and you sure as heck couldn’t ask for a better view!

After being off-grid for about a week, we got a little tired of my boring cooking. Never fear – Romeo and his lovely wife Juliet were there with fresh spiny lobster and they cooked us up a feast! For 100ec per person (around $37) we each had a whole lobster grilled in garlic butter, rice pilaf, grilled potatoes, fresh island veggies, and sweet plantains for dessert. Add in a couple of Juliet’s rum punches, and enjoy the sunset with your toes in the sand, and you have an absolutely idyllic island experience.

This past week has been absolutely perfect and I’m truly grateful to be spending time in this beautiful park. Soon enough, we’ll return to boat chores but this brief stay in paradise has done my soul good!

Christmas in the Islands

It wasn’t a white Christmas (unless you count the sand) but I truly think we’ve had as nice a holiday as we could manage while being stuck far from home in the days of coronavirus.

Within the sailing community, everyone talks about “Christmas in Bequia” in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. So as soon as we’d cleared into the country at Union Island, Capt. Mike and I started planning to sail about 55nm north to arrive in Bequia before bad weather moved in and to ensure we’d make it before the holiday. It was a brisk sail, with higher than expected seas, but Sanitas did great. We arrived and anchored just in front of the floating Bar One where friends from SV Jono and SV Maracudja cheered and jeered our anchoring attempts. Sometimes you watch the show, and sometimes you are the show!

It was a lovely welcome to this particularly welcoming island! Bequia is all about boats – they build boats by hand here, and fishing is a big part of the culture. Bequia is one of the few places remaining in the world where residents have approval to hunt whales. But they can only do so using small open sailboats (without motors) and using hand thrown harpoons. 😲 You can find any sort of marine service you might require here, such as canvas work, engine maintenance, or sail repair. And ferry boats run daily to the main island of St Vincent in case you can’t find a repair part here. It immediately felt like a place we could stay quite happily for a while. And the best part was that many of our sailing friends from Grenada and elsewhere had also gathered, so we could look forward to celebrations with friends to make us feel a little bit better about that fact that we were so far away from family.

St Vincentians have a unique Christmas tradition known as the “Nine Mornings.” For the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve, some folks attend early morning church services and then gather in the main square in town to listen to music, dance, and participate in contests like “longest earrings”, “best female dancer”, and “fastest juice drinker.” I have to admit, we didn’t participate very much – even hearing loud music from shore at 4:30 am isn’t enough of an enticement to get me out of bed before sunrise. And then…once the sun does come up, everybody heads to work or school and the party’s over. But we did enjoy the lights and decorations at a much more reasonable hour of the evening, lol!

On Christmas Eve, we were invited over to Andres and Elisbeth’s sailboat to join in a Norwegian tradition of sharing rice porridge (risgrøt) and mulled wine (gløgg) with friends and family. This tradition is new to me, but I love it! The “more the merrier” vibe felt so kind, and it was a great chance to meet new cruiser friends – several of who had just crossed the Atlantic in time for the holiday. Wow! Impressive! Our hosts were festively attired – those Santa hats are hot in the tropics!

We had Christmas lunch with some good friends at Coco’s Place. And while I *could* have ordered Turkey and the fixings, when in Bequia, you must celebrate Christmas with fresh fruit, right? And a cool rum punch 🍹Tourism is way, way down because of Covid, and it felt good to support a small local restaurant owner with our holiday business. And we’ll definitely be back for Coco’s famous fish chowder. Luckily, we have good cell phone signal here, so both the captain and I were able to call home on Christmas to speak to our families and to dream of the more traditional snowy, cozy Christmas we wish we could be spending with our loved ones.

Thanks to Cheryl on Leef Nu and Lindy on Holiday for the photos of Christmas lunch! I guess I was having too much fun to take pictures.

Speaking of difficulties due to Covid, The Fig Tree restaurant is an institution in Bequia- long a gathering place for cruisers, as well as a resource for local school children who attend Miss Johnson’s reading program in the afternoons. But the owners were contemplating closing down because of the lack of visitors in 2020. So a group of Fig Tree supporters, including the owners and crew of Sailing Yacht Ananda, planned a fundraiser party for New Year’s Eve. I’m thrilled to report that every single table sold out, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening of cocktails, local Caribbean food, and dancing knowing that we were helping Miss Johnson and her team stay in business through this unusually quiet “high” season.

You may be wondering about exactly HOW we can safely have these types of celebrations during Covid. St Vincent and the Grenadines has used closed borders, mandatory Covid testing, and mandatory quarantine to do a good job of keeping the number of cases imported into the island nation low. There are limits of the size of gatherings, and requirements for hand sanitizer and contact tracing, but otherwise things feel pretty relaxed. Except….at about 7:00 on New Years Eve, the government decided that the big street parties and all night celebrations that usually usher in the new year would be too risky this year. So at the last minute they prohibited “amplified music” and sent policemen around to share that message. It definitely meant things were quieter than expected! But the Fig Tree party was granted an exception, because our entertainment was provided by a violinist playing pop hits with great enthusiasm. The authorities said he could play during dinner…..so dinner went on for a very, very, long time – right up to midnight! 🤣 He did have backup music, and a supporting DJ, but I guess they figured a violinist couldn’t get in too much trouble!

I hope you and your families had a safe and peaceful Christmas, and that you were also to do the best you could to make new traditions in this crazy year. ❤️

Old Year’s Night at Foxy’s

On the day after Christmas, we made the short hop from St John to Jost van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Along with our friends Zach and Lindy on Holiday, we planned to find the perfect spot to wait for New Year’s Eve. The annual party at Foxy’s bar and restaurant is legendary. This year’s theme was “Aladdin” with costumes encouraged, and we’d learned that Foxy had already sold over 100 VIP tickets at $600 each. Yikes! Way above our cruisers’ budget, but we could hang out with the little people for free (or at least for the cost of a couple of rum punches).

We picked up a mooring ball for $30 per night – sort of like paying for a spot in a campground on land – and settled into the neighborhood. Great Harbor is the biggest “town” on Jost van Dyke, but that’s not saying much! One sand-covered road follows the curve of the bay, there’s the ferry dock and customs, and a few restaurants and bars. It’s the only place on the island where you can clear into the BVIs, so there’s plenty of boat traffic and comings and goings.

Just around the corner is the famous White Bay – home of the Soggy Dollar Bar and inventor of the painkiller cocktail. It’s named the Soggy Dollar because power boats anchor just off the beautiful sandy beach and their passengers hop in and wade ashore – ending up with wet wallets in the process. It’s a beautiful beach for a float!

One beach bar over from Soggy Dollar is Gertrude’s where, as the sign says “You are allowed to pour your own drink.” For $10 you get a cup, a pitcher of painkiller mix, a bottle of rum, and a nutmeg grater – get to work! Our buddy Zach might have had a bit of a heavy hand with the rum bottle. Gertrude gave him a stern look and said in her best mom voice, “I tink that’s enough now.”

As New Year’s Eve approached, the harbor got steadily more crowded. In addition to the usual cruiser and charter boats, a small cruise ship, a handful of mega yachts, and a triple masted schooner showed up and anchored just outside the bay. The theory that there’s always room for one more made for some interesting situations. We watched a moorings charter boat that had run aground on the shoal at the edge of the harbor get towed off the rocks. And a 54 foot monohull tried to anchor in the middle of the mooring field but their anchor kept dragging. Mike and Zach had to leap into action to rescue it when, unattended, it dragged quickly during a wind shift and almost ran into a huge catamaran. As Mike started the motor and put the boat in forward and Zach worked the anchor, the captain of the catamaran kept yelling at them, “I told you not to anchor there!” Capt. Mike finally had to set him straight, “It’s not my boat man! I’m just keeping it from hitting you!”

Finally, the night of the party arrived! There’s a term “Cruiser’s Midnight” which roughly equates to 10:00 pm. Maybe earlier on some boats! We’re kind of a rise with the sun sort of crowd. So I wasn’t quite sure how we’d deal with a social event that required us to actually stay awake until real midnight.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the party’s not only at Foxy’s. Instead, the whole town is one big street fair, with pop-up bars, barbecue restaurants, and little shops lining the one main street. In the crowd overflowing from Corsair’s we met the skipper of the boat Mike and Zach rescued earlier. He was very nice and thanked them profusely, even buying us a round of VooDoo cocktails.

Eventually we did make it over to Foxy’s where the band was fantastic and the crowd was sparkly and in a great mood. It was a super fun night and a great way to ring in 2020. I even made it past midnight!

What do we do when we’re not on the boat?

For the past two years now, we’ve been “seasonal cruisers.” That means we live on Sanitas full time from approximately November to June, and then we store her in a safe place on land during hurricane season. So far, we really like this approach. It keeps things fresh – we’ve always got something different to look forward to, and it gives Capt. Mike a break from worrying about boat safety, weather, and navigation for a few months. It’s like a vacation from our vacation! But where do we live and what do we do when we’re not on the boat?

To make this cruising lifestyle work, we had to sell our home, our cars, and most of our things (Does it bring me joy? ….. Does it fit on a boat? ….) so we don’t have a home to return to during hurricane season. The good news is – we can go anywhere! The bad news is – we can go anywhere! … which involves a lot of research, planning, and an adventurous attitude. This year, we tucked Sanitas safely into storage in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and flew back to Colorado where we are blessed with generous friends and family who open their homes and their guest bedrooms to us when we visit.

I was lucky to be able to attend a retreat of Skirt Sports brand ambassadors from around the country during our first weekend in Boulder. It was really wonderful to meet such positive and supportive women in person after being “friends” on social media for years. We heard TESS talks from inspiring women, hiked, ran, ate, drank, and had a lot of fun together. The weekend culminated in a half marathon that I was not sufficiently trained for, but was still a lot of fun.

Capt.Mike and I moved to Colorado in 2003, so we have LOTS of friends and family here. By the time we moved onto our boat in 2017 we had mountain biking friends, road biking friends, running friends, work friends, Skirt Sports friends, book club friends, snowboarding friends, and UK friends. We tried to fit in a visit with every one of them in the past month. This involved a lot of driving, and a lot of eating and drinking!

Did I mention eating and drinking? After six months of cooking one-pot meals in my tiny galley, and eating beans and rice, the variety of food available (even gluten free beer!) in Boulder, CO was dizzying. Plus, I couldn’t resist going on taco and margarita tour.

We were extremely happy that it stopped snowing in Boulder days before we arrived – on May 29th!?! You might notice Mike and I are wearing jackets and hats in a lot of these photos, while Coloradans are wearing shorts and t-shirts. Apparently your blood really does thin while living in the tropics for six months. 🤣 Once summer arrived in Colorado, we took every opportunity possible to hike in this beautiful state. We were so lucky to have amazing trails right in the Boulder City limits, or within a 15-minute drive! I even hiked a few new-to-me trails that I somehow missed while we lived here. I love the Colorado blue skies, snow capped mountains, and variety of vegetation; everything from pine trees to cactus.

In between hikes, we fit in a few particularly fun events. Did I mention we consider this time in Colorado a vacation from the stresses and discomforts of boat life? When in Colorado, we always need to see a concert at the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater concert venue.

And we borrowed cruiser bikes from Brittany and Erik so that we could participate in bike-to-work day.

All of our socializing involved our good friends – playing cards, doing pedicures, cycling around Boulder.

We have a leave-no-trace policy for our guest room stays. Or, as Capt. Mike says, “take only memories, leave only carpet vacuum stripes.” Since we aren’t working, and we have plenty of extra time, sometimes we can help out around the house. Mike has hauled rocks, repaired bikes, and even put together IKEA furniture.

All in all, our visit to Colorado went much too quickly. Tomorrow we head to the airport for the next stage of our land adventures. Tomorrow we fly to France and then to Spain where we plan to hike the Camino de Santiago – approximately 500 miles across Spain!

¡Que Viva Puerto Rico!

SV Sanitas has arrived at our final country for this cruising season! We’ve been exploring for the past two weeks as we slowly cruise east along the island toward our goal of Fajardo for hurricane season. Our first stop was La Parguera, or as I like to call it – the Jersey Shore of Puerto Rico. We arrived on a Friday afternoon, just as things were getting hopping, and we dinghied in with SV Sava to check out the town. The waterfront is lined with colorful wooden house boats that make me want to move to La Parguera. Jose, from the Puerto Real marina, had given us a tip that we could tie up to “Frank’s” dinghy dock (just ignore the Privado signs) so we quietly did so.

La Parguera was a bit of culture shock after a month in the Dominican Republic. CocaCola and Medalla beer signs everywhere, a pervasive smell of fried food, and everyone dressed for fun – in tight clothing and lots of bling. We made a lap of the entire town in about ten minutes, and then gave up our search for culture or history, and just joined the party.

First stop- El Karacol, a world-famous cocktail bar, known for their fresh fruit mojitos. Forget boring old lime mojitos! Our group was evenly split between coconut lovers and passion fruit lovers.

We sat at picnic tables outside a restaurant filled with local families. However, the smell of old fryer grease was a bit overwhelming. I excused myself for a moment, just to check out the menu at Moons Tapas Bar a couple of block up the hill. Oh yeah! Now this is where we need to eat! Apparently, the rest of our group agreed, because soon we left the grease haze below us, settled in on a breezy patio, and tasted six different flavors of homemade sangria before deciding on a pitcher of Arancino flavor. The food here was the best I’ve had since Florida – grouper ceviche, chimichurri skirt steak, lobster tacos wrapped in taro root tortillas…. nom,nom,nom!

Capt. Mike was obsessed with this old fashioned, hand-carved horse racing game called Pica. Because it was all in Spanish, we didn’t really understand how the betting worked, or even how to tell which horse had won – the track was a circle, and there was no obvious finish line. But everyone who threw down a dollar was so enthusiastic, and everyone was cheering, jumping, and shouting, so the game was impossible to resist. After watching a long time, Capt. Mike thought he had it figured out, and threw $1 down on his lucky number 3. The carny slapped a double 3’s domino down to keep it from blowing away – more lucky threes! We crossed our fingers, and held our breath, and cheered and encouraged….. and horse #3 won! Mike’s $1 bet nabbed him $20 and the most excited face I’ve seen in a very long time! We went right back to El Karacol for another one of those delicious mojitos!

After our big night on the town, we kept it quiet on Saturday. Explored the mangrove rivers by dinghy, hoping to spot an elusive monkey, but no luck. We snorkeled a bit too, but there were only a few small fish hiding in the mangrove roots. By early afternoon, we raised anchor to move the big boats east to an anchorage closer to the Bioluminescent Bay. However, when we rounded the corner and caught sight of Cayo Caracoles, Capt. Mike shouted, “We are missing out on one heck of a party!” I poked my head up into the cockpit and saw that he was absolutely right. At least 50 powerboats were moored and anchored in the shallow waters just off the Cayo, some with flags flying, loud salsa music blaring, all with a drift of floating partiers hanging out in the pool formed by the circle of boats. Well what’s the point of being a cruiser on no particular schedule if you can’t change your plans? So we threw an anchor down right there, piled in our dinghies along with Sava, and floated over to join in the fun. We enjoyed meeting local Puerto Rican boaters, including two who keep their boats in the Puerto del Rey marina where we’ll be storing Sanitas. We also had the chance to talk a bit with folks who had lived through hurricane Maria in 2017 to learn firsthand what life in Puerto Rico had been like without water or electricity for months after the storm, and how many villages are still struggling today.

On Sunday, as the weekend was winding down in this party town, Sava continued sailing eastward but Capt. Mike and I stayed put. We had one item left on our La Parguera bucket list – visiting the bioluminescent bay. There are several bays around the world where the conditions are just right to grow a high concentration of microscopic dinoflagellates and therefore, for the salt water to glow at night when agitated. Puerto Rico is lucky enough to have three of these magical bays. We were excited to visit the one near La Parguera, because you are allowed to swim there. So we moved the big boat again, for the third time in three days, close to the mouth of the bay. That turned into more of an adventure than expected. We’d followed a tip on Active Captain (sort of the Yelp reviews of the sailing world) recommending a safe anchorage that did not appear on any of our charts. We discovered the risk of believing “some guy” over believing the charts, because when we approached the coordinates he’d provided, we suddenly found ourselves in super shallow water. So Capt. Mike slammed it into reverse, and we circled looking for a deeper anchorage. I dropped the anchor in a small sandy patch, but the anchor rode immediately fouled on a craig of Rock that surrounded it. Poor Mike had to dive to free the chain and it was almost sunset before we found a safer anchorage nearby.

It was worth it though! On a Sunday evening, there were only about three other small boats in the bay after sunset and before moonrise. We anchored the dinghy and took turns jumping in. Mike made “snow angels” in the water, trails of phosphorescence following his arms and legs. I pretended I was Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, shooting streams of sparkles out of both hands like a wizard. And then spinning around in circles, gazing through my snorkel mask, feeling as though I was inside a snow globe. Sorry that there are no photos of this magical phenomenon, but the bioluminescence doesn’t show up in pictures or video. If you see it in advertisements, it’s been photoshopped! (Now you know) So if you want to experience this amazing natural wonder, you’ll have to add a visit to Puerto Rico to your bucket list, and come see it yourself!