Highlights of a month in Grenada

It has come to my attention that my last two blog posts about COVID travel and boat maintenance were a bit of a … well … downer. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not complaining. (Well, I am complaining just a little bit about the cost of a brand new water maker 😲) We also managed to fit in a lot of fun in the sun with friends from the tight knit sailing community.

I love me a tropical birthday celebration! And with this year being a biggie, I decided it was perfectly acceptable to celebrate all month long. A beach day at Le Phare Bleu with Karen and Steve on Soulshine, Sunday barbecue with live music at Aquarium with Music and Virtual Reality, and then the party-to-end-all-parties at Dave and Michelle’s gorgeous pool.

Toes in the sand
Love Aquarium on Sunday afternoons

Dave and Michelle are sailors, usually living on a Catalina 42 sailboat named Half Baked. But this fall, they’ve had a sweet gig house sitting for friends stuck in the UK. They got permission to throw a massive pool party to celebrate Michelle’s birthday, and we decided to join forces and wallets to throw the party together and to celebrate both of us. What a blast! By the time we hired a bartender and a band, and spent a few days shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating, we had pretty much guaranteed that a good time would be had by all. Including the birthday girls! We’re so grateful for good friends and for their generosity. ♥️♥️♥️

Each time we visit Grenada, we try to explore a different corner of this beautiful country with its gorgeous mountains, rain forests, and waterfalls. This time, Steve and Karen drove us the Grand Etang national park and to Seven Sisters waterfalls. Pro tip: Even if you’ve recently hiked across the entire state of Vermont, and you’re feeling kind of cocky, you should still accept the offer of a bamboo walking stick when offered one. That jungle mud is slick! There’s nothing like a swim in the pool under a beautiful waterfall! Especially when you can end the day by celebrating your exertions with jerk chicken on a beach.

And even though the holidays look a little different here in the islands, we still celebrate them! We had a fabulous time attending our first Christmas party of the festive season with Petit Calvigny Yacht Club. Yes, Capt. Mike is now a member, how posh! Christina did a fabulous job with the holiday decorations and we all got into the spirit!

So, see? No need to worry about me. We’ve managed to balance the nasty boat yard repairs with friends, fun, and sun. And after all that, we even managed to provision Sanitas and to get her ready to start sailing again. ‘Cause that’s why we’re here, after all. Next blog post, we’re heading north! But for now, I’ll leave you with yet another beautiful sunset. 🌅

Goodnight world

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

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!

Back to the Boat!

International travel is possible again, but you’ve really gotta want it

After our epic Long Trail backpacking adventure, Mike and I spent a few more weeks visiting family and attending the Annapolis Sailboat Show and then, suddenly, it was late October and time to return to Sanitas and the Caribbean. Who would’ve thought we’d still be dealing with border closures and COVID restrictions in fall of 2021? Definitely not me!

We found a pirate in Queens!

Our first challenge in returning to the islands was to figure out what to do with all of our stuff. Somehow, whatever we packed to bring home back in June bred and multiplied in the back of our Ford Escape and we suddenly owned way more junk than fit in our luggage. Visiting “The Land of Plenty” will do that to you. Also, a Costco membership card.😜 Some of it, we’d bring back with us – American toiletries and supplements are very expensive in the islands, as are gluten-free foods. Extra clothing we donated to charity. Luckily, almost all the clothing I bought as “land clothes” for our visit came from a thrift store so it was easy to part with – almost like renting warm clothing that we wouldn’t need when we returned south. Speaking of thrift stores, here’s a great nomad life hack for you…if you are returning home from your trip with a little more than you started with, consider buying an extra suitcase from Goodwill. We bought 2 huge pieces of luggage for $6.99 each and filled them as close as we could get to the 50-pound airline limit. Then we donated them on arrival in Grenada. Just don’t forget to pay for your bags in advance to avoid paying more at the airport! Even international flights don’t always include free luggage these days.

Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger luggage cart

The next challenge is to comply with all the entry requirements of your destination country. That’s complicated by the fact that restrictions change quickly, based on the number of active cases in a country, and on whether the US is considered “high risk” at the time. When we traveled from New York to Grenada at the end of October, the rules were:

  • Only fully-vaccinated visitors are allowed to enter. We brought hard copy and digital copies of our vaccination cards
  • Apply for a Travel Authorization form one week before your flight
  • Have a negative PCR test result, taken within 72 hours of travel
  • Pre-pay for a 2nd COVID PCR test to be administered at the airport upon arrival in Grenada
  • Book two nights in an approved quarantine hotel in Grenada where you’ll stay until your arrival test results are available
  • Print everything to show the airline prior to checking in, or use an app such as New York’s Excelsior Pass

Our flight from JFK left before 7:00am on a Monday morning, so our covid tests were complicated by the weekend. We tried to take advantage of free testing at a Rite-Aid on Friday morning. But when we didn’t receive results by Saturday afternoon I panicked and paid $160 per person to get a test that guaranteed results by Sunday at 5:00 pm. It was a good decision. Capt Mike didn’t get his free test results until we arrived to the airport – I would have been totally freaking out if the results of our paid tests hadn’t been available!

Nomad man
You gotta wear your hat, so you don’t crush it!

After that, everything went smoothly. A 3am alarm got us to JFK in plenty of time for Mike to drop off me and my massive pile of luggage while he parked. I have nothing but positive feedback for JetBlue. Just a week after the Southwest flight cancelation fiasco, and a week before the American Airlines meltdown, every JetBlue employee we interacted with was professional and helpful. Our flight was about half full and on time, and it felt wonderful to take our first breaths of warm, humid island air when we deplaned at Maurice Bishop international airport. We arrived on a local holiday, but the clear-in process was still smooth and efficient. After our third nose swab in four days, we collected our bags and hopped into a taxi for the short trip to Sunflower Apartments.

I’d planned ahead and ordered delivery of grocery basics (eggs, fruit, pasta, potato chips, and booze) for our 48-hour quarantine. It was brilliant! The delivery van from IGA arrived at the apartment at the same time as our taxi. After Lauren in security took our temperature and showed us around, we settled in for quarantine, aka well-deserved rest and recovery period. With air conditioning and lots of Netflix movies, we barely minded, and we were officially cleared around 4:00 pm on Tuesday. Just in time to go out to eat at Greek Kitchen before restaurants closed round 5:00 for COVID curfew.

Sanitas is one of those masts, way over there. (View from our quarantine apartment)

Do all these Covid protocols sound strange to my fellow Americans? Well, Caribbean island nations are still taking Covid quite seriously, especially since many have limited medical facilities. But they are also balancing safety with the need to improve the economy and to restore tourism. Both Grenada and St Vincent have recently removed the quarantine requirement for fully-vaccinated visitors. Grenada now only requires a rapid antigen test on arrival, rather than the costlier PCR test. And they’ve significantly lowered the cost of the tests for departure, which are required when you return home to the States. While Covid-related protests have turned violent in the French islands, Grenada feels safe and peaceful – especially as the beautiful weather means we live our lives almost entirely outdoors all winter long. I’m very glad we were able to return to Sanitas this fall, and I’m really looking forward to being able to sail more and explore more than we’ve been able to for the past two years!

Celebrating our freedom from quarantine

Grenada or bust! 🇬🇩 (aka more swabs up the nose)

Way back in March 2020, we said to ourselves, “Let’s just sit tight through this Covid-19 thing, and we’ll be able to cruise again next year.” Cue 2021, and we’re STILL sitting tight and waiting for the world to open up again and to let us travel freely again. I’ve seen a lot of friends recently posting warm weather travel pictures on Instagram – and you’re mostly visiting US states territories such as the USVI, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or the Florida Keys. So you get it! While travel is possible again these days, testing costs and quarantine requirements still make travel between countries tricky and expensive. Or maybe I’m just trying to convince myself that we made the right decision to spend five whole months in the Grenadines 😜

June 1st is the official start of hurricane season in the northern hemisphere so after our extended farewell party circuit of the Grenadines, we dug out our boat paperwork, To-Do lists, and links to government websites and started planning our trip back to Grenada. On May 1st, Grenada issued a new policy stating that fully vaccinated visitors could bypass most of quarantine. Hooray! Instead of the two-week quarantine we performed last year, vaccinated visitors just need to get a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Grenada, submit a bunch of health forms and documents, get tested again on arrival in Grenada, and quarantine on the boat until we get negative results from the arrival test – from 24-48 hours. This makes a lot of sense, and hopefully will allow the Caribbean islands to fully reopen to tourism in the fall. We used the two weeks after our second shot to say goodbye to all of our favorite places, as described in my last post, and then I went to work planning for a smooth transition between countries.

The swab up the nose doesn’t get any easier

Sunrise on Monday May 10 found the crew of Sanitas at the dinghy dock in Bequia, heading to the hospital for our “leaving SVG” Covid test. These tests must be processed manually in a lab on the main island. Test appointments are super early so that the nasal swabs can be put on a ferry and sent north to St Vincent. It sounds so logical but… island time! Capt. Mike and I sat on the ground in front of the tiny hospital from 6am until about 7:15 when we handed over 104ec per person (around $40) and finally were taken into an air conditioned shipping container and got the old swab up the nose. Our test didn’t make it on the first ferry, but they must have made it on the next one – we were thrilled to get our test results via email first thing Tuesday morning. By that time, we’d sailed back down to Union Island, the southernmost point available to clear out of SVG.

Negative test results in hand, I pestered the ports authority in Carriacou until they replied with an email granting us permission to sail to Tyrell Bay exactly five months to the day after we cleared in. How crazy is that? We cleared out on exactly the day our cruising permit expired and made the short nine-mile sail south. The travel gods continued to smile on us, as we passed our health assessment quickly, and before we even made it back to the boat, we got called back for our “arrival in Grenada” Covid test. Before noon on Wednesday, we settled in cheerfully on Sanitas, making the best of our 48-hour wait for results and freedom.

What do we do to occupy ourselves while confined to a teeny boat during quarantine? Well, I’m obviously catching up on blog posts 😀 We cooked up some comfort food treats, like homemade gluten free pizza, and a delicious steak dinner. We reviewed our To-Do list for prepping Sanitas for hurricane season, and started to check off a few items that could be performed in advance. We did more planning; booking our haul-out date and an apartment, and even booking flights back to the US. We binge watched a young adult fairy romance series on Netflix (don’t ask how the algorithm decided we’d enjoy that one) and rewatched both seasons of Derry Girls. We even (and this is a little pathetic in retrospect) packed go bags. So if we heard the Port Authority call us over the VHF radio, we could simply pull on our nicer “customs and immigration clothes”, grab backpacks stuffed with boat paperwork, wallets, and swim suits, and after clearing in we’d be all set to walk over to Paradise Beach to celebrate our freedom. But… Thursday crawled by. And Friday morning turned into Friday afternoon. And other boats in the quarantine anchorage started calling the ports authority asking when we could expect results. About 4:00 I got an e-mail addressed to “Dear Captains” stating that they hadn’t received our test results, so we’d have to stay in quarantine through the weekend. Say what? Our 48-hour quarantine just turned into five days. I didn’t bring enough Netflix or sweet and salty snacks for that much time!

Go bags at the ready!

Capt. Mike and I took turns being grouchy and then optimistic all weekend. We have a rule in our marriage that only one of us is allowed to be in a funk at a time. We polished stainless, wiped down closets with mildew killer, ate the rest of our cheese and crackers and chips and cookies, and somehow made it until Monday. Finally, at 10:30 we got the call on the radio to come in for our health clearance certificate. As I write this, it is 11:30 Monday morning, exactly 5 days or 120 hours after our supposedly 48-hour quarantine started. We brought our health certificate over to customs and immigration across town to FINALLY check in. The customs officer told us they are open from 1pm to 3pm. The officer must have seen my face, ’cause he said “ok, I know this is a stressful time. I can process you now” I gotta say, I’ve had my fill of Island Time for a while 🤣 We’re official now, and planning to sail to Grenada tomorrow. Phew!

The captain clearing us in… Finally!