Tropical Shipping Blues

When we first started talking about buying a new boat, I concocted a little fantasy in my head…. We’d buy a new boat in Grenada and we’d sell Sanitas in Grenada, so we’d put our two boats right next to each other on a dock. We’d simply carry armloads of belongings from one boat to the other, de-cluttering and donating as we went. But when we found our perfect boat in Florida, that little fantasy went “poof”!

So I toyed with the idea of Japanese minimalism. You know, “it’s all just stuff” and “everything is replaceable”  and we would just bring what we could fit into checked luggage. Until Capt Mike loaded just a fraction of his tools into a suitcase and immediately exceeded the 50 pound limit. Sure, everything IS replaceable, but how much did I want to spend to buy everything all over again? It takes A LOT of tools to keep a sailboat running and happy.

So we decided to use Tropical Shipping to ship a “Less Than Container” or LCL load from Grenada to Florida. That’s more difficult than it sounds – everybody wants to ship goods from the USA to Grenada, but who wants to ship things BACK to the land of plenty? Apparently we were lucky. We learned that sometimes people wait weeks or even months for enough containers to fill a ship heading west.  We called Tropical on a Thursday afternoon and learned there was a ship leaving the next week. Great news! Little did we know how much red tape and bureaucracy we were going to fit into that week….

Step 1: Find a container

Apparently, when you are shipping “less than container” loads, you need to bring your own container. Who knew? And for some reason, the shipping companies don’t sell containers. Neither do the hardware stores, boat supply stores, home goods stores… And although you’ll see shipping barrels by the side of the road all over the islands, often doubling as garbage cans, they never have lids, so they are useless to us. Finally, I turned to the internet and found two big blue plastic shipping barrels (WITH lids) on Facebook marketplace for about $20 each and sent Mike out into Friday night traffic to collect them.

Step 2: Paperwork. A lot of paperwork

I naively believe Tropical Shipping would handle all the paperwork as part of the fee we were paying them. Nope! The customer service agent rattled off a list of forms and a deadline – our shipment would need to be delivered to the port in Grenada by 3:00 Tuesday to make the Thursday departure. Oh, and we’d need to hire a local broker to process our customs forms on the Grenada side. AND we’d need to hire a US broker to process things on that side. The deadline was already feeling tight! After getting a few price quotes, we chose Lund & Pullera and they were excellent! Stacy really helped me through the US Customs process. We hired Alana from Phenomenal Brokerage in Grenada who was also very responsive. But all together I probably spent 10 hours on the laptop tracking down forms and trying to figure out how to complete them. In addition to my part-time job as a boat broker, I’m now working as a customs broker, lol. I need to print new business cards.

Step 3: Pack the barrels

A big blue shipping barrel can swallow up a LOT of stuff. So after Mike packed his tools, we still had a lot of space to pack my favorite pots and pans, snorkel gear, clothes, and even some packaged gluten free food. I admit, we hit the point that everybody gets to eventually when moving house – that point when you just start shoving in whatever you can reach, and you’ll worry about whether you really need it or not on the other side. Then we realized our next problem. A full shipping barrel weighs over 400 pounds. So how were we going to get it out of the boat and to the port?

Step 4: Unpack the barrel you just packed

So we took everything out of the barrel, loaded it all into tote bags and shopping bags, made multiple dinghy trips from the boat to shore, and loaded all that stuff into a rental car.

Step 5: Repeat pack and unpack steps for Barrel #2

By this point, I’m pretty sure we’ve touched everything on the boat, and moved it around, at least five times.

Step 6: Keep calling Tropical until they finally break down and let us deliver the barrels

We worked hard all weekend, and by Monday morning we were ready to deliver our barrels to the port in St George’s. And then we got stuck. We couldn’t do anything until Tropical approved our paperwork, assigned us a container scheduled for that ship, and arranged for someone to meet us at the port. We waited… And waited.. and started calling them about every three hours. Nothing happened on Monday. Or on Tuesday morning. Remember we’d been given a 3pm Tuesday deadline? Finally we called Alana at Phenomenal and she called Tropical and finally we could proceed

We hopped in the rental car and drove into downtown St George’s to the Tropical office to get a car pass for the port. The customer service agent asked Mike for a hardcopy form that Alana processed for us. Uh oh. We couldn’t find it. Must have left it back on the boat. So we hopped back in the car and drove like a bat out of hell back to the dinghy dock, plus a long dinghy ride back to the boat, found the form, and did it all again in reverse. Phew! Got our car pass and headed to the port. It’s now 2:30pm.

Step 7: Deliver the barrels to the port

We donned our close-toed shoes and hi-vis shirts and rushed to the port. A very pleasant young man named Kelwin met us there and showed us to an empty container. Capt Mike set to work. Remember how we couldn’t carry a full barrel? That means we showed up at the port with two empty barrels tied to the roof of the car, with the car itself overflowing with all the stuff we hoped to fit inside them. Kelwin helped me carry bag after bag into the extremely hot shipping container while Mike worked his packing magic. Somehow, miraculously, it all fit. We were asked if Alana had “processed the customs form.” I assumed so, but when we called to find out, she said she’d come down to the port now to do it if, and we weren’t allowed to actually make our official delivery until the US Customs agent filed an ISF form but… the computer was down. We made a bunch of calls and I bit my nails, and eventually it all got done. We closed the lids on the barrels, sealed with a lot of duct tape, tipped Kelwin for his help, and left the port around 4:15. I guess we were on-time when you take into account the concept of “Island Time” We went home and as Mike was unpacking his bag, out fell the paperwork that we drove all the way back to the boat to collect. No one had asked for it again. And even as I am writing this week’s later from the US, no one has ever asked for it. Sheesh.

A marathon day of boat maintenance

If you’ve been following me on social media (and if you haven’t, why not? 😆) you’ll know that Sanitas has been experiencing a real run of bad luck lately. Pretty much every day we’ve found something new that’s broken, worn out, or just downright failed. There’s a saying, “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” And that’s certainly how it’s felt since we returned to Grenada this fall. After more than a month of playing Whack-a-Mole and trying to fix each problem as it cropped up, things finally came to a head this week.

Capt. Mike inside the engine compartment
The list of surprise boat projects we’ve had to address since we splashed on Nov 1st

Our most serious issue so far has been a  leak in our transmission. This isn’t one of those leaks that you just monitor and hope it doesn’t get worse. This is one that prevents us from using the engine (for propulsion) for more than 15 minutes at a time and then requires pouring in another half quart of transmission fluid. If we blew the transmission completely, that would also blow our budget for the year, and maybe cut our sailing season short. Capt Mike has done tons of research and ordered parts to replace the rear shaft seal from the USA (that’s another whole blog post) and did everything in his power to fix the darn thing himself while we were afloat in Prickly Bay. To no avail! There just isn’t enough room to take the transmission apart to fix it without either lifting Sanitas’ diesel engine, or removing the prop to gain that half an inch of space we desperately need.

And so here we are. Back in the boatyard of Spice Island Marine almost exactly one month after we splashed. We made it harder on ourselves this time. Since our transmission was in pieces, we enlisted two of our cruiser friends, Dave on BooRie and Zach on Holiday, to serve as tow trucks and tug boats to bring us into the yard without a motor. They did amazing! Especially considering that when we showed up at our scheduled time, expecting a straight shot into the haul-out slip, the crew waved us off and forced us to side tie to a concrete wall first to wait for another boat to splash. Jeez Louise! Sanitas is not very maneuverable at the best of times, but under tow? Capt. Mike says he hasn’t experienced his heart pounding that fast during docking since our first season as sailors!

Our dinghy tow
Here we go again
At least the bottom pain still looks good

Once the crew hauled us out of the water and put us up on stands, Capt. Mike went to work. He removed our fancy MaxProp after making a few marks on the outside with my brightest nail polish in hopes he’d be able to put it back together again the same way. Returning to the engine compartment, he slid the shaft as far as it would go, until we could hear the shaft hitting the rudder. Success! With the prop removed, he had enough space to disassemble the transmission. Phew! I was afraid we’d have to drop the rudder too!

Strange to see the prop on the work bench
There’s a lot going on in a prop!

Using a tool he made from scratch (saving us a few hundred dollars) he removed the nut from the rear of the transmission, pulled off the rear seal, and surveyed the damage. Sure enough! It was easy to see where the seal had failed.

This keyed lock nut was a bear to remove
Et voila! Mike’s homemade tool
Success! Here’s the rear transmission seal
Can you see the busted seal?

After replacing the seal and the o-rings, and refilling the transmission fluid (and cleaning up the huge mess) Capt. Mike considered the transmission repair a success. Hooray! Next trick, putting the prop back together… While we had it all apart, Mike took the opportunity to reduce the pitch of the prop blades from 20 degrees down to 18 degrees. We’re really geeking out here, but apparently when the prop is over-pitched it creates too much resistance when cutting through the water and prevents the engine from achieving maximum rpms. For the geekiest of MaxProp geeks, 18° means X=E, Y=H. You’re welcome 😆

Now let’s see if he can put it back on
Concentrate!

The final job for our stay in the boat yard required a trip up the mast to replace the spreader light. I find it kind of scary to hoist Mike up the mast in the yard – if he falls, he falls onto solid ground instead of water. But the Captain tells me I’m thinking of it all wrong. He says it’s much easier, and less scary, to work on the mast when the boat’s not moving. Makes sense I guess.

Don’t look down!

It stinks that we had to spend so much time making repairs and waiting for critical parts this year. And it was quite the unexpected expense to haul out again 😳 But I’m very impressed with Capt. Mike’s research and preparation that allowed us to accomplish all of this work in 24 hours, getting us back in the water with a (hopefully) fully functioning motor and transmission as quickly as possible. Now let’s go sailing!

We’re Back!

Capt. Mike and I spent hurricane season having wonderful land-based adventures in Europe and in New York State. If you follow us on social media, you already know we hiked about 1650 kilometers across France and Spain on a Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, fueled by cured meats and cheeses and rosé! If you don’t, here are a couple of photos of that epic adventure….

But all good things must come to an end. And now it’s time to trade hiking boots for flip flops as we return to our little floating home in the Caribbean. Sanitas spent the summer on the hard at Spice Island Marine Services in Prickly Bay on Grenada, West Indies. We’ve hauled out there three times, so it feels a bit like our home away from home. We did A TON of work in June to clean and prep Sanitas for summer storage and that work paid off! No major surprises – no mold, no insect infestations, no storm damage….just a hot, dirty, dusty, crowded mess of a boat.

This year, we challenged ourselves to complete our entire boat prep spreadsheet in a single week in the boatyard. Eek. We were paying way too much money to stay in a crummy room in the yard, and we really didn’t want to stretch it out any longer than that. One thing we hadn’t counted on was experiencing the rainiest week we’ve ever seen in Grenada. I’m talking roads turning into rivers, boat yard turning into a mud pit, barely a break in the deluge to do exterior work and painting. Yes, painting was really the tricky part. We needed to repair some spots on Sanitas’s keel and put on another couple of coats of bottom paint, and the constant rain was really putting a damper on our plans (get it?) Capt. Mike was a true hero, and worked literally from sun-up to after sun-down on our only overcast-but-not-actively-pouring day to get all the painting done. Phew!

Entirely due to the heroics of my Captain, we did it! Exactly one week after our plane landed in Grenada, we splashed Sanitas into the murky waters of Prickly Bay and she became a sailboat again! That’s the good news. Now for the bad news… She’s still a sailboat and and a wise sailor once said “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” When we had the chance to test all of our systems, we found that the transmission has a fluid leak, the hot water tank leaks, the chart plotter screen is partially burned out, the dinghy motor doesn’t run without flooding, and we forgot to order a replacement auto pilot display that stopped working in the spring. Ay yi yi. Time to start a new To Do list. We’re also finding that supplies are difficult to source in Grenada this year, and prices have really gone up for the imported goods that are available. Maybe those global supply chain problems have finally reached Grenada? We’ve needed to order a bunch of parts from the States, with all the shipping and brokerage fees and red tape that entails. Wish us luck! I’m sure there’s a whole blog post in there somewhere.

What else do we do, besides boat projects? Well, I’m in charge of provisioning, and stocking the boat with non-perishable food for our adventuring. Since prices are pretty high in Grenada these days, I’m trying not to go overboard on shopping here. But when we live on anchor, it’s really not possible to run to the store every time I want a can of tomatoes or chick peas or a bag of gluten free pasta. So I still need to do some serious shopping. Without a car, I experimented with the local IGA delivery service for canned goods and heavy items. And I’ve done the 2-mile walk to the big grocery store a couple of times, filling up a backpack with as much as I could carry, and squeezing onto the local busses for the heavier trip back to the dinghy dock. Have I mentioned how much I miss the wonderful grocery stores in the French islands? I think I’m making progress on provisioning! I’ve just submitted an order for the local fancy butcher shop, and I need one more trip to the Indian grocery store for rice and spices. I’ve finally got the hang of where to find local fruits and veggies (Tuesday in the parking lot of Budget Marine, Sunday morning at the Brewery, Wednesday morning in the parking lot behind the mall) and I just learned about a place to buy fresh fish from local fishermen at the medical school campus. There’s really no such thing as one stop shopping in Grenada.

With all that shopping, you’d think I’d be cooking up a storm in my cozy galley. But, honestly, I’m struggling to get my boat cooking mojo back. Can I admit I miss big refrigerators, dishwashers, unlimited running water, and the fantastic array of fresh ingredients I could find in both Europe and the US? Oh well, I’ll get there. I have concocted a couple of tasty curries made with local pumpkin and callalou greens, and last night we baked the most delicious gluten free pizza ever consumed on the island of Grenada 🤣

What’s next for the crew of Sanitas this season? That’s a good question. Travel agent Jenn needed all of her skills to get us safely and comfortably across Europe this summer, working in French, Spanish, and German. She’s a little burned out on planning! So far, we’re just planning to get Sanitas back in good working order and then to island hop up the eastern Caribbean chain again, revisiting our favorite spots in The Grenadines, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. We’ll put some effort into planning where we want to be by the start of next hurricane season. And THAT should inspire us to get a little more specific on plans. So if you have any vacations in the Eastern Caribbean planned this winter, let us know! It’s just possible we might anchor in front of your resort and stop by for a visit 😎

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