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!

Travel in the time of Coronavirus

Here we are in December of 2020 – are you longing to travel? Me too! We’ve been in the tiny island nation of Grenada for six months. That’s the longest we’ve been in any one country (including the US) since 2017. Hurricane season is over and Caribbean nations are starting to cautiously relax their coronavirus restrictions and to reopen for tourism. Hooray! But that sure doesn’t mean that it’s easy or cheap to travel yet. Follow along with me on the thrilling adventure of sailing twelve miles and overcoming infinite bureaucratic red tape to get from Grenada 🇬🇩 to St Vincent and the Grenadines 🇻🇨

First of all, the protocols for entering each country have been changing weekly – it’s hard to keep track! St Vincent has actually done a pretty good job of updating a web page with their requirements. In a nutshell, we have to pass a Covid test in Grenada, then travel to SVG and take a second test, quarantining while we wait for the results. If both tests are negative, we are free to clear in and explore the country. Sounds easy, right? 😜 Obviously, you are not familiar with the concept of island time. (Skip to the end if you just want to know how much it cost)

We’ve spent the past three weeks on the island of Carriacou, a pleasant day sail north of the big island of Grenada, and still part of the country of Grenada. From our anchorage, we could look northwest and see Clifton Harbor Union Island – the southernmost island in St Vincent, less than 12 miles away. But …. until last week, the only open port of entry for SVG was on the main island of St Vincent, over 50 miles further north. AND the only clinic in Carriacou that does Covid tests only performs the tests on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:00pm. Then they put the tests on a ferry and ship them back to Grenada for processing. Talk about adding time and complexity to the process! We waited until Union Island reopened to visitors (giving them a week to work out the kinks) and then Cheryl on SV LeefNu put together a spreadsheet of all of the steps in the process and we went to work!

Step 1: Request permission to travel to St Vincent

On Wednesday December 2, I sent an email to SVGARRIVALS requesting permission to travel from Carriacou to Union Island over a week later, on 10 December. I attached a “Request to quarantine aboard” form with lots of details about our boat, crew, travel history and health status.  I didn’t receive any sort of response until late Friday afternoon when I wrote back and asked politely whether I should cancel my PCR test appointment on Monday. That did it. I received an email stating we were approved!

Step 2: Pre-travel Covid PCR test

I can’t believe I made it all the way to December 2020 without a q-tip up the nose! Well, no longer. We dinghied ashore and joined a small parade of other sailors walking toward the L’esterre Health Clinic. The nurse looked a bit taken aback to see us all lined up at the front door. She muttered, “I hope I have enough swabs” and directed us one at a time to the office to pay. Then another long wait in the hot airless clinic until being called into the nurse’s office to get poked. She had exactly enough tests for the 16 people who showed up that day. The nurse was surprisingly gentle, and we were free again one hour and 820ecd ($300) later. Yikes! Now the clock is ticking. We need to make sure we can get to SVG within the 72 hours that this test is valid. I’d cry if we missed our chance and had to get a second test and shell out ANOTHER $300 bucks.

Step 3: Wait for test results. Stress out. Jump each time you get an email notification

There’s a long list of paperwork we need to submit to St Vincent 24-hours before we arrive. But the very first item on the list is our negative test results. So we hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope the tests made it onto Monday night’s ferry to Grenada and hope that the General Hospital isn’t too overwhelmed to process our tests quickly. Did I mention that St Vincent only performs tests on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday? So if we miss our scheduled arrival on Thursday, we’ll have to go on Friday, wait on a quarantine mooring ball until Monday to get tested, and THEN stay in quarantine until we get the results. Or, they might not let us in at all because our Grenada test results would be older than 72 hours. Oh, the stress!

Step 4: Lots more paperwork – finalize permission to travel to SVG

On Wednesday morning at 8:30, our friends on SV Holiday and SV LeefNu received their negative test results via email. But nothing for Sanitas. I sent an email. I made a call. Nothing. We waited…and waited…and grew more and more nervous. Finally, around 11:00 we hopped in the dinghy and traveled back to the clinic. Apparently they spelled our name wrong when they wrote down our email addresses. That’s an easy fix! With the correct address, they sent the results and we were good to go. Negative, as expected, of course- there’s only one active Covid case in all of Grenada, and it was imported on a flight from the US 😞

I rushed to a picnic table outside the grocery store where I could get free wifi and started filling out the rest of the required paperwork. My goal was to get everything submitted before noon (island bureaucrats take long lunch breaks) and to meet the “submit 24 hours in advance” requirement. I barely made it!

Step 5: More waiting…for final approval from St Vincent

Now we needed to wait for St Vincent to reply to my paperwork with a “Stamped Approval Form.” If we show up without this approval, St Vincent can use their coast guard to turn us away from entering the country. However, we still need to clear out of Grenada, and the customs and immigration office is only open until 3:45pm. So more nervous waiting. Finally, I emailed St Vincent customs. They replied that they were waiting for my negative Covid test results. Aargh! That’s what I spent an hour at a supermarket picnic table working on! So…I sent all that paperwork in again. Finally, I received approval.

Step 6: Clear out of Grenada

Captain Mike took our passports and boat paperwork to customs and immigration, paid to catch up on our cruising permit fees, and successfully acquired our exit papers. Phew! We celebrated with burgers and gin & tonics at Big Citi grill 🍔🍸😎

Step 7: Travel to Union Island. ANOTHER Covid test

We woke at first light, as excited as if it were Christmas morning. It feels great to be moving again! Anchors up at first light, and we had a lovely sail to Clifton Harbor on Union Island. Upon arrival, a gentleman in a dinghy marked with a yellow flag met us and escorted us to a mooring ball in the quarantine area. More waiting. Eventually, we were paged via VHF radio “Sanitas, you are cleared to come ashore.” We donned clean clothes, masks, and actually remembered shoes. We dinghied to the Bougainvillea dock, also marked with a yellow flag. Only one boat was allowed ashore at a time and once there, we handed over our boat paperwork and passports (Gulp. I hate to give up our passports. But they are successfully ensuring we won’t skip out on quarantine). We got our second PCR test in less than a week, and boy this nurse really went after it! She didn’t just tickle my brain with the swab, she really twisted and turned it and ground it around – ouch! Back to our mooring ball to wait. Again…. Did I mention the test swabs in SVG also have to take a ferry ride north to St Vincent to be processed? 🙄

Our quarantine view…

Step 8: Another quarantine

We kept ourselves busy through yet another quarantine by cooking, studying French, doing our Christmas shopping, and doing boat projects. But after a few days with no update on our test results, we stayed to get antsy.

Haircut time!

Final Step: Clear into SVG. And hand over a bunch of cash.

Finally, around 4:30 on Monday afternoon, a dinghy with a yellow flag approached. “Do you have good news for us?” Capt. Mike asked. “Unfortunately, I have bad news,” he said “You failed your test and have to take another.” What?!? How is that possible? The man in the dinghy let out a big laugh. “I’m just messing with you!” he said, and handed back our passports and paperwork, as well as a bill for the tests and processing fees. I don’t think that’s very funny, do you?

How much did all this cost?

  • Covid test in Grenada (2 people) = 820ecd or $305US
  • Covid test in SVG (2 people) = 324ecd or $120US
  • Clearing agent fees = 205ecd or $76US
  • Quarantine mooring fees (4 nights) = 245ecd or $92US
  • Cruising permit (1 month)= 70ecd = $27US
  • Total in US dollars = $619
  • Stress and worry about missing a deadline, and all those swabs up the nose = priceless 🤣

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining about the cost or the process. I understand that we’re very lucky to be able to visit these beautiful countries. And, of course, I respect the desire to protect islanders from Covid-19. The hospitals here really couldn’t handle an outbreak. I’m not even upset about the cost – these islands have had their economy tank with the lack of tourism. But now that we’ve got a 6-month visa in SVG, I don’t anticipate moving around much this season!

Celebratory drinks at Happy Island 🏝️

Splash Day! We’re back on the water!

At long last, all of our hard work in the boatyard has paid off and it was time for Sanitas to go back in the water where she belongs. Back in May, we picked a pretty arbitrary date toward the end of November to schedule our put-in. It was the only entry on Google calendar, except for our flight from Puerto Rico back to Colorado for the Skirt Sport retreat. Now suddenly; after six months away, a summer spent in the US and Europe, and nearly a month of sweaty, dirty work in the boatyard, the magical day had arrived.

We went to the marina office as soon as it opened, to pay our boatyard bill and to get our wet slip assignment. Engineers that we are, we showed up at the boat with a long list of things to do before our 10:30 appointment.

Everything went fairly smoothly, so we weren’t too upset when the travel lift operators showed up early. Sanitas did the long walk to the water in reverse of her spring trip: first a ride on a narrow, hydraulic trailer, then transfer to the slings of the travel lift. We were relieved to see Reuben of RBS Marine show up to touch up the anti-foul paint and to put down plastic before the dock hands lowered her into the slings. We followed the travel lift in its slow, lumbering transit out of the boatyard and to the water’s edge.

When they lowered Sanitas into the water bow-in, we clambered over the bow spirit and climbed aboard, checking first for leaks or open throughcocks, or anything else that could cause us to immediately sink. All looked good, so we signaled the dockhhands to tie us into the slip, and to drop the slings. That’s when everything went pear-shaped.

I turned the key to start the diesel motor and – click click click – nothing happened. We checked fuses and battery settings: nothing. Capt. Mike went below and started throwing things all over the saloon the get access to the engine, the battery banks, and the switches and lots of tools. He pulled up the cockpit floor to get access to the back side of the engine. The dock master started yelling at us; “You need to start your engine or call Sea Tow. See that boat right there? They’re waiting to get hauled out from this slip.” Now it’s pretty much impossible to work through a problem in a calm and reasonable manner when somebody is yelling at you and pointing at the clock. It made me very cranky, and Capt. Mike quickly hit the limit of his troubleshooting abilities without taking time to ready the bugs or research online. We confirmed power was getting to the starter, but that’s it. So we texted Bianca, our boat caretaker, and asked if she knew of an electrician or diesel mechanic who could help us.

By this time, I’d been ignoring the dock hands or responding “ok, ok” for about 15 minutes and they were getting very irritated with me. The new threat was, “We’re going to bring the lift back and haul you out again in two minutes” an action that would have cost us several hundred dollars NOT in the cruising budget. Just then Bianca sped up in her truck and introduced us to an electrician who’d been working on the boat next to her in the yard. He hopped aboard and followed Capt. Mike below decks to investigate.in less than five minutes, he found a grounding wire that had hosted free, reconnected it, and magic! The engine started right up on the next turn of the key. We handed him a couple of 20s, helped him back ashore, and we escaped the put-in slip at last.

I’m still pretty angry about the whole thing. We had that appointment from 10:30am to 12:30pm reserved for six months. There was no call for them to try to fit an extra boat haul out during our very expensive appointment window. It’s the only thing so far I have not been happy about in our Puerto del Rey experience. But all’s we’ll that ends well, and I’m grateful that we had a good relationship established with a boat caretaker who could get us a resource to solve our problem so quickly.

AND…at least Sanitas is back in the water, in a slip, and we can start to get back into cruising life!

So how’s that medical insurance thing going?

About six months ago, I wrote a popular blog post about how I price-shop around for medical, dental, and vision services. So what do you do about medical insurance? So how’s that working out for us?

Prescriptions:

Have you ever heard anyone say “You can actually get that medicine in (insert name of country here) without a prescription!” During our summer in Europe, I decided to find out if it’s true. By the end of our Camino hike across Spain, I’d finished the years’ worth of prescription thyroid medication that I’d filled at the Walmart in Florida. (Don’t forget -if you pay out of pocket, you can buy all of your refills at once, instead of 90 days at a time!). I was pretty stressed out thinking about getting my prescription filled in Santiago. I needed to find a Farmacia, ask for a pharmacist who speaks English, explain which medicine I need (I kept the pill bottle), possibly get sent to a clinic to see a doctor and get a blood test (all by public transportation), possibly wait for the results, and hopefully get a new prescription by the end of it all. I’d worked myself into a bit of a frenzy thinking about it, but Santiago was the only place we’d be staying for more than one night at a time, so I bit the bullet and gave it a shot. I walked to the closest Farmacia, and timidly asked “Hablas usted Inglés?” The pharmacist answered, “a little” and took a look at my pill bottle. My thyroid medication is extremely common, so in less than ten minutes, I walked out of the Farmacia with 100 pills of my exact dosage for 9.95€. Yahoo! Emboldened, I walked down the street to the next Farmacia and asked again. This time, I walked out with 100 thyroid pills for 4.95€ Double yahoo! For 15 Euros or about $16.75 I had enough medication to carry me over until I’m in one place long enough to find a doctor and get settled. I also take a slow-release pain reliever for osteoarthritis. When I ran out of the pills in Portugal, I MAY have used my status as a pilgrim walking to Fatima to ask for a little bit of sympathy from the pharmacists. In Porto I was able to buy two boxes of 60 pills of meloxicam each for a total of 20€ Once again, it’s enough to last me through the rest of my European summer and until I could sort out something more permanent, and the price was quite reasonable.

What else have I done to keep medical costs down in the past six months?

Vision:

I’m extremely happy with the quality, style, and durability of Warby Parker prescription eyeglasses. My first pair of prescription sunglasses lasted for two years in the extremely harsh environment of sailing – even spending one whole night at the bottom of the ocean in the harbor under our boat, requiring a snorkel rescue the next day. So during our brief trip to Colorado this summer I ordered two new pairs: a clear lens pair for $95 and a pair of polarized sunglasses for $175. Not dirt cheap by any means, but try comparing to prices in the optometrist’s office and you’ll find it’s a pretty darn good deal. Stylish too!

Dental:

I bought another Groupon this year for Capt. Mike’s and my dental cleaning and x-rays. It’s a great deal for new customers, but of course they are going to try to find something else that needs fixing in your mouth, because that’s how the dental office makes their money. This dentist found two old fillings that she recommended replacing, and it think it’s legit. I have a mouth full of fillings and the old ones do fail eventually. The dentist’s office manager gave me the option to pay cash using their dental discount plan. But wait! With an hour of research on the internet, I found a different dental discount plan that allowed me to pay by the month rather than subscribing for a full year, and I could cancel as soon as the fillings were complete. AND the fillings were cheaper too even provided at the same office by the same dentist. Lesson learned – it never hurts to shop around, and don’t hesitate to ask for a few days to decide before agreeing to treatment.

Flu Shots:

Sure, my international insurance plan doesn’t cover preventative care like free flu shots. But honestly, I’d rather pay between $20 to $40 out-of-pocket once a year rather than paying thousands of dollars in premiums for high-deductible plan I don’t use! Once again, I did a bit of internet sleuthing. The drug store chains don’t post flu shot prices on their web sites, but you can easily Google it and find bloggers who have done the price comparison research. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Costco offers the cheapest flu shots this year at $19.99. But you MIGHT be surprised to learn that ANYONE can use the Costco pharmacy services for prescriptions or shots even without a membership. I was surprised! And I’m going to keep it in mind for future cost cutting. There weren’t any Costco warehouse stores near where we were staying in upstate New York, so I went to the next cheapest option at Sam’s Club. $35 with a normal membership, $30 with a Plus membership. There was no line at the pharmacy, I walked right in and had my flu shot complete for the year in less than ten minutes. Drug stores, such as CVS and Rite Aid, are more convenient locations for getting a flu shot, but they’ll charge at least $40. Sometimes they’ll give you a gift certificate or coupon toward a prescription discount to offset the higher cost.

Doctors and Accidents:

Thankfully, I haven’t had any injuries or accidents or gotten very ill, so I haven’t had to see a doctor since I signed up for the IMG international medical plan. But I do have a United Health Services insurance card with an individual and group id number that works both in the US and overseas. The premiums for Mike and I are affordable, and the deductible is “only” $1000 so if a big accident did take place, we could cover those costs more easily than we could with a high deductible plan. I’ll be in Puerto Rico for at least a month this fall, so I’ll go to a medical center there (after doing some cost comparisons, of course) and get prescriptions for the next year.

Why is is so hard to give up “stuff”?

When we sold our house and most of our belongings before moving onto our 37 foot sailboat, several friends told me, “It must feel so good to simplify and get rid of stuff!” Well it did feel good up to a point: emptying closets of outdated technology, getting rid of clothes that hadn’t fit in years, eliminating duplicate camping gear. Even clearing out kitchen cabinets of clutter was kind of fun. And I got really good at my downsizing mantras. Does it bring me joy? Does it fit on a boat? But eventually….. I had gotten rid of the junk, and all that was left was things that I loved, and clothes that fit me, and stuff that, darn it, DID bring me joy! And it was still WAY too much to fit on a boat.

So then sh*t got real. And we kept downsizing: digitizing photos, giving away the coffee bean grinder and any kitchen items that could be replaced at Target, giving away running clothes and cycling kits (’cause who can run or bike on a boat?) We finally caved in a bit and decided to store a few boxes at Capt. Mike’s mom’s house – our road bikes, glassware and pottery from our travels and a box of winter jackets for when we eventually leave the topics and visit Buffalo. That decision probably saved my sanity, because t allowed me to keep some belongings.

Jump ahead to the end of our second cruising season. And somehow… We still have too much stuff! There’s clothes in hard-to-get-to storage that I haven’t worn all season. We have a bag of bags – yes really. Insulated cups always sit on the counter because there’s not enough room in the cup cupboard. Don’t even ask how many pairs of shoes I have. Sigh. So at the end of the season, we downsized again. I really think Netflix should feature Sanitas on an episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

When we moved from the boat to an Airbnb while working in the yard, the pile of stuff we moved into the condo was pretty huge.

But, to be fair, we were still cooking all our meals (with vegetables!) And using up food and toiletries from the cruising season. We downsized a bit more before flying to Colorado for a month. But packing light didn’t turn out quite how I envisioned it.

Good thing we borrowed a friend’s car! We had cold weather clothing (it snowed in Colorado the day before we arrived, plus we planned to spend time in New York in October) and running clothes and yoga clothes and going out to dinner clothes and backpacking equipment. So not too bad, considering.

But then a crazy thing happened. During the month we spent in the land of plenty, we bought more stuff! Newer cuter clothes. Toiletries. Makeup (which you sure don’t need on the boat). Gluten free snacks galore. Newer, lighter packaging gear. By the end of the month, we again had way too much stuff and had to ship some to new York. By the time we flew out from Denver to Europe, we’d once again skinnyed things down to a comfortable walking around level.

I think we’re pretty good now! I’ve got hiking clothes and gear. I’ve got everything I need for hot temps, chilly temps, and rain. I’ve got a couple of drinking-wine-and-eating-pinxtos outfits. I even packed some gluten free snacks. Why was it so hard to get here?

Who knows! Like most of us, I get sentimentally attached to things I’ve owned that trigger fond memories. And I hate the idea of re-buying something I used to own. It seems like such a waste! Plus there’s always an element of, “what if I need it someday?” But, with everything I need for 3 months traveling Europe in my backpack, I hope to channel my inner Marie Kondo and get rid of the clutter and excess in my life! And on my boat 😁