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!

Exploring the Spanish Virgin Islands

If you’ve ever dreamed on sailing in the Caribbean, you probably have a picture in your mind of the Virgin Islands – St Thomas and St John in the USVI, and Tortola and Virgin Gorda. The Soggy Dollar Bar and Willy T’s. But have you heard of the Spanish Virgins? Just east of mainland Puerto Rico, the islands of Culebra and Vieques are technically part of PR, but have a much more laid back, island-time feel.

We untied the lines from the Puerto del Rey marina on Thanksgiving Day, and made the short trip to Los Palominos island. We celebrated the holiday with a quasi-traditional thanksgiving dinner (substituting the worlds smallest rotisserie chicken for turkey) and a mojito float party with Zach and Lindy of SV Holiday. Sanitas’ third year of cruising is off to a good start!

The next day, we sailed for 5.5 hours to Vieques and anchored back in Sun Bay where we finished our journeys last May. We were super lucky to be able to sail the whole way without motoring, because it’s pretty much straight east from the mainland. It gave Capt. Mike the opportunity to brush off those rusty sail trimming skills, and first mate Jenn the chance to tack and tack and tack! I measured the length of the white sand beach at Sun Bay while jogging barefoot one morning – 1.1 miles from the dinghy drop off on the east side on the bay to the last point of land on the west near Esperanza. It’s a gorgeous place to relax and wind down after the never ending boat chores and trips to Costco, Walmart, and West Marine in San Juan traffic!

It’s also a great place to check out all of the boat systems that we didn’t need to use in the marina….and to find new problems. Our dinghy outboard motor is super reliable. It always starts with one or two pulls. Until it doesn’t. Capt. Mike sweated through his t-shirt pulling the outboard starter dozens of times with just a small cloud of grey smoke to show for his efforts. We decided we must have gotten some bad gasoline, and luckily Zach on Holiday had some SeaFoam fuel conditioning additive to lend us. Over the next couple of days of frequent use, she went back to purring like a kitten.

But then our water maker broke. Ok, maybe it didn’t exactly break, but the water that came out smelled foul, and measured at 750-900 ppm. Might be better off just drinking seawater! So we replaced the filter, ran an alkaline cleaning cycle, put it all back together, and tried again. STILL over 600 ppm. Good thing we stayed close to civilization on this shakedown cruise! We ordered a new water maker membrane from Defender and had it sent to the USPO General Delivery in St Thomas. Phew! That’s a lot of work for our first few days of cruising life!

We recovered by hanging out on the beach, walking to nearby Playa Media Luna, and dinghying over to the town of Esperanza to check out the tourist scene and the beach bars. I give two thumbs up to Lazy Jacks for drinks, and Duffy’s for food!

One of the highlights of our stay on Vieques was a tour of the island with Angie of Vieques Tours and Transportation. Angie’s a native of Vieques and she and her entire family have lived here her whole life, except for a year of college in Connecticut (Too cold. Too far from home) She knows everything about the history of the island, and what she doesn’t know, she’ll make up! She described the sugar cane plantation history of the island, and how that led to a diverse population that came here from islands all over the Caribbean, and how the last names of prominent families still show those origins. She took us to Isabela Segunda, the capital of Vieques, where pastel painted colonial architecture abounds and the one main road is known to locals as “the wide street”. Compare it to the rest of the island roads that look pretty much like bike paths and you’ll get it! Fort Conde de Mirasol was the last fort built by the Spanish in the New World, constructed between 1845 and 1855. Pretty much, they ran out of money and colonial power right about then, but the building is almost entirely original and it sits on a lovely viewpoint and contains a museum of archeological finds dating back to the Taino indigenous people. Robert, the tour guide and caretaker of the fort, was Angies’s high school social studies teacher back when he first arrived from the mainland US and didn’t speak any Spanish!

But the most interesting part of the tour was learning how life on Vieques has changed since hurricanes Irma and Maria back in 2017. Angie’s family had no electricity for nine months after Maria. Since then, half of the schools on the island as well as the only hospital have closed with no plans to reopen. There’s no longer any landline telephone service on the island – the provider couldn’t come up with the money to replace the poles and wires. Most families started to grow their own fruit and produce because grocery shipments were so unreliable. And many of the mature trees that used to form a shady canopy of green over the island roads are gone. Many small businesses have closed, and tourism (particularly the stellar bioluminescent bay tours) is the only industry. Now, none of this is meant to scare you away! I’ve only visited Vieques after the storms and I found it stunningly gorgeous. There are cute boutique hotels and delicious seafood restaurants and beautiful beaches that put the ones on mainland Puerto Rico to shame. But when you hear of the problems Puerto Ricans had in the aftermath of the storms, just think of their small island brethren who feel completely abandoned by the government and by FEMA.

From Vieques, we sailed over to Culebra – a new island to explore! From calm Ensenada Honda, we dinghied over to the one main town of Dewey and watched the ferries come and go, and watched the town put up Christmas decorations. I don’t know about you, but doesn’t it seem weird to decorate with snowmen in the tropics? And shouldn’t southern Santa have a more weather-appropriate outfit?

Capt. Mike and I sweated our way to the only beach within walking distance from the town dock. Within two minutes of hopping into the water, Mike kicked a sea urchin and had to perform emergency surgery to remove painful spines from his second toe. Good thing I’m always prepared and carry a Swiss Army knife! His injury made the walk back seem longer than the walk to the beach, but I made it up to him with a Painkiller at the Dinghy Bar

Still milking the great toe injury of 2019 🤣 we shared a rental car with SV Holiday for $45 per day and explored pretty much every beach on the island. I can see why you need a Jeep if you live here! Those island roads run straight up, and straight down, and suddenly and unexpectedly turn to dirt! But at the end of every road in another stunning white sand beach, and I made it my mission to walk the length of every one.

After all that exertion, I think I earned the right to sit in our fabulous new beach chairs on the white sand of Flamenco Beach, sipping a Pina Colada from the beach shacks and enjoying the fabulous people watching. (Are people really still wearing neon? And thongs? Who is Daddy Yankee? So THAT’S how you keep a beach umbrella from blowing away)

Two military tanks sit on the west end of Flamenco Beach, reminding folks of the controversial history of the US Navy in these islands. Back in the 40s and 50s the navy took over large portions of Culebra, forcing the folks who lived there to pack up and move. Then they performed military exercises and target practice with live munitions for decades. Even now, large parts of the islands are off limits to visits because of the huge amount of unexploded ordinance. While sailing to Vieques, we heard the Coast Guard announcing ordinance removal activities. In the 70’s residents of Culebra staged protests and called world-wide attention to what they considered an occupation of their home island. Eventually, their tactics worked, and the Navy left Culebra in 1975, but stayed active in Vieques until 2003. The rusting, graffitied tanks remain on the beach as a memorial to the protestors and a symbol of peace.

Everybody deserves a day off

I’ve shared a lot of “keeping it real” posts lately, both here and on social media, attempting to capture the hot, dirty, and not-so-glamorous side of living on a sailboat. Especially in the month or two each fall when we try to cram six-months worth of maintenance into a few weeks! So I reckon it’s time for some fun! We couldn’t possibly spend a month in a beautiful place like Puerto Rico without getting out and exploring, now could we?

Beautiful Luquillo Beach is only about a 20-minute drive from the Puerto del Rey marina. So when we needed a beach fix, this was our go-to spot! At low tide, you can walk for over a mile on the sand, connecting several public beaches, and the tall palm trees and red wooden life guard stands add to the natural beauty of the water and sand. When we tired of the beach, we introduced each of our cruising friends to the wonder that is Mojito Lab. It’s basically a food truck for mojitos – each one hand made and muddled to order, with fabulous flavors such as passionfruit, coconut, and tamarind. At $11.15 for a 32 oz drink, Capt. Mike and I like to share (after negotiating on who gets to pick the flavor) and that way our drinks never get warm!

After seeing the amazing lightweight beach chairs that Zach and Lindy of SV Holiday had aboard, we went onto Amazon that night and ordered two for ourselves. That’s one of the things that makes Puerto Rico such an easy place to store our boat – Amazon Prime free delivery of everything we need for the season!

When we felt really adventurous, we piled into the rental car and drove WAY up into the mountains of central Puerto Rico to Guavate to check out the famous lechoneras on Pork Highway. What a scene! After about 45 minutes of highway driving, we turned off onto a super winding, always climbing mountain road. Now don’t get fooled by the first lechonera you see – keep climbing, keep climbing, to find the where the locals go on a Sunday afternoon. When the road comes to a T so you have to turn right or left, and you can barely hear your passengers over the sound of the salsa music, you’re there!

Lechon is roasted whole suckling pig. Each restaurant has its own secret recipe of marinades and spices. And of course, each restaurant insists they are the first and the best! At El Rancho Original, first order a pina colada at the tiki bar kiosk out front. The bartender will ask “con ron?” “with rum?” and I highly recommend you answer yes 😎

If you’re not quite ready to eat yet (although the yummy smells may convince you) take a minute to bet on the wooden horses.

Then sip your drink as you stand in line, trying to decide what to order. I can’t imaging NOT ordering the lechon. It is displayed in full glory on a spit in the front window. Every few minutes, a server walks over wielding a machete and hacks off some serious pig.

Each serving, in its styrofoam takeout tray, is elegantly plated with a piece of fried skip balanced on top – don’t mind the occasional black bristle. Choose your two sides to go with you hunk of pig (all starches – no veggies to be found here!) such as rice and peas or potato salad. There are plenty of other Puerto Rican delicacies to try, such as morcilla (blood sausage), batatas (roasted sweet potatoes), and pastels (a yucca-based tamale, steamed in banana leaves). Once you’ve placed your order and given your name, loiter by the bar waiting for your name to be called. Then pay (cash only, of course) and carry your cafeteria tray down to one of the many picnic pavilions down by the stream.

Here the volume of the fiesta is a bit lower, and you can enjoy your meal and conversation in peace. It’s also great people watching! Check out the big groups in matching colorful t-shirts all here together to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. And some of the pavilions are decorated with balloons and streamers and birthday cakes. There’s everyone here- from babies in strollers, to abuelos (grandfathers) in wheel chairs.

When you are as stuffed as the pig, head back up the stairs to the main restaurant to enjoy the band and watch some serious salsa dancing. Or better yet, drift from one restaurant to the next, sampling the mojitos (a live mint plant in a pot is a good sign), and checking out which band is the loudest and most energetic, and which establishment has the most serious dancers. No flip flops here! The women in the Cuban heels and the men in tight black pants and elaborate white shirts came here to dance! My gringo blood shows, and although I can’t stop my toes from tapping, I really can’t compete with these dancers!

Hopefully, you’ve picked a designated driver, because it’s easy to get caught up in the festive atmosphere and to forget that it’s over an hour of winding roads to get back home. But this is an afternoon party, not nightlife, so it’s easy to be back in the marina, full and happy, way before cruiser bedtime!

Just-In-Time Living

Another “keeping it real post” about nomadic life. Since only about three people actually read this blog (Hi Mom and Dad! Hi Sharon! Love you guys ♥️) I guess it’s ok to go public with my love of thrift-store finds, and maybe even to admit what I spent on my 30th reunion outfit.

One of the toughest transitions from land life to boat life was getting used to the idea that I could no longer buy in bulk, and couldn’t keep things around just in case I might need them someday. There’s no room! There’s high humidity! You gain weight! You lose weight! Basically, if I manage to keep stuff around, by the time I need it either it’s no good anymore, or I don’t like it anymore. Capt. Mike shared with me a great article on minimalism that suggested using Craigslist like your own personal storage unit. If you don’t need it on a regular basis, sell it! When you need it again a few years later, odds are you’ll find something just like it on Craigslist or eBay. Great advice. I feel better now about parting with something that rates marginal on the “brings me joy” scale.

When we were packing last June for our summer in Europe, a record-setting heat wave was blanketing the continent. So we carefully packed light, and left thermal jackets behind. But we knew we’d end our trip at northern England in September when weather conditions could be very different. I stayed firm, forcing Mike to leave those wool tops and jeans behind: “We can spend $50 each at Primark when we get there. It’ll be fine.” And, for the most part, it was!

I think I walked off a layer of fat in the 900km between St Jean Pied-de-Port and Finisterre, and by the end of the Camino de Santiago I shivered through the chilly fall evening temps. But no problem! I discovered the European sporting goods chain Decathlon and bought my favorite color purple long sleeve top for €9.99. Plus, they have gluten free energy bars!

And yes, it was every bit as cold and rainy in Harrogate, North Yorkshire as we anticipated in September. But that was ok too. We spent our first afternoon wandering the town where we lived for four years in the late 90’s ducking into all of the charity shops and really enjoying the vibe of the town. We did great too! Mike found a pair of khakis and a navy blue sweater. I found a cute winter jacket for £9 and a pair of Converse sneakers for £15. After that promised trip to Primark, we were set for anything the cool and rainy English countryside could throw at us. You wouldn’t even recognize us by looking at our Camino photos and comparing to our English selves, and we didn’t have to carry all those warm clothes or have to pay to ship them ahead while backpacking.

The coup de grace of our thrift store shopping adventure was preparation for my 30th high school reunion. The dress code was “cocktail” and we sure didn’t have anything in our backpacks to fit the bill. In fact, Capt. Mike decided he wouldn’t even attempt to achieve cocktail status, he’d be happy just hitting the halfway point between hiker and formal, lol. I think he hit the mark: black Gap jeans with the tags still attached and grey dressy button down shirt from Plato’s Closet with black leather shoes from Thrifty Shopper. Grand total – $28. I was feeling a bit more conflicted. After all, it was actually my reunion, and and hadn’t seen any of these people in 30 years. And I was more geek than cheerleader in college. I didn’t want to LOOK like I’d shopped in a thrift store. But … I’m a retiree on a fixed budget now, so I’m not going to spent a lot of money on fancy clothes I’ll never wear again, right? My outfit: dress from Plato’s Closet, purse from Thrifty Shopper, tall boots from MoShop30. Grand total = $22. I cheated and bought new high heels from TJ Maxx for another $20. We salty sailors / backpackers / homeless nomads clean up pretty good, don’t ya think?

A Pinxtos Tour of San Sebastian

San Sebastian is known as a foodie city. It possesses 18 Michelin stars. Eight percent of it’s population belong to gastronomic societies. And eating is entertainment! But you don’t have to be on a Michelin star budget to enjoy great food – you just have to indulge in some pinxtos.

Look at all that deliciousness!

Pinxtos are the Basque version of the Spanish tapas. It’s a snack, usually eaten standing up at the bar or outside the restaurant with a glass of wine, to tide you over between the end of the work day and the late Spanish dinner. But here in San Sebastian they’ve elevated pintxos to a culinary art and it’s easy to make a meal of these tasty morsels. After four days of pinxtos tasting, here’s what I’ve learned….

Where to go?

When restaurants brag about being on the “100 best pinxtos bars” list you know there’s no shortage of hot spots. My method is to follow the crowds – if it’s busy, there’s probably a good reason. And you don’t have to stick to Old Town’s “Pinxto-landia” theme park vibe and tourist crowds. The trendy Gros neighborhood is also amazing.

Constitution Plaza at Sunset

Because you only order one or two small plates at each establishment, the crowds ebb and flow quickly – just loiter outside and people watch for a few minutes until there’s room at the bar. And if they ask you to pay each time you order something, it’s a tourist trap! Traditional places will let you order a round, maybe two, and when you’re ready to leave they’ll have magically remembered what you ordered and present a perfect tally.

I’m told this was always Anthony Bourdain’s first stop when ever he returned to San Sebastian

How to Order?

It can be kind of intimidating, especially if there’s a crowd and if the bartender’s speaking Basque! But stay cool. Just kind of wander through and check out the crowd, the platters of deliciousness displayed on the bar, and the chalkboard of “plates of the minute” hot pinxtos specials. Unless you see something amazing and creative, stay resolute and don’t be tempted by the cold pinxtos that have sat out all day. And DEFINITELY don’t ask for a dinner plate. A local told me “it breaks his heart” every time he sees a tourist with a huge plate of stale, bad pinxtos. Instead, order a “txach” of Basque cider, poured from a great height. Or a “gintonic” served in an oversized wine glass with bruised citrus rind, a few juniper berries, and lots of ice. Or keep it simple and go with a vino blanco – the house white is probably perfectly adequate and will only set you back about 1.20€ Now that you’re fortified with a cold beverage, order a hot pinxto from the chalk board. You might have even had a chance to check out what everyone else is eating to discover the specialty of the house. Don’t worry if you can’t translate exactly. It will probably be delicious, and if it’s not quite your thing, well there’s always the next bar down the street! Don’t forget to say thanks a lot, or “Eskerrik Asko” if you remember “Scary Costco” you’ll be close enough.

Grilled fois gras with apples cooked in cider

When I copied the description of the “rice of the day” at Atari into Google Translate I got back “Sailor rice with seaweed ali-oli and salicornia”. While that doesn’t sound very appetizing, it was actually the most delicious clam risotto served with two tiny clams on top and some sort of frothy green emulsion, topped with a few strands of a crisp, salty sea vegetable – easily one of the best things I’ve eaten in years.

“Sailor rice” and “Huevo cooked at low temps” at Atari

While you’re waiting for the kitchen to prepare your hot pinxto, ok – go ahead and help yourself to a cold one from the bar. You’re only human after all!

Some of the best pinxtos from our tour

Other highlights from our pinxtos exploring?

We stumbled upon the wonderful La Cuchara de San Telmo because a) it was crowded and b) several men wearing shirts from the local rowing club were drinking beer outside the entrance, and when we peered inside and hesitated one said “very delicious” in a strong Basque accent.

We treated ourselves to seafood pinxtos from the special 20th anniversary menu and they were some of the best of our trip. Grilled octopus with homemade tzaki and chimichuri sauces, and sea scallops wrapped in Serrano ham and served with a fresh corn emulsion and crunchy granules of toasted corn. OMG!

The name of the bar is fun too. Back when San Sebastian was being built, the church of San Telmo was considered the “poor people’s church.” In fact, they ran out of money and never completed the wall which still shows the rough unfinished sea rock known as cucha today. The rich merchants started using the name “cucharas” as an insult for the working class folks who couldn’t even afford to finish their church. Today, many San Sebastian natives have taken back the name, and embraced it with pride as their own nickname.

We really enjoyed the grilled pequillo peppers at Bar Tamboril because, except for olives, they were the only green vegetable we’d eaten since we arrived.

done we’ve done some long hikes but over a long long ago we did the Appalachian Trail 20 years ago the east coast of the United States and some it’s 2000 miles up the east coast of the United States but that was 20 years ago relationtrip

Wherever you go, and whatever you order, don’t forget to introduce yourself to the person next to you, relax and enjoy the setting sun reflecting off the stone walls, and to laugh and tell stories! You can’t go wrong!