We’ve got visitors!

My goal for the winter of 2022 was to FINALLY sail to Martinique. It’s been very difficult for non-EU flagged boats to visit since the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year things have finally normalized enough that fully-vaccinated travelers are welcome again. And I can finally put my 675-day Duolingo French lesson streak to use.

In the last week of February, Sanitas had her first guests come to visit since 2020, before COVID. Micki and Nathan are her biggest fans – they even helped do some boat projects when we first bought her in St Pete, Florida. In fact, they are pretty much the only people other than our immediate family who we would invite to stay on board our teeny tiny boat. It’s tricky to plan to meet friends in the Carribean – weather is always an issue when planning if you can get to the right island in time to meet guests there. In fact, sailors usually say “You can plan when you want to visit, or where you want to visit, but you can’t plan both!”

Having guests aboard provides an excuse to live like we’re on vacation for a week too- we eat out more, we move the boat to new anchorages more often, and we do all the touristy stuff that y’all think we always do (when in reality, we’re usually just cooking on the boat and doing boat maintenance projects) 😜 In Martinique, one of the best tourist attractions is to visit the rhum agricole distilleries. Rhum agricole is a bit different than traditional rum you may be used to. It’s made directly from the juice of sugar cane, without first processing that cane juice into molasses. This means rhum can only be produced a few months each year when the sugar cane crop is mature. Martinique rhum has earned a French Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) just like it’s more famous French wine cousins, such as Champagne and Burgundy. While of course it’s fun to taste the rhum, a visit to a distilleries is also fascinating because of the links between sugar cane farming and the island’s colonial and slave-owning history. Many distilleries have ruins of old stone plantation buildings on their property, or host memorials to the successful uprisings of enslaved workers, or feature artwork that attempts to process and understand that history. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that a visit to a distillerie isn’t just a “seen one, seen them all” activity, but that each site is unique and interesting. Of course, the tour always ends in the gift shop, and we purchased quite a few bottles of rhum, punch, and liquor to enjoy at our leisure on Sanitas with our guests at sunset. Distillerie Depaz is unique, because it boasts a small chateau modeled after Versailles on the grounds. And Distillerie Neissen is filled with vibrant and colorful art, as well as being famous for its award winning white rhum and it’s rare organically produced rhum.

We didn’t only subject our guests to rhum tours (although I doubt they’d have complained) We also toured the Memorial de la Catastrophe in St Pierre, a touching and personal museum that attempts to capture the loss of life and culture caused by the eruption of the Mount Pelée volcano in 1902. At the time, St Pierre was considered “the Paris of the Caribbean” for its cosmopolitan society. Warnings of the volcano’s threat had been observed for over a week prior to its catastrophic eruption, but the governor didn’t want to damage the economy in case of false alarms. Not only did he not evacuate the city, he actively communicated that there was no threat and citizens should not leave. Finally, on the morning of May 8th, a volcanic explossion of extreme force and heat destroyed the city, killing all but two of the 28,000 inhabitants, sinking all of the ships in the harbor, and destroying most of the buildings in the city. It’s sobering to consider this when your own boat in sitting calmly on anchor so near her shipwrecked kin. Today, the town is an atmospheric blend of old and new, and well worth a visit.

We also celebrated Carnival in St Pierre. It’s the Caribbean version of Mardi Gras and, like everything else that’s fun in this world, it had been canceled during COVID. 2022 was the first year Carnival was officially allowed to take place again, although it’s *possible* some unofficial parades and parties took place last year without government permission. Big, fancy parades take place in the Martinique capital of Fort-de-France, but we enjoyed joining in with the smaller local celebration in St Pierre. Each night of Carnival has a theme, and we marched on the night when men dress in women’s clothing and women dress in men’s clothing.

We had to burn off all that rhum and French food somehow, so we headed inland and took our guests on a hike of the Canal de Beauregard. This canal (actually more of an aqauduct) was built to carry water to the distilleries in St Pierre and it’s a gorgeous walk through the mountain rain forest. For much of the hike, you carefully balance on the narrow stone wall that creates the canal, so it’s not for those with balance and vertigo issues! It really is a nice change of pace though to get away from the coast, and up into the vibrant green mountains.

I said that we eat out a lot when folks visit (and we certainly do) but we cooked some delicious meals as well! We bought fresh tuna from the market in St Pierre and made amazing poke bowls. I tackled my first huge can of confit duck legs, and turned it into pretty darn amazing duck nachos for dinner, and duck and potato hash for breakfast the next day.

Micki and Nathan even got the chance to experience the not so glamorous side of sailing life, when we attempted to anchor four or five times at Anse d’Arlet before the hook finally caught on a tricky, rocky bottom. We earned our ti punches and fish dinners there! All in all, I hope our guests had a nice time visiting the beautiful island of Martinique. But I’m exhausted, and ready for a vacation from my vacation!

Christmas in the Islands

“I don’t want an icy Christmas, I’ve had enough. The only ice I wanna see must be in my cup.”

Shaggy: “No Icy Christmas” from the 2020 album Christmas in the Islands

Thank you Shaggy! My sentiments, exactly. While I sure miss my family desperately each festive holiday season, I don’t miss snow and ice one bit. I have fully embraced the sunny beach Christmas. And Bequia is a fabulous place to spend Christmas as a cruiser. The ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) finishes in St Lucia in December, so there are suddenly dozens of European boats that just crossed the Atlantic and over a hundred cruisers in a celebratory mood. And Bequia is so incredibly welcoming to boaters over the holidays, hosting potlucks and parties and events. This is our second year in a row celebrating Christmas and New Year’s here, and I can see why some cruisers return here year after year.

Of course, even this corner of paradise is not immune from Covid. This year, the Christmas light displays and fireworks were canceled. When I asked around to find out why, I received two answers: “The government wants to discourage large gatherings,” and “The community is really suffering economically due to the pandemic and the resulting loss of tourism. Electricity is the most expensive resource on the island and it feels wrong to light up the parks when so many families are struggling to pay their electric bills.” But the stores and restaurants are decorated, sometimes even in a nautical theme.

The nautical-themed Christmas tree at Dockside Marine

I tried to bring a bit of that Christmas spirit aboard Sanitas through baking festive treats. Now, I hate to bake. I get kind of tense and twitchy just looking at the ingredients and knowing I’ll have to measure accurately to get this thing to turn out properly. Plus, I’m a celiac and eat strictly gluten free and I try to stay healthy by limiting carbs. But it’s Christmas! So I whipped up a batch of gf chocolate chip cookies with red and green m&ms. (I had to buy two packets of m’s and dug through to pick out the red and green ones). I bought colorful dried fruit and peel in syrup from Knight’s Trading and baked it into a gf Irish soda bread. And I spread a thick layer of mince meat over an almond flour tart to approximate mince meat pies. I kind of think I nailed it. 😀

A holiday baking extravaganza

Now, every restaurant on the island was competing for our business for holiday dinners. But I accidentally wandered into the Porthole one afternoon and ordered a soda water and started chatting to the owner. The Porthole restaurant and mini mart is a Bequia institution, operated by Mr and Mrs T for 40 years and famous for its delicious rotis. The couple have gotten older and struggled to keep it up (not to mention Covid) so their son Gladwyn and his partner Linda moved back home from New York City to take over. They’ve put a ton of work into painting and modernizing and the place looks fantastic. Linda told me they were planning a grand opening party for Christmas Eve with lobster and Mrs T’s traditional recipes for salads and sides so I jumped at the chance! We shared a table with three other cruisers and had a lovely evening – Elvis played Christmas songs on the steel pan, the food was delicious and the wine flowed, and we finally experienced some Christmas cheer. Even if the dinner we were promised at 7:00 didn’t actually get served until 9:00. Island time, lol!

New and improved Porthole Restaurant
Poached lobster, breadfruit salad, stewed pigeon peas, cinnamon yams, green beans and christophene, green salad

The main event of a Bequia Christmas is without a doubt the Cruisers’ pot luck at the Fig Tree. The owners, Cheryl and Lafayette open the restaurant to sailors free of charge and light of the grills. And folks from all countries and all languages gather to grill meats, share sides and desserts, and drink festive cocktails. All within feet of the lapping waves against the Belmont Boardwalk. It’s a total blast, and I’m so grateful for the Fig Tree’s hospitality.

Last year on New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999….and then four out of the eight people at our table came down with COVID and had to isolate on their boats for weeks. This year, since we’re vaxed and boosted, we planned to go to the Frangipani for steel pan music and a DJ – we even bought tickets. But on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, two of the most popular tourist restaurants on the island shut down suddenly because staff tested positive for Covid. We hemmed and hawed and decided not to risk it. Instead, a friend invited us over to his catamaran and we had a lovely little 5-person party on the deck with charcuterie and champagne. We could hear the music just fine from the anchorage – we didn’t miss a thing. And as midnight struck, the boaters made their own firework show, lighting off expired flares in the harbor (Cap. Mike did not like firey things raining down near Sanitas at all)

I bought myself flowers for New Years!

All in all, it was a lovely holiday, spent with good friends, and I enjoyed every minute of it! I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday also – maybe even with a little snow, if that’s your thing.

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

Goodbye Colorado

Wow, time really does fly! Somehow our summer in Colorado is over already. We spent our last week squeezing in as many visits with friends as humanly possible…. Oh, and eating lots of Mexican food!

We spent our last weekend in CO with Micki and Nathan in Denver. We got to enjoy a beautiful summer evening on their Caribbean themed patio, the Rhum Shack… with very non-Caribbean oysters, champagne, and cheese.

We were especially lucky to be able to celebrate Micki’s graduation from the Lighthouse creative writing program – she’s one talented lady!

We managed to squeeze in brunch with our former ski condo besties, and with little Ester 😍

And just like that, we loaded up the Bat Mobile, with way more junk than we started with (Darn you, Costco!) and pointed the bow back east. Three loooooooong days on the straight, fast highways through Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and (finally) Vermont. We made it! This beautiful green slice of paradise will be home for the next month or so as we hike the Long Trail from Massachusetts to the Canadian border. Wish us luck!

Don’t worry though, Capt Mike’s still got a little pirate in him. He managed to find a painkiller in Burlington, VT🏴‍☠️

Saying goodbye to The Grenadines

After five months in The Grenadines (yikes – five months in one country!) we are finally preparing to say goodbye to this beautiful country and to head south for hurricane season. And we’re also saying goodbye to many good friends. We’ve been sharing anchorages with some of these same boats since Covid first started in 2020. I’m not so fond of goodbyes, so here’s a “See you later” to some of my favorite places and people….

All good things must come to an end. And so, lobster season in St Vincent ends on the last day of April. I kind of thought Capt. Mike’s epic birthday party in the Tobago Cays would be our last lobster beach barbecue of the season. But wait! In a calm weather window, we herded the cats and gathered four boats of cruisers off the beach of Petite Bateau for one last hurrah. Romeo and Juliet motored by in their red power boat, shouting out “welcome back my friends!” And, wow did they treat us well this time! They whipped up a towering platter of grilled critters, plus conch curry, plus all the delectable sides. We had so much lobster, we celebrated “Mofongo Monday” with the crews of Dorothy Rose and Soulshine with the leftovers the next day. Thanks Karen! I haven’t had mofongo since Puerto Rico, and yours is delicious! 😍

We recently had the opportunity to meet a large group of Scandinavian cruisers. It’s been fun to meet and play with a whole new crew! At one point, all of our boats were anchored in beautiful Chatham Bay on the quieter, undeveloped side of Union Island. There’s only a couple of rustic beach bars on this spot, and we’ve kind of colonized Sunset Cove, returning time and time again for Adele’s great food and Bald Head’s strong rum punch. We spent an afternoon there in a super competitive Mexican train dominos tournament. (Jill, from SV Ticora, shared the bottle of rum that she won with the rest of us). Ken, who owns the bar, offered a buffet barbecue and bonfire if we could get a good sized group together. Cara, from SV Music, took on the challenge and in no time, we had a goodbye party scheduled for the next day. This sleepy beachfront turned into a disco with a DJ getting everybody dancing off their dinners around the embers of a gorgeous fire.

We had to return to the “big city” side of Union Island soon after, so that we could get our second shot of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Clifton hospital. Many of the Scandinavian boats followed us over to the new anchorage, prompting the idea for a farewell to yet another favorite place. Sparrow’s Beach Club, on the most beautiful beach on Union Island, is always a special day out. I’ve organized so many group outings there that Bertrand, the manager, replies to my phone call with “Hello Jennifer.” This was the biggest group of all, with 20 sailors – pretty much every cruising boat in Clifton Harbor – attending. We had the largest pavilion to ourselves, claimed all the beach chairs with their fluffy pink towels, and lucked out on the sunniest and warmest day of the week! The fresh fish is always delicious at Sparrows, and you really can’t beat the location. When I told Bertrand it would be our last visit for the season, he treated me to a free mojito. Well played, monsieur Bertrand! You’ll see me and all my friends again next season for sure.

Photo credit: Nikki Marie on SV BooRie
Photo credit: Cara on SV Music

Caribbean countries have just started relaxing quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated visitors. We had to wait two weeks after our second shot to be considered fully vaccinated, so we squeezed in one last sail north to Bequia to check off the last few items on our wish list there. (If you recall, our last visit was cut short by that pesky volcano) I thought I’d walked every road and trail on the island, but I found one that I’d missed – a 9.5 mile round trip trek to the northernmost point on the island, with great views of the main island of St Vincent. I’m glad we came back for it, because this turned out to be one of the nicest trails we’ve encountered in the Grenadines – even if our feet were aching by the end of the trek. Life on a sailboat sure isn’t good for hiking training! In Bequia, we were also able to squeeze in a little gift shopping and gluten free food shopping, as well as visits to our favorite restaurants, and one last hike to picturesque Peggy’s Rock.

Most of this long drawn-out goodbye has been loads of fun. But the downside of this nomadic life (and the flip side of meeting so many great people) is that eventually we have to say goodbye to close friends who have become our chosen family. We’ve been buddy boating with Kevin and Cheryl on SV LeefNu and Zach and Lindy on SV Holiday on and off for the past three years. (Check out the “Fun on Holiday” YouTube channel for great videos of cruising life – with ukulele serenades!) From SVG, we are all going our separate ways. And while we might meet up with Holiday somewhere during next year’s cruising season, LeefNu will be sailing back home to Ontario to resume careers and hunting and canoeing adventures up north. We’ve had great times together; hosting beach barbecues, sharing recipes, repairing each other’s boats, hiking and snorkeling, and drinking rum. Saying “See you later” to such good friends was the toughest part of our long goodbye.

Well, goodbye month is winding down, and it’s time to stop liming on the beach, and start making plans for keeping Sanitas and ourselves safe during hurricane season. Next blog post, we’ll be heading back south to Grenada!