How the other half lives

Just before the La Soufriere volcano erupted (life is now measured in BV, and AV) we spent three nights anchored off the private island of Mustique. Why three? Because the Mustique Company charges 220ec (about $82) per mooring ball, whether you stay for one night, two nights, or three. And the crew of Sanitas always get our money’s worth!

Mustique is definitely “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous” If you’ve watched The Crown, you know that Princess Margaret owned a home here, and visited for decades. Bryan Adams, Tommy Hilfiger, and Mick Jagger own homes, and several large villas are available for rent to the very wealthy at around 40,000 per week during the winter high season. Only small private planes can land here, and the rif-raf is definitely kept out. Except for us, lol! We’re considered “yachties” and we are allowed limited access to this beautiful island. ⛵🌴🌄 Of course our first stop was the world famous Basil’s Bar, clinging picturesquely to a wooden dock over the blue, blue water. It’s a lovely beach bar, decorated with carved wood, rattan lamps, and antique musical instruments. Unfortunately, we arrived one day too late for the weekly Wednesday “jump up” of live island music. We watched a mediocre sunset while sampling tasty but obscenely expensive cocktails and burgers. It was a bit of a shock seeing the menu in US dollars rather than in ec. Well I did say I wanted to see how the other half lives – so far, I think they get ripped off, lol 🤣

The mooring field in Brittania Bay is beautiful with tons of happy healthy sea turtles swimming around. We visited with Zach and Lindy on SV Holiday, and we shared this large bag with only two other boats. Unfortunately, it can also be rolly here. On Friday morning we experienced an insane roll as if we were sailing in one of our most difficult passages – we think caused by the volcano’s first seismic activity.

Visitors, like us yachties, are welcome to visit the amazing gourmet supermarket, gift shops, and a few restaurants.

Sean at the mooring office told us “When you see a Private Property sign, you turn around!” We didn’t realize how quickly we’d hit one of those signs on our attempt to go for a walk along the waterfront. Pretty much every road that heads inland from the bay is marked Private. 😡

Most of the island is kept natural and undeveloped, and I’d read about beautiful scenic hiking trails. So I wrote to Sean and asked very politely if we could do a hike to the southernmost point on the island. He said yes! As long as we stayed away from all homes, and didn’t take any photos of residents or their villas.

Nobody said we couldn’t take photos of pornographic tortoises

At this point in our stay, the volcano had started erupting, and the sky was grey and full of ash. So maybe, just maybe, going for a hike and breathing in all that crap wasn’t the smartest idea. But remember my goal of getting my Mustique money’s worth? We could feel the grit in our teeth and ended the hike with black streaks of dirt in our elbows and arm pits, but I honestly think it was worth it.

Rich people islands have gorgeous hiking trails! Great signage, mowed grass, and beautiful stone steps to climb the hills. In a distance of less than three miles we changed environments from bird watching in a blind on a salt pond, to a moonscape of exposed rock and cactus. We also glimpsed gorgeous wild beaches, of white sand on the Atlantic side and of black volcanic sand on the Caribbean side.

So is it worth visiting Mustique on a sailboat? Honestly, I guess it depends. If you follow royalty or you’ve always dreamed of rubbing shoulders with celebrities and CEOs, it’s probably the cheapest and easiest way to get here. I didn’t feel very welcome here; it felt more like we were just being tolerated But I have to say, Sanitas has anchored in many equally beautiful harbors where we could anchor for free. And I’ve enjoyed delicious barbequed lobster on the beach for the cost of a burger and a beer at Basil’s. Since we’re spending five months in The Grenadines this year, we’ve set a goal to visit every inhabited island in the chain (and some uninhabited!) so I think Mustique was worth a stop, especially with our lovely hike included. But if you’re here on a brief charter, or if the weather is bad, or if you prefer to spend 12ec for fruit juice and sunset rum instead of $20…. I’d probably pass 🤪

I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blows

The La Soufriere volcano on the north side of St Vincent has been active since we arrived in December. Back then, it was considered in an “effusive” state – some steam, a little smoke, growth of a new dome. That all changed Friday morning, April 9th, when a series of small earthquakes announced the start of explosive eruptions! 😯 I’m writing this on Sunday morning and scientists from the University of the West Indies don’t know whether the eruptions will end soon, or will continue for days or weeks.

Did I mention we just visited St Vincent on Tuesday? We took a day tour and visited attractions on the east side of the island; all the way to the northernmost village named Owia. On Tuesday, it was a scenic tropical paradise. Now, it’s residents have been evacuated and buildings and vegetation are covered in several inches of ash. Please take a moment to pray for the citizens of St Vincent. Over 20,000 people have been evacuated, and the damage to homes, property, and farm crops is going to be immense.

So how has an erupting volcano effected the crew of Sanitas? Well first of all, we are definitely safe. We were anchored off the island of Mustique on Thursday night into Friday morning when the first explosive eruptions occurred. It’s around 27 miles as the frigate flies from the volcano. I think we felt the effect of the earthquakes that occurred early Friday morning. Mustique is a notoriously rolly anchorage. But right about 4:00am, Sanitas started rolling so violently that items were thrown off the shelves. It took about 90 minutes for things to settle back down. The earthquakes occurred around 3:30, and since our harbor faces north, with very little protection, we think we experienced swell caused by the quakes.

Sanitas was anchored off Mustique when La Soufriere erupted on Friday

We woke up to a thin layer of ash covering the boat… and the table… and the floors… and the clean dishes. From that point on, we kept the boat tightly closed up. Which makes things hot and miserable inside, but it’s worth it to keep the indoor ash to a minimum. Volcanic ash is extremely fine and black – I’m thinking it’s much like the dust used by detectives to find fingerprints. It gets everywhere and is super hard to wash off. When it rains, it rains mud. Capt. Mike attempted the first of many wash-downs of Sanitas with bucket after bucket of sea water.

The cockpit is protected by a canvas cover… And it still got this dirty.
Ash really sticks to our new canvas, and to all the running rigging

The sky has been a heavy grey haze. Visibility is very poor, and we can’t even see the next island south in the chain. Air quality is bad, and we are constantly sniffling and dealing with headaches. When we went for a walk on the island, I could tap my teeth together and feel the grit in my mouth.

On Friday afternoon, we walked up to the hilltop village of Mustique. Little did we know, La Soufriere had just experienced it’s second eruption. We joined the group of villagers standing in the middle of the road, looking north and pointing at the huge grey volcanic plume.

It’s difficult to know where to go to wait out the eruptions and to find the best air quality and least amount of ash. Our sailing friends are mostly heading as far south as possible. In a normal (aka non-Covid) year, we’d probably turn around and sail straight to Grenada. They’re getting a bit of ash fall there, but not as much as we are in the Grenadines. If this continues for a while, we might start the process to head south about two months earlier than planned (requesting permission from the Coast Guard, PCR tests, quarantine, etc.) But for now, we’re just returning to the marina in Canouan, where we can access fresh water to clean the boat, and hot showers to clean ourselves.

I’ll share a few photos from the local newspaper, showing how bad the ash fall has been on St Vincent. It looks like snow on the ground, and some northern villages have seen several inches of ash accumulation. Roofs are starting to cave in from the weight and the entire island is water rationing because ash can get into the water supply. If you can spare it, please consider donating to relief efforts for this beautiful country and her strong people.

Invest Caribbean GoFund Me

This is a photo I took at Owia in the northern part of St Vincent on Tuesday
These pictures are from the same area after the eruptions, with vegetation and homes covered in ash

Kiteboarding adventures in The Grenadines!

The southern Grenadines are a kiteboarding mecca: strong, consistent trade winds, relatively calm waters protected by coral reefs, and lots of east-facing harbors. Here on Union Island there are several experienced kiteboarding schools and, with plenty of time on our hands, Capt. Mike finally got his chance to take a week of lessons from Happy Kite Grenadines!

Kiteboarding has evolved from the sport of windsurfing. The newer gear is slightly less expensive, and consumes less space in storage, making the sport more accessible than earlier iterations. A rider wears a harness around his waist, attached to a leading-edge inflatable kite by approximately 60 feet of control lines. He stands on a bidirectional board, similar to a wakeboard, and uses the kite to generate power and to control the direction and speed of travel. Is that a dry and boring enough description for you? 🤣 Well, when watching Mike’s lessons, I could feel the excitement and invigoration of flying across the surface of the ocean at high speeds, hoping to avoid boats, reefs, and other boarders, and definitely hoping to avoid a sudden and violent crash!

Did I mention a crash?

Happy Kite is run out of a turquoise catamaran anchored off Frigate Island. We anchored Sanitas there, next to SV Holiday, and Mike and Zach signed up for five consecutive days of private lessons and equipment rentals. I’m pretty impressed with the way they run their school! One instructor drives a fast dinghy. A second instructor communicates with Mike through a Bluetooth-enabled headset, providing guidance and real-time feedback while he was out there on the board. They started out on the beach, learning to inflate and configure the kite, as well as learning about safety devices and how to detach from the kite in an emergency. The first lessons focused on kite control, power zones, and generally how you can use the kite to lift you up and propel you forward.

Happy Kite Headquarters

Next, they moved into the water, not with a board yet, and learned to use the kite to body-drag you through the water. I guess this is important because even experienced kiteboarders fall off their boards, and you need to have a way to pull yourself back to it. Otherwise, the kiteboarding session could end almost as soon as it began! This part of the lesson does not look ANY fun to me at all! Getting dragged through the water, waves and choppy water repeatedly slapping you in the face, no goggles, fins, or snorkel to help us land creatures to feel more at home in the water. Blech!

Soon enough, Capt. Mike mastered the kite (Mike here. I wouldn’t say mastered. More like comprehended kite control) and the drag and was ready to tackle the board. I think his years of snowboarding the Colorado mountains really helped! There are lots of similarities between the two sports: holding an edge to carve through the water, shifting your weight and foot position to change direction, soft knees, sinking back on your heels, and of course, balancing your weight to stay in control of that board at high speeds. I could feel his excitement when the lessons finally clicked and Mike was able to get up onto the board and fly downwind – finally starting to work intuitively with the kite – and really felt that rush of speed! But, just like on a sailboat, you can’t simply speed downwind for ever. At least not if you ever want to get back to your boat or to land again! So he next had to learn to carve up wind – always a bit counterintuitive, lol.

By the final day of lessons, Mike had: lost his new sunglasses, bloodied his big toe and shins, swallowed gallons of seawater, bruised his ribs with the harness, and spent hours on YouTube watching kiteboarding videos 😀 This was the big day! He’d finally mastered both kite and board, (Mike again protesting the use of the word mastered) and the goal of the day was to finally figure out how to link turns from downwind to upwind and back again without stopping and sinking down into the water. I went out on my dinghy and trailed Mike to get some photos and video on the final day. It was much more exciting than watching from Sanitas’ cockpit through binoculars! Not the easiest thing in the word to capture on a cell phone camera from a bouncing dinghy, and a fast moving kiteboarder way off in the distance, but I did my best!

He’s doing it!!

What’s next? Will Capt. Mike find some used kiteboarding gear to purchase down here? (And if so, where will we store it on teeny Sanitas?) Will Sanitas start anchoring in the windiest places we can find, instead of in the calmest? Will I become a kiteboarding widow, whiling away the hours, waiting for my adventure-seeking captain to return? Whatever happens, I’ll share it with you here!

Kite school graduates, celebrating with a ti punch on the Happy Kite catamaran

Beautiful Bequia

Time flies when you’re having fun! We’ve somehow spent a month in Admiralty Bay, Bequia in The Grenadines.

First, we enjoyed the holiday festivities. Then we hired Mr. Winfield Sargeant to do some varnish work on Sanitas. It takes a long time to build up a good coat of varnish when you allow 24-hours of dry time between coats! Especially when you’re applying ten coats, and when it rains every other day in the tropics!

Luckily, we’ve fallen in love with this beautiful small island and we’re in no real hurry to leave! The anchorage is well-protected from the Christmas winds (although it gets rolly at times) and there’s a lovely winding boardwalk that connects the beaches on the south side of the bay to town.

There are several short hikes to scenic overlooks, and when we get tired of these, we just pick a direction and walk to the end of the road! Once you get out of town, traffic is light, and you can only walk two or three miles in any direction until you run out of island!

Sometimes, the walks bring delightful surprises! Such as young Miguel who adopts and feeds the tortoises he finds in his garden…

Or the lovely Bequia Heritage Museum which preserves some of the wooden boats and simple tools that islanders have been using to hunt whales for hundreds of years. The UN has granted special permission for Bequia to hunt whales in order to maintain their history and culture. While I certainly have mixed feelings about hunting whale, throwing a harpoon at that ginormous creature from an 18-foot open wooden boat powered only by sail or oars means the whale has more than a fighting chance. Years go by between successful whale hunts but when they get one, the islanders use every last bit of the whale – meat, oil, skin, and bone.

On our most recent walk (to the end of the road in a northeasterly direction) we visited Mr. Orten King at the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. 82 year old Mr. King has been working to preserve and protect hawksbill turtles for over 25 years. He maps and protects turtle hatching grounds, and raises baby turtles in his salt water tanks for three years before releasing them back into the wild. I’d certainly rather see a turtle in the wild rather than in a tank, but I hope this little project is successful in increasing the hawksbill population here in the Grenadines!

Christmas in the Islands

It wasn’t a white Christmas (unless you count the sand) but I truly think we’ve had as nice a holiday as we could manage while being stuck far from home in the days of coronavirus.

Within the sailing community, everyone talks about “Christmas in Bequia” in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. So as soon as we’d cleared into the country at Union Island, Capt. Mike and I started planning to sail about 55nm north to arrive in Bequia before bad weather moved in and to ensure we’d make it before the holiday. It was a brisk sail, with higher than expected seas, but Sanitas did great. We arrived and anchored just in front of the floating Bar One where friends from SV Jono and SV Maracudja cheered and jeered our anchoring attempts. Sometimes you watch the show, and sometimes you are the show!

It was a lovely welcome to this particularly welcoming island! Bequia is all about boats – they build boats by hand here, and fishing is a big part of the culture. Bequia is one of the few places remaining in the world where residents have approval to hunt whales. But they can only do so using small open sailboats (without motors) and using hand thrown harpoons. 😲 You can find any sort of marine service you might require here, such as canvas work, engine maintenance, or sail repair. And ferry boats run daily to the main island of St Vincent in case you can’t find a repair part here. It immediately felt like a place we could stay quite happily for a while. And the best part was that many of our sailing friends from Grenada and elsewhere had also gathered, so we could look forward to celebrations with friends to make us feel a little bit better about that fact that we were so far away from family.

St Vincentians have a unique Christmas tradition known as the “Nine Mornings.” For the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve, some folks attend early morning church services and then gather in the main square in town to listen to music, dance, and participate in contests like “longest earrings”, “best female dancer”, and “fastest juice drinker.” I have to admit, we didn’t participate very much – even hearing loud music from shore at 4:30 am isn’t enough of an enticement to get me out of bed before sunrise. And then…once the sun does come up, everybody heads to work or school and the party’s over. But we did enjoy the lights and decorations at a much more reasonable hour of the evening, lol!

On Christmas Eve, we were invited over to Andres and Elisbeth’s sailboat to join in a Norwegian tradition of sharing rice porridge (risgrøt) and mulled wine (gløgg) with friends and family. This tradition is new to me, but I love it! The “more the merrier” vibe felt so kind, and it was a great chance to meet new cruiser friends – several of who had just crossed the Atlantic in time for the holiday. Wow! Impressive! Our hosts were festively attired – those Santa hats are hot in the tropics!

We had Christmas lunch with some good friends at Coco’s Place. And while I *could* have ordered Turkey and the fixings, when in Bequia, you must celebrate Christmas with fresh fruit, right? And a cool rum punch 🍹Tourism is way, way down because of Covid, and it felt good to support a small local restaurant owner with our holiday business. And we’ll definitely be back for Coco’s famous fish chowder. Luckily, we have good cell phone signal here, so both the captain and I were able to call home on Christmas to speak to our families and to dream of the more traditional snowy, cozy Christmas we wish we could be spending with our loved ones.

Thanks to Cheryl on Leef Nu and Lindy on Holiday for the photos of Christmas lunch! I guess I was having too much fun to take pictures.

Speaking of difficulties due to Covid, The Fig Tree restaurant is an institution in Bequia- long a gathering place for cruisers, as well as a resource for local school children who attend Miss Johnson’s reading program in the afternoons. But the owners were contemplating closing down because of the lack of visitors in 2020. So a group of Fig Tree supporters, including the owners and crew of Sailing Yacht Ananda, planned a fundraiser party for New Year’s Eve. I’m thrilled to report that every single table sold out, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening of cocktails, local Caribbean food, and dancing knowing that we were helping Miss Johnson and her team stay in business through this unusually quiet “high” season.

You may be wondering about exactly HOW we can safely have these types of celebrations during Covid. St Vincent and the Grenadines has used closed borders, mandatory Covid testing, and mandatory quarantine to do a good job of keeping the number of cases imported into the island nation low. There are limits of the size of gatherings, and requirements for hand sanitizer and contact tracing, but otherwise things feel pretty relaxed. Except….at about 7:00 on New Years Eve, the government decided that the big street parties and all night celebrations that usually usher in the new year would be too risky this year. So at the last minute they prohibited “amplified music” and sent policemen around to share that message. It definitely meant things were quieter than expected! But the Fig Tree party was granted an exception, because our entertainment was provided by a violinist playing pop hits with great enthusiasm. The authorities said he could play during dinner…..so dinner went on for a very, very, long time – right up to midnight! 🤣 He did have backup music, and a supporting DJ, but I guess they figured a violinist couldn’t get in too much trouble!

I hope you and your families had a safe and peaceful Christmas, and that you were also to do the best you could to make new traditions in this crazy year. ❤️