We haven’t had internet in an age, and the blog has suffered as a result. Since leaving the Turks and Caicos, we have gone to Cabo Rojo and Culebra, Puerto Rico; St. John’s and St. Thomas, USVI; Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda, BVI; Gustavia, St. Barth; and we are now in Jolly Harbour, Antigua. Posts with pictures will be coming for each location.
Thank you to all of our friends and family who have reached out to check on us during this unprecedented global upheaval. The short version is that we are safe in Jollly Harbour, on a mooring, fully provisioned with fuel, water, and enough food to lower our water line a couple of inches. Immigration cleared us to stay in Antigua for 90 days, and our cruising permit is for 30 days; allegedly that can be extended monthly as needed.
Islands stretching from the Bahamas to Curacao have all been dealing with the Coronavirus threat in a number of ways, but they essentially boil down to a few variations:
1. The border is closed, and no boats may enter the island’s waters. Many islands have taken this blanket approach. Curacao is sending military vessels to intercept arriving yachts.
2. The island is ejecting non-resident boaters. Iles de Saintes is kicking out foreign- flagged vessels.
3. The island has closed all businesses, including government operations. For boats that had already cleared in, this means that they are essentially trapped. While they can leave the island’s waters, they have not officially cleared out; without an outbound clearance (a/k/a zarpe), they will have very little chance of successfully clearing in to another country. The French islands (St. Barth, Guadeloupe, and Martinique) all fall into this camp.
4. The island is accepting new arrivals but with restrictions. Antigua is still open, but all clearances are now done only at St. John; there are new health assessments and questions regarding last six countries visited. The Antiguan Coast Guard has been patrolling anchorages and bays with lists of cleared yachts. Grenada is still open, but arriving vessels have a mandatory 14 day quarantine and may not come ashore during that time.
The main problem is that the rules keep changing, often by the hour, and those tasked with enforcing the rules are as confused as we are. Our plan is to stay put in our safe location until there is some clarity and consistency. Once the flurry of reactionary rules settles down, and we have a reasonable chance, we will make a dash for Grenada. The sight-seeing cruise through the Caribbean is over.
The story of how the Coronavirus affected us is really only dramatic in retrospect. The series of decisions we made were all (unknowingly) made at the right time. We left the BVIs on the way to Antigua and decided to stop in St. Barth. We anchored off of Gustavia in the world’s most crowded and roly anchorage. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and checked in, which was totally painless and almost laughably laissez-faire. The Immigration officer told us that everything is closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, so stay until Monday if you want to sight-see.
Given that, we decided to stay until Monday and had plans to leave Monday evening for an overnight sail to Antigua. Sunday was chore date, and we made water with our water maker. Monday we headed into town. The first thing that greeted us was a line outside the grocery store; they were only letting a few people in at a time. When we got into the store, the mood was electric. One man swept a huge swath of pasta into his cart. People had two carts. All of the bread was gone. We got a few items and immediately got out. The pharmacy was crowded, and the mood was tense. We looked at each other and headed to check out straight away.
Once we had our outbound clearance papers, we dinghed over to the commercial fuel dock. We filled all of our jerry cans and our fuel bladder; between that and our full fuel tank, that gave us 85 gallons of fuel. At a higher-than-normal burn rate of 0.75 gallons per hour, we could go 567 nm. We got the boat prepared for sea in record time and left St. Barth at 2:30 PM.
When we arrived in Jolly Harbour, Antigua, at about 7:00 AM the next morning, the anchorage was already full. We attempted twice to anchor but were dragging on coral; giving that up, we headed farther into the harbor and were able to snag a mooring ball. We immediately splashed the dinghy, and I headed in to clear us into the country while the Captain put the boat to rights.
I arrived ten minutes after the government office opened, and there were already six people ahead of me. The process is not complicated (Customs, then Immigration, then Customs again, then pay the fees at Port Authority), and all of the offices are next to each other, but it ended up taking over two hours. We weren’t allowed to go in the offices, and the officers came out to each of us individually. It was clear that the rules were in flux even then; we were being asked about the last six countries we had visited and where we had been in the prior two weeks, and many people were unprepared to answer that.
When I checked us in, the Customs officer remarked that we had made it out of St. Barth “just in time.” It turns out that shortly after we cleared out, St. Barth instituted a “general shutdown” that closed all businesses, including government offices. That meant that no outbound clearances were being given, and people were now stuck, as I explained above. I’d love to say that we somehow knew that was coming and through sheer cleverness beat the system, but I can’t–it was at most a combination of cunning, skepticism, and luck.
So here we are, keeping tabs on what’s going on through Facebook groups (of all things!), texting with our cruising friends, and self-isolating. Since we’ll be here for at least a couple of weeks, we’re working on some of the boat projects we had scheduled for when we reached Grenada and Trinidad.
To everyone reading, please be safe, and we wish you the best.