A brief update, sort of a post script at the beginning rather the end: March 22
All islands are now closed. We plan to begin this long journey home on Wednesday (Mar. 25), with a first destination of USVI. One of our small flotilla contacted the consulate there to ask to be admitted. The consulate believes we can clear in. At the moment, in many of the islands, legally cleared in cruisers are being forbidden from going ashore to provision, even after finishing a mandatory 2-week quarantine, in order to protect the locals. In Martinique, legally cleared-in cruisers are being evicted if they are not a EU registered boat. All American flagged boats will be evicted with no ability to clear into any other island. That seems unduly cruel. Once we leave St. Lucia, we cannot make landfall, even for a night of rest onboard, even without going ashore. So we will sail directly the to USVI and hope we’ll be admitted. We’ll rest and do the larger jump to the US, wherever we will be allowed to enter. We have plenty of provisions to make it to the USVI, and perhaps even enough to make it to the US. We don’t yet know where we can clear in on the East Coast, but one of our volunteers will start working with the State Dept. tomorrow. We are low on cash and no way to get more here. I am hoping, hoping, hoping for calm seas for this 2000 mile journey.
My good friends will know that I am not living at home at the moment. My husband and I spend our winters onboard our sailboat and travel through the Leeward and Windward islands of the Caribbean. Some people imagine us living a dream, floating about in calm waters with umbrella drinks amongst tropical scenery. For brief moments that can be true! The reality is that the sea conditions down here can be quite “sporty” since we are sailing in open ocean between islands, and those ocean swells have come non-stop all the way from Africa! Most of these islands do not have protected harbors, so we anchor in bays that have some ocean swell rocking the boats at anchor. Life on a boat is a step back in time. Things we take for granted at home, especially modern plumbing, is a distant dream onboard. Toilets, showers, laundry are all BIG issues on a boat. We ration fresh water and electricity, so anything having to do with water, and especially hot water is not a given. By the time I return home each spring, I am deeply in need of homelife! This year will be even more so.
I have always felt my own homes to be good shelters, safe havens from the outside world. I have relished those safe havens and perhaps taken some of the conveniences there for granted. For some time now I associate this word–shelter– with yarn. Yes, yarn….specifically Brooklyn Tweed’s yarn called ‘Shelter.’ I made a sweater once with a beautiful color of green Shelter called ‘Bottle.’ I knitted it one fall while Bob and I were making our way down the ICW (intra coastal waterway) in mid-autumn weather. I finished it and got to wear it when we arrived in chilly St. Augustine.
Actually, this shows the color more accurately–a lovely, beer-bottle green.
Now our boat is looming large–actually, looming smaller and smaller– as our shelter. Sorry for the pun. Can you tell I miss my looms? I admit I am a bit envious of my weaving friends who are sheltering at home. I know they are weaving. Sigh…
I don’t often talk about sailing because this blog is not a travel blog, and it’s certainly not a sailing blog. That would be my husband’s domain, and you can find him here. I stick to textile techniques, and I try to search them out wherever the wind takes us while we are living aboard. But today I need to talk a bit about sailing.
Yesterday we learned that the Secretary of State announced that all Americans currently out of the country have to get home immediately, or shelter in place wherever they currently are. He said this situation could last a long time, perhaps 18 months. That narrowed our decision about whether to stay down in the Caribbean to wait out the pandemic or sail almost 2,000 miles to get home We were lucky to check in to St. Lucia before they closed the island, but now we see that we must begin the long journey home unless we are prepared to stay here for an indefinite amount of time. We are not. Most of the islands in the Windward and Leeward chains are now closed to visitors, and some of them have implemented severe rules that cruisers may not come ashore to provision, even if they have cleared in with immigration. They are protecting their own citizens from exposure to us who have been visiting many islands countries over the past few months, and they are ensuring that their own citizens have access to the limited food and supplies in the shops. All good. We, on the other hand, cannot live somewhere indefinitely without the ability to restock our provisions.
The list of islands now closed to visitors is almost all of them. The few that are still open, either require quarantining visiting cruisers onboard their boats, or rejecting them due to the places they may have visited before arriving. Because the incident of the virus has risen dramatically in the US, boats from the US are being excluded from some of the few islands still accepting visitors. I feels a bit like a diaspora, although I know we are so much better off than people left homeless on land.
This is the marina tucked inside Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. We are so lucky to have gotten here before the island closed. The marina is full at the moment. The water is too dirty for swimming, and we cannot make fresh water here. But there is good water on the dock, and we have electricity!
Bob knows my level of concern. A good deal of it is based on the kinds of malfunctions and near-disasters he has encountered during his and others’ past few voyages to and from the Caribbean. Amidst all the prep he is doing to get us ready to leave, mostly involving the water maker and the new fridge unit, he bought flowers! Yes, that went some measure to making things feel normal for at least the next few days. To quote the Queen, “Stay Calm and carry on.” Flowers onboard do lend a sense of calm!
Here is our current plan. I apologize in advance for getting into more sailing jargon than any non-sailor should have to endure. We will sail up the chain of Windward islands, starting sometime next week, when the winds and sea swell should be down a bit. We will rely on our excellent weather router, Chris Parker, to advise on the calmest time to leave. Although all these islands are closed to us, for the sake of my inexperience, we will stop each night in a bay on some island to anchor. We will be on our way again the next morning. This is technically illegal, and some islands, like St. Lucia, are policing their bays and shooing away visitors. If this should happen, we plan to plead my lack of qualifications for this journey and our need to rest.
Our first destination is St. John in the American Virgin Islands. We should be able to get there in 10 – 14 days. Before we arrive there we hope that land-based volunteers from our several blue water sailing groups will be working to get the State Department to understand our plight and designate some American ports where we can shelter. We have heard that harbors along the East coast are closing. We need to have some places open for our arrival. We need to know where we can go. Our land-based volunteers also plan to ask the Coast Guard for help in tracking our routes, or keeping track of us in some way. We will have a list of boats making this journey to give to both the State Department and the Coast Guard. Most of us have transponders onboard for keeping track of our location.
Because of my lack of experience (frankly, I am so unqualified for this journey it is frightful), we will be taking a route that keeps us relatively close to islands where we can bail out as necessary, even though these islands will be closed to us. We don’t have an exact sail plan yet, but it’s likely that we will go to Puerto Rico (closed for entry) and possibly through the Bahamas (also closed). Then perhaps to Florida or Georgia. From there we can go up the Intra Coastal Waterway. The only remaining ocean passages would be the coast of NJ, always horrible, and perhaps the outside of Long Island. I cannot think about that part of the trip now. It’s a long way off, and who knows how things will be by then.
My worries are:
–Normally Bob would sail home with two or three experienced crew members, but no one can get to us right now.
–We are currently in St. Lucia which is part of the forbidden hurricane zone, starting on June 1. Our insurance will be voided if we don’t get north of Cape Hatteras or south of the Grenadines by that date. Considering how slow travel by sail is, we need to get out of here soon, either north or south.
–since we will not be permitted ashore during our travels, we need to make sure we are completely self sufficient in food, water, and mechanical necessities onboard. We have just had a new refrigerator/freezer installed since our original one died in Dec. It took all this time — 3 months! — to get the new equipment shipped and installed. In order to fit this new appliance onboard we had to move our water maker. The installation of both these items is still not complete, so we have not been able to test that they are in good, working condition. I am very worried about this. We need to make our own water and we need to keep some of our food cold…..for quite a long time.
–I will be out of meds in April, so I hope I can get help with that in St. John since we’ll be on American soil. Fingers crossed. I also do not have reliable seasick medicine, and as the only crew member I need to be able to do my share.
We hope to be home by mid-May. I have never been at sea for such a long time. This will be very different than the island hopping we’ve done in past winters. We should have moderate connectivity through our trip to St. John in the USVI, but after that I have no idea. It’s hard to be so far from home with little or no ability to keep in touch. So, fingers crossed and holding my breath that I’ll get home and be weaving in a couple of months’ time.