Not a photographic collage, although that would speak a thousand words. This will be a collage of the stories I’ve heard over the past two weeks, as things have changed on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis.
Deserted Rodney Bay Marina on Wednesday, the day we left. The Customs Office was closed so we could not clear out of the country. Even the marina was closed so we left without a bill for their services. They promised to email the bill, which we now have.
When we got up on Wednesday morning, planning to sail to the USVI, things had changed enough overnight for us to reconsider that plan. We decided rather last minute that it might be better to stay in St. Lucia another few days or week to let things ‘finish’ playing out in this scenario. By noon, things changed enough for us to feel that we’d better get on our way to Antigua, not the USVI.
Antigua was going to shut down in some form, by midnight Friday. Today is Friday, and we cleared into Antigua this morning. We sailed through the night both Wednesday and Thursday to get here. We haven’t heard definitely if the island will close its borders tonight, we haven’t heard for certain whether enforced quarantines will begin to take place. All we know is what happened to us. We were cleared in this morning without quarantine.
Although the exact details of what restrictions each island is enforcing right now is often inaccurate, here are some of the real stories, both heartbreaking and inspirational. These are my friends and acquaintances, so I am not going to use their names.
One of our good friends got Dengue fever while we were all together this winter. She was probably bitten in Guadaloupe, but her symptoms became obvious once we’d all sailed to Domenica, the island with the least services. She was sick for a month, anchored in Portsmouth Harbor, Dominica. It was scary to watch her go through this without medical attention. I don’t know if she could have been helped. She did not feel normal again for 6 weeks. By that time, the covid 19 virus was spreading down here, and she was in a compromised state due to being so sick already. She and her husband made plans to get to Grenada as soon as possible, hopefully before those borders closed. They have yearly storage for their boat there so they would have gone there at the end of the season anyway. They cleared in to Grenada on the last day Grenada was open with no restrictions. They moved their haul-out and storage date up so they could close things down and get a flight back to the US. The boat came out of the water on Monday, a week ago, but their Friday flight home was canceled. After a few scary days wondering what to do, almost putting their boat back in the water to sail home, they were able to get a flight to Toronto this week (possibly today). They got a second flight into the US from there. When they arrived at the airport in Grenada today, they learned their flight from Toronto to somewhere in the US had been canceled. The last I heard was that they found a flight to get back in the US. I don’t know where and I don’t know how long they will be in Toronto before getting that flight. I’m relieved they will soon be home, and I hope that they are able to stay well during all this travel. I hope I hear they are safely home (mandatory quarantine) by the end of the weekend.
This is the most heartbreaking story I’ve heard. One of the men who had done the fall rally to Antigua with Bob has gotten into quite a desperate situation. At some point after the rally, the man’s wife flew home, and he has been single-handing their boat for the winter. His last port was St. Martin, where he began to feel quite ill. As of a few days ago, he realized he had become to ill to take care of himself. Either he contacted authorities on shore, or nearby boaters made the contact for him. The authorities came to get him off his boat in Simpson Bay, St. Martin. After checking his symptoms he was found to be quite sick with Covid 19, so he was air lifted to a hospital in Guadeloupe. Why Guadeloupe? Most likely because St. Martin could only send him somewhere French. His wife was on her way to meet him in Guadeloupe, but once there, the doctors found that his condition was critical, and he has now been air lifted to Florida, followed by his wife, who now also has the virus. He is in a Miami hospital, in ICU. This is a story so sad, it’s hard to get my head around it. How tragic that both of them were so far apart, and he was so far from home. Maybe we’ll get the amazing news that both of them recovered, but deep down I fear it all played out too late.
Today at the immigration office in St. John, Antigua, we listened to the stories of others who were attempting to find shelter here. First, I want to note that the Antiguans did a terrific job of making us all as safe as I can imagine being outside of a hospital. We arrived just after Immigration and Customs had opened, so there were already a few people going through the process. The government has installed a new floating dock and ramp for people on private boats to land their dinghies. The ramp leads straight to the immigration building, and access to the rest of the city is roped off. Guards greet you at the ramp to tell you how to proceed.
As each of us arrived, we washed our hands with real water and soap, in a large basin with faucet. After that we got in line, 6 ft. apart from strangers. Captains and crew were kept together and entered the building for the medical check. Bob and I did that together. The table where we sat was sanitized between each visitor or group. The nurses who checked us wore full disposable gowns, masks and gloves. Even the pen we used to fill out the forms had been sanitized between uses. The only thing that the customs official touched that was not sanitized was our actual paperwork. Once this was finished, I was sent to a large waiting area, or I could wait outside, while Bob went into the office to clear in. The officials at both immigration and customs were behind glass walls. At one point I was asked to join Bob because he was having trouble hearing the questions through the glass partitions. The problem was that we did not have proper paperwork for exiting St. Lucia, which we knew. The customs office in St. Lucia was closed indefinitely when we left, and we were told that a copy of our marina bill which showed when we checked in and when we left should be good enough. In the long run it was. The official behind glass just wanted me to write a handwritten statement to the Controller of Customs about why we did not have the proper paperwork. About half an hour later, we were done with the process ( 2 hours in total) and were cleared into Antigua with no quarantine. I think the mandatory quarantine for boaters will start tomorrow.
During the clearing in process, the only problems I heard were from people who had been in any of the French islands during the last 2 weeks. Our last visits to both Guadeloupe and Martinique had taken place more than a month ago. What luck. I think I will always wonder about the Carnivale in Fort de France. The virus was already there then, but no one was aware. We spent days in the biggest crowds I’ve been in since my young adulthood. Still, I found myself listening intently to the others who were not so lucky. The saddest story I heard was from a family who was just sailing into St. John Harbour shortly after we did. There was a man onboard with his wife and two young children. They had spent a few weeks in St. Martin and were now bringing their boat to Antigua for it to be shipped back to Europe on a ship. The last I heard he was being denied entry. But I had the sense that the process was not yet final. He was describing his situation that the boat would get put on a ship, and he and his family would fly home. He was offering to quarantine his family on the boat until the day the boat would be shipped. Atlhough the official kept saying no, she also continued to listen to his plight and his offers to make this sitaution work. I do not know the outcome, but I hope it worked out for that family.
Also during our time in immigration process, I heard a young couple beginning their paperwork after the medical check. They were both from Italy. I have no idea if they had already been sailing in the islands for months, rather than just arriving from Italy. Perhaps they were just stating their nationality. Like us, as US citizens, we would not be allowed in directly from the US, but we were admitted since we’ve been down here for the whole winter. I hope all went well for them. I couldn’t help but wonder about their families and friends in Italy.
While making plans to sail north we had heard that not only was Guadeloupe closed but that they were policing the harbors to make sure that no vessels tried to shelter there. We’d heard that vessels on passage should not get closer than 12 to 15 miles offshore. We presumed this was hype, but in fact we experienced it last night. As we approached the southern end of Guadeloupe, heading north, we saw a French war vessel. Bob thinks it was a frigate. Slowly it began heading toward us, and night was falling. We had our AIS turned on, and I was hoping they would call us on the VHF radio if they wanted to shoo us away or ask our intentions. But there was no communication from them, and they just kept getting closer. My fear was growing. I did not want this ship to come close and blast a horn at us and threaten us over a loudspeaker. It was almost fully dark, and I knew I’d freak out to have a ship screaming at us with a bullhorn in the dark. So Bob called them. He told them we were passing through on our way to Antigua, that we had no intention of entering a harbor on Guadeloupe. Yes, they wanted us to move further offshore. They told us to cross their stern. We did, and promptly. It was a tense moment for me.
At home I am hearing stories of friends making masks for local hospitals. One of my friends said the local New Jersey hospital was giving out kits complete with everything needed to make the masks. Others in Connecticut and Rhode Island are supplying their own materials. One of my friends could not find 1/4″ elastic anywhere and had found that she could substitute cut t-shirt fabric for the elastic bands. Ingenious!
The sweetest story I’ve heard is from home. One of my friends has a granddaughter who turned seven this week. She cannot have a party. She cannot even see her local grandparents. What a sad memory this birthday would be. But her local friends made a plan to give her birthday parade! They drove by in cars, some of them decorated with birthday wishes for her, and she stood in her driveway to watch all these friends remember her special day. Even the police and the firemen made an appearance for her! I wonder if this will the best birthday of her whole childhood! What a terrific community!
Bob and I are feeling a bit lost. We’ve made it to Antigua, which suddenly looked like the place to be in order to keep our options open. But what are our options? It’s too soon to know, and things everywhere are changing too rapidly. We would like to get to the USVI. We’d be on US soil there, maybe we can get some money because we are almost out. Today they would only take Eastern Caribbean cash from us, and we are almost out of all currency. In the USVI I have an absurd dream that Bob’s crew might be able to get down there and allow me to fly home. I am trying to wean myself off this pipe dream, but I haven’t quite given up. Our 2-overnight sail to Antigua was about as calm as these waters ever get, and yet I was miserably seasick for most of the 48 hours. I’ve been sailing for a bit over 45 years. I am not going to miraculous get over this just because I have long journey ahead. Meanwhile, the harbors in the USVI are over crowded at the moment and there is mandatory quarantine. I don’t mind the quarantine; we had begun doing that in St. Lucia and will definitely do it here. Although I’m not anywhere near home, I am now on the crazy emotional ride of trying to get home. I don’t want anything to stand between me and home now.
In a short while we will have a phone call cocktail hour with a dear friend from NY who is currently living in the midwest. I think he is in a much safer place in the midwest, and I am thankful for that. We’ll have a nice chat. Almost every day we speak to both our boys and their families, and most of the time it is by video chat. Sometimes there’s a lot of dropped calls during the process. At home this would be frustrating, but here it’s the best connectivity we’ve ever had. These islands have upped their game in connectivity. This would be unbearable if we could not talk to our family. Bob’s mother is in a nursing home in Connecticut, and the staff call us now and then to update us. The facility has been closed to outsiders for almost a month, so we would not see Mom, even if we were home. They’ve made an extra effort to help her have phone calls with us. She had an ‘episode’ this week, but it had nothing to do with the virus. We hope to get to see her by sometime this summer.
So this is our diaspora. It’s not like war, and we are not starving or lacking for any necessities. We just miss home and friends and family. A LOT. I don’t know how we’ll get home, or when. We rely on foreign governments for shelter in their countries, and I hope to allow me to get a flight home. I can’t even imagine what people in less fortunate situations are feeling because I’m rather fragile just wishing I could get back to my ‘land’ life. I hope all our water friends make it to their own safe harbors. Many of our friends live onboard year round, and they need to get to safe harbors out of the hurricane zone during the next two months. At the moment the safe harbors where they need to be are closed. I want everyone to be safe and well. It’s what all of us want for our family and friends. It’s a lot to ask, and we won’t all get it. All we can do is take care of those we can. All we can do is ‘go with the flow’–something I could be better at doing. Good luck wherever you are and whatever you are going through with your loved ones.