After a month in beautiful Guadeloupe, with Covid-19 finally present in the Caribbean, Capt. Mike and I were feeling increasingly unwelcome in the French island and made the difficult decision to return north to Antigua. Why’d we decide to move?
- The government asked all foreign flagged boats to leave.
- Guadeloupe followed the French lead, and was increasingly locked down: all non-essential businesses closed, stay home at all times, if you must leave for groceries or medical care you need a form which will be checked by police, no moving boats between harbors, no walking on shore, even no swimming (!)
- Confirmed cases increased rapidly on the island, to epidemic levels. We stayed on the boat for over a week straight with only one trip to land for groceries.
- We were running low on propane for our cook stove. When it runs out, we can’t refill in the French islands because they only have butane. The possibility of going weeks or months without a hot meal was daunting.
- We had no support network of fellow liveaboard sailors in Guadeloupe, and can’t speak French well enough to make new friends. When our dinghy motor conked out half way back to the boat, it really brought home how much we were on our own.
All around us, Caribbean islands were closing their borders. I belong to Facebook groups for sailors and twice a day admins shared the latest and greatest news on borders. The situation was changing so quickly that some sailors left one open port to make a passage to another open port in a different country, only to find those borders closed when they arrived. Here’s a portion of the the last edition of the closure list from March 23.
Latest updates as of 09:30 March 23
This will be my last update. If you haven’t figured out that moving around is risky, I can no longer enable reckless behaviour. When restrictions start being relaxed, I’ll be back. This is for yacht/pleasure craft clearances only. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this. This was truly a community effort.
TRINIDAD is closed.
ST LUCIA is closed.
ARUBA is closed
BONAIRE is closed.
CURAÇAO is closed.
BVI’s are closed.
MARIE-GALANTE and THE SAINTS are closed.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC is closed.
ST MAARTEN (Dutch) is closed Monday. It appears the French side will be doing the same.
ANGUILLA has a mandatory 14 day quarantine.
BERMUDA is closed.
DOMINICA is closed.
GRENADA is closed.
MONTSERRAT has a mandatory 14 day quarantine.
MARTINIQUE is closed.
GUADELOUPE is closed.
TURKS & CAICOS will be closed as of Tuesday, March 24. PUERTO RICO is in lockdown. Ports are open.
If you are told to quarantine, don’t mess around. You asked that country to take you in and trust you, it is now up to you to do your part. Fines and jail time are possible, never mind jeopardizing the health of those around you. Good luck all.
So….Capt. Mike and I made the decision to leave as soon as possible for Antigua, while borders were still open, even though the sailing conditions were less than ideal. But – we had another problem. With all non-essential businesses closed, we couldn’t clear out of Guadeloupe, and we didn’t know if Antigua would accept us without the proper paperwork. We spent all afternoon on the phone with Antigua customs and immigration until we found someone who could answer our question. Finally, at 5:30 pm, we were told “You can come”.
So I cooked a big dinner, prepped everything for the sail, and set the alarm for 5am. We’re definitely out of practice with these early starts, but we were anchors up and outside the harbor channel by official sunrise at 6:02 am. Conditions were definitely “sporty” all day with winds over 20 knots and very high waves hitting us on the beam and knocking Sanitas sideways. As we rounded the point at the southeast corner of Guadeloupe, seas were very confused causing a “washing machine effect” and I found myself feeding the fishes a little bit of last night’s dinner. Capt. Mike was amazing all day. He stayed at the helm for over 12 hours, through rain showers and crazy seas, managing the sails, adjusting course to get us to Antigua as directly and quickly as possible. Floatation device on and tethered to the boat, at one point a big wave crested over the cockpit, half-filling the cockpit with seawater. Good thing the cockpit scuppers (drains) weren’t clogged! On the positive side, there were absolutely no other boats out there to get in our way, and with those strong winds, Sanitas was flying! She averaged 6.1 knots over those 12 hours, which is absolutely unheard of! Conditions were never actually dangerous, and our sturdy 37 foot Pacific Seacraft handled it great, but it is just slightly possible that I am less hardy and tough than our boat. 😜
We made it as far along the Antigua coast as we could before sunset, but we couldn’t make it to the one remaining open port of entry in St John’s. So we dropped the anchor, raised the yellow Q flag, had a bowl of soup, and went right to sleep. After another early start, with a coast guard boat escorting us part-way, we sailed into the channel of St John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda. It’s an industrial port, and sailboats rarely come here. We hailed the port authority on the VHF radio to let them know we were coming, dropped anchor in the middle of a bunch of other boats all flying the Q flag, lowered our dinghy into the water and headed ashore. The building at the top of the dinghy dock has been turned into a new customs and immigration office. As soon as we walked through the door, we were asked to sit down at a card table and had our temperatures taken and recorded. An officer from the Antiguan Health Ministry asked us a series of questions about our travel history and current state of health: “Which countries have you visited in the past 30 days?”, “Why did you return from Guadeloupe?”, “Have you had any crew members join and leave your vessel?”, “Have you visited any of these countries?” We filled out several sets of forms and they all got gathered into our file. The Health Minister signed off on our entry and sent us to Customs and Immigration. We were immediately asked for the missing clearance paperwork from Guadeloupe. Luckily, the customs officer allowed Capt. Mike to write a letter to the government explaining the reason for the missing papers. After standing in a few more lines, and paying a few fees, we were in! We have a 90-day immigration visa, a 30-day cruising permit (renewable) and no restrictions on moving between anchorages.
We did a quick walk into town to pick up some veggies, a phone charger cord, and takeout for lunch. It was strange to see so many people out on the streets after the complete lockdown of Guadeloupe. We went back to Sanitas, replaced the yellow Q flag with the courtesy flag for Antigua, and sailed south to Deep Bay which is quiet and calm to rest up and recover.
So what will we do next? I don’t exactly know. It’s just been announced that the Antigua international airport will close at midnight tomorrow. The prime minister is talking about implementing a nightly curfew this weekend to keep people at home. There have been three confirmed cases of Covid-19 here in Antigua – which is pretty low compared to other countries and islands. Basically, Mike and I are planning to hunker down on Sanitas, eat the food we’ve got stored away, and go ashore and be around people as little as possible. Our immigration status is good until June 22. We can move from harbor to harbor as the weather conditions change to find a safe anchorage. We’ll top up with diesel, gas, and propane to ensure we are well-positioned in case businesses close or supply chains are impacted. We’ll get a little extra cash (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) from the ATM. We’ll lock the boat every time we do leave – in case our cans of tuna fish start to seem very attractive to other people. We’ll think about alternative plans for hurricane season – researching if we can haul out here for the summer instead of in Grenada, and asking if Grenada will roll over our non-refundable deposit to next year, or if we’ll lose it 😢 All in all, we feel pretty safe here and feel in control of our own safety. We even have plenty of toilet paper! Honestly, it feels safer right now than getting on a plane, squished in with lots of people, and returning to the US where we don’t have a home or any supplies. Stay tuned! We’ll keep you posted as we figure it all out!