Travel in the time of Coronavirus

Here we are in December of 2020 – are you longing to travel? Me too! We’ve been in the tiny island nation of Grenada for six months. That’s the longest we’ve been in any one country (including the US) since 2017. Hurricane season is over and Caribbean nations are starting to cautiously relax their coronavirus restrictions and to reopen for tourism. Hooray! But that sure doesn’t mean that it’s easy or cheap to travel yet. Follow along with me on the thrilling adventure of sailing twelve miles and overcoming infinite bureaucratic red tape to get from Grenada 🇬🇩 to St Vincent and the Grenadines 🇻🇨

First of all, the protocols for entering each country have been changing weekly – it’s hard to keep track! St Vincent has actually done a pretty good job of updating a web page with their requirements. In a nutshell, we have to pass a Covid test in Grenada, then travel to SVG and take a second test, quarantining while we wait for the results. If both tests are negative, we are free to clear in and explore the country. Sounds easy, right? 😜 Obviously, you are not familiar with the concept of island time. (Skip to the end if you just want to know how much it cost)

We’ve spent the past three weeks on the island of Carriacou, a pleasant day sail north of the big island of Grenada, and still part of the country of Grenada. From our anchorage, we could look northwest and see Clifton Harbor Union Island – the southernmost island in St Vincent, less than 12 miles away. But …. until last week, the only open port of entry for SVG was on the main island of St Vincent, over 50 miles further north. AND the only clinic in Carriacou that does Covid tests only performs the tests on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:00pm. Then they put the tests on a ferry and ship them back to Grenada for processing. Talk about adding time and complexity to the process! We waited until Union Island reopened to visitors (giving them a week to work out the kinks) and then Cheryl on SV LeefNu put together a spreadsheet of all of the steps in the process and we went to work!

Step 1: Request permission to travel to St Vincent

On Wednesday December 2, I sent an email to SVGARRIVALS requesting permission to travel from Carriacou to Union Island over a week later, on 10 December. I attached a “Request to quarantine aboard” form with lots of details about our boat, crew, travel history and health status.  I didn’t receive any sort of response until late Friday afternoon when I wrote back and asked politely whether I should cancel my PCR test appointment on Monday. That did it. I received an email stating we were approved!

Step 2: Pre-travel Covid PCR test

I can’t believe I made it all the way to December 2020 without a q-tip up the nose! Well, no longer. We dinghied ashore and joined a small parade of other sailors walking toward the L’esterre Health Clinic. The nurse looked a bit taken aback to see us all lined up at the front door. She muttered, “I hope I have enough swabs” and directed us one at a time to the office to pay. Then another long wait in the hot airless clinic until being called into the nurse’s office to get poked. She had exactly enough tests for the 16 people who showed up that day. The nurse was surprisingly gentle, and we were free again one hour and 820ecd ($300) later. Yikes! Now the clock is ticking. We need to make sure we can get to SVG within the 72 hours that this test is valid. I’d cry if we missed our chance and had to get a second test and shell out ANOTHER $300 bucks.

Step 3: Wait for test results. Stress out. Jump each time you get an email notification

There’s a long list of paperwork we need to submit to St Vincent 24-hours before we arrive. But the very first item on the list is our negative test results. So we hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope the tests made it onto Monday night’s ferry to Grenada and hope that the General Hospital isn’t too overwhelmed to process our tests quickly. Did I mention that St Vincent only performs tests on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday? So if we miss our scheduled arrival on Thursday, we’ll have to go on Friday, wait on a quarantine mooring ball until Monday to get tested, and THEN stay in quarantine until we get the results. Or, they might not let us in at all because our Grenada test results would be older than 72 hours. Oh, the stress!

Step 4: Lots more paperwork – finalize permission to travel to SVG

On Wednesday morning at 8:30, our friends on SV Holiday and SV LeefNu received their negative test results via email. But nothing for Sanitas. I sent an email. I made a call. Nothing. We waited…and waited…and grew more and more nervous. Finally, around 11:00 we hopped in the dinghy and traveled back to the clinic. Apparently they spelled our name wrong when they wrote down our email addresses. That’s an easy fix! With the correct address, they sent the results and we were good to go. Negative, as expected, of course- there’s only one active Covid case in all of Grenada, and it was imported on a flight from the US 😞

I rushed to a picnic table outside the grocery store where I could get free wifi and started filling out the rest of the required paperwork. My goal was to get everything submitted before noon (island bureaucrats take long lunch breaks) and to meet the “submit 24 hours in advance” requirement. I barely made it!

Step 5: More waiting…for final approval from St Vincent

Now we needed to wait for St Vincent to reply to my paperwork with a “Stamped Approval Form.” If we show up without this approval, St Vincent can use their coast guard to turn us away from entering the country. However, we still need to clear out of Grenada, and the customs and immigration office is only open until 3:45pm. So more nervous waiting. Finally, I emailed St Vincent customs. They replied that they were waiting for my negative Covid test results. Aargh! That’s what I spent an hour at a supermarket picnic table working on! So…I sent all that paperwork in again. Finally, I received approval.

Step 6: Clear out of Grenada

Captain Mike took our passports and boat paperwork to customs and immigration, paid to catch up on our cruising permit fees, and successfully acquired our exit papers. Phew! We celebrated with burgers and gin & tonics at Big Citi grill 🍔🍸😎

Step 7: Travel to Union Island. ANOTHER Covid test

We woke at first light, as excited as if it were Christmas morning. It feels great to be moving again! Anchors up at first light, and we had a lovely sail to Clifton Harbor on Union Island. Upon arrival, a gentleman in a dinghy marked with a yellow flag met us and escorted us to a mooring ball in the quarantine area. More waiting. Eventually, we were paged via VHF radio “Sanitas, you are cleared to come ashore.” We donned clean clothes, masks, and actually remembered shoes. We dinghied to the Bougainvillea dock, also marked with a yellow flag. Only one boat was allowed ashore at a time and once there, we handed over our boat paperwork and passports (Gulp. I hate to give up our passports. But they are successfully ensuring we won’t skip out on quarantine). We got our second PCR test in less than a week, and boy this nurse really went after it! She didn’t just tickle my brain with the swab, she really twisted and turned it and ground it around – ouch! Back to our mooring ball to wait. Again…. Did I mention the test swabs in SVG also have to take a ferry ride north to St Vincent to be processed? 🙄

Our quarantine view…

Step 8: Another quarantine

We kept ourselves busy through yet another quarantine by cooking, studying French, doing our Christmas shopping, and doing boat projects. But after a few days with no update on our test results, we stayed to get antsy.

Haircut time!

Final Step: Clear into SVG. And hand over a bunch of cash.

Finally, around 4:30 on Monday afternoon, a dinghy with a yellow flag approached. “Do you have good news for us?” Capt. Mike asked. “Unfortunately, I have bad news,” he said “You failed your test and have to take another.” What?!? How is that possible? The man in the dinghy let out a big laugh. “I’m just messing with you!” he said, and handed back our passports and paperwork, as well as a bill for the tests and processing fees. I don’t think that’s very funny, do you?

How much did all this cost?

  • Covid test in Grenada (2 people) = 820ecd or $305US
  • Covid test in SVG (2 people) = 324ecd or $120US
  • Clearing agent fees = 205ecd or $76US
  • Quarantine mooring fees (4 nights) = 245ecd or $92US
  • Cruising permit (1 month)= 70ecd = $27US
  • Total in US dollars = $619
  • Stress and worry about missing a deadline, and all those swabs up the nose = priceless 🤣

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining about the cost or the process. I understand that we’re very lucky to be able to visit these beautiful countries. And, of course, I respect the desire to protect islanders from Covid-19. The hospitals here really couldn’t handle an outbreak. I’m not even upset about the cost – these islands have had their economy tank with the lack of tourism. But now that we’ve got a 6-month visa in SVG, I don’t anticipate moving around much this season!

Celebratory drinks at Happy Island 🏝️

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