I guess I live in Antigua now

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.
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!

Nomad Life in the Time of Corinavirus

Several folks have reached out and asked if Capt. Mike and I are ok with all the Covid-19 stuff going on. Well… So far, so good. Sanitas is currently in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe which at the time of writing had one confirmed case of the Corona virus. So, more than West Virginia, but less than most other regions. 😉

Last night at midnight, France directed that all bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses must close in order to stop the spread of the virus, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I dingied ashore to the small town of Terre de Haut this morning. But, surreal as it seemed, things were pretty much the same as usual. Restaurants were open, ferries were running, the sun was shining. The small grocery store (about the size of a 7-11) was quite busy. But they always are on Sunday mornings when most shops close at noon. There was plenty of toilet paper on the shelves, and I found everything on my list – even fresh veggies and eggs. I did see two women great each other with the usual French kiss on both cheeks. And then they threw up their hands and looked a bit sheepish and tapped the toes of their right feet together instead. People aren’t freaking out here like they are in the States. Or… Maybe they are but because I don’t speak French, I’m missing it all.

Mike and are feel like we’re in pretty good shape on little old Sanitas. We went grocery shopping in the big supermarket in Point-a-Pitre a few days ago, so we have lots of French cheese and fresh veggies. And when that runs out, the bilge is full of canned goods, nuts, gluten free noodles, and energy bars. We have full water tanks and diesel, and our solar panels are working great.

That’s not so say we aren’t watching what’s happening and taking precautions though. We wash our hands a lot – and certainly every time we return to the boat. I belong to several sailing and cruising Facebook groups that share information on each island’s travel restrictions and entry procedures. I guess that’s our biggest concern right now – what if every island closes its borders to everyone except residents? Where will we go then? What if cargo ships stop sailing and the grocery stores DO get empty? What if we run out of propane for our cook stove? I checked today, and we can stay in Guadeloupe for 90 days without a visa, so I think we’ll sit tight and wait to see what happens. Our hurricane season plans call for us to haul out in Grenada for the summer on 1 July. Hopefully things improve by then, and if we really have to, we could sail straight to Grenada without stopping in less than 48 hours. We could also self-quarantine at anchor for 14 days if Grenada requires it. Although Mike and I would REALLY get on each other’s nerves by that time! 🤪 Imagine being stuck with your spouse for 14 days in a space the size of your master bathroom!

For now, we’re in a small, quiet place, with relatively few people. The weather is good. We’ve got plenty of food, water, and medicine. If everything shuts down, we can still swim and go for walks. It only costs 11€ per day to stay on a mooring ball. The main island of Guadeloupe is only a 4-hour sail away if we need more provisions or medical care. Right now, it feels like the right decision to stay put and see what happens. Which is pretty much all anyone can do, right? Now if only I had more books and a slightly bigger boat!

Winner winner, lobster dinner!

After our tour of the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, our guide George Jeffreys steered his Boston Whaler north in the lagoon to a spot near the ruins of the old Lighthouse Hotel. Capt. Mike and I kind of looked at each other, like “Where’s he going? I thought he was taking us back to our boat” But George found some magical unmarked spot and lo and behold! Raised up a big lobster trap and dumped it in the boat. Silly me wondered whether there would be a lobster in the trap. Well, there were at least a dozen! George used a stick to pull out all of the lobster that were over the legal size for fishing – seven in all. For $15 we had the makings of a wonderful dinner!

Treasures from the deep
George teaching us the difference between male and female lobster

At least we WOULD have a good dinner if we could herd those grumpy lobsters onto our boat, and could figure out how best to clean them and cook them. So Capt. Mike is in charge of sailing, and I guess I’m in charge of killing lobster. I googled “how to clean a Caribbean lobster without tools”, and it goes something like this…. First, put on a pair of work gloves to protect your hands from the spiny bits. Then grab the body of a lobster in one hand, and it’s tail in the other and pull and twist. Drop the body overboard quickly, so you don’t have to watch it twitch or confront the reproach in its beedy little eyes. Save one of the long tentacles because you’ll use it to pull the digestive tract (aka the poop chute) out of each tail. Then rinse well with seawater.

Before all the killing and cleaning
After all the killing and cleaning

I trimmed the soft inner shell off each tail, topped with melted butter, garlic, and Old Bay spice, and roasted in the oven for 15 min. With a side of mashed sweet potatoes, and a fresh tomato salad concocted by Melinda on SV Sava, we had an amazing lobster dinner while watching the sunset.

The finished product! Bon appetit!

Crossing the Simpson Bay Bridge

After almost a week anchored in Marigot Bay on the French side of St Martin, I started to see some ominous weather reports. Marine forecasts predicted a huge north swell, using words like “biggest event of this year” and “unprecedented”. And on the morning cruisers’ net on the VHF radio, local boaters strongly advised moving to a more protected anchorage. So, even though we really like the town of Marigot, and had already successfully weathered a big blow there, we decided better safe than sorry. We cleared out of the French side of the island, raised anchor, and motor sailed ten miles down the west coast of the island to Simpson Bay. Now, boaters can anchor in the open bay for free. Or…for a measly $7.00 round trip, we could travel through the Simpson Bay draw bridge and anchor inside the massive, protected Simpson Bay Lagoon. Pretty much a no-brainer, right?

The Simpson Bay bridge is kind of famous among boaters. It only opens a few times a day, and when it opens all traffic on one of the main roads on the island comes to a standstill. It’s quite narrow, and dredged to 15 feet only in the middle (storms and tides perpetually attempt to fill it back in). The mega yachts that are the bread and butter of St Maarten tourism are a very tight fit!

Our little tiny Sanitas had no problems fitting through the bridge during its 3:00 opening. We could tell the word about the swell had gotten around – there were at least eight boats lined up and waiting to go through with us. After anchoring in the bathtub calm lagoon, we dinghied over to the St Maarten Yacht Club for a happy hour drink with sailing friends and to watch the 5:00 bridge opening. It was so much fun, it became our daily habit. The yacht club patio is right next to the bridge, and it’s full of tourists at happy hour. Beer in one hand, camera in the other, everyone is excited to watch the beautiful sailing vessels and massive gleaming mega yachts pass through.

I think there’s also a glimmer of hope that one of the boats will add a bit of excitement by getting stuck, or even by running right into the bridge. That may sound crazy, but MV Ecstasea did just that last December – hit the bridge tender’s station, sending the poor man jumping to safety and ripping the cement structure right off the side of the bridge!

YouTube video of bridge collision

We didn’t see anything that exciting, thank goodness. But one mega yacht made it halfway through the bridge when they drifted too far to starboard and had to throw it in reverse really fast to get the heck out of there. Since they were the last boat in the afternoon’s parade, the bridge tender lost patience and closed the bridge with the yacht still inside the lagoon. After letting traffic across, he reopened the bridge about ten minutes later so they could escape. (I looked it up later – requesting a special bridge opening costs $1000! This massive yacht looked like they could afford it)

Capt Mike and I would stand next to the land lubbers tourists and say something like, “glad the wind was calm when we sailed through this morning” and next thing you know, we’d have a new best friend, listening to sailing stories, asking us about boat life and exchanging cards. Come to think of it, I wonder why no one ever bought us a drink?

Even more fun than watching the bridge opening is listening to it on the VHF radio. The bridge tender does get a little feisty from time to time. Usually, he tries to encourage his little flock of boats to get through the bridge as quickly as possible so he can get the road reopened and clear traffic. You hear lots of “Come on Captain , pick up the pace!” and “Full speed ahead Captain, the bridge is closing!” On one 10:30 am opening, the bridge tender was really having a bad day. The last boat wasn’t moving fast enough, and he closed the bridge on him, trapping the boat inside the lagoon until the next outward opening at 3:00 pm. The captain hailed him on the radio in heavily accented English and asked if he could go out during the inbound opening at 11:30. The bridge tender read him the riot act “You know the schedule! You should have planned better. You got a problem, you call my boss. You don’t complain to me mon!” One of our buddy boats was entering the lagoon at the 11:30 openings and I warned them that the bridge tender was not to be trifled with today. We eavesdropped on the VHF and sure enough heard, “White sailboat, where you going? Don’t sail away! The bridge is open now, and you gotta get yourself through it, or I’ll close it on you!” Lol. Good fun! I’m going to miss the entertainment when we move on to quieter anchorages!

My Favorite National Park

While St Thomas is cruise ships and duty free shops (and beautiful beaches, let’s be honest), St John is its more laid back, hippy cousin. So guess which one appeals to this Boulder, Colorado chick?

When we learned that SV Wilfull and SV Tanda Tula were spending one last night in St John before heading to the British Virgins, Capt. Mike and I raised anchor and hurried over to St John to see them one more time. Heading east means upwind, but we’re in no hurry, so we kept the motor off and enjoyed the sail tacking as close to the wind as our staysail would allow.

Once we’d settled in on a mooring ball in Maho Bay we could start to appreciate all that St John has to offer. About 2/3 of the island is National Park with protected rainforest and coastal waters. And it’s kind of hard to get there – no airport, a ferry ride away from Red Hook, only one big international resort. Which means the beaches are lovely, but not covered with lounge chairs. The waters are perfect for swimming, and the giant sea turtles aren’t the slightest bit afraid of us inconsequential humans. Independent travelers rent a van and pack a cooler and circle the island, exploring the differing delights of each bay just around the next corner or hiking the steep trails from the island’s mountainous spine down to its beaches.

Maho Bay is sea turtle paradise – small agile turtles, big turtles with remora fish clinging to their shells, and huge ancient turtles that stare back at you placidly when you dive down to their level. Mike and I never got tired of calling out, “Look! Turtle! Look! Turtle!” from the cockpit. And when we got tired of snorkeling, usually coincidentally right around happy hour, we’d head ashore to the new Maho Collective. This combination tiki bar, food truck park, paddle board rental, and boutique has an inviting island vibe and feels like a backyard barbecue at your cool friend’s house. The owner, Dave lived in Vail for a while so we sat on a wicker sofa after closing time and told island stories and mountain stories. Fabulous guy that he is, he even bought all six of us a round of drinks!

Once our friends moved on, Capt. Mike and I set out to explore all the new and happening spots on St John – well, at least all the spots that the weather conditions allowed. After hiking St Francis bay, we dropped our national park mooring ball and sailed east to Hansen’s Bay just outside the park boundaries. Being outside the park, we were able to anchor for free, rather than spending $26 per night for a mooring ball. Hmmm… what to do with that extra money? Spend the afternoon at a floating taco and cocktail bar, of course!

Lime Out is a lime green barge, only accessible by boat, kayak, or paddle board. Tie up, jump in the water, and drift over to one of the huge floats or to the swim up bar. Look over the short menu of gourmet tacos (think seared tuna, shrimp with pesto, or surf and turf) and craft cocktails. Place your order with one of the cheerful, efficient young waitresses who can answer any questions about ingredients and allergies. Even when the place is jammed with people, your order will come out super fast – drinks served in insulated stainless steel mugs, so no trash or single-use plastics. Tacos come in these cute little divided take-out containers made of compostable material. If you’re sitting on a yellow float, they’ll place your order on a pool float and give it a push to drift across the water to you. Finished, and have empty taco containers? The waitress reaches out with one of those long handled swimming pool skimmers to collect your trash. They’ve got this whole thing figured out. And speaking of trash, if you eat your scrumptious tacos at the swim up bar, a few scraps of guacamole or lettuce are bound to fall in the water. Never fear! A school of fish hang out under the barge just waiting to swoop in and snatch up your scraps. I have to admit, it’s a bit unnerving the first time it happens! When you get hot, slip into the water and borrow one of Lime Out’s swim noodles or floating chairs. When you get chilly, clamber up onto one of the sectional-couch-sized floats and chat with your neighbor. All in all, spending an afternoon at Lime Out is tons of fun.

After the Lime Out restaurant raised anchor and motored away on Sunday evening, Sanitas was left alone for a quiet evening. The next morning, we ducked around the corner to Salt Pond Bay, back inside the park. The beach here is a bit off the beaten path, and it’s quieter than on the north shore. From the beach, there’s a lovely easy hike to Ram’s Head with wonderful views. The trail meanders through clusters of barrel cactus with bright red blossoms. If you look closely, you’ll find a few with bright pink fruits shaped like chili peppers that grow right out the top of the cactus. Very cool! If you’re visiting St John, the hike to Ram’s Head is a must!

After all this traveling around, somehow the holidays snuck up on us. Southerly winds drove us away from St John’s south coast anchorages, so we turned the corner to the west coast and ducked into Cruz Bay on Christmas Eve. Cruz Bay is the “big city” on St John, with all the services we were missing after our stay in the park – grocery stores, hair salon, restaurants, and strong free wifi at the ferry dock. We certainly took advantage of all these things, and soaked up the tropical holiday atmosphere. As an added bonus, we caught up with Carina on Northern Star who we met back in St Petersburg, FL in 2017. At the time, she and her husband and two adorable dogs were in the process of moving from Texas to the Virgin Islands on their sailboat. Lots of fun to check in two years later to find out how it went, and how much they are enjoying their new island home!

I hope all of you had happy and healthy holidays! Here’s to the best for you in 2020!