What’s the Covid-19 situation in Grenada? (aka: Where are your masks?!?)

I get it! You’re all wondering what the global pandemic is like in “Paradise” 🌴 🏖️⛵  Well, since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, Grenada has had 23 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 and has experienced zero Covid-19 deaths.

The prime minister closed borders and implemented lockdowns early, in an effort to protect the residents of this tiny country which does not have a very robust health care system. Officially, borders are just now starting to open. Letting “yachties” into the country was sort of an exception – remember how we had to comply with strict protocols such as sailing directly from Antigua, 14+ days of Quarantine, and multiple Covid-19 tests?

It seems to have worked. Since the beginning of July, Grenada has been completely Covid-free. And they’ve started to relax restrictions such as curfew and prohibitions on gathering. Here are the current rules:

  • The curfew has expired
  • Beaches are open
  • Gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed
  • Some restaurants have reopened for dining in, with social distancing, temperature checks, and contact tracing
  • Masks are mandatory for indoor businesses and on public transportation

As guests in this country, Capt. Mike and I are very careful to follow the rules. We’re starting a collection of colorful cloth facemasks that cost between 5-10 Eastern Caribbean dollars each (between $1.85 and $3.70 US – (Hey! That’s pretty cheap! Maybe I need another cute one!) We avoid large gatherings, and we bump elbows or mime blowing kisses instead of shaking hands or hugging. That being said, we’ve also got a little sailing bubble of couples who arrived here and quarantined the same time that we did and all tested negative for the virus around the same time. We stay in the same southern bays off the coast of the island, and we trust each other’s precautions.

So…. In many of my photos, we aren’t wearing masks. It’s the topics! So almost everything takes place outdoors – with the high temps, high humidity, and sweat that goes along with it! Good thing this blog post isn’t Scratch ‘n’ Sniff! 🤣 And once we’ve entered a bar or restaurant (with the entry restrictions I described above) we can remove our masks at our table or within our group. Or, thank goodness, in the pool! I’ll try to take more pictures of the hand sanitation stations, and social distancing markets on the floor, AND my growing cute mask collection, just to even things out.

However, the airport is not yet open to international commercial flights. In August, the government plans to allow flights from “medium-risk” countries, such as Canada and the UK. Sometime after that, they’ll open to flights from “high-risk” countries, such as the United States. The entry protocols will require Covid tests and possible quarantine. That’s why we come up with a backup plan, to ensure we could spend the summer here in Grenada if necessary.

Like all of you, we’re playing it by ear this year, and adjusting plans as we go. I hope Grenada, and all of the small Caribbean countries,  can continue to keep their citizens safe. And I also hope I can sail between Caribbean islands next winter instead of staying here indefinitely!

What’s next for the crew of Sanitas?

So we survived quarantine in St George’s Grenada, though not without a bit of drama. On Day #15, we headed to shore with great anticipation to take our COVID-19 tests. Once we passed, we’d be free to officially clear into the country and to have our freedom of movement back! But… Capt. Mike’s rapid antigen test came back inconclusive, which was treated the same as a positive. So he had to undergo the nasal swab PCR test, and we both had to return to Sanitas to wait three more days for the result. Oh my gosh, I could have divorced him! Those were the hardest three days of the entire quarantine. Of course, he didn’t actually have coronavirus and the test eventually came back negative, but those extra three days of confinement were emotionally very difficult to take.

That’s all behind us now, thank goodness! Now we are free to move Sanitas between Grenada anchorages, and to go ashore at will – with masks and social distancing, of course. Several of you have reached out to ask what’s next for Sanitas and her crew. What are our plans for hurricane season? Keeping in mind that plans are really hard to make in a global pandemic, with things constantly changing….

We are probably going to spend all of hurricane season here in Grenada.

Our original plan was to haul Sanitas and store her in a boatyard while we flew back to the US for the summer. In fact, on Plan A we’d be at a family reunion in Boston right now. Sadly, that got cancelled. (Sound familiar?) In 2020 reality, the international airport in Grenada is still closed, and there are no commercial flights scheduled to or from the United States. Grenada clamped down hard on the virus back in March and as a result, this small island country is currently COVID-free. The government is easing restrictions and gradually reopening the economy, but they’re serious about protecting their citizens and residents, so it’s happening slowly. They will be opening to Carribean regional flights first, then commercial flights from low-risk countries such as Canada, and eventually (hopefully) to high-risk countries such as the United States.

I put quite a bit of effort into renegotiating with our marine insurance company. I wrote a new hurricane plan and begged and pleaded and sweet talked our insurance agent, and finally got permission to keep Sanitas in the water for July and August while still keeping our hurricane insurance coverage. That’s good news, because it means we still have a place to live for those months. In July, we’re living at anchor, exploring Grenada’s southern harbors and bays. For August, we have a reservation for a slip in Port Louis Marina in St George’s. Hurricane season is low season, so an entire month will cost us about $600 plus water and electricity. And speaking of electricity, the J-Dock at Port Louis is the only spot in Grenada with 110 power for American boats. You know what that means – air conditioning! Also, access to marina showers, and a laundry room, and a pool. 😲 It’s just a short bus ride away from beautiful Grand Anse beach, and from the hustle and bustle of downtown St George’s.

For insurance reasons, we still have to store Sanitas on the hard for September and October; the months that are historically more likely for hurricanes to impact this part of the Caribbean. We’ll look for a small apartment to rent during that time, and we’ll do some work on Sanitas in the boat yard. If the Coronavirus situation improves by then and flights resume, we’d love to have the chance to fly home and visit family and friends during that time. But it’s too soon to count on it. Plus, what happens if we successfully make it back to upstate New York and then a fall second wave hits and Grenada closes borders again? We wouldn’t want to be stuck thousands of miles away from our home and all of our belongings, with no place to live and no health insurance for Covid. That feels like it would be a pretty precarious situation, and not one that our retirement savings could handle.

None of this is ideal and we really, really miss our friends and families. Keep posting all those Colorado summer mountain pictures and Florida running group pictures and crazy New York State weather pictures please! But we’ve got everything we need (if not everything we want) and we think we can make it work this summer if we can’t make it home. I hope you all are hanging in there on your Plan B or Plan C or Plan D and are staying safe and healthy and sane through these crazy times! Sending virtual hugs!

We’re in Quarantine! (Again)

For those following along at home, we’re on our third quarantine of this pandemic, in our third country. This is the strictest one yet: 14 days of quarantine on our sailboat, no trips ashore for any reason (no groceries, no exercise, no essential shopping), no water sports. At the end of the two week quarantine, we’ll take a Covid-19 test and once we pass we’ll finally be free to clear customs and immigration and enter Grenada officially.

So what do we do to pass the time in quarantine? A whole lot of nothing, lol! 😀 I’m not even kidding. We definitely experienced a sort of quarantine malaise…where the priority is simply enduring until it’s over and hopefully surviving with our sanity (and our marriage) intact.

We arrived at the early side of our week’s window. So Capt. Mike stayed fully engaged over the next few days watching new boats arrive, following them on the VHF radio and using binoculars. When a boat attempted to anchor near Sanitas, Mike would pull on his fins and snorkel, jump in the water, and help the new arrivals place the anchor securely in the mix of shallow sand and dead coral. Mango Mike’s Anchoring Service, open for business! For the entire quarantine period, he kept an eye on “his boats” making sure they stayed in place through squalls and wind shifts. We learned a new anchoring technique that they don’t teach you in ASA 101 – pile a few rocks on your anchor to weigh it down. Bonus points for a smiley face.

After the rough passage, our salon is always a huge mess, so we killed a day or so airing out the sheets and making everything ship-shape.

And there’s always boat chores! During periods of great motivation we defrosted the fridge, and I cleaned all of the stainless steel on Sanitas’ deck.

Spirits lagged around Day #5, so we dug deep for entertainment. Three times per week, fellow cruisers took turns hosting trivia over the radio for happy hour. Apparently we need a bigger trivia team – Team Sanitas was lucky to score over 50% One day, I put together a Bingo card for objects we might see around the anchorage and invited every boat within shouting distance to join our WhatsApp group and radio finale. It kept us entertained all afternoon: “Hey! I see someone rowing his dinghy!”, “Is that boat the Coast Guard? Darn, it’s just marina staff”, “Why isn’t anyone exercising on their deck?” At the end of the day, Sanitas was the only team without a BINGO – I’ll have to make it harder next time.

Sometimes I was motivated to cook….

Other times, especially when the temperature hit the mid-90s, I could barely be bothered to prepare cheese and crackers or to add a few sautéed veggies to a carton of soup. One very special Friday, we ordered takeout from Eden Sushi 🍣 with our friends on Holiday and enjoyed a virtual meal together over video chat. The closest marina allows deliveries from approved vendors, but only to the Q dock with all payments made on-line, and masks required, and deliveries only allowed on certain days before 5:00 pm.

I killed the better part of an entire afternoon trying to open a coconut I bought during our last provisioning trip in Antigua. It’s harder than you’d think!

And we read … and watched Netflix … and listened to podcasts … and played games … you didn’t expect this to be an exciting blog post, did you? I really, really wish we had unlimited wifi!

Just this morning, a rogue squall came out of nowhere and wind speeds changed from less than 10 knots to over 40 knots in seconds. You know what they say about long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror? I was washing the breakfast dishes and Mike was talking to his mom on the phone when we both had to drop everything. We started the engine (without all of the usual pre-start checks), turned on the anchor windlass, dropped our dinghy Bug in the water before she flew away, and braved torrential rain while making sure that none of the boats whose anchors dragged in the high winds ran into us. Mango Mike’s Anchoring Service had a lot of satisfied customers!

Thanks for following along on this tale of boredom. Good news! Writing this blog post killed most of the afternoon of Day #12. Less than two days to go!

What’s next for the crew of Sanitas?

That’s a great question! When you figure it out, could you let us know? 🤣 Just kidding. Sure, we’ve found a calm spot in Antigua to wait out coronavirus quarantine and curfew. But we can’t stay here forever.

Our 90-day visa expires on 22 June. Even more importantly…HURRICANE SEASON IS COMING! (Say it in your best Robb Stark, Game of Thrones voice). Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea officially starts 1 June. But as I write this on May 15th, tropical storm Arthur is already forming between Florida and The Bahamas. Insurance companies usually require boaters to be safely outside the hurricane box during this timeframe, and they define the hurricane box as the area north of St Vincent in the eastern Caribbean and south of the Chesapeake Bay on the US east coast. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a hurricane outside the box, but they are much less common. If your geography is a little bit rusty, Antigua is smack in the middle of that box. 😲 Hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors plan to spend the summer in Grenada or Trinidad in order to get “outside the box”. But with borders closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, all those boats are stuck in place and chomping at the bit to move south as soon as Caribbean governments allow.

We made a reservation ages ago to store Sanitas in a boatyard in Grenada and we planned to fly back to the USA for the summer. We also put a deposit on a boatyard here in Antigua as a Plan B. But now, like everyone else, all of our summer plans have been canceled. And we don’t know when flights between the Caribbean and the States will resume. If we do make it back to the States, we don’t have a home to go to, and we don’t know when we’d be allowed back to our boat after the visit. A recent study suggests Covid-19 has been contained within the Caribbean, but many countries view visitors from the US as high risk to their health and safety because so many new cases are still being identified there. Heck, what if we do make it “home” this summer and one or both of us gets sick? We sure can’t afford a hospital stay under the US health care system. I don’t think our international medical insurance covers us for Covid-19 treatment if we travel back while State Department “Do Not Travel” warnings are still in place. That alone makes it feels safer to stay in our small island bubble that to get on an airplane back to New York.

The Marine and Yachting Association of Grenada has been working behind the scenes on a proposal to the Grenadian government on how to open the borders to incoming yachts safely while protecting the residents of the country from importing coronavirus. We’ve been waiting impatiently to learn the results, but things are finally looking positive! Over 1100 boats have registered in a database to state that they want to travel to Grenada when borders open. Yesterday, MAYAG posted the first details on the plan. Of course the cruising community was immediately abuzz with excitement. Here’s the plan as we understand it so far….

We had a meeting today with the various authorities in Grenada who we are coordinating with and have agreed on an implementation protocol for arriving yachts. This needs to be approved by cabinet, which will be one of the final steps before we get the go ahead.

  • All yachts intended to come to Grenada need to complete the Maritime Health Declaration Form 48 hours ahead of your scheduled arrival.
  • A designated quarantine area has been set up. The GPS coordinates of this area will be given to you.
  • Quarantine will be 14 days with no shore leave granted and this will be on your yacht in the quarantine area. Provisioning supply chain has been set up for you during this time but we advise provisioning as much as you can before you leave for Grenada.
  • After the quarantine period you will be required to take either a PCR test or a Rapid Test. The cost will be EC$200 for the PCR Test or EC$75 for the Rapid Test. There will be a Statutory Regulation published requiring you to do this. If you object to taking this test then please make alternative arrangements as you will not be able to clear into Grenada.
  • There will be an arrival schedule set up where yachts will book an arrival date and be expected to arrive within 48 – 72 hours of that date. There will be a small admin fee of US$20.

That all sounds pretty reasonable, don’t you think? It’s still gonna be a little bit tricky. If we can’t stop in any countries between Antigua and Grenada, we’re looking at about a 300 nm passage, taking us about three days in good weather conditions. Capt. Mike and I will have to take turns on watch for the entire time – it will be our longest passage so far. I’m sure glad this isn’t our first cruising season! And we’re not really looking forward to another 14-day quarantine on our teeny tiny boat. Especially in the designated quarantine zone which is going to be crowded, rolly, poor anchor holding, and filled with lots of other frustrated and cranky sailors 🤪 But we’ll make the best of it because we also want to ensure that our Grenadian hosts can stay healthy and safe. I guess this is our Plan A for now, and we anxiously await news from Grenada on our scheduled arrival date. I hope we remember how to sail after sitting at anchor for so long! Wish us luck!

A Few Days in the Big City

After 35 days on anchor at remote Bird Island, it was time to venture briefly back to civilization. My “toxic waste” laundry pile had gotten huge, even though we’d done some hand washing. We had a long shopping list for groceries and medication. And we needed to equalize our house battery banks. So we raised a super dirty anchor (we’ve never anchored in a single spot for so long!) and sailed downwind to the Jolly Harbour Marina.

Downwind sailing is delightful!

Antigua is still under a limited state of emergency, but curfew rules have recently relaxed a bit. We’re now allowed to leave the home between 6am and 6pm for essential errands. Masks are required in public and gatherings are banned. When we planned to move Sanitas, we were required to call the Antigua Coast Guard to request permission to change anchorages. They asked for our boat name, the captain’s name, the reason we were moving, and then granted us permission. They told us to call back in the morning when we were ready to leave, and also to call when we arrived at our destination. The Coast Guard is really on top of things!

Antigua Coast Guard is on it!

It was quite a shock to return to civilization after so long. Sailors are lucky that marinas here in Antigua are considered essential services, so boaters have been able to access fuel and water and arrange for boat repairs. Jolly Harbour Marina has been super supportive of sailors, and has been extremely professional through these extraordinary times. But it’s quite clear which services are considered essential and which aren’t. The grass and landscaping at the marina and around town are very overgrown. Garbage bins are overflowing. The pool has a permanent sign “Closed for cleaning.” All the outdoor restaurants still have tables and chairs sitting outside and chalkboards still advertise specials, but only two are open at all, offering take-out within curfew hours. Everyone wears masks. Everyone! Some are made from the coolest patterns and prints ever. It’s also clear that Antiguans are feeling the crunch financially. Every time I left the dock, someone asked me if I had any cleaning projects or repair projects on the boat that I need help with.

But not everything is grim! The beaches reopened for exercise on the day we arrived. But no sunbathing, picnicking, or “liming” is allowed. In fact, the beaches are still eerily empty.

Beaches are open, but empty

And a small number of restaurants are open for takeout or delivery. OMG! I was absolutely thrilled to eat a meal filled with new and different flavors that I did not have to cook myself. We went a little bit crazy, ordering Bouillabaisse from La Brasserie, and smoked chicken and Serbian specialties from Fort Medieval. It was almost worth the 4-hour sail to Jolly for this wonderful treat! The cruiser community here has kept each other supported and entertained through lockdown by hosting morning and evening VHF radio nets. The evening net is a virtual happy hour. It starts with each boat sharing what they accomplished today, and what adult beverage they’re drinking now. Then each night a different boat hosts a trivia contest. It’s the highlight of the day!

Bouillabaisse from La Brasserie
Fort Medieval Serbian specialties

The highlight of our marina stay was a quarantine haircut adventure! My last haircut was in a local barber shop in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. With my super-short hairstyle, three months without a trim is insane! Forget how shaggy I looked, and how glorious my Elvis pompadour was growing….long-ish hair is too hot on a boat and requires too much water to wash and rinse. We used the marina WiFi to watch several YouTube videos on cutting hair, dug out Capt. Mike’s clippers and an old pair of scissors, and locked ourselves into a marina bathroom. I really had to close my eyes and hold my breath for that first snip of the scissors. Ooh. I still get a shiver of nervousness just thinking about it. But he did a really good job! Especially if you don’t look too closely 🤣

While it was great to take care of business, we felt a sense of relief when we untied the lines and eased slowly away from the marina dock. Our Gilligans’ Island paradise feels safer, cleaner, and less restrictive than life in the city during a state of emergency. And, of course, we have friends to return to! We shopped for 4 or 5 boats, and brought back treats for everyone. We’re home!