The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men…
I’m sure everyone reading this has their own personal horror story of how they dealt with the pandemic, but being in one’s sailboat in a foreign country presented a unique set of challenges. Here is our tale, which is ongoing.
After eleven months of aggressive passage making, Travis and I arrived safely in Grenada, 23,000 miles from our San Diego departure point. My wife, Jamie, joined us at the luxurious Camper Nicholson Marina in Port Louis, where the three of us experienced the novelty of living aboard a boat, but with the freedom to enjoy the town without having to brave a ten-minute dinghy ride in open water.
St. George’s, Grenada, is an eclectic, enchanting town. One of the biggest employers is the American-owned St. George’s University, which offers post graduate degrees to predominately American students in Medicine, Law, and Veterinary Medicine. Getting around the town is simple, as local busses, vans seating up to 15 souls, run regularly and cost only $2.50 (Eastern Caribbean Dollars (EC), or about $1.00 U.S. There are also several excellent boatyards and marine technicians, numerous fine waterfront restaurants, and a host of scenic anchorages.With the few days between our arrival and my wife’s flight into town, Travis and I worked almost nonstop to put the boat back into shape, as we had been at sea almost a month, and “Nor’easter” needed some love. While several projects were ongoing when Jamie arrived, by the time we left St. Georges March 12, the boat was nearly perfect, including a fresh coat of bottom paint and newly-waxed cabin top. That work was done in record time, as I had the boat hauled at Clarke’s Court Boatyard, Woburn Bay, on a huge travel lift 1100 on Monday, and it was launched by 1500 the following day. I was dazzled by their service.
Travis flew to Ft. Lauderdale March 8 to take an Advanced Marine Engineering course, after which he was going to Antigua for his Yacht Master’s training, so Jamie and I cruised the Island’s southern coast, spending several days in Woburn Bay, where many cruisers spend the entire season. There are several coves off the bay, each with its own unique restaurant or bar, which take turns hosting parties with entertainment nearly every night. One night when there was no special event, we enjoyed a local restaurant, “The Little Dipper,” which was perched on a cliff overlooking the anchorage. On our final evening before heading back to Port Louis, we actually stayed out past 2200 hours, a rare night for us, at a bar on Benji Bay. We each had a lobster dinner for 25 EC ($10 U.S.) and enjoyed a fabulous 8 piece reggae band that played well past our bedtimes.
Our plan, once we had “done” Grenada, was to cruise the Grenadine Islands to the north, then continue in that direction to St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, and Guadalupe, where we would spend almost a month, and I could practice the French I’ve been studying for the past year. So, after leaving Woburn Bay, we headed back around the west side of Grenada to Port Louis for a final night in a marina, and then sailed for Carriacou, which is also part of Grenada. News of the COVID-19 (let’s call it “CV” for short) pandemic was accelerating, but floating around the Eastern Caribbean, it was hard for me to get too excited about it. We spent a couple days anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, toured the island on local busses, which was not particularly enthralling, and spent one afternoon snorkeling off spectacular “Sandy Island,” which was an idyllic spit of sand with some palm trees about 5 miles east of Tyrell Bay. Having essentially experienced Carriacou, we decided to check out and head to Union Island, where we could clear in to the Grenadines.
At this point, rumblings on the morning cruisers’ radio net were causing us concern. Grenada had a few CV cases, and was closing its borders, but you could still enter by boat and “self quarantine” on your vessel for 14 days. Yuck! We were glad to be safely checked into Union Island and the Grenadines. We celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary March 14 on Union Island, then headed for Bequia the next day, an easy 29 NM sail to the northeast.
Bequia was nothing but delightful. We are anchored in Admiralty Bay by the town of Port Elizabeth. There is a scenic walkway along the entire southeast part of the harbor, with a host of small hotels, guest cottages, and waterfront bars and restaurants, all tastefully blended into the lush landscape. The architecture reminds us of Mackinac Island, but with palm trees instead of conifers. The water is crystal clear, the breeze blows 10-15 knots most of the time, and the temperature is pleasant, although you need to stay out of the sun between 1200 and 1700.
While everyone there was talking about the pandemic, nobody seemed overly concerned. We attended a great St. Patrick’s Day party, people were dancing, shaking hands, and nobody wore masks. There is one reported case in the Grenadines, but it’s in St. Vincent, 8 miles to the north. Bequia’s stores are well-stocked, people are eating in restaurants, but there are rumblings. Rather than continue north, we decided the prudent course would be to return to Grenada, spend a few months enjoying that island again, and haul the boat for hurricane season at our friendly Clarke’s Court Boat Yard, where we could return next January and do the French Islands. We decided to clear customs the next morning and head back south.
The next day, the rumblings became thunderous. The French islands we hoped to visit to the north, Martinique, Dominica, and Guadalupe, were closed to everyone. Grenada was set to close later THAT day, according to the Bequia customs officer who checked us out of the country, and when I called Clarke’s Court, they said get to Grenada NOW or we would not get in at all. It was then 0930 and we bolted for our dinghy, pulled anchor and flew out of the harbor, thinking we had to make Carriacou Customs by 1600 or we’d be screwed. It was 35 NM distant, the Swan goes 7.5 knot on a good day, so we went into race mode, arriving Tyrel Bay at 1545. Frantically, we dropped the anchor while we dropped the main, leapt into the dinghy, almost losing Jamie overboard in our haste, and sped to shore. Talk about high stress! What happened to rum cocktails at sunset?
Jamie dropped me off at the marina dock, I actually sprinted (not a pretty sight) to the Customs office, five minutes before 1600, only to find that they had extended their hours to 1800. Sigh…. We completed formalities, got our temperatures taken with a remote infrared thermometer, and were told only one of us could come ashore at a time, and only for food and other necessities. OK, we could live with that. After enjoying a nice dinner aboard, we slept soundly after our hectic day, thinking we had it all under control.
Morning came with an official broadcast on the VHF from Grenada Immigration: All cruisers were quarantined on board and could not go ashore for any reason. Food and fuel could be obtained by coming to the fuel dock and hiring someone to get the food. Fuel was not a problem, but you couldn’t get to an ATM for cash. Jamie and I decided we couldn’t execute our plan of Clarke’s Court haul out for hurricane season if we couldn’t leave our boat, but were told we couldn’t even check out of Grenada as Carriacou’s Customs office was closed, and we’d have to go back to Port Louis, Grenada, to clear out of the country. A call to the Port Louis Marina, where I was considered a good client, confirmed this. As we left Tyrel Bay, a big Coast Guard launch motored over to challenge us, but let us go when we told them we were just trying to leave the country.
After yet another sail south to Grenada, we docked at Port Louis Marina, and were told the local Customs office was closed, but the main office about ½ mile away was open, theoretically, 24/7. We trekked up the hill to the majestic Ministry, only to learn from the Customs guys that we had to go across the alley to Immigration, but the door was locked and the lights were off. Back to Customs, who told us to knock on the door and someone would answer. This yielded results, and after shouting through a thick glass door at the harried officer, he let us in, cleared us out, and told us we were free to move about the island. At this point, we were wondering if they were making new rules daily.
Jamie has been more alarmist than me since the pandemic first started hitting the news, but now she was adamant that we should get out of Grenada and into U.S. territory. Local people were telling us that everyone on yachts in Grenada would soon be restricted to their boats, just as they told us in Carriacou (which is part of Grenada, believe it or not). Lots of other American cruisers are here in Port Louis, but most are thinking they want to stay here and wait things out, although last night was the last flight from the U.S. to Grenada, and today is the last flight out. I can’t leave Nor’easter, so we’re headed today for St. Croix, 400 NM distant, where we can, as of today, check back into America. Jamie has never done a passage like this, but she has grown into her role as my first mate, in Travis’s absence, and is game for this challenge. Stay tuned. We wish you all good health and hope everyone is coping as best they can.