Searching for Safe Haven

Departing Ohio in February for a two-month sail through the Caribbean was an enviable plan, even though we would be sailing north (upwind) from Grenada to St. Martin, and possibly facing some strong winds and large seas.  The passages were relatively short (especially by my husband’s standards), typically 15-40 miles and easily completed during daylight hours. We would have had plenty of time to explore each island and could linger in the unfamiliar ones, including Nevis, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe. George was looking forward to practicing the French he had been studying on Babbel for the past year.

The first week on Grenada was spent in the beautiful Port Louis Marina in St. Georges.  I acclimated to the warm climate and became acquainted with the local markets, beautiful white sandy beach of Grand Anse and even found a local gym a bus ride away.  The buses would be a Coronavirus epidemiologist’s nightmare, with 15 locals crammed into a van and constant entries and exits as it careened around curves on narrow roads with sudden stops and starts.  On my fourth day, Travis, George and I took an island taxi tour, driving through the rain forest, over to the windward side and visiting chocolate, rum and spice plantations, hiking to a waterfall and getting a sense of the mountainous terrain (and a bit carsick by the speed, curves and narrow roads, not a good omen for the future sailing).

Jamie at one of the Seven Sisters cascades
Family mud bath at Sulphur Springs (daughter Tessa isn’t sorry she missed this!)
Port Louis Marina

Travis left us to fly to Ft. Lauderdale for a yacht engineering course and George and I motored down the coast to Woburn Bay and Hog Island. After rounding the point, we headed SE into the wind. Fortunately, the island and reefs broke the large waves and we just had to contend with swells and adverse current. It was a short 12-mile journey and we picked up a mooring in a large bay filled with sailboats. Restaurants and bars were still open and the next night was a cruiser jam session and barbecue at a local Rum Shack, where we met other cruisers and got the lay of the land.

After a week, we decided it was time to head north and made our plan.  George tried to convince me the shortest and best route was to sail on the East side of the island in the open ocean. Hah, his sales techniques no longer work on me and I flatly told him he was nuts. When I queried the local charter guys, they said absolutely do not go out into the ocean side. This was the beginning of a long series of spousal discussions where George’s opinion was overruled.

We were now getting more disturbing news about the Coronavirus spread in Europe and possible airline flight reductions. I briefly considered returning home when my sister sent me a State Department notice requesting all Americans to return home immediately. With Travis gone, I couldn’t leave George with the boat and no assistance or company.  We checked out of Grenada and sailed to the Grenadines on a lovely beam reach.  The seas were relatively calm and I had taken a Dramamine just to be sure. We had sailed the same course about 10 years ago with our friends, the Rengels, and it had been a beat into huge rough seas, so I was delighted with the conditions.

We spent two nights on Union Island (celebrating our 33rd anniversary at a lovely beachfront restaurant) and sailed up to Bequia.  We skipped our favorite anchorage, Tobago Cays, because our propane alarm kept going off because the gas sensor had died of old age, shutting the gas solenoid so we couldn’t cook.   Fortunately, once in Bequia, he contacted the sensor manufacturer by phone, and after a day’s labor, figured out how to fix the problem. By this time, we were hearing about the acceleration of Covid 19 cases, country and airport closings (including all of the ones on our itinerary) and I started getting very nervous.  George, on the other hand, having fixed his propane problem, was determined to enjoy Bequia. 

I started figuring out a workable plan and began asking other cruisers what they were planning to do.  Some were heading south to get out of hurricane territory, but Trinidad had already closed its borders.  Grenada was still open, but there were rumors it was going to close. Travis had now flown to Antiqua for a Yachtmasters Class, and I thought we should go there and pick him up.  It was 240 miles and would take about 36 hours. Given that it would give us a First Mate (someone other than me), I was willing to do an overnight sail.  The problem was that the islands were all closing their borders so fast, we weren’t sure if we checked out of Bequia that Antigua would still be open.  The thought of floating around the Caribbean with no country open for fuel and provisions terrified me. As news became direr, one morning we heard Grenada was closing their borders at 4 pm that day, so we decided to make a 34-mile run for it.

George included the mad scramble to Grenada in his blog so I won’t go into details.  Needless to say, it was a high anxiety motor sail, with Nor’easter pushed for all she was worth. We made it to the Customs office in Carriacou with five minutes to spare.  We were told to self-quarantine for 14 days, but that one person could go ashore to the ATM and grocery store.  That evening we shared a bottle of wine and congratulated ourselves on making the right decision to come to Grenada.  We would pull the boat out at the boatyard we had visited previously and fly home.  Simple! All was grand!

It was, until the next morning when an official voice came over Channel 16 with a repeated urgent message that “No cruisers may leave their boats for any reason.” Questions abounded and cruisers were repeatedly told it didn’t matter when they checked into the country, or what their nationality was, they must stay on their boats at all times.  This was going to be a huge problem, as we had provisions to last us about 2 weeks. We decided we needed to get to US waters before the USVI shut their borders. We tried to check out of Carriacou, but were told the Customs Office was closed and we had to sail south 36 miles to Grenada. Even though this was the wrong direction, we had to check out of the country and we hoped they would let us.  George plotted the route to St. Croix and informed me it was a mere 400 miles away (slightly upwind) and would take about 58 hours.  I gulped and decided I could handle anything for 3 days, especially since it meant we would be in US waters.

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