It’s Thursday night, and we are moored in Caneel Bay, on the northwest side of St. John’s, U.S.V.I. I am sitting in “Nor’easter’s” cockpit under a moonless night with lots of stars. St. Thomas is off my starboard quarter, less than 5 miles away, with lots of lights showing. The other islands to the north are dark, except for a couple of residences where people are probably up watching Netflix or news on the pandemic. It’s pretty quiet out here, the sea is flat, but a nearby catamaran is lit up like a Christmas tree and running its generator, which is not terribly obnoxious but does detract from the tranquility. If they turned off some of their lights, they probably wouldn’t need to run the genset.
Having spent the past year constantly on the go, either on passage or in port getting ready for the next leg, it is actually unsettling to me having nothing to do but wait for the pandemic to resolve itself. “Nor’easter” is in fine shape, and without little boat jobs to complete each day, I spend too much time looking at news on my phone and not even venturing off the boat until late in the day, which is depressing. Yesterday was fun, as Jamie and I hit the beach right after breakfast and did interval training, running, burpees, pushups, squats, planks, etc. for about 45 minutes. Then we took a hike to the top of the island, went snorkeling in a magnificent coral garden about a mile away from our mooring, and cooked a nice dinner. Today, by contrast, I didn’t leave the boat until 1600, spending most of the day trying to salvage some brass hinges on my instrument covers that had become frozen from salt water. The ocean sailor is eternally battling the effects of salt water on mechanical and electrical systems, and the sea generally wins.
Of all the trials and tribulations we encountered this past year, our current situation is by far the most frustrating. The joy of cruising is sailing to exotic ports, meeting new people, seeing lots of different cultures, enjoying local restaurants, bars, and other attractions, and planning the next leg of the journey. Here in St. John’s, while we are not confined to our boats as are our fellow cruisers in Grenada, we are advised to socially isolate ourselves, there are no open restaurants except for take-out, and the only shops open are grocery stores and pharmacies. Cruz Bay, a delightful town full of attractions, is nearly deserted but for a handful of people waiting to depart from the ferry dock. It reminds me of a scene from the 1960’s screen rendition of Neville Chute’s novel about the WWIII nuclear war, “On the Beach.” It’s eerie.
The most challenging part of this, for us, is figuring out how we get out of here before hurricane season arrives in June. Many have reserved space in a boatyard in Grenada, but we left that country when they told us we were confined to our boats full time. Those still in the country are making the best of a bad situation, but there are no flights out of there to the U.S., so they are in limbo. My plan was that Jamie would fly home in early May from St. Martin, and I would sail from here to Bermuda with one of my racing buddies from Sandusky, then have another friend from Canada join me sailing to Newport. However, Bermuda is closed to cruisers, and anyone sailing to Newport is subject to a 14- day quarantine on board. My wife, who has never done a passage that long, was not anxious to be my default crew for this 1400 NM jaunt, and I can’t expect anyone from home to subject themselves to being stuck 14 days with me on a boat in Newport after making a 10-day passage. On top of that problem, anyone flying here from the U.S. could potentially infect me, creating the worst case scenario of my being incapacitated on an 8-day passage.
With the above facts in place, Jamie has reluctantly agreed the sensible thing is for her to accompany me to Newport, but we must completely isolate ourselves for two weeks before departure, which means no grocery shopping, no socializing, even from a distance, and no new crew coming on board from the U.S. Jamie survived her most recent 400 NM passage from Grenada to St. Croix in fine form, and we have laid in a supply of transdermal Scopolomine anti-motion sickness patches. I am looking forward to this great adventure with my wife, and with enough enthusiasm to make up for her lack thereof.
My fall-back plan if Jamie had not agreed to join me was to haul the boat in Puerto Rico and leave it “on the hard” for hurricane season, pick it up next November, and spend the 2021 season cruising the Windward and Leeward Islands. However, having spent the last 16 months living on, sailing, and repairing “Nor’easter,” I’m truly ready for a break. Not to mention the fact that the boatyard in Puerto Rico emailed me today that nobody is allowed to enter their waters, and that the boat yard is closed until further notice.
These few months down here with my wife were supposed to be the “easy” part of our 18-month trip, but like everyone else in the world, our plans went up in smoke. I am so grateful Jamie is with me, and she’s whipping me into shape with half-mile swims, long hikes, and morning calisthenics on the beach. We have done so much snorkeling around this bay, the sea turtles probably recognize us, and we know exactly where to find the nurse sharks. Our big excitement is going to the grocery store every 3 days and trying not to touch anything anyone else might have contaminated, then cleaning all our produce before we store it.
This is the new normal, and we don’t expect it to end until April 30 at the earliest. If and when it does, we need to get moving either to a boatyard or north to America. Hopefully, by then we will have some clarity and be able to make the right decision. In the meantime, considering what some of our friends in the U.S. are enduring, we are grateful that, by sheer luck, we are in this safe, secure place without much chance of getting sick.
We hope all of our readers are staying well, both physically and mentally, and making the best out of this seemingly historic event. We “Boomers” have skated through life relatively free from major world crises, such as WWII and the Great Depression. While there are legions of individuals, both in the U.S. and abroad, who have been, or will be, tragically affected by COVID-19, at the risk of making a premature evaluation of it’s impact, if this pandemic and associated economic disruption is the worst that happens to our generation before we pass on, I think we’ve gotten off relatively easy.