Sailing by the fleet

Escaping the heat of the afternoon, Bowdie and I are going through her reader in a slither of shade on the bow. It’s called Gail the Snail and is aptly about sailing, and jumbles a story together by using all sorts of ‘ay’ and ‘ai’ and ‘a-e’ words. We’re interrupted by a feeding frenzy of little fish eating littler fish and then the sea gulls moving in squawking with delight as well as the odd frigate bird. I have an enormous pang of nostalgia. I am going to miss this so much one day. The craziness passes, and we settle back to page 6 of 8. We make notes with a precious pencil and have brought one of the two erasers that exist on the boat (one more sought after than the other) that Bowds is nervous might roll overboard. She’s wearing her spotty knickers and a real Caribbean tan. Her hair is long and slightly tangled with sea saltiness after an exciting snorkel in the morning dodging enormous black urchins and investigating an octopus plastered into a crevasse.

The route we took from Antigua to St John, USVI
The food chain in action

Because suddenly we are having to get our minds around sailing north into the USA next week. It means that Caribbean island life will come to an abrupt end in 9 days.

View from the 1800’s sugar factory

But it also means ‘we made it’. We made it into another Caribbean island, that will give us access to the USA and out of the hurricane zone. It is the only Caribbean island with borders that aren’t shut. But it was a nail biting exercise risking leaving Antigua and arriving as foreigners with the possibility of being turned away with nowhere to go and Antigua not being able to let us back in, in addition to being in the wrong direction, it would be a very difficult journey to pound through the waves to get back there in need.

Night shift!

So USVIs was not on our initial planned route only because we didn’t want to ‘waste’ precious American visa allowances unnecessarily. But we are now moored on a ball in a pristine marine sanctuary in Francis Bay. Our sail here from Antigua was spectacular. Gentle average of 15kt south easterly wind (right up behind us) allowed us to have a goose wing sail set up as we rode the waves. 32 hours. I can do this!

Goose wing – appropriately red, blue and white!

The only concern was whether we would be allowed into the USVIs on our B1/B2 visas. Salty Dawgs had confirmed there should be no issue unless Trump changed something on route and should we be denied, we would literally have no where to sail to. A risk we had to take. Clearing in was not a breeze. Immigration did not feel that hurricane season was a legitimate reason as liveaboards to be able to sail into the States mainland with the global pandemic going on. That moment when you know it could go either way and everything slows down and feels underwater. With two kids hanging on you asking how long this is going to take of course. We also hadn’t printed and signed and sent a health questionnaire to the DPNR 24hrs ahead of time. Printing and signing and scanning – piece a cake on a boat!! But in our favour, we had been asked to log in as we arrived on an app called ROAM. This completed half the process for us and we now couldn’t wait an additional 24hrs for the health approval. So we were eventually handed the forms in the office and they scanned them for us. Whilst being informed that the ROAM app is only for citizens. How we had data when we arrived to submit this application via ROAM was also a stroke of luck. My folks bought some watches for the kids earlier this year that the Stancills kindly brought for us. Not really knowing what I was doing on Amazon, I bought some SIM cards as a ‘most customers bought these too’ purchase as the watches needed them and I wasn’t sure if they came with them. So we ended up with some extra SIM cards for phones. $5 balance was all we needed.

The beaches have recently opened so it felt wonderful to walk on the beach, hike in the park yesterday. Gaining some freedom has been almost weird. The girls when told we were allowed on the beach, suspiciously eyed the shore and asked why there weren’t that many people on it!?

Confirming a sighting using a book a couple gave her yesterday after watching Erin take bird photographs in the nature park

So we are scheduled to head to USA mainland on the 10th May with the Salty Dawgs. Flotillas have been leaving weekly since the 12th April and weather on route is not great, lots of squalls. We may go with the earlier flotilla on the 3rd May if the weather looks good. Being part of the flotilla doesn’t mean we all leave from the same bay, same time, with a rope between us like little ducklings. We don’t all follow a specific boat or even the same route and we don’t end up at the same destination. However, the Salty Dawgs club will send us weather updates, track us and sound the alarms should something go wrong. The information that these experienced and resourceful sailors are providing us is gold, from weather to immigration status quo’s to updated processes. Feeling incredibly grateful. Now to go find some other kid boats that are also sailing north!