In the same vein as Andrew’s last post, but since I had written it already, its part of our record.
This blog has been brewing. Fleeting moments of inspiration interspersed with long stagnant periods of blah, lack of enthusiasm, procrastination and pointlessness as everyone is in the same boat and hardly needs to hear about my view on the world right now.
When actually up until now, I wouldn’t have swopped our situation for many others. So yes, we were quarantined in a beautiful place. We can swim. We can paddleboard and we even have friends on the boat next door that we can talk to without having to shout. The kids can play and snorkel and the weather is gorgeous. But we are in a foreign country. Hurricane season is approaching and no, solutions to the weather risks aren’t just presenting themselves. We actually need to make a plan for LodeStar and for ourselves. Reality check! Things are getting real!
We casually kept an eye on the date saying to ourselves that we’d only start worrying about our next plan at the end of April. Which of course meant that I started worrying about it immediately and started my typical (enneagram personality no. 1) late night research and determination of rules and allowances and options available to us. Our plan was always to head into the US. From where we are now, it’s about 1600nm. So of course the idea was to island hop via the British Virgin Isles, onto the Bahamas, and onto the US. But with the worldwide lock down, the Bahamas’ lock down is so stringent that they aren’t even allowing vessels to pass through their waters without prior approval. A blow to our plans as we were really looking forward to exploring these beautiful territories. But dare I be disappointed. We can only be grateful for options to right now.
So, going north into the US is still our preferred option. It will however mean it’s just Andrew and I as sailors for probably 2 weeks non-stop. Certainly a feat I wasn’t intending on.
Next option was to sail south to Grenada. This is outside of the hurricane zone but back in the wrong direction for us, has published a potential 6 month extended closure and isn’t ideal for a hot summer. All this assuming we can get a booking and that the borders do in fact open for boats requiring a safe zone for hurricane season. From an insurance perspective, this is usually between the 1st June/July to November. The most southern safe zone in the USA being Georgia.
So our third option could possibly have been to stay here in Antigua. The government has been realistic with regards to cruising, the coast guard pleasant and present, and the island does offer hurricane hideyholes but obviously we aren’t covered from an insurance perspective and we’d be taking our chances, assuming we are allowed to stay beyond our allocated 90 days.
We registered with a sailing club called Salty Dawgs that is focused on getting boats ‘homeward bound’ to the USA, not restricted to American citizens. They were supposed to be arranging a rally that was cancelled due to the Covid outbreak and generously decided to focus their efforts, intellect and manpower to assisting boats that would clearly be short-handed for a unplanned straight passage back to the USA. This means tracking us, sending weather updates, keeping us abreast of port closures, route options, finding crew and buddying us up with other boats. They are not charging a fee but have requested a donation to cover the costs of the weather reports of $150. We hadn’t even left Antigua and its already so worthwhile. They got their immigration team to confirm that we could enter the USVIs with a tourist visa and have suggested where to anchor so we can hook up with other kid boats.
With Trump getting his executive order signed off to put a temporary ban on immigration, we were then more than encouraged to get there and clear in ASAP!!! So from an email sent by Salty Dawgs at 11:45pm (just happened to be up checking my mail) we upped anchor at sunrise, sorted out the right kids onto each boat after a last sleepover, exited at the customs and immigration office on the other side of the island, Andrew did a miraculous provision shop with our leftover Caribbean dollars in a teeny superette before the curfew kicked in at 12 and we are now anchored in Deep Bay awaiting departure tonight to sail to the US Virgin Isles. Time at sea estimated at 40 hours. Hopefully cleared into USA by Friday morning.
And just like that, it’s suddenly our last evening in Antigua. I had thought we may be here for the hurricane season, hoping for the best. We’ve been here since the 3rd March. An exquisite island I hope to return to. The last two weeks have been particularly special as we ‘locked down’ next to Pacific Pearl, friends we met in Portugal in October. We couldn’t commit to seeing each other again once we waved goodbye in the Canary Islands in November but we agreed to make it an intention to see each other in the Caribbean. Little did we know that we’d be in each other’s pockets in Antigua, making lock down a rather pleasant experience. Their girls are 9, 7 and Josephine turned 6 during the lockdown so no shortage of dance directors, barbie stylists, paddleboard sailing competitors, paper plate designers, shoulder to shoulder computer screen movie watchers and snorkeling buddies.
The Popstar Rockstars as they aptly named themselves even held a show for the other boats anchored in the bay. They went around inviting each boat close enough to hear the music by waving and not actually handing over tickets at their sterns for appropriate social distancing by their dinghy, not quite limo, driver Andrew. Everyone encouraged to grab a sundowner and watch the show from their bow. It was a one night only, roaring success with some creeping closer in their dinghies for a better view and an almighty encore! From staring at each other like we’re all the potential enemy, the bay was instantly united. They were even offered dance lessons from an Italian dance teacher. Cherry on the top.
School lessons were also shared daily and kids sorted into level appropriate groups. George facilitated a graphing project by helping the girls collect data in their field books via dinghy in the bay: nationality, engine power, boat type etc. More sailor friends made!
As two weeks went past and no one in the bay had gone anywhere, a bit of socially appropriate interactions ensued. Whether it was joint fresh produce deliveries (ok so only chickens and eggs were available on the day we ordered) or discussing potential hurricane plans with fellow sailors, you cannot keep humans away from humans. And it was great not to have to treat everyone with suspicion. I even joined an aqua aerobics session that another American dance teacher whipped up behind her boat. Happily twerking under water. Erin and Scarlett joined in wearing life jackets as nappies. The kids had paddle board races by paddling upwind and then holding up their towels to race back to their boats, Gen and I would swim everyday – not bad when you wear goggles and a mask and see turtles, rays and a plethora of fish as entertainment.
Andrew even caught a huge barracuda for Easter lunch on a family fishing outing which meant bouncing around in the waves in our dinghy on the edge of the reef to much complaining from the girls that they were scared (so was I!) and it was boring, until of course Dad was fighting a 3ft barracuda off the back of our little blow up with a 6hp engine.
And to much relief, the bunny did manage to find us even though he wasn’t able to bring as much ‘candy’ (as Erin has adopted calling it) as usual.
It was a special two weeks. When one butternut and a donated 2/3 of an aubergine from LodeStar can make a curry for 11. So simple, so memorable, so little stress. I think about having a dinner party at home for 11 and one butternut…..No complaints from the kids about food when that’s all that’s on offer, besides it being absolutely delicious, thank you Gen! (anyone counting, Cat and Martin are included. A couple that have decided to ship their yacht home to the UK and join Pacific Pearl as crew. Which meant that luckily we could take on their Iridium Go for offshore comms. Thank you Cat and Martin!).