After vowing to come back to Dominica we set off for Guadeloupe as the sun was rising over the mountains of Dominica. Our destination Deshaies, or better known to some as Honoré on St Marie, it’s the set for the TV series Death in Paradise. We had an easy sail from Dominica past some highly rated cruising grounds and up the leeward side of the island. We managed to sail all but the final few miles as we raced the setting sun. With good weather forecast and friends (we’d been chasing since Portugal) to catch up with in Antigua we only planned a short stay in Deshaies.
The obligatory raid on the bakery for croissants, supermarket for rum and visit to the film set. We squeezed in a snorkel on the reef and found an octopus living under the boat. After only staying a day, we set off again at first light for Antigua. The conditions were perfect, flat seas and enough wind to make good progress. So good, that we arrived considerably earlier than expected. The J class super yachts were out training on our run into Jolly Harbour. Amazing boats to see in the flesh, especially as they bear down on you with the kite flying!
Jolly Harbour was a strange place; it was as if someone had dropped a Floridian retirement complex into the lagoon. Ellie caught up with some more friends from dinghy sailing. It was nice to compare notes with other people sailing a 34footer, and first time atlantic crossers to boot.
After 2 days of hanging about and one excellent fried breakfast we made plans to cross to the BVIs, a 36hour sail. We were keen to arrive by the 14th of March so we could have some time to prepare the boat before our flights. So we left Antigua as the sun was setting and had a fantastic night sail, deep reaching under a clear sky. The outlines of St Kitts and Nevis visible on the horizon. Again we made better time than expected and in the morning dropped the main. The wind had shifted to a run and this was a quieter way to sail the boat. We carried on, watch and watch travelling smugly in our little bubble. Happy for once to be able to stick to the plan we’d set out. During the second night the wind dropped. We did the usual motor-sailing, trying to sail, motor sailing, trying to sail for a few hours, until an hour or so before dawn the wind returned. Ellie sailed the boat into the anchorage at Virgin Gorda at 9am. Bang on time for once! After breakfast she rowed in to fill our the customs forms and get some fresh supplies.
After a snooze and a swim off the boat we moved to a quieter anchorage. Just before dinner Ellie saw that her phone had connected to some free wifi in town and downloaded some very confusing WhatsApp messages from family. “Sorry your trip the US is cancelled” was the gist of it. We were very confused, we had no access to the internet so had to resort to 140 character text messages on our satalite tracker for an update.
When we left Antigua, we spoke to the customs guys on clearing out. They had plans for isolation procedures for C19, cruise ships had extra screenings. People were worried about it, but there hadn’t been that many cases in the region. By the time we emerged from our bubble in the BVI’s the world had changed: WHO had declared an pandemic, the travel ban to the US had been announced, the BVI’s had banned cruiseships and the next morning closed all ports of entry expect those on Tortola - for enhanced screening. We made getting internet a priority the next morning. Every time we looked at our phones it seemed everything was changing. So did our plans. Eventually we settled on not going to visit family in the US.
With our new found days and mooring already booked for the boat we decided to get on top of the boat jobs we’d neglected for a few months. We kept an eye on the news and the disappointment of cancelling our trip was superseded by the worry of how we were going to get home with country after country closing their borders. Measures in the BVI’s became stricter, borders were closed to non-residents and eventually a night time curfew was introduced. As the charter fleets returned to base, the anchorages emptied and we took full advantage while we could. We enjoyed snorkelling, swimming with turtles and rays in pristine clear water. Out of the way was best for us, anchorages that were jammed packed 2 weeks before were now lucky to have 1 or 2 boats in them.
The inevitable happened and a 24 hour curfew was announced as soon as the first local case of C19 appeared. It was supposed to last only a week. We returned to Penns Landing, we needed a water supply and internet to see us through what could be a very long curfew. Penns Landing also had the advantage of showers!
Curfew started on the 28th March and we paid for a mooring for to the end of April. The earliest we’d feel comfortable leaving to return home. No one really believed that this lockdown would only last 7 days. Curfew didn’t seem that daunting, like being on passage, but with the advantages of a still boat, no night watches and (semi-reliable)internet. So we joined in the billions of other people confined to their homes. Books and Netflix at the ready. For the first few days we laid low, no leaving the boat for showers, no swimming. We wanted to see how it played out, and didn’t want to be made examples of! By day three it seemed fairly relaxed, people fishing from the cover of the mangroves. The odd boat going out in the middle of the night with no lights. So we headed in for showers. We occasionally did a bit of maintenance, but mainly lounged and discussed what to make for the next meal.
At the end of the first curfew a new one was announced. To last for 14 days, no leaving the house for any reason. There was a 3 day period of limited access to the shops to get provisions. Your day at the shop was dictated by the first letter of your last name. Carnage ensued, lines in Road Town for the supermarket were 9 hours long. We got off lightly with 3.5 hours at the local supermarket. With the shelves half empty we were pretty pleased to have reprovsioned so comprehensively in Martinique.
What to say about 2 weeks stuck on the boat? Probably the same as most other peoples experiences. Dumbfounded at the Tiger King, a bit grumpy, a little too bored, plenty of cakes baked to make up for it.
As it stands now the BVI’s are opening up internally on the 20th at 6am. With only a night curfew and social distancing enforced. The first week there is limited access to shops to ease the pressure as everyone relishes in this new freedom. The borders remain effectively closed until September. We’re hoping to resupply with a few bits that took a hit - sweets, crisps and some fresh supplies during the week, then we’ll look for a weather window to start our trip home. The government here have just announced an extension to curfew - details to follow, at some point. What a fun game this is!
The Azores(for the time being) are allowing private vessels to stop for water fuel and deliveries of supplies. No one is allowed on or off the boat though. The UK and Ireland seem off-limits for the foreseeable future. So we’re facing 20-25 days to the Azores and then 18-23 days to Stavanger. By that time who knows what the world will look like. Will we have to quarantine for a fortnight when we get home? Can we do it at home or do we have to stay on the boat? Will we even be able to cope with having more than 10sq meters to roam in? Will we have lost our minds after so long cooped up with only each other for company?! So yes, the next post about the up coming crossing may be very ‘interesting’, check back in a couple of months…hopefully we will have made it home by then!
p.s. more photos to follow when the internet speeds up.