Monthly Archives: January 2022

Cruising the Caribbean with Covid

It’s mid-January, and Brenda and  I are still in Antigua, nearly three weeks after we returned from the US.  We have finally recovered, well mostly recovered, from our colds, compliments of our adorable grandchildren, the little viral incubators that they are.

The weather here has been terrific, with daytime temperatures in the low 80s and 70s overnight.  Winds have been moderate which has made getting around the harbor quite simple.

We’ve been eating out a good deal with the highlight Brenda’s birthday on the 15th at perhaps the nicest place in the area.  During cocktails we had a very nice Zoom event, compliments of Chris’s partner Melody, who set it up.  Guests included, in addition to Melody and Chris, our son Rob and his family along with Brenda’s oldest friend LeeAnne and Rob and Christopher’s adopted uncle Craig.  It was a very nice event and Brenda was very touched.  It would  have been better to be with everyone in person but Zoom was a pretty good second choice.  Brenda and I continue to enjoy sitting up on Pandora’s deck, made possible by reasonable trade winds, to enjoy the sunset every evening.    Some nights it’s more colorful than others but always a sight to behold.With a full moon a few nights ago, we were treated to a great show.  The moon rose around sunset and didn’t set until after dawn.  Here’s a shot of today’s moonset and our friend Tom’s Rally Point, all by herself in the harbor.  Somehow this photo doesn’t do the moment justice.  On Friday we will make our way around to Jolly Harbor where we will do some last minute provisioning before making the 45 mile run to Deshaies Guadeloupe.  Winds on Saturday look good, about 15kts out of the east which means we will make the run with wind just forward of the beam, making for a nice run.  The seas will be pretty large, perhaps 8′ or so but the period between crests will be long, 15 seconds, making for a reasonable and fast ride.

Friends have asked what it’s like being here this winter and how we feel about the risk of infection.  The simple answer is “normal” and better than we had expected.  I expect that a few of our cruising friends who decided to sit out this season, as they endure below freezing temperatures up north, are probably questioning their decision to take a pass this season.

Last year, pre-vaccination, it was challenging to move between islands because of expensive PCR tests and mandatory quarantines upon arrival.  As moving to other islands was impractical, a big issue was finding a way to get three month visas renewed without being exposed to possible infection.   Visas had to be renewed in St John, requiring a cab ride and a long wait in line, among the then unvaccinated masses.  Not safe at all.

Now, as in pre-pandemic years, the simple option is just to leave the island and go elsewhere.  Return, within 24 hours or at any time down the road and the 90 day clock starts all over again.

This season could not be more different with regards to Covid as most everyone knows of someone that is vaccinated and yet still caught Covid and recovered.  The good news is that in most cases, with those that are fully vaccinated, a case is usually not much more than a bad cold.  Having said that, show up at an event, with even a sniffle, and you will quickly become an outcast.  It’s not really as much about the danger of Covid but more about becoming infected and the inconvenience of having to delay plans for moving to another island because of the need to quarantine and test again.

There’s no question that the governments of some islands are also feeling a bit better about all this as moving from place to place is now a lot easier.  For example, to head to Guadeloupe you are still being asked to get a rapid test prior to departure and yet nobody is asking to view the results upon arrival.  I also heard that once cleared into Guadeloupe you can travel sans-test to Martinique, another French island, assuming that you don’t stop in Dominica, a non French island, along the way.

Brenda and I don’t feel confident about stopping in Dominica this year.  When I asked  about the status of vaccination there, a friend, and admittedly this is second hand information, said that she had heard that “vaccination was encouraged”.  That’s not working for me.  Additionally, the pandemic came on the heels of back to back hurricane hits so things have been very tough on that island for years now.  Yes, I understand that the risk of infection is more about my own vaccination status than that of others but I still feel more comfortable being around others that are vaccinated.

Today I received news about a violent attack on a cruiser who had anchored off of St Vincent, when two armed men boarded his boat, tied him up and took everything that was not nailed down before fleeing.  It’s that sort of thing that makes me very nervous when considering visiting some islands that have been particularly hard hit.

Here in Antigua and on many other islands, life is fairly normal and just about the only reason you’d know that anyone is still concerned about Covid is that masks are mandatory everywhere.   In early November the Antigua government took the controversial position of requiring vaccination for all government employees and those involved in the hospitality business, firing those who did not comply.  As you can imagine, vaccination levels are much higher now.

Taking a hard line to reduce infection was vital as the economy of Antigua, like so many other islands, is heavily based on tourism.   They are receiving the benefit of this decision now as the marinas are packed to capacity and restaurants and hotels are busy.  Additionally, all visitors are required to show proof of vaccination to enter the country.

While those in colder climates struggle with finding a way to spend time in public during cold weather, here in the islands, where just about everything is outdoors, in tropical breezes, life seems pretty normal and everyone is going about their business with little restriction.

While a negative Covid test is required upon arrival in all islands, at this writing, most now allow the less expensive rapid test as opposed to the lab-based PCR test that was the norm until recently.  A few islands still require the more expensive PCR test which might lead to some cruisers heading elsewhere for cost reasons as PCR tests can run upwards of $200-$250 per person.

Many cruisers, after enjoying the holidays here or back in the states, are now beginning to head to other islands with many making the daylight run to the next island to the south, Guadeloupe.   Fortunately, entry there is still as simple in Deshaies, as it had been in the past.  Head ashore to the T shirt shop, pay a few Euros and you’re good to go.  In most cases, cruisers aren’t even being asked for their test results.Given the fear of breakthrough infection, even if it’s not particularly risky for healthy vaccinated people, many cruisers have a supply of rapid tests aboard so that they can check themselves, in advance of paying for a proctored test, the sort required for entry, as they don’t want to pay the $100US for the  rapid test only to find that they must wait due to a positive result.

The general consensus with most cruisers that I have contacted, is that they plan on more spending time in their favorite places so that they can avoid the complexity and expense of regular testing.

In addition to Deshaies, another stop in Guadeloupe is the small archipelago at the southern end of the island, Les Saintes, with its laid-back Mediterranean vibe and great French food.   From there, some will opt to head to Dominica, known for great hiking but many will choose to make the 100 mile run directly Martinique with its mix of bustling cities and quaint villages.

Both Guadeloupe and Martinique offer great variety and it’s easy to spend a few months at either island without the complexities of testing before moving elsewhere.

For cruisers visiting Martinique, clearing into St Pierre is a good first stop, nestled in the shadow of Mt Pele.  From there some move to the bustling capital city of Forte de France or, perhaps continue on directly to the village of St Anne, with its expansive anchorage, a favorite spot for cruisers to hang out, some for the entire season.  Nearby la Marin is a great place to provision and boat supplies are readily available.

All and all, as the pandemic hopefully moves into its final critical stage, life here in the Caribbean feels a lot like “old times” and there are hints that things are finally getting back to normal.

One thing for sure, based on the number of “first timers” that joined the Salty Dawg Rally last November, is that living through the last two years, with so much uncertainty, has caused many to reevaluate their lives and adopt the YOLO, you only-live-once, attitude.  As they say, “you’ll never be any younger or any healthier so cast off the dock lines and go cruising”.

As my friends up in New England are coping with single digit temperatures lamenting for the days when they were able to enjoy alfresco dining, those of us that are here in the Caribbean are enjoying gentle trade winds, daily visits to the beach and those iconic sunsets that the tropics are known for.

So, if you have been dreaming of a tropical winter, now’s the time to begin planning in earnest for next season.   And speaking of planning, why not sign up to participate in the Salty Dawg Sailing Association webinar series, more than 40 topics in all to help jump start your plans to head south next season.  www.saltydawgsailing.org

So, here we are, hanging out in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua for a few more days before beginning our journey to Guadeloupe.  And, like most afternoons, I expect that Brenda and I will head to the beach for a swim before heading back and showering before dinner aboard Pandora. As is so common here, we were treated to a brief shower this morning followed by a stunning rainbow.  This is only a sliver as it was tough to capture the whole spectacle.  Beautiful never the less and more proof that cruising the Caribbean with covid is still a great place to be.

Antigua eye candy.

It’s hard to believe just how much money there is out there but to see all the huge yachts here in Antigua makes it pretty clear that there is plenty to go around, at least among the .01% crowd.

I was meeting with a friend that runs a restaurant here in Falmouth this morning and she showed me an order for $2,ooo for sushi, something that happens most every day from one or more of the mega and giga yachts that fill the marinas here.  She says that the amount of takeout is way up because many of the charter boats don’t want any of their crew to spend time ashore because of the risk of getting Covid, vaccination or not.

That makes sense given the fact that these boats charter for upwards of $250,000 to $500,000 per week.  Having even one crew test positive could cause them to loose a charter.

Yesterday we moved Pandora out to closer to the entrance of the harbor so that we could enjoy some time on the beach.   We try to stay out of the sun in the heat of the day but enjoy doing a bit of swimming in the late afternoon.

This was the view from the deck of Pandora last evening where we enjoyed a glass of nice rose. This boat passed us this morning.    She’s huge at nearly 350′ and is owned by a Russian, if I recall.  We have seen here before.    Note the chopper on her aft deck.   Wouldn’t want the owner to have to endure a cab ride from the airport.  While Anna is only a few years old, Shemara is from the 1930s, rescued as a derelict by an owner with the resources to renovate her properly.   She had been abandoned in the UK for many years.  In order to make sure that the renovation went according to plan, the new owner actually formed his own restoration yard so that he could control the process and be sure that it turned out well.  And, it did, She is a classic beauty.She is a bit of a peanut compared to Anna but so classy.  Her superstructure evokes a bygone era.Check out this link to learn more about her 3.5 year refit.  There are over 1,000,000 man hours in her and so much of her was upgraded and replaced that there is only about 15% to 20% of her that is still original.   She is diesel electric with dual azimuth drives, a system where two pods are on the bottom of the boat that can be rotated in any direction, a blend of old and high tech.

Better yet, check out this 2.5 minute video of her.  It begins with her launch in the 30s.  Even though she is over 200′ long, she looks tiny compared to some of the other boats here.Another beauty that showed up today is Nero.  She’s even bigger and is actually a new boat, launched in 2011, but designed to evoke a yacht from Shemara’s time. This short video gives a terrific tour of her, inside and out.  I’d love to have a G&T in her salon.It’s hard to know where to stop with so much “candy” to talk about.

But, before I break, I have to note that the competitors in the Talisker’s Whisky Challenge have begun arriving in Antigua.  These boats, some with only two crew, will have rowed across the entire Atlantic.  It’s billed as the “toughest race in the world”, and I believe it. Given my choice, I would much rather spend time aboard one of the “big girls” here in the harbor than to spend months rowing across the Atlantic.  But, perhaps that’s just me, getting softer as I get older.

One more thing.  Speaking of getting older.  Brenda’s birthday is today and this evening we will be having dinner where I am writing this.   The evening will begin with a Zoom with friends and family followed by a really nice dinner.   What a great spot to celebrate and enjoy the view of all the eye candy here in Antigua.

Happy Birthday Brenda!

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

It’s Friday and we have been back in Antigua for a week.  I am finally, nearly, almost, mostly over the particularly nasty cold, compliments of our grandchildren that I have suffered from for over two weeks and now Brenda has the scourge.

Her cough sounds terrible and I am hopeful that she will improve enough to join me at the Antigua Yacht Club event this evening.  Angie, the proprietor of the place, has arranged for Antigua Distillery, local makers of fine rum, to host the event with tastings.   It should be fun.  Besides, when you are in the Caribbean, what’s more important than rum?

A few days ago we fueled up and moved from English Harbor over to Falmouth where the water is a lot clearer.  I was stunned by the barnacles that had grown on Pandora’s bottom during our 6 weeks away.  Think popcorn sized barnacles covering every inch of her bottom.  I hired a diver to clean things up as it was a far bigger job than I could have possibly tackled myself. It took two hours for him to get everything off.  He did a good job, which I’d expect for $4.00/ft

Here’s Pandora on the fuel dock with a slew of Oyster yachts in the background, all cueing up to begin their “around the world rally”.  I’m not sure that this is the year to set off on such an adventure with the virus still running rampant.And speaking of fuel, a few years ago one of my tanks developed a leak which I had repaired.  Well, the repair turned out to be more like a temporary band aid and yesterday, when I filled that tank up again, we ended up with a load of fuel in the bilge.  I discovered the problem late in the evening and spent the next few hours pumping out what fuel I could from the tank into jugs.  What a mess.  As I have three tanks, I don’t have to worry about this for the rest of the season except for whatever is left and seeps into the bilge.  It seems that just about every time I leave Pandora for more than few weeks, something goes amiss.   I guess it’s time to get a new tank instead of a patched one.   Another day, another boat dollar.

When we arrived, on New Year’s eve, there were very few yachts in the marinas as many of them were out on charter.  Well, yesterday, one week later, they are all returning and the marinas are packed.  I was told that every slip is booked for the entire season so I am guessing that they are paying for their slips even if they aren’t there.  Must be nice to live the life of “if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it.”

How about Mayan Queen.  She’s over 300′ long.  We’ve seen her before.  If I recall, she belongs to a Mexican guy that made his fortune in wireless phones.  It must be quite a fortune. And, under the category of mine is bigger than yours, how about the swim platform?  It’s quite a bit bigger than our back deck at home, and a whole lot nicer. And, you about this, their tender with quad outboards?  It’s hard to imagine the need for 1,800 hp on a boat that’s less than 40′ long. Well, everyone needs a way to get ashore but few can afford a “limo tender”.  Nice ride.   “James, take me to the quay.  And be quick about it.”   “Madam, there is a 5kt speed limit here in the harbor.”  “James, be real, that’s just for the little people.”Readers may recall that Brenda and I spent three days racing aboard Marie, a 182′ ketch a few years ago.  She has a new owner and is here in her “usual” slip.  With all the teak, and there’s tons of it, covered, clearly the owner isn’t aboard.
Antigua, known as the “sailing capital of the Caribbean” generally has her share of beautiful sailing yachts.  Here’s two classic J class racers, Ranger and Lionheart.  Ranger is the white one.  I’ve never been crazy about her unorthodox bow configuration.   Her boom is so big that it was dubbed “Park Avenue”.  She has an impressive array of chrome.And, how about Adix, a “classic: built in the 80s.   She’s spectacular.She was once owned by Alan Bond who named her XXX after one of his beer brands.   She has a lot of teak aboard, all varnished to perfection. And, where there are mega-yachts, there are toys.  want to spend $5,000 on a surfboard, look no further.  These are becoming very popular with the mega-set.  Lithium powered and you don’t need waves to surf.  Part of the parade of huge yachts returning to Falmouth this morning is Marie, a a real stunner.  Sadly, as there are so many yachts with that name, I was unable to find out anything about her.  Want to charter a classic?  How about Eros, a meticulously restored schooner from the 30s.  She can take 8 guests so how splitting the cost 4 ways makes it a bargain at about $14,000/week per couple.  Hard to pass up a deal like that.Oh my, so many yachts to choose from.  Where do I begin?No wait, here’s another one, just pulling in.   Sorry, no-go.  She sports an orange boot top, and I drank way too much orange soda as a kid. There must be one that’s right.  Yes, some are nearly prefect but I struggle with the price point.   Sadly, I DO have to ask how much.

For now I will just have to be satisfied with our little Pandora.  At least I can be confident that our view is as good as the big boys.
I’d better sign off now as it’s nearly time to head to the beach for a swim.   I feel sorry for my friends up in CT.  I hear that the forecast is for around a foot of the white stuff.

I’ll settle for a white sandy beach.

I was Blue but now I am better.

It’s been two weeks since my last post but it feels like a lifetime.  When I last posted, I didn’t have passport with enough time remaining to be valid for the duration of our winter in the Caribbean.

I went to the passport office website and the details of an emergency renewal, defined as taking less than a few months, said something like “you better hope that someone had died or don’t bother us, EVER!”.  Not terribly encouraging so in desperation I opted for one of those services that promise a quick turnaround for about $1,000.  However, after filling out the questions on the website, including credit card information, and tons of personal stuff, when they asked for my SS number, I bailed.   But not soon enough, it seems, to avoid a charge of nearly $700.  The resolution of that issue is still pending.

As you can imagine, by that point, I was really  becoming desperate and decided that my only hope was to contact CT Senator Chris Murphy’s office.  Problem solved and Senator Murphy is now my NEW BEST FRIEND, in a few days one of his aids secured an appointment, in person, at the passport office in Stamford.  Problem solved with a turnaround of a few hours.

Ok, so now I have a new passport albeit with a photo that makes me look like a criminal.  When my son Christopher saw it, his reaction was “if you ever get arrested you’d better hope that the jury doesn’t see this phot0 or they will vote to convict before the trial even begins”.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, Christopher.

Our six weeks at home after leaving Antigua was a whirlwind, visiting our son and his family in Maryland, (more about that in a moment), helping our other son and his partner move into NYC after being with us for nearly a year and a half (what a great experience that was).  Make that driving 6 hours round trip to NYC, three times, celebrating Christmas with Chris and Melody and our friend Craig at our home.

Oh yeah, Brenda and I also decorated our home for Christmas, and then she took everything down the day after Christmas, while I drove Chris and Melody and Mila, their dog, back into NYC.

Back home to pack and winterize the house, blowing out all the water pipes with compressed air, antifreeze in the washer, dishwasher, icemaker, drains and toilets.  A long list.

Finally…. Picking up a rental car so we could drive into NYC to stay with Chris and Melody before going to Kennedy Airport.  The next morning, at 0-dark-30 we headed to JFK only to learn that our flight to Antigua on Jet Blue was canceled 15 MINUTES BEFORE WE ARRIVED AT THE AIRPORT THANKYOU.

Teh terminal was a zoo.  I have never seen so many people in one building.  So much for social distancing.  It was like a giant mosh pit, with luggage.  Beginning at 04:00 we stood line for the next six hours before we were able to finally secure a hotel room.   By the time we made it to the hotel it wasn’t even noon and after a an early lunch Brenda fell asleep on a bench in the bar while we waited for our room to be ready.  Asleep in the bar you say?  No, no gin involved.

When we finally got to our room, we slept the sleep of the dead only to wake up in time for dinner.   No, make that the sleep of the sick and dead.  Sick?  Let me explain.

Remember that we visited our son and his family in MD?  We had a terrific time and as usual, came back with more than we arrived with.  Repeat after me “small children are noting more than adorable viral incubators”.

Oh boy, did I come back with a doozy of a cold.  Here I sit more than two weeks later and I am still coughing my lungs out.  And no, it’s not COVID, although I was concerned enough to take two rapid tests and a PCR, all negative.

Below is a photo of our family and those adorable vectors.  It’s been four years since our boys, Rob and Christopher, have been together.  Now that Chris lives in NYC, as opposed to Oakland CA, I am sure that we will all be together more often.

Yup, that’s the adorable petri dish gang on the lower left.  From left to right, twins Emme, Rhett and Tori.  When they are sick, you can hardly tell.  With me, yes, you can tell, for weeks on end.  On the top, from left to right our son Rob, his wife Kandice, Brenda, Melody, Chris’s partner and  Christopher.

And, me, down low sucking in all those viral particles.  And Mila, happy, no matter what. So, after all that we are finally back in Antigua and while our “home friends” are feeling the effects of winter up north, we have this view out of Pandora’s cockpit. On our starboard side is Nelson’s Dockyard, home to some remarkable boats.  How about this three masted schooner?   She’s huge.  Ada, I think.  All the schooners here aren’t quite so well kept, though most are.  How about this lovely yacht?  They say that “he who dies with the most stuff wins”.  If that’s true, this guy is a shoe-in. This is really a beautiful place and we are looking forward to hanging out for a few weeks before we head to Guadeloupe.   I guess that’s it for now.  I’m happy now but heading back to Antigua was quite a trial thanks to Jet Blue and I have to say that that experience on “Blue” really made me  blue.  Today I received a survey from Jet Blue and as they say “I told it like it is and as Brenda would say “and that’s what I really think?”  It wasn’t pretty but I hope that they contact me as I included my email.

Blue or not, I’m mostly better now except for one tiny little thing…. Now Brenda’s sick.

Life can be cruel but at least we are aboard our boat in a tropical paradise.  it could be worse.