Quarantined in Antigua

Brenda and I arrived in Antigua on Friday after a two day run from St Lucia, the last day that arrivals were allowed before the boarders were closed.

After several weeks in the marina and months buddy boating with friends, our departure was emotional, not knowing when our paths would cross again.  Those who were still there gave us a proper sendoff.We are now sitting aboard Pandora for a two week quarantine hoping that the island will open up soon.  However, given the risk of infection at any point, we are effectively quarantined indefinitely, here or at home when that day finally arrives.

As a matter of history, the term Quarantine originated in Europe during the plague, in the 14th century that killed an estimated 50,000,000 people, as much as 60% of the population of Europe at the time.  Fortunately, the death rate from Covid-19 is child’s play compared with that but it is terrifying, never the less, to be dealing with a worldwide pandemic.

As is the case today, the plague originated in China and found it’s way to northern Europe on the backs, literally, of rats that lived on ships trading between China and Europe.  The term Quarantine comes from the word quaranta, the word for 40 in Italian, rising out of the requirement for arriving ships to stay at anchor for 40 days, to ensure that there was no disease on board, before anyone was allowed ashore.

The use of the word has stuck and to be subject to quarantine now is a grim reminder of how little has actually changed in spite of all of the technological advances that we are so proud of.

So here we are, quarantined aboard Pandora for two weeks which is certainly better than 40 days.  However, even if we were not subject to this forced isolation, there’s not much on shore as nearly all businesses are closed.  Additionally, there is curfew from 20:00 to 06:00 with major fines if you don’t follow the rules.

And, to be sure that nobody sneaks into Antigua without going through proper channels, the Coast Guard is patrolling harbors twice a day. As of yesterday, Saturday, all hotels and most businesses are shuttered and all flights bringing people to Antigua have been stopped.  A few flights are still coming in empty to pick up travelers that wish to return home.   However, that is not an option for me and Brenda as it would not be wise to leave Pandora here during the hurricane season.

Many boats are kept within the hurricane zone each summer with owners hoping that the odds of loosing their boats aren’t all that bad given the likelihood of a really bad storm hitting their particular island in any given year is slight.  However, it was only two years ago that Barbuda, a mere 25 miles from Antigua was leveled.   Conventional wisdom is that there is a one in ten chance of a major storm hitting any particular island in any given year.  Those odds don’t sound all that bad unless you consider how you’d feel if you knew that you had a one in ten chance of being killed when you get in the car and head out for groceries.  I doubt that many would take those odds.

And who can forget the pictures of boats in the BVIs scattered like match sticks with nearly every boat in the entire country destroyed.  One strategy used to save boats in the event of a major storm is to weld all the stands holding up the boat together with iron pipes and to use heavy straps to secure the boat to tie-downs cemented into the ground under the boat.   However, in storms as ferocious as what hit some islands two years ago, many boats that were well secured to the ground still had their rigs ripped off at the deck.  And, no matter how well a boat is tied down flying debris from other boats and buildings nearby can still inflict a lot of damage.

This photo from the British Virgin Islands at one of the better yards is a grim reminder of what can happen.Frankly, it would be so appealing to just put Pandora on the hard and jump on a plane to the US.  However, with the constant stream of bad news coming out of the US we are probably a lot safer here than at home.  Additionally, with deductibles for losses in hurricane zones so high, I doubt that we’d be in a position to replace Pandora if the need were to arise, something that I’d prefer not to think about.  However, given our predicament, I am afraid to have Brenda weigh in on all that.

So, with all this in mind, here we sit, hoping that somehow things will get better at home so we can feel better about heading home.  As June first, the beginning of hurricane season, is still a long way off, we don’t have to make any big decisions quite yet.

However, given the whipsaw of news coming from the administration in Washington and the seeming disconnect between what’s being recommended  on a national level, verses what individual states are doing to keep people safe, we are very nervous about the risk of being so close to New York, the hottest of hot spots and fear that things are about to get a lot worse.

So, here we sit, aboard Pandora in quarantine in Five Islands Harbor, not far from St John, where we cleared in on Friday.   The only sign of civilization is a lovely resort tucked into the hillside. It’s lovely and in different times we’d be heading ashore for a drink or dinner.  However, now there is nobody there except one or two security guards keeping an eye on things.

Things are anything but normal and I’ll admit that Brenda and I feel pretty isolated and unsure about what happens next.

We are hopeful that things will settle down in a few weeks and that we will be able to make our way to the American Virgin Islands where she will be able to fly home and I’ll be able to get crew to Pandora so we can head home to CT.  Mercifully, my crew, Steve and Jim, are standing by and will come if they can.  Brenda, on the other hand is “preparing for the worse, and hoping for the best”.

I expect that getting crew to come down may very well prove to be just so much wishful thinking given how chaotic things are in the US right now and how restrictive flights to the islands are.  The news gets worse each day and there seems to be more, not less, uncertainty in Washington about how to manage what may very well turn out to be the worse outbreak of any country in this worldwide pandemic.  I expect that is going to get a lot worse in the US before things begin to get back to anything resembling normal.

Our plans about when to leave St Lucia were so much up on the air that we had changed our mind on a near daily basis on whether we should continue to hang out in St Lucia or head north to Antigua or the USVIs.  It wasn’t until we learned that Antigua would be closing it’s boarders this weekend, that we decided to leave and head here.

So, with only a few hours notice we arranged for a diver to clean Pandora’s bottom, foul from more than two weeks in the dirty inner harbor, contact the marina and advise them that we were leaving.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t clear out through Customs as the office was closed, along with everything else near the marina.  It was getting pretty depressing to be there, I’ll admit.

Our first run was 100 miles from St Lucia to Dominca where we wanted to pick up the wood I had cut for me back in January.  I wrote about that adventure in an earlier post.    We sailed to Dominica through the night and arrived just after daybreak on Thursday, not knowing what to expect when we arrived.

We were shocked to see how many boats, dozens, were still anchored in the harbor.  As the island was officially closed to new arrivals, we didn’t check in and never went ashore.  This was technically illegal but we counted on modest enforcement and we were right.

We were able to get the PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security) guys to bring the wood out to Pandora.   I couldn’t believe how fast they found the wood and brought it to us.  Yikes, the boards turned out to be a lot bigger than I had remembered. I had left the boards in Dominica when we left as I was at a loss on how I was going to secure them down below so that they would not shift underway. With lots of sensitive electronics and equipment under the cockpit, where I wanted to store them, I needed to be absolutely certain that they would not come loose in rough conditions.  After a few hours I had secured the wood in the locker under the cockpit.  It was a hot sweaty job.  Yes, it was that tight back there. Getting three 5.5′ long boards through that tiny opening was no simple feat. I attached nearly a dozen metal straps to the surrounding bulkheads to tie the boards down securely.  Lacing the pile every which way with super-strong Dynema line took some doing.  Now the wood is properly secured, I think.  I expect that getting them out again when we get home, if we get home, will be quite a project.  It’s tight, tight, in there with less than one inch to the bulkhead, port and starboard. After resting in Dominica, such as it was, with a constant stream of visitors pulling up in their dinks to say HI, we headed out in the late afternoon for the 100 mile run to Antigua.

As we passed Guadalupe, yet another island that has put in tight restrictions, we were shadowed by a French warship.  I expected them to order me to head further offshore as I had heard that transiting vessels were required to honor their territorial waters, 12 miles out.  They didn’t say a word.  Hearing nothing, I decided to reach out to them and explained that we had no plans to stop and were in transit for Antigua.  Their answer, “please pass to our stern”.  We did.

In spite of the uncertainty of what would happen when we arrived in Antigua and the inability to stop along the way, we had a pleasant enough passage on a beam reach in about 15kts of wind and pretty calm, buy ocean standards, seas.  Unfortunately, Brenda didn’t feel particularly well.  It was tough for me to stay awake as Brenda slept a good amount of the time.

We spotted a lot of seabirds.  I particularly enjoyed watching the frigate birds that circled constantly, scooping up the flying fish that the passage of Pandora scared into the air. Both nights we had beautiful sunsets.
When the sun goes down I enjoy being on the water even more as it’s cool and there isn’t much to worry about with most boats in port.   We saw a lot of squalls in the distance but none passed us to wash the salt off.
After our two day run, with a stop in Dominica to rest, we pulled into St John Harbor, normally used by commercial shipping only.

Brenda piloted Pandora down the channel as I prepared the anchor.  I was a bit nervous about dropping an anchor in a harbor where surely there was lots of refuse on the bottom after so many years of heavy commerce, out of fear that it would get hung on something and not come up. There wasn’t a lot of activity in what is usually a very busy port. Containers were being lifted off of the one ship in port, one of several that arrive here from Miami each week.  Some of the locals have expressed anxiety that shipments of food may be disrupted by the increased quarantine.   So, far, so good. When we are underway for distances that go beyond day sailing between islands, we put our dink on deck.  Securing things properly is quite a process involving full deflation and securing it carefully with straps and ties.  When we arrived in St John we had to re-launch to get ashore for customs and immigration. We had heard from friends, who cleared in a few weeks ago, that it was quite difficult to get ashore as the docks are set up for cruise ships, not small private boats.  They had to scramble up tall ladders onto the dock.  Until recently, cruisers were able to clear into other harbors but in order to have better control over arrivals, the government has designated St John as the only place to clear in.  They set up a convenient containment area and clearly brand new, floating dock to tie up to. We aren’t the only ones “sheltering” here in Antigua.  How about this yacht Joy.  I doubt that they feel all that bad being forced to hang out aboard.
How about a bit of fun on the water slide, day sailor, jet ski, you name it. A round of basketball on the bow?  Brenda often says that her “natural state is asleep”.  How about this as a perfect spot for a nap or…All rested?  I expect that they won’t be eating Ramen noodles for dinner any time soon.  “Jasper, please fetch me a margarita, on the rocks and a glass of champagne for the little lady.”According to the official Joy website, the owner Sameer Gehlaut is a business owner from Mumbai India and when he commissioned the yacht, launched in 2016, his brief was to “create something different than any other yacht”.

Well, Sameer, you got what you paid for and she’s different all right, different from any yacht we spend time on.  Check out her site.  Want to see more, don’t forget to look at the gallery of photos.  Not a shabby place to be quarantined.

However, perhaps to remind us that there is a proverbial “storm on the horizon” we saw a funnel cloud nearby yesterday afternoon. So, back aboard Pandora.  At least the view from aboard Joy isn’t any nicer than this.  It’s a beautiful place.  I just wish it was under different circumstances.

Once our two week quarantine is complete not a lot will change as just about everything ashore is closed anyway.  Besides, we have no idea about what’s in store next.

Quarantine or not, and far from home, I have to admit that a beautiful sunset still goes very well with a glass of white wine.  So, that’s the news from Pandora.  Quarantined in Antigua for now but who knows what the future will bring.

But all of this is “just one Man’s opinion”.  So, if you haven’t already read Brenda’s last post, you should.  It is a very moving review of some of the stories that we have heard from fellow cruisers and friends.

Oh, are we glad that we have great connectivity on our Google Fi phone.  Can you say “unlimited data”?

I sure hope that things settle down soon.  We want to go home.

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