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.

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.

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