Monthly Archives: July 2020

Cruising in an age of pandemic

As we approach the fall and the beginning of the traditional snowbird migration,  I have been thinking a lot about what the Caribbean winter cruising season will look like as we face a second winter season of pandemic.  I have been in touch with some of my contacts in Antigua with the hope of better understanding what a visit to Antigua and the islands of the Leeward and Windward islands will look like this winter.

While the details remain fuzzy, it is clear that Antigua, and other islands are anxious to return to some sort of normalcy, given the outsize importance of tourism to their economies.  For many islands, tourism represents upwards of  80% of their economy and for them to miss next season will have a devastating effect on their economy.

As of now, anyone visiting Antigua will have to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure and be compelled to have a rapid test on arrival if they are showing any symptoms of illness, Covid or not.  And, in many cases, they will still be subject to quarantine after arrival.   I guess that means staying on premises at a resort for the duration of your time on the island, assuming that you aren’t going to be there for more than 14 days.

As far as group events are concerned, they are limited to a total of 25 attendees which surely suggests that the Classic Yacht Regatta and Sailing Week will both have to be canceled unless things improve by April.  There is a long time between now and next spring but we will just have to wait and see how things develop.  Given what’s going on in the US with our out of control response to the virus, I am not optimistic about how the season will develop for us.

However, with regards to Antigua and arrival in private yachts, the same will apply as with airline based arrivals but I understand that credit toward quarantine time will be given for days at sea.  Additionally, there is a widely held belief that the yachting segment will rebound faster than short term visits.

I guess that we will have to wait and see how things develop as the season wears on and see if outbreaks occur, which they likely will, on various islands, likley leading to additional restrictions.  My greatest concern is wondering what air travel will be like by spring when crew is trying to head to Antigua to help bring back boats from a winter of cruising.   It would be terrible if we again faced the difficulty in getting home.  I don’t expect that many cruisers will be happy to face the prospect of returning to the US under such difficult circumstances for a second year in a row, certainly not Brenda.

Again this week, the Bahamas issued revised rules for visitors that were a dramatic change from their guidance of only one week ago.  Most recently,  visitors from the US were not allowed in the country at all and now, just one week later, that’s been changed to say that visitors from the US can come, along with everyone else but all will be subject to the same mandatory 14 day quarantine.  In the event that someone tests positive at the airport, or are showing signs of illness, they will be put into mandatory quarantine in a government facility for the duration of their illness.  If you don’t show symptoms, visitors who are on a short stay of less than 14 days, can serve their time in quarantine at the resort where they are staying, provided that they don’t leave the grounds.

Additionally, at the end of a visit, if it is less than two weeks, departing visitors must submit to a second Covid test to confirm that they are still well and have not exposed anyone to the virus.   All of this makes sense as these islands have very little infrastructure to address a major disease outbreak so they must be especially diligent in keeping the disease out of their country.

As I write this, we have just departed St Michaels MD, aboard Pandora with my longtime cruising buddy Craig.  It’s really hot, in the mid 90s, and unlike the Caribbean, the breeze dies completely at night which makes for really oppressive heat and humidity.   While I recently upgraded my AC, I still don’t have a large enough generator to handle the load when at anchor so it’s tough to be “off the grid” in the evening when the wind goes still.

I’ll admit that at my tender age as a newly diagnosed “senior” I am a lot less tolerant of the heat, been-there-done-that, so being comfortable is my preference.   While it’s not much hotter here than in the Caribbean, the humidity seems worse and the lack of a breeze at night makes sleeping conditions much more uncomfortable than we have experienced in the Caribbean where there is always a breeze.

With all of this in mind, Craig and I decided that we’d spring for some time on the dock and booked a few nights at one of the marinas.  The rates from marina to marina vary a lot but we found one that wasn’t bad at $1.75/ft, during the week.

Originally, we had planned to anchor out and swim if it was too hot.  However, the jelly fish that the Chesapeake is famous for, Sea Nettles, are out in force and I am told that keeps most folks out of the water in the heat of the summer.  This specimen, one of thousands in the waters around us, was about 18″ long and packs an unpleasant sting if you are unlucky enough to tangle with one.  I went in for a brief swim but had to abandon after only a brief dip as the “herd” closed in.  When we were tied up in the marina, AC blasting, the whole system abruptly shut down when one jelly was sucked into my strainer and filled it with goo.  I’d expect that was one unhappy jelly.  Of course, that’s if jellies can be happy or sad.  I cleaned out the goo and and was able to restart both units.

High season or not, I was shocked by how empty the marina was.  We were the only transient boat there for our two nights.In spite of the empty marina, I had heard anecdotally, that boating is booming right now, with boats selling fast and the used boat market showing signs of significant growth after years of stagnation.  All of this does make sense given that being aboard a boat is naturally a pastime that offers good “social distancing”.

Even the anchorages near the harbor were empty with only a single boat anchored outside. The Chesapeake Bay Museum, a large facility, is vacant too, with only two boats tied up at their docks. There is a tiny inlet behind the museum where Brenda and I have anchored in the past.  Vacant, save a single visiting boat. Craig and I toured the museum, it too largely empty, and saw a lovely exhibit of Rosenfeld prints.  This view of a crowded ladies day gathering at Larchmont Yacht Club in 1911 seems so quaint given all the restrictions about group gatherings these days.  We walked along Main Street and it wasn’t very hard to get a shot of the stores without the view of a single car passing by.  It’s hard to imagine that we were here during high season with the place to ourselves.  Sure, there were others on the grounds but we were never anywhere with more than two or three visitors, all wearing masks when they got close. The collection of working boats at the museum seem well cared for and it’s a fairly large collection including several ketch or sloop rigged oyster boats.   This push boat was all muscle and little boat.  The engine used to push the “mother ship” around when the winds are light. This “buy boat” that would have gone from boat to boat to buy their catch and take it to market, has charming lines. You can tell from the low freeboard on this boat that the waters she fished were well sheltered.This working boat was designed to run crab lines, long and narrow as it could be counted on to track easily on straight runs as they ran down long raising crab lines with baits along the bottom that were left in place or “soaked” for an hour or two.  After a while the boat would head back down the string, pulling each bait up toward the surface so that the fisherman could use a dip net to catch the crab before it reached the surface of the water and dropped off.    The museum is building a replica of the Dove, the first ship to brought settlers to Maryland in the 1600s and a replacement for a prior reproduction built in 1978.   The project is expected to take two years to complete.  I expect that is an optimistic goal given the pandemic.    She is a sweet little ship. Her replacement has a long way to go, in frame now. As we headed out from St Michaels today, it was nearly dead calm and in our wake, a charming view of the city. We passed a fleet of young sailors out for classes on the water, part of a summer sailing program.  They were adorable, sailing in formation in their little prams. Cruising in the age of pandemic, whether in the Caribbean or here in the US is very different than what we have grown up with but hopefully we will soon be looking back on this as a distant memory and looking forward to many more years of carefree time on the water.

For now, north or south, we are all adjusting to new normal and the realities of cruising in the age of pandemic.  Let’s hope that things head back toward normal again soon, whatever normal ends up looking like.


Should you cruise the Caribbean or stay home next season? It depends…

For the last seven years, Brenda and I have spent our winters at various points south, following the sunshine, in recent years to Antigua, the southern Leewards and Windwards.

Last season we cruised the islands south of Antigua for several months, beginning after the holidays, working our way south to St Lucia where we found ourselves locked down as the pandemic hit in force.  As we sat in Rodney Bay Marina, during the early days of the pandemic, we were wondering what would happen next as restrictions there and in other islands increasingly tightened.

Less than two weeks earlier, we had been traveling with other cruisers and had been enjoying the week long fun of Carnival in Fort de France, Martinique, a must see event if you haven’t done it.

The crowds were remarkable and luckily the event was over and crowds dispersed before the virus arrived on the island.   With crowds like these, I can only imagine what would happened if infection had begun on the island even a week earlier. Day after day, marchers impossibly crushed together. Pre-pandemic, this is what we thought of when we heard the word “mask”. Brenda made me a Covid mask from some package ribbon, an old handkerchief and a piece of “bilge oil absorbent material”, all we had on hand.  Within days we went from party time aboard Pandora with our cruising friends. To socially distanced sundowners on the dock made even safer by the constant easterly breeze.
And then, after curfews were put in place, weeks of time alone, just the two of us aboard, with our only exercise, laps around Pandora.Our time aboard went from “living the dream” to “being in prison, with the possibility of drowning”.  It wasn’t great but we made the best of it, read a lot of books and consumed gigs and gigs of data on our phones, trying to keep in touch with friends and family.  Oh yeah, and an alarming amount of wine.  However, we did remain true to keeping our evening “tot” no earlier than 17:00.Zoom, something that we had never heard of before Covid-19, became our lifeline to the world. Now were’re home. back in the US, just Brenda and me, mostly alone again, after our “homeward bound” ocean voyage, a trip together that we never imagined.  Just the two of us 1,500 miles at sea, all the way to Florida.   For many cruisers, that’s just a short jaunt but to Brenda, a veteran of no more than a 350 mile passage, it was a very big deal.

We, along with nearly 200 boats and some 500 cruisers, took part in what was likely the largest flotilla from the Caribbean to the us ever held, the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla, with staggered departures from various points in the Caribbean, departing from mid April through mid May.

As I write this, tropical storm Fay, the 6th named storm of the season, brushed us here in New England, the 6th named storm of the season, less than two months after Arthur, who we nearly tangled with as we made our way to Florida.

With fall and the time of the year when many cruisers migrate south for the winter only a few months away, many are wondering what the 2020-1021 season in the Caribbean will look like.   It is unclear at this point with regards to how many cruisers will opt to go south and I am sure that some, perhaps many, will opt to take the season off, fearful that they may find themselves locked down all over again if there is a strong second wave that finds it’s way to the Caribbean.

As those in colder northern areas are forced to move indoors, many fear that much of the US and for us, New England will not be a safe place unless you are willing to become a hermit for the winter.  Personally, that concerns me a lot and I am pretty confident that being in the Caribbean will be a lot safer than here in the us and I am not looking forward to being stuck at home, month after month, until it’s warm enough again here to enjoy my coffee on the deck come spring.

Making matters even worse are the conflicting messages between Washington and local governments about wearing masks and how significant the threat of infection actually is.  With all of this uncertainty and predictions from the medical community that the fall will bring a much worse second wave of infections, only time will tell how safe or dangerous it will be here in the north, especially for those of us that are, shall we say, “upper middle age”.

Now that we are back in the US, Brenda and I have been able to live a, sort of, normal life by staying away from crowds and being very selective about who we come in close contact with.  And, with warm summer weather, we have been able to spend a lot of time outdoors.

There is a growing body of evidence that risk of becoming ill is many times greater indoors if you are exposed to those who are not part of your family “bubble”.   I read about study done in China, where they have done an amazing job of tracing infection, that the risk of contracting the virus is 18.5x greater indoors than out.  In the UK, a similar study shows an increase in infection of ten fold.  If these findings are true, it does not bode well for the coming colder weather.

I can still remember how shocked we were when we anchored in Lake Boca, with dozens of boats with groups partying like things were normal.   While these boats look like they are staying a distance from each other, they were packed and I  would bet, not all aboard from the same family. West Palm Beach, where we stopped on our way north to Ft Pierce, offered another shocker.  When we headed ashore we were stunned by size of the crowds packed into street-side bars.   Sure, everyone was outside, but they were packed tightly, shoulder to shoulder, somehow feeling like the danger of infection was long gone.   How wrong they were now that the rate of infections has spiked to record levels.

Recently, as part of my responsibilities as port officer for the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua, I spoke with the director of the National Parks Service in Antigua about their plans for welcoming cruisers to Antigua this fall and confirmed that they are working hard to put safeguards in place for the coming season.  By mid August they hope to announce the protocols for yachts visiting next season.

Cruisers have always been important for Antigua and while many more tourists arrive by cruise ship or visit all-inclusive resorts, they do not spend much at local businesses, unlike Cruisers that frequent local services and stay on the island for weeks or months at a time.

The NY Times reported a few days ago, that St Lucia and the Grenadines, were exploring accepting visitors, with a minimum of fuss, from other islands in what they called the “Caribbean bubble”, those visitors coming from other islands that were deemed to be “safe”.  Surely cruisers, having spent time in Antigua, would fit that description.

While the exact plans are still being formulated, the leadership in Antigua is exploring options that may include cruisers receiving “credit” toward a 14 day quarantine for their days spent at sea voyaging to Antigua.  Additionally, there is talk of skippers and crew recording the temperatures of all aboard each day and keeping the log as evidence of health when they arrive in Antigua.  I expect that getting a Covid-19 test in advance of departure may be encouraged or perhaps required.

While the details of the Salty Dawg Rally to Antigua in November remain unclear, It is possible that all heading south will be encouraged to be tested for the virus prior to departure and that they should not depart without the certainty that they are virus free.   The thought of heading out to sea and having a crew member become ill and infecting everyone else aboard, all the while 500 miles from shore, is a terrifying prospect.   It was this fear, along with our discomfort of putting Brenda on a plane last spring, that directed us to make the run home aboard Pandora together instead of my trying to find crew.

The approach of testing prior to departure for the islands is not unprecedented and has historically been the approach for bringing pets to the islands.  Rabies is not a problem in the islands and any pets coming via cruising boats must be certified by a veterinarian prior to departure and checked again upon arrival, to confirm that the pet is well.

The pandemic has changed so many things and many are wondering what the coming season will look like and when, if ever, things will be “the way they were” again.

When Brenda and I will be returning to cruise the Caribbean again is unclear but we are certain that Antigua, perhaps the best island to make landfall for a season of cruising, will be on our list.  I cannot think of any place I’d rather be, while snow and Covid-19 are swirling around up north, than enjoying a sundowner on Shirley Heights, overlooking English and Falmouth Harbors, watching the sun set.  So, what does the future bring for us cruisers this coming season?

Right now, it’s hard to say but I have a call with the National Park Service in Antigua to learn more, so stay tuned.

Want to be among the first to know? Go to the Salty Dawg Rally home page and sign up for the free newsletter so you’ll know what cruising in the Caribbean will be like next season.

Where is Pandora going?

So, where is Pandora going?  Since last fall, Pandora has been on the move and covered a lot of ground.  From CT to Hamption VA, onto Antigua, south to St Lucia, north to the USVIs and Bahamas, to Florida and most recently, to Annapolis.   Where will she go next?

It’s a good question and I really have no idea.    All I know for now is where she is and that’s near Annapolis.  When we were in the Caribbean, and trying to find a way to get Pandora, and ourselves, back to the US, I spent a lot of time thinking about where to go, where to base Pandora for the summer and what would happen next.

I will say that being stuck in the Caribbean and confined aboard week after week, took a lot of the fun out of the cruising lifestyle and now a six hour drive from her isn’t fun either.

Our friends Bill and Maureen, who have lived aboard for years now, are truly in limbo, back in the marina in St Lucia, where they have been for several months now.  They were there when we arrived in February and haven’t left the island since then, still hoping that Trinidad will open up again before they are deep in the hurricane season.  If the island doesn’t open up, well, they will just have to work hard to dodge any hurricanes that come their way.

While things have begun to settle down, well at least into a routine, in many places, Trinidad, outside of the hurricane zone, where they normally spend their summers, still hasn’t opened up for new arrivals.  This means that they must stay constantly on alert for the possibility of developing hurricanes and the fear that they may find themselves in the path of a devastating storm.   Actually, they say that they aren’t worried but I will admit that we are and hope that all goes well.  We spoke with them on Zoom the other night and they seemed calm enough.

As beautiful as the islands are, life aboard isn’t always “living the dream” as being anchored in one place or stuck in a marina for months at a time gets old especially when you are confined to your boat and there is nothing to do beyond hanging out or perhaps some time ashore at a nearby beach.  And, to make matters worse for anyone still waiting to move to safer waters, most all cruisers have already headed elsewhere in anticipation of the hurricane season so it can get a bit lonely.

While some are confined, others have found themselves to be “confined to nowhere”.  There have been many stories within the cruising community of cruisers that were on passage when the pandemic hit and upon arriving at their destination, were turned away, only to find that they were hundreds, or thousands of miles from their next, uncertain landfall.

Indeed, this is a difficult time for cruisers, especially those who put careers on hold, sold everything last fall and headed out only to find that they had nowhere to go and that their cruising plans are now on hold.

Pandora too is on hold in Annapolis, and I am not sure if I’ll have much time aboard for the next few months.   Another complication in all of this that the slip she is in has turned out to be a lot shallower at low tide than advertised so she is hard aground except when it’s nearly high tide, so for half the time each day she is truly “on hold” herself.

There are a few other slips in the marina that are deeper but they are occupied.  I am hopeful that I can find a way to temporarily swap with one someone else for a month or so.   Baring that, I may have to find somewhere else to keep Pandora or I’ll have to be content to restrict my coming and going to high tide.

Our next visit to Pandora will likely happen in about two weeks when we head down to MD for the second birthday of our twin grandchildren.  I wonder when high tide is?

In the mean time, things are now in place to get the aft AC unit replaced.  I have a unit on order and an installer that will work with me as the job is not as simple as just swapping the old for the new.  My plan includes adding a third vent, which should make the new unit much more efficient than the last at cooling the main cabin.

My plan is to head down to Pandora a few days before Brenda heads to Rob’s home in MD so I can remove the old AC unit and prepare for the new installation.  As the installer is are very busy this time of year he really didn’t want to get involved in a more complex job and encouraged me to do whatever I can to simplify the portions of the work that they need to do.  If I am lucky, I’ll be able to handle all of the demo of the old unit, prepare the site and install the new vent in the galley so all they will have to manage is some of the hookups and check to make sure that the unit is functioning properly.

When we head out on Pandora, we won’t be alone as it seems boating is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance as a way for everyone who’s feeling cooped up after months confined to their homes, to get away and yet remain safe and away from possible infection.  I

I read that being inside a building such as a restaurant puts you at an 18.5x greater risk of infection than being outside.   Anyone who has spent time aboard knows that “social distancing” is easy on a boat, well certainly not from those you are aboard with but at least from those on other boats.  Just try social distancing from your family in a space that is about the size of a modest bathroom.

Tempted to get a boat and head off into the sunset?  With so many desperate buyers, if you don’t already have a boat, prepare to spend time in line, as entry level boats are pretty much sold out.

On my way north from Florida after leaving the Atlantic and entering the Chesapeake, I was struck by the rapid shift from the Atlantic waters to the milky brown waters of the Chesapeake.  It was a dramatic change from the deep blue waters of the Atlantic and Gulf Stream.

Hundreds of years ago, the Bay was crystal clear but these days the Chesapeake is much degraded and must endure the indignities of agricultural runoff, overflows of municipal sewage and a constant influx of anything else that finds it’s way into the bay.   The Bay is also heavily fished, home to one of the largest fisheries on the east coast, menhaden.

As we made our way north past Reedville, home of the Menhaden fishing fleet, we passed this boat, one of many that make their base in that seaside town.  These boats are incredibly efficient at catching thousands of tons of menhaden.  They use spotter planes to find the schools of fish and huge nets drawn together so that they can literally vacuum the fish aboard.  It is a wonder that there are any menhaden left in the Chesapeake given the sophistication of these boats in sucking up stock, day after day, year after year and this fishery is just one of many contributors to the poor water quality of the bay.

This short piece is a good background to this fishery and worth watching.However, that is just one perspective on the subject and state fisheries agencies that oversee the fishery suggest that the stock is stable and being well managed.  I guess time will tell.

It is also important to see how this little fish, also referred to as bunker, fit into the local ecology and how intensive fishing is impacting the health of the bay.Another interesting boat that we passed was the research vessel Virginia.  She was launched in 2018 and is dedicated to improving the health of the bay as part of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and College of William and Mary.  It’s a pretty neat looking vessel.  I’d love to get a ride on her.It is good that the Virginia is keeping an eye on things and while there is a long way to go, the bay is in better shape than it was in the recent past.

Well, it is July 4th and while just about everything is canceled due to the virus, I guess I had better get on with my day.  One thing for sure, aboard Pandora or not, Brenda and I will work hard to remain “socially distant” but hopefully not from each other.

So far, so good… “Brenda, are you there?  Brenda?”  Where has that girl gone?

Not sure but I do know that Pandora is hard aground, distant and going nowhere right now.   For me, I’d better go…