Monthly Archives: September 2021

What will Caribbean cruisers do this winter?

It’s about a month before the Salty Dawg Rally heads to Antigua and everyone is wondering what life in the Caribbean will be like this winter.

As rally director for the group, it is my job, among other tasks, to try and tease out what the coming season in the Caribbean will be like and how restrictive conditions will be for those heading south this year.

My primary focus has been on Antigua and in particular, the arrival of the fleet in mid November and the two weeks of events that are on the calendar.   When the fleet arrives in mid November, that’s early in the season so it is still unclear as to what we will encounter.

A big part of this uncertainty is that most islands in the Caribbean have seen tremendous vaccine hesitancy among their population and, as a result, a large increase in virus cases.  Unlike here in the US, where being vaccinated is more of a political statement and a desire, especially in the RED states, to show solidarity with a certain ex-president.

In Antigua, hesitancy is driven more by some of the more far out hoaxes like Bill Gates putting microchips into the vaccine.  Injectable microchips?  I thought that there was a “chip shortage” right now.  Heck, how can they put chips in billions of vaccine doses when car manufacturers can’t get enough to make cars.  Hmm…maybe Bill Gates purchased all of them and they have been injected…  Oh boy, that’s an idea…

Anyway, government leaders in Antigua realize that without tourists for yet another winter season visiting the island, that they will be in real trouble.  The simple fact is that the vast majority of cash fueling their economy is from visitors and with the virus raging there won’t be nearly as many tourists.

With that in mind, the Prime Minister recently implemented a mandate that makes vaccination compulsory for anyone employed by the government, hospitality workers and I think those businesses that get a large amount of their funding from the government.  Don’t hold me to the exact makeup of who is subject to this new ruling except to say that it effects a large part of their population.

So, as of October 1st, next week, anyone in those groups that hasn’t had at least one dose will be on furlough and stuck at home.  And, by October 15th, they will stop being paid.   Hesitant or not, I expect that not getting paid will be a big motivator.

And, speaking of personal liberties, curfews are now in place and beaches are closed except from 05:00 to noon every day.   Additionally, pleasure boating is banned on both Antigua and Barbuda.  No more clandestine trips to the beach for partying.

The goal of this program is to reach herd immunity by November and the only thing that really stands in the way at this time will be if officials back down.

I understand that there are even some highly placed government workers that are resisting this mandate and it will be interesting to see how things unfold.

“So, what about the rally?  How’s that going Bob?”

Thanks for asking.  The rally is going really well with more applications nearly every day.   As of a week ago we were running pretty well, well ahead of last year at this time.   We had a Zoom briefing to talk about all this and I was astounded that nearly 225 signed up to hear what we had to say.   Our record arrivals in Antigua was about 55 boats and I expect that we will easily beat that number this season.

So, from now until the week before the rally departs on November 1st we will be having weekly briefings for anyone who is signed up and paid on Fridays.   I expect that they will be well attended.   And, once we are in Hampton we will have daily briefings, again via Zoom to keep everyone up to date on plans and to keep an eye on weather for the passage.

One big question about the coming season will be how easy, or hard, it will be to travel from one island to the next as that inevitably means clearing in and out of yet another country.  In particular, France and the French islands have been cracking down very hard and the islands are basically closed to cruisers.

However, like Antigua, France is taking a very hard line with their “refuseniks”, with furloughs, banning the unvaccinated from restaurants and even outside dining.  Not unexpected, when these restrictions went into place, the vaccination rates went up overnight.

Getting many that are hesitant about “taking the jab” to go for it is often as simple as saying, sorry, you can’t visit your favorite café or bar unless you are up to date on your shots.   Simple yes and it seems to work.

Well, not so simple in the US, the land of liberty, where everyone feels that they can do what they want, when they want and to whom they want.   So much for social responsibility.

Fortunately, keeping everyone safe in the rally will be at least a bit easier as anyone who participates must show proof of vaccination in order to join the ra;ly or the fun in Hampton, our point of departure.  Heck, unless you are vaccinated and show proof of a negative PCR virus test,  there is no visiting Antigua anyway. Simple…

And speaking of “mandates” I have had a few uncomfortable discussions with those who want to do the rally and yet refused the shots, but the overwhelming reaction has been very positive.

And, speaking of being safe, we are working with a well known infection disease specialist, Dr. Richard Wenzel.  At the risk of pushing a pun to the limit, he’s a “big dawg” in the ID field.

Along with having published over 500 scientific papers published, he is also involved with the New England Journal of Medicine, a very prestigious journal in it’s own right.   This guy knows his stuff.

Would you take medical advice from this guy?  I would and we are…His recommendations to the feet also includes advice on how to keep everyone safe on passage.  Even those that are fully vaccinated run the risk of a “breakthrough” infection and the idea of being at sea, 500 miles from land and getting sick is pretty scary to me.

With that in mind, all of the predeparture events in Hampton will be held outside instead of in the pavilion that we have used for years.  It can be cold in Hampton in late October but we just can’t take the risk of someone getting sick on passage.

Our events will be split between a brew pub on the water, the Bull Island Brewing Company.  With as many as 200+ participants, it’s going to be crowded never the less. Our other events will center on a small street down town with lots of spots for outdoor dining, Queens Way, a short walk from the waterfront.The local Convention and Visitors bureau in Hampton has been very helpful in pulling this all together.  Good thing as I am just swamped with stuff in the buildup to departure.

And, in Antigua there is a small group there that has been very helpful in backing me up and helping to set up events every year.

So, now you can see why I have been a bit remis in writing posts in the last few months, which I will admit pains me.   I’ve been pretty busy.

And add to that a need to get Pandora ready for the run, getting crew and travel plans for the holidays.  No rest for the weary, retired cruiser.  That’s me…

So, with three weeks until I head to Hampton and then on to Antigua, there is a lot to get done.

This morning I meet up with a refrigeration guy to fix a creaky valve on my fridge and freezer so soon that system will be back in operation.  Fortunately, that’s a pretty simple fix, well simple in comparison to problems with my bow thruster where the tech finally showed up after months of chasing him down.

Fingers crossed that they can fix the problem.  The idea of trying to med-moor without a way to control the bow makes me very nervous.

Nope, I won’t go into all the stuff that I have already done to get Pandora ready for the trip except to say that the list is long and involved more than a couple “boat dollars”.  But no project has proven to be more daunting than coaxing Brenda back aboard as our run home to FL during the pandemic still looms large in her memory and not in a good way.

Oh, how I hope that sailing in the Caribbean will be easy and fun this season as being “locked down in paradise” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in spite of what some might think when snow is drifting up against their front door.

So, what will cruising the Caribbean this winter be like?  I am optimistic but only time will tell.   Optimistic?  That’s me, or as Brenda would say, “Bob and the dog, ever hopeful…”

Well, lots to do so I’d better sign off.  More to come soon, I hope…


On our way home.

It’s almost time to leave Maine and head home.  With the remnants of Hurricane Ida to our east things are beginning to settle down here in Booth Bay Maine.

As recently as a few days ago, it was unclear as to what track Ida, even though she was much weakened, might take as she headed up the coast, so the forecast for Friday, tomorrow, was very uncertain.

When I spoke with Chris Parker, our weather router, a few days ago, the forecast was completely unclear with forecasts suggesting that the wind could be anywhere from about 10kts to 35kts NW with higher gusts.  It is very difficult to forecast wind with such a fast moving low.  Fortunately, now 24 hours away from our departure, the winds will likely be on the very low end of the forecast and while we will probably have to motor much of the way, it’s nice to know that it won’t be too “salty” a run to the Cape Cod canal.

Last night was really rainy and today the dink had about 5″ of water in it.   That’s a lot but the winds were very light and the rain a lot less than others faced in CT and NY where there was widespread flooding.

In any event, our plan is to head out from here in Boothbay Harbor for the canal, early tomorrow morning.  Fingers crossed that the wind will behave and drop to a reasonable level.

The crossing should take a bit less than 24 hours and with an 08:30 current change in the canal on Saturday, that should put us in Buzzards Bay fairly early on Saturday morning before expected westerlies will kick in.  The big question is how far west we will be able to get before the wind picks up right on our nose.

Time will tell but it will be nice to be heading home and wish us luck.

So, change of topic.  Since leaving Rockland a few days ago, Brenda and I made a brief stop at Allen Island, summer home of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth.  They owned, two islands off of Port Clyde, Allen and Benner Islands for many years and built a number of homes on both islands.  It is clear that a great deal of thought went into the design and siting of each dwelling as they blend into a wonderful image that evokes one of Andrew’s paintings. They were even careful about who they picked for their dock builder and the instructions they gave him. The ramp, the supports and railings, and the dock protection, everything was on point and made for people like us that like to sail around and visit here.

We have visited this spot many years and have always picked up one of the half dozen courtesy moorings that the family keeps at the ready.  I have asked for permission over the years but on this visit we were the only boat in the harbor so I didn’t want to bother anyone on shore.

It was nice to be there again but sad too as the loss of Betsy and Andrew end an era.  I mentioned a visit “Knitting with Betsy” a number of years ago when we visited and saw Betsy knitting on her front porch while Brenda knitted aboard.   I Wrote about that wonderful experience, if from a distance, in this post.

Now that both Betsy and Andrew have passed, it looks like the only inhabitant on the islands is the caretaker who we saw when he took their resident lobster boat Archangel, to head into Port Clyde.  He didn’t seem concerned with our presence as he passed by in the morning prior to our departure.

This is a shot of the main house and the porch where Besty and her companion knitted so long ago.  Sadly, no Betsy on this visit. Behind, Pandora nothing to disturb the tranquility except the occasional lobster boat out checking traps and plenty of sea birds.On our way to Booth Bay we passed Eastern Egg Rock, where there is a colony of puffins.  Sadly, we did not see any as we passed by.  This is the only colony of puffins on the US East Coast as they were hunted to extinction 100 years ago.  This colony was carefully transplanted from Canada many years ago.

The colony was started by bringing young birds to the island, the first to be there since the late 1800s and became a model for rebuilding flocks of seabirds elsewhere with great success.  Today there are 1000 pairs nesting on the island.  Read about the project at this link, a rare example of us repairing the damage by man so long ago.

Sadly, we didn’t see any puffins but there were many birds flocking around the island, evidence of how many birds make Eastern Egg their home.

Maine is known for the many beautiful lighthouses and we passed on of the most unique one as we approached Booth Bay, the Ram Island Light, with it’s unique walkway heading out to the light.  I wonder what it is like to be on that walkway when the  seas are raging. Booth Bay Harbor is a beautiful spot and one that we have visited many times over the years.   The harbor is well protected and this church is particularly stunning when the sun is setting.  At night the face is lit.  The harbor is pretty built up but being so close to Brown’s Wharf has made for good wifi. Every night the sunset over the far side of the harbor is beautiful.  Of course, last night, not so nice as the remnants of Ida descended on us. However, 24 hours later the sun is out and while it’s still plenty windy, I can see how tomorrow will likely be a wonderful day as we cross the Gulf of Maine.

While I will miss Maine, it will be nice to be back home.

For sure, Mila our Chris’s and Melody’s husky will be happy to see me.