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…


One response to “What will Caribbean cruisers do this winter?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *