Good-bye, Hello, Welcome Back

“I guess you’re glad to leave St. Lucia”. So said a cruiser friend after reading the last blog. After all, we were in St. Lucia for 8 months. Well yes, we were antsy to have a change of scenery. After all, the idea cruising on a sailboat is to keep moving.

Saying that, however, we don’t have the desire to sail around the world, which we have the capability to do. We know and met many cruisers who have done just that. They either take a year, or many, continent hoping. They either sell their boat when finished, pull into a port and become liveaboards, or go back to work. We met one Canadian couple in Trinidad who left Canada 20 years ago, sailed west, and the boat has not returned yet. They have spent some time back home between voyaging legs. Many cruisers that we met here moved on to either Europe, or the Pacific on their never-ending voyages. Others seem to like just moving quickly and to take in as much of the earth as possible. And some did the temperate and tropical circuit and are now sailing the poles. That is definitely not our idea, but I guess some people really like the cold. In our travels we met many who did all of this.

For us it’s a mixed bag. For the last few years, living on a boat and traveling in the Caribbean became our niche. A few days here a few weeks there, a month in a port, a few months on an island and you start to fit into the rhythm of Caribbean island life. You become semi-local, with the capability of moving when the time seems right. Locals begin to recognize you and you learn the ins and outs of island life. The market ladies, the yard workers, the marina guards, the ladies in the office, taxi drivers, shop owners the checkout clerks, they become part of the community of cruisers we meet from all parts of the world. Think of Rick’s Place in Casablanca without the war.  

So, were we glad to leave St. Lucia? We now know more locals and cruisers based in St Lucia and so our community expanded. It is always a little sad to leave friends, but we are sure we will cross paths with some of them again. All of this does not substitute for our family back on land. That’s what airplanes are for.

The pandemic, however, has put an indefinite crimp in traveling. In order to enter most islands you need a covid19 PCR test before your arrival. The problem is this is all new to everyone and so regulations and procedures are constantly revised. We did get a PCR test in St Lucia at the Polyclinic ($100/pp) in order to enter Antigua. There was some confusion as to how to get the results, but we did get them within 48 hours. We like to sail in the most advantage weather window so that had to be coordinated with the test. We got the results too late to clear customs and so we lost a day but finally did leave on Friday. It took less than 31 hours non-stop to Antigua; a good sail with no squalls and moderate seas.

We are always concerned about the boat on a long passage after months of non-sailing. The old adage, use or loose it, applies. Things deteriorate and fall apart more from non-use then with use. We always have stuff break or fail on first voyages and this one was no different. The top mainsail batten seemed to rip its pocket and flew out with the wind. I noticed it but since it is not critical for the one-day sail, we could wait to get to port to get it repaired. The second problem was when we rolled in the jib, the

halyard took a wrap around the foil and this can cause it to jam. The result is either a damaged foil or being unable to fully roll in the jib.

Both issues were not as serious as I thought. After we anchored in St. John’s Antigua I, inspected both. The batten didn’t pop out but was somehow twisted. I still have to figure that one out. Maybe the vang was to tight and didn’t keep the leach of the reefed sail tight enough. The jib halyard may have been too loose allowing it to warp the foil. After going up the mast, all looked good but the halyard was somewhat slack. Always something!

We had to come to St. John’s to clear in. We pre-advised our arrival with the “esailclear” system and as instructed, called in 6 hours before arrival via VHF radio. We were told that English Harbor was not set up yet with the Health Department to allow clearing in there despite the announcement that they were. The fact of the matter is, all these regulations and directives are new, never implemented before and change frequently. It seems that the actual procedures were never established clearly and the personnel carrying them out have no authority to act independently.

We diverted our course from English Harbor to St. John, adding a few hours to the voyage and anchored around noon on Saturday. We lowered the dinghy and went to the customs dock to check in. Multiple health forms were filled out, body temperature’s checked, PCR test reports handed in, all seemed to be in order. Except the person who had the authority to sign off on all this left for the day!

Awaiting Customs, Immigration and Port Authority

It was after all, Saturday, and he had to go to the airport and to Jolly Harbor, blah, blah blah… Maureen was a little more annoyed than I was and complained about the inefficiency of it all. Welcome to the Islands mon! Back to the boat to await the return of the authority on Sunday, 10AM, to sign off the papers.

Sunday, 10AM at the customs dock, 2 other boats had to check in before us. The Canadian boat was here for 3 days trying to check in. After sailing direct from Canada for 15 days, the Health people insisted they had to quarantine for another 14 days! A few Facebook posts, calls to the Tourist Office and with pleading they finally got the ok to check in. After they checked in, we were allowed to enter the building and eventually paid our $15 to enter Antigua with no quarantine. It was almost noon. We sailed to Jolly Harbor for the night.

Lunch in Jolly Harbor

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out over the next months. Jolly Harbor looks dead. A number of restaurants have closed, probably permanently. The boat yard is full of boats on the hard. Maurice and Valentina, owners of The Crow’s Nest, doesn’t know how long they can hang on if tourists don’t start showing up. All hope is on the new season but as it looks now, it doesn’t look too hopeful.  

Crow’s Nest owner Maurice

The next day we sailed over to Falmouth to meet the Salty Dawg Rally boats coming down from the U.S. About 40 boats are expected starting the end of this week. The Antigua cruising community is forming, we already know 4 other cruisers here, three of them still in quarantine. How long will we be here? Hard to tell, but I’m sure we’ll be asked, “Aren’t you glad you finally sailed from Antigua?”      


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