09 April 2020

Cruising Under the Cloud of the Coronavirus, Continued

Every day seems to present more constriction...
  • marinas confine arriving crew to their vessels; and many close to transients altogether
  • conducive weather windows become few and far between impeding progress up the east coast
  • temperatures drop as higher latitudes are achieved
  • our chests tighten as we examine the statistics each day

And although we have been focused on getting us and Argon back home to Newport, Rhode Island safely and quickly since departing San Juan mid March, we concede. For now. We are tired physically and emotionally. Yesterday Argon's dock lines were doubled, a couple of bags were packed, and we boarded an Amtrak train for our land home in Newport.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

To help combat the disappointment, Bob updates our Google Earth track. When I look at how far we have come in just a few weeks, (yellow) I don't feel as defeated.

Red: Course over 5 months November through March (Grenada to San Juan).   Yellow: Course in just over 3 weeks mid March through early April (San Juan to Hampton, VA).  Green: Remaining leg to be sailed later in spring or early summer (Hampton, VA to Newport, RI).

Passage #4:  Charleston, South Carolina to Beaufort, North Carolina

One of our worst overnights

While in Charleston, Bob spent several hours re-examining the depth and bridge data of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) to see if there was a segment we could transit but our mast is just a tad too tall. We reached out to Argon's builder to confirm the exact specs, and considered climbing up the mast to flip the VHF antennae upside down and remove the tricolor navigation light to cut off several inches. But the measurements remained too close and the thought of the complications should we hit a bridge resulted in us continuing to use the open ocean path.

After much studying of possible inlet options and weather data, we pushed off the dock in Charleston before sunrise and caught an ebbing tide to quickly make our way out to the open Atlantic Ocean for the 225nm sail to the northeast. We expected a uncomfortable overnight with 15-17kt winds from the northwest. However, the forecast was a bit off in the wrong direction... we were instead rudely greeted by 22-28kt winds with more of a northerly component than westerly hence wayforward of the beam in growing seas. For about 5 hours starting a 0100 we were getting hammered. Waves jumped over the bow and port side regularly. Initially we sailed with a double reefed main and just a sliver of jib. But eventually we furled the foresail up completely and motored sailed with just a bit of the main to make better headway towards Beaufort.

By daybreak conditions improved, and even became ideal as if the recent difficulties were just a dream. Or a nightmare. Motoring in to idyllic Beaufort inlet further helped us recover.


Sunrise upon departing Charleston inlet.


Cockpit enclosed and layered up. Conditions would kick up later in the journey.
 
Much nastier than predicted.


Salt salt salt everywhere. Glad to have copious amounts of free water for a much needed cleaning.

We were generally confined to the marina in Beaufort with the exception of a walk through town and a cockpit visit with local friends. The town of Beaufort has closed off all incoming roads except for one with a checkpoint to prohibit non-residents from entering. And after a particularly cold night aboard, we were able to borrow a very warm thick blanket from local friends.

Mostly confined to the docks but with very comfortable surroundings at Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort inlet.


Thankful to have a wide cockpit to allow an appropriately distanced visit from a dear local friend.


Our one walk off the marina property revealed a ghost town.

Passage #5:  Beaufort, North Carolina to Hampton, Virginia

Threatening thunderstorms

After just a few days in Beaufort, we departed to take advantage of an acceptable but not quite ideal short weather window for the tricky passage out and around Cape Hatteras. The front end of this passage would have very light winds and flat seas requiring motoring which at this point neither of us minded... we are in delivery mode and are looking to get miles underneath the hull. Then some comfortable sailing with more motoring at the end. However, thunderstorms were also in the forecast and they hit when we were just off Hatteras. Ugh.


Lovely Beaufort waterfront as we motored slowly in the narrow, shallow channel against a flooding tide.


Beautiful yet menacing weather system approaching as we near Cape Hatteras.


VHF weather alert announces a band of severe thunderstorms some with up to 60kt gusts. We prepare the boat and ourselves to get hammered. Luckily the strongest ones passed to our south leaving us with heavy rain, quite a bit of lightening, but modest winds and no hail.

As we watched the menacing storm approach from the northwest, we noticed a commercial boat on AIS about 17 miles to our northwest likely in the front. Bob radioed the vessel Red Hook and spoke to the Captain who was now experiencing our future weather. We were relieved when he said the conditions were moderate with just 20 knot gusts and a little bit of rain.

The line of thunderstorms eventually passed over us without too much trouble. There was lightning around, but not too close. Still, it was a relief when we started seeing the lightning on our starboard side going away from us!


After a nerve wracking early evening, I settle in for a long night watch. These off shore passages are tiring and are now also quite cold. Despite many layers I was freezing by the end of my shift and quickly crawled under the thick comforter recently borrowed from friends in Beaufort.


Thankful for the spectacular glowing full moon that lit up the night sky when the clouds permitted.


Closing Argon Up and Heading Home

Many of the marinas and yacht clubs in Virginia and Maryland were now closed to transients. We were able to confirm a slip at Bluewater Marina in Hampton with the caveat that we could either only stay a couple of days, or we could keep the boat there but we could not stay aboard. Nothing personal. <sigh>

Friends with more sophisticated weather analysis skills as well as our hired weather router all confirmed that there would likely be no acceptable weather window for the 60 hour sail from Hampton to Newport, Rhode Island. We discussed options at length... stay on the boat and wait (but we would have to find another marina... problematic). Or go home with the plan to return in late spring or early summer after the coronavirus situation settles down and weather patterns improve. We decided on the latter. And then we evaluated if we should transit by train, plane or automobile. I'll spare you the details but for several reasons we returned home by rail.


Plenty of lines and fenders secured. Hatches, helms and console all covered with canvas.And local sailing friends have kindly agreed to check in on Argon.


We have the entire Amtrak car to ourselves for the 12 hour comfortable ride to Kingston, RI. After walking up several cars to the cafe, I saw only two other riders.

Now What?

We have been quite socially isolated these past several weeks with minimal interaction and contact with others. However we have been far from bored as it has been extremely busy with passage planning complicated with the evolving coronavirus situation as well as the overall logistics and falling temperatures. The time on passages is mostly filled with either sailing the boat or trying to sleep given it is just the two of us (these have not been relaxing wine and cheese sails). Our social isolation has not involved any binge watching of Netflix, nor playing board games, nor experimenting with exotic dishes and no Zoom meet ups. It's been busy and we're exhausted!

Upon arriving at the Amtrak station in Rhode Island, we were greeted by the friendly albeit official National Guard to record our information for the RI Department of Health and instruct us on a two week quarantine which is really just a slightly more strict adherence to social isolation. (The state of RI was an early adopter of fairly strict guidance and requirements.) Perhaps it's finally time to check out that Tiger King guy I've been hearing about.

Quarantine order for mariners arriving in Newport Harbor. The spirit of these requirements also apply to those arriving in Rhode Island by land from other states.

Good bye protected boat life. Hello land life in the COVID-19 age.


Back in our home. I have flowers!
Bob's new control surface was waiting for him at home. Just a couple hours after we arrived it was set up and he was in the studio making lots of great noise. I think our neighbors know that we are home now.





01 April 2020

Cruising Under the Cloud of the Coronavirus

Where to start?... Like for many, these past three weeks have been a whirlwind. Argon's itinerary had her just starting a leisurely month through the Bahamas about now followed by some off shore passages to arrive home in Newport, Rhode Island USA by early June. Instead we find ourselves no longer cruising but in delivery mode currently docked in Charleston, South Carolina digging out long sleeve shirts from the bowels of our closets.


Captain Linda Perry Riera


Some seemed surprised when we recently indicated we were ending our island explorations and accelerating our return to the United States. Proclamations of "Stay where you are!" and "The US is a mess!" were shared by many. I can understand why hanging out on a boat in lovely anchorages surrounded by turquoise water can seem like an ideal way to self isolate and implement social distancing. However, as the situation started heating up and becoming more serious in mid March, we so much desired to get home... initially anywhere in the US. And then specifically back to the northeast.

The red line is our journey from last November (Grenada) to March (Puerto Rico). The yellow is our planned path home. So far away. I longed to be home even with (perhaps especially because of) the brewing troubles back in the US.


False impression of an idyllic way to self isolate.


Our main reason for wanting to be home is to be closer and more accessible to our kids and other family and friends. In times of difficulty, ones nuclear family is paramount. And while we have been able to stay in very close contact with our kids, we want to be able to quickly get to them should it be needed. (I know... with current restrictions, there is still separation.) But also to be more accessible to reliable medical care should either of us need it. (I know... even this is at risk.) And also to better able to focus on our jobs. (Oh, jeesh... this is precarious, too.)

As borders began closing, many of our cruising friends find themselves somewhat stuck, unable to freely move about. And unsure when they will be able to return to their homes in Europe, or get out of the hurricane belt. Luckily, we seemed to serendipitously be just ahead of border closures in recent weeks.

This photos seems from so long ago... We enjoyed one night out on the town in Old San Juan the day after arriving in Puerto Rico. This was around 7 March, just prior to COVID-19 news heating up. We had planned to enjoy Puerto Rico for at least a couple of weeks but truncated that timing substantially.


Within days of our arrival, it became apparent that we needed to set our sights on leaving Puerto Rico requiring many logistics such as provisioning, laundry, and propane. In addition to getting the boat ready for an off shore passage.


We cut our time short in Puerto Rico as reports of virus spread increased setting our sights on Bahamas. The day before departure, we started hearing rumors that Bahamas was closing their boarders. However, I could not find anything on line to substantiate. So we left on a 3 day passage to the remote island of Inagua (southern Bahamas between Dominican Republic and Cuba) not knowing if we would be allowed in the country.


Shortly after leaving Puerto Rico, while still barely in cell data range, our phone alarms started announcing curfew orders. We had a strange feeling of escaping just in time. But we were also unsure of what were were escaping to.


Off Shore Passage #1: San Juan, Puerto Rico to Inagua

15-18 March 2020



A veil of worry hung over us during the passage as we wondered how things were evolving back in the states. In addition, we were unsure what to expect when trying to clear customs in the Bahamas.



Close reaching in 15kts of winds with clear skies and warm days.


The first night was quite jaunty but beautiful with a bit of moonlight and starlight.


Thankful to be almost through the third night and nearing our destination.


Upon arrival in Inagua, we lowered the dinghy from the davits and mounted the outboard. I ventured to shore and walked about a mile up the road. The customs and immigration offices were clearly taking the COVID-19 situation seriously immediately requiring hand sanitation and keeping a clear physical distance. After a detailed health affidavit, the normal boat and crew questions, and $300 for the cruising permit, Argon was cleared in to the Bahamas - we were relieved. Initially.


Wonderful to be anchored in the beautiful Bahamian water.


Challenging dinghy dock requiring traversing this ladder quite a way up to the dock. Luckily it is a well protected little harbor and conditions were mild.


Customs and Immigration was quite a way up the main (only?) road.


We were thrilled to be able to replace the quarantine flag with the Bahamian courtesy flag after clearing customs. But our excitement would be short lived.


Cleared to cruise the Bahamas, we discussed accelerating our travels through the Bahamas making our way from Inagua northward. Bahamas is vast.... Nearly 700 islands and cays sprinkled over a several hundred mile swath of the Atlantic southeast of Florida. Vast areas of extremely shallow waters impede navigation and complicate passages.

But, not so fast... News reports were coming in. Friends immersed in the healthcare system and epidemiological data in Massachusetts specifically and US generally were sharing very concerning information about likely acceleration of infections, probable widespread closures and border restrictions. We were acutely aware of the complications should either of us (which means likely both) become ill with COVID-19 including perhaps being unable to move the boat to a safe location should a difficult weather system approach. And lack of reliable medical care on these remote islands was worrisome. In addition, these small islands are heavily reliant on their weekly boat deliveries to keep the islands supplied with basics; one disruption can quickly cause challenges. And we needed to be closer to the kids. We wanted to get home, now even faster than before.

We immediately began to evaluate how we could get to the mainland US more quickly, but safely. First we seriously considered accelerated day hops northward making our way as fast as possible through the Bahamas up to northern Exumas, then over to the east coast of Florida. But instead, we decided on a faster, albeit more tiring, option of another off shore passage to Florida. We set our sights on a decent weather window opening up in just a couple of days.

Passage planning began after being at anchor only a day or so.


My final swim in warm turquoise waters.


Off Shore Passage #2: Inagua to West Palm, Florida

21-23 March 2020 - Now in Get Home mode; the cruise is over

Our mindset is now very much on getting home... first to anywhere in the US, then to the northeast. Our cruise is over, we are in delivery mode, but that is ok. There are more important things to focus on now.

The front end of this passage was challenging. But conditions eased a couple of days in and we were happy to motor on calm seas the last leg. When we got in to cell data range approaching Miami, we were dismayed to receive reports of south Florida closing up and restricting entry. We were unsure of the best harbor to target and if we would be able to clear customs or be quarantined. Several sailing friends quickly shared information and we decided to target West Palm. There was reason to think that a more northerly port such as St. Augustine would be easier to clear in to, however we were exhausted and thought it unwise to try to continue on for another day and night. West Palm proved to be just fine.

I usually find the nights on long passages very difficult. I count down the hours until the first glimpses of daybreak.


Conditions eased towards the end of the passage.


When in data range of the southeast coast of Florida we start getting reports of Florida closing marinas and forbidding boat traffic. I called ahead to West Palm and was relieved to learn we would be allowed to dock.


And we happily got clearance from customs without the requirement for quarantine!


Argon docked at Riviera Beach Marina. The area is normally a hot spot of social activities and bustling outdoor restaurants but was eerily quiet.


More passage preparations. Again.


Off Shore Passage #3:  West Palm, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina

27-29 March 2020 

Everyday we read the news and examine the epidemiology reports about COVID-19. Our three boys as well as Bob have all had their jobs impacted. Our future daughter-in-law is on the front lines as an ER nurse at a major Boston hospital. Family and friends, well everyone, are all dealing with personal versions of this crisis. We desperately want to be home and are making progress but feel so far away still. We hope to make it to Beaufort, North Carolina next but the upcoming weather window allows us to get only to Charleston, South Carolina.


Still just barely warm enough for shorts at the front end of this passage off the coast of Florida.



By day two, we dug out some cold weather gear but do not have much on board as we did not plan to be in these latitudes this early in the season.


We docked at Charleston City Marina and immediately started thinking and preparing for our next passage. We welcomed the exercise on a one mile walk to a grocery store to a grocery store to secure more provisions. And visited a local sailing friend who lent us some much needed cold weather gear.




Thankfully we had the cockpit curtains on board so we can enclose the cockpit during the upcoming colder conditions.


Thank you to a local sailing friend (Greenie!) in Charleston who kindly lent us some of his cold weather gear.


Off Shore Passage #4: Charleston, South Carolina to Beaufort, North Carolina

2-3 April 2020 - planned

We have done our pre-passage checks, filled the water tanks, checked the weather data again, plotted our points and studied charts (and published the blog). We also had a great chat with the dockmaster from a marina in Beaufort to confirm that they will accept us, albeit under quarantine conditions. We will be restricted to staying on board and on the docks, but that's expected at this point in this pandemic we are all dealing with. And as soon as we arrive, we will again start looking for our next weather window to make the next jump towards home still several hundred miles away.

Stay well everyone!!