Showing posts with label offshore to the Caribbean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label offshore to the Caribbean. Show all posts

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!!

04 February 2020

Antigua Again

Perhaps because we have spent more time on this island than anywhere else in the Caribbean (4+ months over 3 trips), or maybe it is the genuine friendly nature of people, or the vibrant sailing culture, or the beautiful land and harbors... Antigua feels like home in the Caribbean.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Once a British colony, Antigua has been independent for 40 years but maintains close ties with the UK. Many British have relocated to Antigua or have vacation homes here. Almost half of its population of 80,000 lives in the capital area of St. John on the northwest side of the island. The topography is an interesting mix of modest mountainous rain forest, low brushy hills, dramatic rocky coast, and inviting sandy beaches. Most of our time is spent in the nautical southern quadrant in English and Falmouth Harbors although we expanded our horizons this trip a bit.

Sailing high in to the easterlies for a 50nm sail from Dehaise, Guadeloupe to the eastern coast of Antigua, Nonsuch Bay back in mid January .

Old Favorites

Antigua was our first Caribbean landing on Argon back in November 2016 after a 6 day passage from Bermuda. Our newness to extended cruising and naivete regarding Caribbean sailing likely caused a steady drip of adrenaline in my body at that time and contributes to vibrant recollections. The second off shore passage to Antigua two years later was a forced extended stay due to significant rig repairs needed. Even though our attention during this 7 weeks was often centered on managing repairs, we were appreciative for being stranded at this island as Antigua was already a favorite.

Now, with quite a few nautical miles in the log book, arriving in Antigua Take 3 is familiar and comfortable. It was wonderful to tuck in to English and Falmouth Harbors for a couple of weeks, meet up with familiar faces, enjoy the deep history and tackle several boat projects.

A Happy Place = Anchored in Freeman Bay, English Harbor. Great cove for my morning swims too.

Med moored at Nelson's Dockyard for about a week among mostly more grand vessels. Construction of the dockyard began in the mid 1700's and is maintained impeccably as a cultural heritage site. It is a fascinating place to experience and explore.

Argon secured at Nelson's Dockyard just before the winds kicked up. The anchor is out to secure us med-mooring style with another long strong line to an underwater mooring chain secured by the dockyard divers. The winds were 20-30kt for several days but we held securely.

A few of the impressive sailboats docked at Nelson's.

Copper and Lumber, a hotel and restaurant at Nelson's Dockyard, was built in 1789 originally to store materials for building and repairing ships. 

Sherwin and Q: Dock Masters and all around great guys at Nelson's.

Meena from the Dockyard Bakery. My favorite is the curry vegetable pies.

Off the main strip in Falmouth, Caribbean Taste offers up great local food at good prices on a front porch.

Chillin' for an afternoon while anchored in Carlisle Bay (Jon and Nicole).

Sunset while at anchor at Five Island Bay. The serene setting was interrupted by a morning anchor dragging incident.

New Harbors and Experiences

Despite the generous amount of time in Antigua in the past, and our comfort hanging out mostly on the southern coast, there were regions yet to explore. The eastern reef-enclosed Nonsuch Bay was high on my mind to visit. When winds and surf are up, the entrance to Nonsuch can be dangerous or impossible to transit, but the conditions and our schedules were ideal for a short stay. Some land excursions and anchoring in Deep Harbor just south of St. John were interesting new areas to explore.

Enjoying coffee at sunrise as storm clouds approach anchored behind the reefs at Nonsuch Bay on the east coast.

Dramatic Devil's Bridge on the east coast.

Hike to the secluded Windward Bay Beach on the south coast.

Hike up the hill overlooking Argon anchored in Deep Bay Harbor on the west coast.

Deep Bay Harbor - One would never know that the crowded city of St. John was just a couple miles away.

The Atlantic Challenge is a yearly extreme ocean rowing event with a few dozen $100K specialized row boats. Teams of 4, 3, 2 and even solo row 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Antigua taking 30-40+ days to complete. We were fortunate to have been docked right next to the finish line to welcome in the first couple of teams and participate in the festivities. Argon then took a seat back out at anchor to watch others from our transom arrive later in the week. Impressive athletes indeed!

The third place rowers approach the finish line in style in English Harbor, complete with flares and bagpipes.

Not your daddy's row boat.


More Visits from Kids

Jonny and Nicole escaped the cold upstate New York weather to join us for a week spending time on land and aboard Argon.

Jon and Nicole.

Getting ready to hang out on board for the afternoon at anchor.

Found this cool new restaurant in Falmouth specializing in gins and brisket: S*itting Monkey.

Hiking the Goat Trail transiting the southern coast from English Harbor to Falmouth.

Lots of goats on The Goat Trail.

Jon and Nicole atop the popular Shirley Heights for the steel drum band and bbq. Argon is anchored in English Harbor below.

What About Barbuda?...

Antigua is actually the country of Antigua and Barbuda. These two islands comprise the same country, however, Barbuda works hard to function independently and maintain its autonomy and unique culture. Sailing to Barbuda did not fit in to our itinerary during past trips, but thankfully it did this time. More on Barbuda on the next post!

Navigating coral heads approaching the very low, flat island of Barbuda. More to come on Barbuda with the next post.