Since we come back from Japan after the Christmas holidays, we were having a very good time sailing north along the island’s chain. We had friends visiting us in Grenada and in Guadeloupe, and and we were really enjoying ourselves. Life was good!
We celebrated my birthday in Antigua with Joaquin, Monica and their dear Catalan friends Riccardo and Isabel:
Then, all of a sudden, the Covid-19 pandemic happened and year 2020 became history.
One by one, all the island nations started closing their borders. And cruisers started to panic!
- Many Americans and Canadians cruisers followed their respective government recommendations, left their boats where they were, and took the so called “repatriation flights” back home.
- Many Europeans cruisers rushed towards the French islands, thinking that they would be better off in a European Union’s country.
- Some of those who had planed to cross to the Mediterranean (like us) or to the Pacific (like Joaquin and Monica), had to change their plans.
Nobody knew what was going to happen, there was confusion and panic. There were news of sailors who were refused Safe harbor or Innocent passage in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Pacific. Xenophobia was spreading across the island nations and among cruisers themselves.
Yuka and I considered our options, and decided to stay put in Barbuda: Small island nation, government probably too small to really mess it up, like what they did in Europe or U.S.A. We knew it was something serious, because we followed the news from Italy, whereas the rest of the world was still debating if covid was nothing more than a flu. In the United States, President Donald Trump himself was (and still is) a covid and face-mask denier. Luckily, we had a much better idea of what was going on.
We were in Barbuda when we heard that a lock-down with curfew (yes, curfew like in war times!) was going to be imposed in the country. Barbuda is a small island with about 1,600 residents who live in one village, and no supermarkets. We didn’t think twice: We set sails for Antigua where the big supermarket is, we provisioned for a month and we returned to Barbuda on the same day. We wanted to stay as far away as possible from civilization. And Barbuda was the perfect place for that. At some point when we were in Antigua we heard rumors that by midnight on the same day, they were going to prohibit boats to sail from Antigua to Barbuda, so we left in a hurry and arrived there at night.
There were only a few boats at anchor in Barbuda, and we soon realized how lucky we were:
Our decision turned out to be an excellent one. While we were enjoying the unspoiled paradise of Barbuda, we read reports from other islands:
- In the French islands, cruisers could not even swim around their boat. One person was fined 135.00 euros because found swimming close to his boat. Every time you had to go on land, you had to print a template (what a waste of ink and paper) and specify where you did want to go and why.
- In Grenada the cruiser’s community turned out into a xenophobic crowd and in anchorages snitches organized night watches. New boats entering the anchorage were reported to the authorities by other cruisers, and in the public forums when fellow scared cruisers asked if it was still possible to sail to Grenada to get out of the hurricane box as the cyclone season approached, people left nasty replies such as “STAY WHERE YOU ARE” or “DON’T COME HERE”. The tone of the comments was even worse if you flew an American flag.
- In the Mediterranean, we read about one family anchored in the Balearic Island who was forced to leave, despite the inclement weather and no-where to go. They risked to be arrested. Luckily, a kind soul found them Safe Harbor in Carloforte, Italy (you can read the full report here.)
- In the Pacific, many boats were stuck in French Polynesia or Galapagos, with no way forward and no way back, and all are running out of time as cyclone season approached.
In the meanwhile, our friends Joaquin and Monica arrived in Antigua just a few hours after the Country declared the lock down and they were forced to quarantine on board in Saint John commercial harbor. Not a nice place where to spend 2 weeks, so it was very hard on them. Of course once they were released, they come to Barbuda and we had a great time together.
Once again, we feel we were blessed for being in the right place at the right time. During the time that we were there, from March through May, Barbuda had 0 Covid-19 cases. Antigua had 23 cases (all recovered) and just 2 deaths.
We spent 3 months in this paradise, kite boarding every day.
Yuka in half a day and a few tries, learned the back-roll! Took me two weeks to learn it a few years ago! She is such a better kiteboarder than me.
Of course we were worried about the future. Our plan was to get out of the hurricane alley before the start of the hurricane season in June and sail across the pond to the Mediterranean.
But because the news coming from Europe and especially Italy were horrible, we thought it was better not to go. Bermuda and Azores, the only islands along the way to the Med, were closed to incoming boats, and that left us with no safe harbor in 3,600 nautical miles.
Spending the hurricane season in the hurricane alley is not something to be taken with a light hearth. But this is a topic for a different post.