Heading down South

John & Susan Simpson
Thu 20 Jan 2022 23:29
'Heading down South to the land of the pines’ goes the first line of the song ‘Wagon Wheel’ by Darius Rucker, which has become something of a theme song for our trip so far.  We’ve now headed South to St Vincent & the Grenadines and, whilst they’re not pine trees, the wooded hills are lush and green with rainforest vegetation.  But before I say any more on where we are, there’s a bit of a story about getting here, or indeed anywhere in the Caribbean right now.

Prior to Covid it was already a bit of mission to sail from one island to another.  Each island or island group has its own governing body, either independent or as an outpost of a larger country (e.g. Martinique being a departement of France), so leaving one island requires ‘checking out’ via the port authorities and ‘checking in’ at the arrival port on the destination island.  The process is starting to become easier with the introduction of a website called Sailclear where you can pre-enter your details ready for printing by the port officials when you leave or arrive, but on some islands the checking process still requires much form filling in triplicate.  Somewhere in the world carbon copy pads are still being produced!  Covid infection control protocols have of course raised the game for travel for everyone, not least for those sailing between the Caribbean islands.  To enter St Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) we needed a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours before leaving St Lucia, and to have emailed the result to SVG Arrivals no more than 24 hours before arrival, along with our vaccination certificates and Sailclear customs declarations.  All of that had to be approved for SVG entry before we could leave St Lucia.  As the PCR results take 24-48 hours to arrive and the sail from St Lucia to SVG takes 10-12 hours, the window of opportunity for getting everything together is quite small!  As we are now in SVG you’ll have guessed that we managed to get through the process intact, though not without some very Caribbean experiences.  

There’s a health clinic near where we were moored in St Lucia so we decided to use their walk-in PCR testing centre.  The clinic opened at 8.00 am and we decided to get there early, so picture the scene one hot and sunny morning as we made our way on foot with the local workforce and school children along the dusty roadside towards where the clinic was marked on Google maps.  There were no signs to indicate which building was the clinic, but groups of people milling about by some marquees next to 3 or 4 white flat roofed buildings seemed to fit the bill.   We established from a security person that we were indeed in the right place for PCR tests for travel and they gave us a ticket stamped with the date and a number.  First we needed to pay and we were led inside the first building to pay the Cashier.  He took the ticket, told us to remember the number and gave us each a receipt for the money.  Then we were out in the sunshine again trying to work out what to do next.  Another security person directed us to a marquee outside another building where a larger group of people (local and tourists) was milling about.  It was all very good natured but clearly no-one was very sure what the process was meant to be.  Most had no tickets, some had been given tickets like the ones we’d had, but no-one else appeared to be carrying a receipt.  At that point a security person announced that she wanted to separate the crowd - symptomatic people to the right and tests for travel to the left!  Gulp - people who more than likely had Covid 19 had been all mixed up with people just about to catch ferries and flights to wherever!  I couldn’t help but think of my colleagues at Kingston Hospital and what they would have thought to all of this.  Sally, Nic, Mairead - you’d have had a field day! 

Again the trick of asking security got us through and brandishing our receipts we were allowed through a door leading to a waiting room.  Behind us we could hear people asking how they could get one of those receipts!  By now the clinic had officially been open for business about 45 minutes but it was clear that no-one had yet got round to carrying out any tests.  ‘Won’t be long’ said the security person ’the nurse is just getting dressed’.  Meanwhile a Swedish lady was trying (loudly) to get a rapid test for a flight later that day - not a hope of that - and a local man was being told that,  although he had paid and had a receipt, he couldn’t have the test because he didn’t have a number.  ‘Where do I get the number?’ he asked security lady.  ‘From me’ she replied and promptly gave him a number to join the back of the queue!  Meanwhile, the numbered tickets had run out and the instruction was to tell anyone else arriving that they could wait but may not be seen today.  It was just about approaching 9.00 am….. 

Once in the clinic room with the nurses, our details were hand-written on a form and then entered onto a computer from the form by the same nurses who’d just written the details by hand.  We were never actually asked for our all-important number.  Eventually, amidst phone calls answered and cheery conversations with just about everyone passing through, the nurses got round to swabbing our noses and we were free to go, clutching instructions on how to access our results. To get these, we were to take a photo of our receipt and passport ID page and email that to the lab so that they could match the samples with the right people and tell us the outcome.  Amazingly, the process produced the result we needed and we had our negative PCR test results back the next day.

So having had the ‘good to go’ email response from SVG Arrivals we checked out of St Lucia and left at 7.00 am the next morning to sail to SVG.  It was pouring with rain - it’s not all sunshine here you know!
Rodney Bay, St Lucia as we left

Thankfully the rain cleared as we reached the southern end of St Lucia and we had a fantastic view of the Piton mountains under brooding dark clouds as we passed.
Piton Mountains, St Lucia

St Vincent is the next island in the chain but we had decided to give that a miss and head straight for Bequia in the Grenadines.  St Vincent has a bit of a reputation for crime and there are so many other lovely places to visit in the Grenadines we passed on by.  It did look picturesque despite it’s reputation.
St Vincent

Arrival in Bequia also had a Caribbean twist to it.  The instructions had said yacht Captains could either go through the health screening and check in process themselves or use an agent at an additional cost.  The agent we’d been recommended to use was Daffodil Marine but we thought we’d have a go ourselves first and then call up Daffodil should we need them.  We dropped anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia just on 5.00 pm and radioed SVG Arrivals to ask for our health screening authorisation which would allow us to go ashore.  A lady answered and said she couldn’t do anything this evening but would be with us first thing in the morning so we settled down to a pleasant evening in quarantine on the boat at anchor.  Shortly afterwards another yacht radioed Daffodil Marine on the same frequency as SVG Arrivals and we were convinced the same lady answered the question about a pillowcase lost in the laundry!!  Sure enough, first thing in the morning - we were still in bed! - a lady in a Daffodil Marine launch arrived with a ticket to indicate that we’d successfully passed the health screening and could make our way to the Customs office to check in.  So it seems it didn’t matter whether you used the agent or not, it was the same person!

John had been in Bequia ten years ago and was looking forward to being back.  The anchorage and village certainly didn’t disappoint.  It’s a picturesque place with a quirky feel to it and reminded me somehow of Dartmouth, nestling in a deep valley with colourful houses spilling up the hills from the waterside.  We stayed a couple of nights before heading off again.
Admiralty Bay, Bequia.  Casamara is anchored on the other side of the bay.

Mind your head!

We left Bequia and headed to Union Island, probably our most southerly anchorage of this season’s Caribbean sojourn.  Any further South would require another PCR test to enter Grenada and the southern Grenadines!  We had a rendezvous planned with friends Traci and Andrew on ‘Walkabout’ and had agreed to meet them in Chatham Bay.  By coincidence there were a number of other boats there that had crossed the Atlantic with the ARC fleets and a reunion had been arranged at one of the beach bars.  Chatham Bay feels remote and there’s very little here, just a tiny collection of bars which seem to take it in turns to open depending on which of them has been lucky enough to source fresh lobster or fish that day.  There was a party of 19 for the reunion and it was great to catch up with everyone and hear the stories of their time since we’d last seen them in Gran Canaria a lifetime ago in November.  
Anchored in Chatham Bay, Union Island, The Grenadines