What's your plan?
John & Susan Simpson
Tue 19 Apr 2022 22:26
So goes the conversation with virtually every sailing friend we meet nowadays. April heralds the winding down of the Caribbean ’season’ and people are looking over their shoulders at the prospect of hurricane season arriving, traditionally 1 June - 30 November. All of the Caribbean islands are within the hurricane zone, although historical records shown that some have a much greater risk of being hit by a big storm than others.
April 2022 also marks the point at which we have been living on the boat for a whole year and it seems incredible that we are already one year into our five year plan. Under our original plan we would by now be through the Panama Canal and sailing across the Pacific Ocean but we decided to delay for a year, by which time we hope that Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands will have opened their borders to tourists. Whilst Australia and New Zealand have now started to open up, at the time we needed to make the decision it wasn’t clear when that would be and we didn’t want to risk having to sail on by having made the effort to get there! So we stayed in the Caribbean this season and looked at our options for when the hurricane season arrives.
Initially we thought we might sail from the West Indies via the Bahamas up the coast of the US towards Maine and do some exploring there.
That would require us to have a long stay tourist visa for the US, for which we’d need an embassy appointment either at home in the UK or in the Bahamas. Those appointments are much sought after as the US catches up on visa applications after two years of Covid. Some friends of ours managed to get an appointment, but for October 2022, by which time hurricane season will be nearly over. Next we decided we would sail back across the Atlantic via Bermuda and the Azores to Portugal, where we leave Casamara for the European Summer. We would then repeat the Atlantic crossing back to the Caribbean in November 2022 ready to carry on to Panama in early 2023. That was the plan we went with for quite a while, until we realised that the distance we would sail doing the Atlantic circuit would be almost as far as sailing across the Pacific to Australia. It just seemed a lot of extra sailing for no real benefit except passing the time!
So our plan now is to sail to Grenada where we have booked a space in a storage facility constructed to provide as safe a haven as possible during a hurricane. Casamara will be lifted out and stored ashore in a huge steel cradle with ratchet straps attached to holding pins in the ground. Hopefully that will mean that if there is a big storm she won’t be blown over. Casamara will be ashore until late November so we have switched from sailing planning to devising a series of land-based tours, starting with the US, interspersed with trips back to the UK to see our family. When we return in November 2022 we will start to prepare Casamara for the Pacific crossing which will leave from St Lucia on 18th February 2023. So there’s quite a bit of organising to be done, not least for our boat insurance as our previous insurer doesn’t offer cover for named storms in this area. There’s been a flurry of information sharing going on via our various sailing WhatsApp groups regarding insurance companies that will cover the Caribbean stormy season and the various hoops to be jumped through to secure cover.
Of course our plan isn’t the only option available. We have friends who are planning to stay with their boat in the Caribbean and watch the forecasts closely so that they can skip off south should a big storm be coming their way. Some people are leaving their boats afloat in marinas with good shelter. Some are leaving it as late as possible and then trying to enter the US on an ESTA visa via the US Virgin Islands, which gives 3 months travel without the need for an embassy appointment, albeit that three months is a bit short to miss the whole storm period. Some are heading for Panama and either heading for the Pacific islands in the hope they’ll be open or waiting out of the hurricane zone for next Pacific crossing season. Some are sailing back to Europe, leaving late April/early May to avoid storms in the Atlantic, and they’ll either return next year or finish their 'gap year' and return to work. We feel very lucky not to be in that last category!
Meanwhile we are continuing to enjoy living aboard Casamara in the sunshine. We are currently in Antigua, having had Tom, Gemma, Danny, Benjo and Clara to stay just before Easter.
We spent the Easter weekend at anchor at Green Island where John has been working on his wing foiling. The new board purchased on the breach at Guadeloupe has been a great success! Green Island is one of our favourite places as it has a huge bay protected from the ocean swell by a big reef so it’s a nice calm anchorage. There’s absolutely nothing here except a deserted beach and a collection of anchored boats. Later in the week we will check out of Antigua and start to make our way south towards Grenada. We plan to visit Dominica which we skipped on the way north. We’ve heard great things about the island and are looking forward to seeing it for ourselves. We’re aiming to be in Grenada by the end of the first week in May so that we can start to pack up the boat ready for lifting out. It’s going to be a big job!