Safena Log - 7 - 18 March 2020 "Covid 19 escalates !!!"

s/v Safena's blog
Simon Ashley
Mon 13 Apr 2020 13:35
It all started so well. Our journey back to Antigua was fine and our taxi (Rodwell) was waiting for us at the airport.

Fortunately, when we arrived at Jolly Harbour a British yacht adjacent to us kindly allowed us to use their tender in order to board Safena. Safena looked fine, gleaming from the attention of Max while we have been back in the UK.

It felt so good to be back. Sundowners at Westpoint then dinner out. No pizza at Akropolis as the pizza chef had left for Dubai, so we tried pasta at Melanis and what a lovely welcoming dinner!

The next few days were glorious in the sun and warmth, getting Safena ready while waiting for our Dometic wine cooler to be repaired and refitted by Lighthouse Yachting with spare parts due to arrive from the UK. We tended to work in the morning and walk the beautiful Jolly Beach in the afternoon with fantastic Pain Killers at Sandra’s! It felt so great to be back in this wonderful place!

It was good to see Ben and Kev again from Kailani. We had dinner together at Melanis - another great meal. Sorry to hear they are planning to cross back to the Med later this year (C19 permitting).

We got several important jobs done. The bottom was scrapped by diver Tony, generator oil service by Jerome, and Nina and I refitted the galley ceiling panel with screws (the industrial Velcro just wasn’t holding!).

The wine cooler was refitted. Unfortunately it is still not 100% - it works but the control panel is glitchy. I will push for a replacement under warranty.

By 11th March we we were ready to leave Jolly Harbour. Our plan was to sail south with various stops on the way, ending up in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. We intended to leave Safena here, return to UK for a month in April and then come back in May, holiday with Mike in the Grenadines and finally end up in Curacao in early June to lay up for hurricane season. Well that did not happen!

We were keeping an eye on the Covid situation in the UK and Europe but at this stage, naively in hindsight, did not expect it to become a major issue in the Caribbean. Our only concern was the possibility of not being able to return from the UK to Safena in May because of air travel restrictions. We even spoke to Andy, a British RYA Instructor/Skipper, berthed next to us, about the possibility of moving Safena from St. Lucia to Curacao for us, in the event we could not get back.

So we cleared out on the 12th and decided to set off south on 13th March. We refuelled at JH then sailed to Guadeloupe stopping for one night at Pigeon Island. We had a fabulous sail there with a fetch in 12-14kts wind in glorious weather - great to be sailing again especially with a nice smooth bum! We arrived in time for sundowners. The next few days were forecast to be light winds, ideal for messing about in Les Saintes. We motored there the following morning and picked up a mooring in Pain de Sucre, one of our favourite spots.

The next 3 days were the highlight of this trip! The weather was perfect. We swam and snorkelled and had Pain Killers for afternoon tea! On Sunday 15th, we went into Terre-de-Haut and bumped into David and Roberta from Pleione. We had lunch together at the wonderful restaurant right on the front by the dinghy dock (? name). Conch fritters galore and a bottle of Minuty or two plus fantastic Mahi Mahi main courses. Little did we know this would be our last meal out for the foreseeable future.

Mobile phone reception was bad in Pain de Sucre and again, with hindsight, we were starting to lose touch with the Covid crisis which was escalating rapidly. On Monday, Peter and Simone arrived from the BVIs in La Boheme. They were anticipating imminent lockdown and thought Guadeloupe/Saintes would be a relatively good place to get stuck (good healthcare, basically EU, yacht services and good food!). Simone had been feeling off colour for the past few days so we were careful to maintain some sort of social distance from each other. We headed into town and cleared in. That afternoon, they played with our RIB and I played with their paddle board. That night we joined them for dinner aboard La Boheme. Simone prepared a fantastic meal and we all had a wonderful evening.

The next day everything went "tits up”. In the morning another cruiser came by and said they are kicking everybody out, as decreed by the French government. We went ashore to the clearance office to find out what was happening. We were “invited” to leave and return to our home ports ASAP! We were told that we were not allowed ashore (other than to the supermarket providing we had a downloadable signed paper document stating that purpose), and all restaurants, bars etc. were closed.  They started turning away yachts that were approaching the anchorages and taping up all the mooring balls so they could not be picked up! We could not obtain any clearance-out papers. This all happened in a matter of hours.

We were desperate for more information but good internet connection was sparse. Friends told us all the Caribbean islands were starting to close down. We considered sailing to Curaçao as that is where we intended to lay up again, but the ABCs are closed. We didn’t want to get stuck on a smaller island especially in the south so we decided to head back to Antigua. There were lots of posts circulating about whether or not Antigua would be open for visiting yachts and that it could close imminently. There were also reports that the Antiguan Coastguard would be turning yachts away unless you were on a list of yachts with agreed entry. I made some calls. I was told that providing we hadn’t stopped anywhere (especially not the French islands!) we should be allowed back in to Antigua as we still had clearance-out papers from Antigua. Also, we could only clear in at Heritage Quay, St. John’s, after health screening.

We set off later in the day together with La Boheme knowing that we would arrive after dark. We had a blistering sail back although Nina and I were both very tense not knowing what was going to happen when we arrived. We arrived at night and rather than heading for St. Johns, which we had not been to before, we anchored out at Jolly Harbour because we know it so well. This went remarkably well and our new Bluetooth headsets really came into their own. Nina then made us a big fry up breakfast that we ate at around 10pm because it had not been possible to prepare a decent meal under sail!

We did not sleep well that night. At first light, we moved round to St. John’s at first light. There were many yachts in a similar position. The previous day it was taking up to 8 hours to clear in. We completed a health screening questionnaire and I had to write two hand-written letters, one to the Chief of Immigration and another to the Chief of Customs to explain that we had sailed south, couldn’t go anywhere and just returned to Antigua! Thank goodness they allowed us in with no quarantine! After clearance, we sailed back to Jolly Harbour feeling somewhat relieved although uncertain of what lay ahead.

We are now anchored in Jolly Harbour, and considering the next steps. Most yachts are adopting social distancing and avoiding restaurants etc. The supermarket remains well stocked and there is fuel at the fuel dock. As things stand we are not going to be able to lay up in Curaçao. I have just managed to reserve a place in the yard at Jolly Harbour and got the very last cradle! Our existing insurer (Y Yachts) will not cover us to lay up in Antigua during hurricane season and were not sympathetic to the exceptional circumstances (I really don’t know where they expect yachts to go!). Admiral quoted a premium of over £13,000! So we are re-insuring with Anjo (Caribbean based, underwritten by Massey who in turn are underwritten by a number of British insurers including Lloyds). They are much more flexible with arrangements for hurricane season.

Now it’s all about timing. When can we get a flight home etc. I think we will probably cut the season short and lay up early. I don’t want to risk leaving the yacht in the water and then not being able to fly back to Antigua to lay up before June. Anything could happen before then. It could all get better but think we should plan for the worse.

We have mixed feelings about coming home. It is tempting to mooch around here for a while especially as I will not be able to do any work at the Nuffield for at least 3 months as it is gearing up to assist the NHS (aside from the fact I will probably feel compelled to help out with some NHS work as required). We are probably at less risk here of catching the virus than in the UK. But, if we do get sick we are certainly better off being at home. Also, we feel the need to be closer to our children who are understandably anxious about the whole situation and the terrible uncertainty about what lies ahead.