We finally did it! We left St Kitts, and the trip is back in action! Granted, there will still be masks and curfews and quarantines, probably many other new rules, and a lot fewer cruiser bars, But! We’re back in motion! Villa is being a sailboat again! Exclamation marks all around!
On June 1st, Antigua and Barbuda announced that they would open their borders, effective immediately, with quarantine to be decided on a case-by-case basis. We had been hoping that one island or another would re-open before we were forced to flee the area, and we count it as a great stroke of luck that it was one we were especially excited to see. We were beyond excited to get moving again, but even so, it took us a few days to get our butts in gear. We needed a reasonable sailing window. We needed to provision and get our laundry done; what if we had to quarantine once we were there? What if they turned us away at the border? The uncertainty would eat away at us over the next few days.
Eventually, we decided on the first acceptable-if-not-great travel window; we figured it should take us about 24 hours, give or take six, so we would leave on Sunday June 7th at around noon, to maximize the chances that we would arrive in daylight. On Saturday, we sailed to Basseterre one last time, and went in to the customs office to check out of the country. Of course, seeing as the borders are closed and there’s not much for the agents to do, they’re making their own hours, so we had to wait an hour or so for the agent to show up. We’d had a half-crazed idea of taking the ferry to Nevis for half a day after we checked out, but between a late start, and waiting for customs and laundry, we found there wasn’t really time. So we managed to complete our checkout, and we stopped for a last celebratory pani puri at Chutney’s, and we sailed the boat down to Shitten Bay for a last night’s sleep in bee-ville.
In the morning, the bee scouts came to visit, and we did our best to make sure they didn’t find any fresh water. We wanted to take one last swim, and we decided we’d rinse the salt off under way, just to make sure. So we figured we’d get the boat fully ready to go, and as we checked the alternator belt tension, I sheared off the bolt holding it in place. Fortunately, we carry a spare (alternator and bolt, since the broken end of the old bolt will have to be worked out later).
As we were starting to think about getting in the water, a power cat pulled into the anchorage and grabbed a mooring ball that put them basically on top of our anchor. This was one of the balls we’d laughed at previously – it’s essentially a lot of rope tied to an old tractor axle, and they decided to trust it with their 20 ton boat. We did try to warn them about both problems, but I suspect that the crew were just too happy to have a charter job again to be brought down by anything. So we had our swim, and when it came time for us to move, they helped make sure we didn’t hit their boat or run over their swimmers as we hauled the anchor. I think that counts as everything working out fine.
We got under way, got the staysail up, and took our showers as we passed through the gap between the islands. We bid farewell to Nevis, which never wanted to see us anyway, under a nice sunset. Well, I did, anyway – adaptable Jazz took the first sleep shift. Most people seem to take 2 or 4 hour shifts, but we’ve found we prefer taking 7-8 hour shifts, so that one of us at least gets a full night’s sleep.
We proceeded to jibe back and forth into the wind all night. (Normally sailors would tack, and we did experiment with tacking again with the staysail and stern drive leg up, but we just couldn’t manage the combination of momentum and getting the genoa past the inner forestay.) The problem with being a catamaran is that you don’t point into the wind well, so our zigzag course epitomized the meme about drunken sailors. Plus, there was a little storm system early in the evening, and I decided it would be better to go around rather than through.
We were about 16 miles from Antigua when the wind, slowly dropping over the course of the night, finally sagged below 8 knots, and we gave up the fight and motored the rest of the way directly into the dying wind. Dying wind also means dying waves, so at least this section was a bit more comfortable than the earlier slamming. The sunrise over Antigua was beautiful, and as we approached, the water was a beautiful blue and we could see sandy beaches.
We pulled into St John’s Harbor around 11 am. It is not nearly so beautiful. As we pulled nearer to the cargo ship port in silty water, the lumps in our throats got that much tighter. As instructed, we radioed Coast Guard to find out the current clearing-in procedure. They punted us to the Port Authority, who took an hour to respond on the radio, with us hailing every ten minutes. When we finally connected, they told us that we would have to quarantine for 14 days (our worst fears realized!), and that we should contact Port Health the next morning any time after 0700. So we anchored where they told us to, and wrote an email to the Chief Port Health Inspector asking for clarification.
In the morning, we called the Inspector again, and she told us that she hadn’t read our email, but that we should come down to the dock at 10 am. We understood this to be an appointment, so we put our masks on and arrived early at a surprisingly nice dinghy dock, where we found several other crews waiting to check in or out.
After washing our hands as directed by the security guard, we were asked in by a couple of nurses, who took our temperatures (90.8 and 95.5 respectively!) and told us confidently that that was normal, and that we would have to quarantine for 14 days. We agreed, and told them that we had been told that the quarantine was at the discretion of the health inspector, who had asked us to come in, and could they please check again? And one of them complained that nobody had told him anything, and why are they changing the rules all the time, and could we wait until noon when he would go to his office and get a different set of paperwork and maybe talk to the chief inspector.
We settled in to wait. And wait. We ask if we can buy coffee at the kiosk some 10 feet away, and are permitted. At about 12:40, the guy emerges from the office with a sheet of paper labeled “Model of Maritime Declaration of Health”, which I’m guessing means that the original author had intended for this to be customized and instead they just printed it as-is. At 12:45, I hand it back to him. At about 1, he comes back out, hands me the paper with a stamp on it, tells “just the Captain” to go see Customs, and mentions that we should practice social distancing – an obvious admonition since we had been standing and talking to one of the other crews.
So I, today’s elected Captain, go into the building to see Customs. Customs is one agent, who (Immigration informs me) has gone to lunch. I will be called.
Eventually I am called. Customs asks me for papers, which I provide. Customs makes many copies and prints more forms, which are handed to me to carry eight feet over to Immigration. Immigration takes the forms, has a conversation with Customs involving lots of passing paper back and forth, stamps our passports, and has me carry two sheets of paper back to Customs. Customs takes one of them, and sends me 5 feet away to Port Authority, who produces two more paper forms that ask for all the same information. I fill out these forms. I pay some money. I am provided with a cruising permit. The time is now 2pm.
But it’s 2pm, and we’re checked into Antigua and Barbuda! Sanity has prevailed, and the fact that we are coming from a COVID-free island has been taken into account, and there will be no 14-day quarantine! (We will almost certainly have to quarantine in the future at other islands, but at the moment, hurricane season threatens and time is precious.) We walk into town to find a very late and sorely needed lunch.
With the threat of quarantine over, a weight is lifted: we are moving, we are in a new place, and it looks like we are going to have a little bit of Caribbean adventure after all.