Sailing and Stressing into Dominica

We knew we were in for a bit of an unpleasant sail, but the alternative was to wait much longer in SVG, so we bit the bullet and checked out of the country. We had 24 hours to leave, so we motored up the coast to Chateaubelair to stage for the nice passage. Chateaubelair seems to collect little coastal squalls; it’s been rainy every time we’ve been there, even though the rest of the sky is mostly clear. So we arrived amidst a rainstorm, anchored under clear blue skies, and pulled out in the morning with drizzle and an auspicious(?) double rainbow.

The skies cleared within an hour or so, and as expected, we had no more trouble with squalls. But we were expecting wind around 20 knots, which with island effects ranged from 16 to 32, and generally hovered around 25, at angles from 50 to 70 apparent. This wasn’t the poundiest sail we’ve taken, but it was definitely the wettest, with green water washing all the way to the cockpit from both sides of the bow, and spraying intermittently from points all along the starboard side.

Our jerry-cans floated around the foredeck, tied to the boat but empty and buoyant. Nobody was happy, but at least we were sailing, in all but the deepest wind shadows. Surprisingly, we were able to sail past most of St Lucia, despite the Pitons rearing their heads and spinning off little storm cells.

We were off shore far enough to have wind, but we had to take and shake reefs pretty frequently. Between that and the uncomfortable ride, neither of us got great sleep on the night shift. But at least we made pretty good time, averaging 5.5 knots, and arrived in plenty of time to make the 9am day-one COVID tests. We were probed roughly and deeply in both the nose and throat, and issued orange wrist-bands to indicate our quarantine status.

I dive on our anchor, which is well set in grassy sand, well clear of the scattered pieces of corrugated roofing left over from hurricane Maria. We all pretty much felt like this.

But at least we were through the unpleasantness, and had about a week of quarantine ahead of us, to recover and then do some boat projects. Or so we thought. It was about this time that we found out that another boater we knew, who had arrived before us coming from St Lucia, had tested positive on his day-five test. (Since his wife and two kids had tested negative, and they’d all been pretty careful, everyone assumed that this was a false positive.) Promised a five-day stay in a quarantine resort-hotel, he’d left his family on their boat. But instead of a hotel, he was brought to a holding facility with bathrooms shared with other positive-testing detainees, no windows, and a ten-day wait until he could re-test. “You get an hour and a half of outdoor time and three liters of water a day.” This seemed like a recipe for turning a false positive into a true one, on top of the discomfort of living in this very-much-not-a-hotel:

To add insult to injury, he would be charged resort-hotel prices the whole time. One star, would not be involuntarily detained again.

So at this point, we’re thinking we should have gotten tested before we left, even though Dominica doesn’t require it, because testing positive here seems like a really unpleasant prospect. A bit more research reveals that there is simply no option to quarantine on board your boat. We can’t really leave the boat, both because we have to maintain it and because we have Captain to look after. So rather than relaxing and getting some projects knocked out, we’re researching what to do if we test positive, whether there are other places that will let us in if we have to bug out quickly. As US citizens, can we get into the USVIs, or Puerto Rico, which are both just independent enough to give us problems? Or would we have to sail eight days back to Florida? Maybe SVG would take us back? (They would, but the best bet actually seems to be Sint Maarten.) Would Dominica give us exit papers, or even our SVG clearance back, or would we have to bug out quasi-legally?

On day three we get negative test results back, and start to notice cold symptoms. Is this COVID? (No.) Could we plausibly have tested negative and then started to show symptoms? (Yes. It’s not COVID though.) So we’re not feeling super relaxed. Plus every day, we find out new and unappealing things about the isolation facility. The room doors don’t lock. The food is bad, delivered cold because the guards eat first. No alcohol is allowed. And the other three family members re-test positive and go to join the dad, so now it looks like they really were infected. Tests happen only every 10 days, and are very sensitive, so most people are in for 21. Children are charged as adults, but the family shares a room. (Only mom ever gets sick at all, with symptoms more associated with extreme stress.) And the outer door of the facility is barred at night from the outside. “What if there’s a fire?” “Jesus is with us.” Shortly before they leave, patients begin to be bunked together.

Day four is Valentines day. We feel like this.

And my legs are still covered in princess bandaids, from stupid scrapes incurred during the trip up here. But at least we have a lovely view?

On day six, we go in for our second round of testing, from a different doctor with a more gentle hand. We receive our inbound clearance and our paper negatives. Both of these things make us feel slightly better about our chances of getting into the next country to self-isolate on our well-provisioned boat. We’re also given a special quarantine flag to fly alongside our yellow one. They’re still working out the procedures.

We alternate between planning our escape and planning escapades in the event we do get in. Captain gets tired of seeing laptops and guidebooks and interposes himself.

By day seven, my cold symptoms have mostly gone away, but Jazz’s are still going strong, and the adrenaline refuses to abate. On day eight, we resist the urge to call our liaison every ten minutes. Around noon, we receive word that our second set of tests is negative as well. We feel pretty confident that if the colds had been COVID, we were tested in the thick of it and it would have registered.

We are released into the world! Our orange wristbands are cut, and we are issued discharge papers to carry with us at all times. Nobody ever checks these. We celebrate with a dinner out in our new COVID-free stomping grounds with our COVID-free friends from Due.


  1. Always great to read your adventures, even when they don’t sound pleasant in spots. Sail safely!!

    1. Some days are perfect, others you have to remind yourself: “Sailing is fun. Sailing is fun. I wanted this. I’m doing this on purpose. Sailing is fun.”

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