Deciding our sailing route for the summer. An unpleasant welcome in the USVI and we set off for a 1300 mile sail!
After being in lockdown for 6 weeks in Antigua we were allowed to move between anchorages again. We left Green Island, the place where we dropped anchor at the start of the lockdown. It felt so good to get the sails up again. Complete freedom! We went for a short (35 mile) sail to Barbuda, a small island north of Antigua. Barbuda has amazing white/pink beaches with unbelievable turquoise waters. We spent a week in an anchorage with no one around other then our new friends Phill and Roxy, who we’ve been spending time with during lockdown.
We have been Kitesurfing, snorkelling, paddle boarding and went for long beach walks. Barbuda is a dream, but it was time to go back to Antigua again to re provision and to take some decisions due to hurricane season.
For days on end we have been indecisive about our sailing route. Hurricane season is approaching quickly and as everyone else we want to be way out of that area. Because of this pandemic it isn’t that straight forward as people might think. I got a few times from friends and family ‘Oh, just go to this country’ or ‘No complaining for you because you are in paradise’. Well, I can tell you, it doesn’t quite feel as paradise while you know that the hurricanes starting to look over your shoulder while all the countries are closed around you. It feels like me, attempting an uncomfortable gymnastic split.
Not even mentioning some other questions which have been crossing our minds. For example; Do we get a visa for the US and if we go is it sociably responsible? What if we cross the Atlantic but can’t come into a country on the other side? Anyway, I think we are “all in the same boat” and share similar feelings in each situation.
In the end we choose for going to the US. With in the back of our minds that we might need to cross anyway if we can’t get into the country. Our original plan was applying for a visa in the Bahamas. But due to the virus this wasn’t possible anymore. We heard stories that people were trying to get into the USVI and that they got a Visa waiver for 6 months (single entry). We decided to go for it too, and hoisted our sails on the 20th of May towards the USVI. A sail of about a day and half. We said goodbye to new friends and to Antigua, which has been extremely good to us during these corona times. The sail was lovely and it felt good to be back on the road again.
After trying to find a good anchor spot which seemed not easy, David left towards customs. After an hour he came back with no good news. He encountered a very unpleasant welcome and we were allowed to come into the country with a visa waiver but we had to pay a fee of 585 dollars each. We knew about this fee but with other friends the fee has been waived. Guess we were unlucky who was behind the desk this day! We considered not going to the US anymore and instead crossing the Atlantic straight from here. But after calming down a bit we decided to bite the bullet. We paid the fee, loaded our boat with fuel and left the USVI the next day. Done, we’re in!
The next leg is a bit longer, a 1100 mile sail! Normally we would stop at different places along the way but this wasn’t possible because of the virus. If there is really bad weather coming up you will be able to ask to seek shelter with authorities. But other than that the answer is ‘No’.
We were taking the longer route, via the ‘old Bahama channel’. With not much wind predicted we did decide to leave. It’s the end of May and it’s really time to move. The first days were slow with not much wind passing Puerto Rico. After passing the Dominican Republic the wind started to finally be in our favour. We had very good downwind sailing and made good progress along the coast of Cuba.
When we arrived in the old Bahama channel some squalls were hitting us resulting in wind shifts, rain and a bit of thunder. We motored quite a bit to get through it. But as soon as we were out of the channel we had great wind on the beam. We had lovely sailing through the night and at daytime we were hitting the Gulf Stream which made us fly. The next morning we dropped our anchor in West Palm Beach in the USA. In total an 1100 mile trip in 8 days.
After some well deserved and needed sleep we left the boat and took an Uber to the airport, to customs. An important part to gain in the US is a cruising permit. Without one you need to check in and check out in every place you stop. We heard from several people that due to the virus in certain states they won’t give them anymore. These people went from place to place and being disappointed/frustrated every time. With slight hope and being friendly towards customs, our officer told us we didn’t have the right papers. We missed a certain paper which they should have given us in the USVI. I think you can guess the feeling which we had right now.
After showing other papers and some gentle interrogating from his side this officer sorted us out completely. He gave us the cruising permit, and we, and the boat, are all clear to sail in US waters. What a legend this guy, so happy!
For the next few months we will make our way up north; Charleston, Hatteras, New York, Cape Cod and Maine. From Maine we will cross to Nova Scotia and then to New Foundland/Canada. From there we will cross the Atlantic to Ireland.
Quite a trip ahead but looking forward to it!
Wishing you all a great day!
The Ker Marie crew