Having spent more than twice the amount of time than anticipated at Puerto del Rey in Fajardo, Puerto Rico getting Galatea launched for our second season (her 14th), we were ready to get out of the marina and head east to new places. The rudder that so dramatically delayed us had also given us more time to do other projects to have the boat ready to go and that was a real positive, allowing to focus our attention on the next destination.
We wanted to head east to new locations. This is the toughest direction to go in this region. The dominant trade winds in this region blow out of the east. To try to sail east in normal conditions you would be “sailing to weather,” or sailing upwind, which is the roughest kind of sailing where the most things are broken and the least sleep is had. As the saying goes “A gentleman never sails to weather.” For a sailboat, which cannot sail directly into the wind, this means you have to tack your way windward, doubling the distance and possibly tripling the time it takes to get to your destination, certainly with a list of items to fix. A typical strategy this time of year is to wait for a cold front to come off the US which will knock down the trade winds from around 15 knots to maybe 10 or less, and at periods offer different wind directions to use. Then you motor, or motorsail, directly to your destination east. It’s not glamorous, but it’s the easiest way to go east around here.
p.s. Did you know you can keep up with our live position on the “Where’s Galatea?” page? It updates hourly when we are moving and you can see how fast we are going as well as the current wind conditions.
And so we were fortunate that when we were ready to go the cold fronts had begun rolling off the US for winter about twice a week. We grabbed one the day before Thanksgiving to get to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. We had hoped to get a window big enough to go all the way to Antigua, but this was a small window, so we took what we could get to tick off about 50nm (nautical miles). Though smooth as could be be sailing wise, Frank became overwhelmed with anxiety on the second half of the trip as the realization set in that we were skirting the entry rules by arriving without a recent COVID test. Instead, we intended to get tested upon arrival, and quarantine until we had done so. Misha called the local government while we were underway and they didn’t seem very concerned about it and told us to get tested as soon as we could on the island and then send in the result. Easier said than done! A few hours of calling and emailing every lab in the USVI and we had little to show except one that sent us some forms and said they would get back with us on scheduling. Spoiler alert: they didn’t email us back to schedule until a week and a half later by which point we were another 200nm east!
Lacking ability to go ashore, we spent three nights, including Thanksgiving, in Charlotte Amalie harbor, St. Thomas relaxing and waiting for the weather window that would arrive on Thanksgiving weekend to take us to Antigua. It’s normally a pretty miserable anchorage, but with no cruise ships coming in and out it was quieter and cleaner than usual. Misha made more progress on her garden and legal work. Frank corrected a minor engine issue that had revealed itself and did a little more work on the rigging. We called family and watched some movies. And, the day after Thanksgiving the Christmas decorations went up.
Black Friday was a bit busy, but not with shopping! We had decided we could leave anytime between Friday night and Saturday morning and have a good passage to Antigua. We got everything checked off the list, and were quite pooped, so planned to get up around 5am and be out of the anchorage at first light. We set out everything we needed so all that had to be done in the morning was to caffeinate.
Morning came and we picked up the hook and set out. It was very calm, winds were less than 5 knots and seas were negligible. Our only concern the first part of the day was being sure to avoid BVI territorial waters on the way out. Recently the BVI has pulled over, impounded, and fined (as much as $20,000) two boats for navigating in BVI waters during “innocent passage” (which means no intention to enter BVI, only to innocently pass through their waters as the most convenient path to other destinations). We looked up that they claim 3 nautical miles as their territorial waters limit, so we went for 4nm south and kept an eye out, ready to call the US Coast Guard and relay our coordinates if we saw a BVI patrol boat chasing us down. No worries, we were gone before they were up for breakfast.
Instead of aiming directly for Antigua, we aimed for St Martin, about 20 degrees to the north. This would potentially give us a favorable wind angle on Sunday when the wind began to fill back in. It had side benefits in that we could stop in St Martin if we encountered a major issue, and we’d get cell service for a few hours Saturday night to revel in Alabama dominating in the Iron Bowl. The entire day was smooth without issue. We take fairly flexible two hour watches (shifts) during the day. The autopilot does most of the busy work of keeping our heading. We’re just monitoring engines, charts, fishing lines, other traffic, and the radio. We caught and released a barracuda. By the time the sun was going down, we had St. Martin in our sights.
Conveniently timed, we had an essentially full moon for this passage so we were hardly ever without light. At one point in the night we could see the lights from Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barts, Saba and St. Kitts at the same time. At night we take 4 hour shifts. We both find it hard to fall asleep during a 2 hour off-shift, as by the time we’ve eaten, and winded down, there’s only an hour to sleep. With 4 hours off, we can each usually get 2 and often 3 hours of sleep. The night is only three shifts long this way. Frank will often take the first and last shift, and Misha will take a longer shift after sunrise to let him catch up on sleep. Sleep deprivation is probably the hardest thing about a passage, so a lot of focus is put on resting and preparing fuss-free healthy meals, starting a day before the passage even begins.
In the morning as the sun came up, we had already reached St. Martin and turned down 20 degrees and aimed directly for Antigua. The wind had begun filling in, 10kts, gusting 15kts – wind speeds that our boat loves. Unfortunately, the angle it filled in at was about 15-20 degrees worse than we had hoped for and was too tight for us to sail. So, the engines stayed on and by about 9am we were approaching St John’s Harbor on the northwest coast. This is the cruise ship and industrial harbor. Cruisers hardly ever come here. But, it’s where all sailboats are required to clear in and quarantine during the COVID pandemic and so here we are. We fly a yellow flag on the mast when we are in quarantine – this is called the Quarantine Flag and it indicates to officials that you have not yet legally cleared into the country. Once you clear in, you take the “Q flag” down and put up the flag of the country you are in – this is called the “curtesy flag.” So, we’re typically flying the American flag and then the flag of whatever country we are in.
It was a Sunday. We weren’t in a rush to clear in, and I can tell you for sure the officials weren’t either. So, we chatted with the Coast Guard and Customs and Immigration on the radio and proceeded to anchor in the quarantine anchorage they had designated near the Coast Guard station. We spent the afternoon recovering, and in the evening celebrated a successful passage. It was our first passage ever that not a single thing broke or went wrong! That was definitely worth celebrating.
Monday morning we went into the port to see the nurse at Port Health. She took our temperatures, we filled out some questionnaires and were instructed that we would have to stay on our boat for 14 days, less time at sea, before we could clear in. We would also text our temperatures to the nurse twice a day. This is because we were arriving without a COVID test from a “hot spot” in Puerto Rico. The truth is, whether we had a COVID test or not, we would have had to quarantine for 14 days. Knowing this, we did not bother with the expense and hassle of getting a COVID test in PR. Because we did not leave the boat since leaving PR, we were able to start our 14 days on the day we left PR, so we started quarantine on Day 6 of 14.
The time in quarantine was not so bad. We could not swim in the water nor make drinking water because the water quality was gross in the anchorage. But, we made lots of great food, watched plenty of good movies, and had a good time just enjoying each other’s company and a new beautiful place. Misha had a lot of work to do for her paying job, and Frank bided his time doing projects around the boat. The birds, pelicans, gulls and osprey, around the boat were fun to watch and we saw many great sunsets and rainbows. There were very few other boats in quarantine and about half the time we were by ourselves. Most people were either arriving from a low risk country with a negative COVID test or sailing in from mainland US with over 14 days at sea.
Finally our day came to clear in. We were down to less than 5% of our water supply! We arrived to Customs at 8am when they officially “open.” We were told to come back at 9am when they actually “open.” We first saw the nurse, again, then were told we had to wait because the Customs officer hadn’t showed up to work yet. Island time! Anyways, by 10:30 or so we were done with the paperwork and free to roam. We obtained 3 month visas and a 3 month cruising permit for just $52.
After clearance, we retuned to Galatea – the longest we had been away from her in two weeks! We raised the anchor, and boy was it dirty, and made for Jolly Harbor marina down the coast. We topped up on water, gasoline for the tender, diesel for the generator, and disposed of trash. Then we went around the corner to the beautiful Hermitage Bay anchorage to celebrate, rest, and then begin unpickling our watermaker so we could once again make our own water.
Now that we are free to roam, and with no plans of leaving anytime soon, we began to plan all the places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do while in Antigua. In our next blog post, we’ll tell you all about our first month in Antigua. Stay tuned!