Eventually we motored down through Miami to Key Biscayne where we found a space to anchor in No Name Harbor which was a great place for early morning runs and to get my new paddle board out to go manatee hunting and to hire bikes to cycle into downtown Miami. The timescales for crossing the Gulf Stream to Bimini were forever extending and Caroline decided to return to the UK.
I cleared out of the USA six months after sailing into New York, and then crossed the Florida Straits to Bimini in the Bahamas. It was a great crossing but the entry into Bimini wasn’t helped by the position of a rogue buoy that hadn’t been moved to cover shifting shallows! A fellow sailor called on the radio to explain the best entry through the shallows and I found my way to Browns Marina in Alice Town, Bimini, BAHAMAS!
I loved the laid-back island style in Bimini and soon made good friends using Bimini as the shortest crossing point to & from Miami….one of whom was French Canadian, Louis on Yacht Sono who I had met in No Name Harbor. I had developed a slow water leak from the raw water pump and ordered a replacement seal which arrived the following week on the twice-weekly mail boat from Nassau….island style! Water leak resolved and more waiting for the right weather I left Bimini and headed east across the Great Bahama Bank where I was able to anchor overnight with nothing in sight except the sunset and my anchor in the shallow water! The following day I arrived in Chub Cay in the Berry Islands to anchor overnight in front of the beach in the “anchorage from hell” so I booked into the marina for two nights while the wind and swell calmed down….and Louis was in the marina too! I had my best sail of 2020 as we both made the passage to Nassau, where there were SIX cruise ships in dock!
The headline photograph is Atlantis marina on Paradise Island, Nassau where I would probably have to sell my house to pay for a mooring!
I’m staying longer in Nassau to do some errands and especially update my website which is now with a new web host and complete up to 9 December 2019…which is why I’m now sat in Starbucks Nassau using their WiFi and drinking their coffee!
I decided to have a pirate day!….I’m reading The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard, I visited the Pirate Museum in Nassau and I went to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville on Paradise Island in the evening…my favourite song of his is “A Pirate Looks at Forty”.
I’m all ready to leave Nassau, and spent an hour or two in the Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation above….. colourful on the outside and sombre on the inside.
About twelve yachts were escaping Nassau Harbour sails aloft eagerly waiting for the forecast northerly of 11 knots…which didn’t materialise, so we all dropped our sails and motored to our destinations! I arrived in the Exumas at Norman’s Cay late afternoon and dropped anchor. This is the island that was the centre of a drug smuggling operation that eventually ended with the longest drug trial in US history, and a double lifetime sentence for Jack Reed, the main character of the book Buccaneer by MayCay Beeler. I only stayed overnight and had a beautiful sail down to Big Majors Spot, and dropped my anchor in the bay in front of Pig Beach. Later I was joined by my Québécois friend, Louis…the fifth time we had met since Key Biscayne!…and he arrived on his dinghy with cold beer! Louis was in the next bay at Staniel Cay.
The swimming pigs were just fabulous, and another beach in the bay became the “sundowner beach” to watch the sunset and say goodbye to friends Joe & Jocelyn, and Ruby the dog on Godspeed, and Louis who were heading back to Nassau and then onwards back to the USA. Bill & Nicole on Resolute were staying a while longer in Majors Spot, and I was heading down to Georgetown. I motored a short passage to anchor at Galliot Bay, and then got up before sunrise to pass through Galliot Cut into Exuma Sound to have a fabulous sail down to George Town. I anchored off Monument Beach on Stocking Island and prepared myself for at least three days of very strong winds!
It was now clear that the winter weather patterns were already hampering our plans to cross over to the Bahamas, but in the meantime it was great to have old friend, David Green and Lindsey visit the boat. I had worked with David in Brazil in the early nineties and had been 24 years since we last met. After Brazil I moved back to the UK and David had moved to the USA. Then we took a taxi down to Ocean Drive at Miami Beach which is a nice way to start our 2020 travel plans.
The weather is back to normal, but there is a chill in the sailing community following the death of a yacht skipper whose dinghy was involved in a late night collision with a local water taxi!
News regarding the affect of the spreading Coronavirus is now affecting the transient cruising yacht community in many parts of the world and many Caribbean ports are now denying entry to transient cruising yachts. The best advice now is to…”stay where you are for the time being”. My Bahamas Cruising Licence expires at the end of April and can be extended if necessary. So I will stay here in the Bahamas rather than sail to Turks & Caicos. Although the Bahamas has already denied entry to a cruise ship with infected passengers, its first case of Coronavirus was announced yesterday. The woman in Nassau has no recent travel history and so the authorities are frantically trying to establish her recent contacts. Turks & Caicos are already denying entry to transient cruising yachts which have recently travelled from St Martin as it allowed an infected cruise ship to dock. The situation is now changing daily!
It is now 23 March, and both Turks & Caicos and Ile à Vache (Haiti), my original next destinations, are now denying entry to transient cruising yachts. Here in the Bahamas non-essential businesses are closing and rules about group activities, social-distancing and inter-island movement have been introduced. There are now four infected cases, all in Nassau and all from the same family…two of whom had recently travelled overseas. I must say that the Bahamas government seem to be managing this crisis in a calm manner, and the locals here in George Town continue life as usual without panic buying and abiding by the new rules. Is this an aspect of island life?
It is now 24 March, and last night Dr Hubert Minnis, Prime Minister of the Bahamas announced a stronger package of actions to restrict the transfer of the Coronavirus, including a ban on the entry of foreigners into the country and further restrictions on inter-island movement. I am essentially restricted to remain on my boat 24/7 with an allowance to dinghy into town for essential services like, supermarket and laundry, and only when absolutely necessary. These measures will remain in place until 31 March and then reviewed.
It is now 2 April and the Bahamas now has 21 cases and its first death…a 57 year old woman in Bimini who had recently travelled to Miami. National and local restrictions remain in place and have been extended until 8 April. I plan to stay here until at least the end of April. Longer term I hope to sail to Guatemala to spend the hurricane season in the Rio Dulce, although right now Guatemala is closed to visiting yachts.
The George Town yacht community is fabulous. The early morning radio net is both informative and helpful, and there’s great contact with local authorities and businesses. The Trivia Evening, Book Review and Sunday Beach Church have all been conducted over VHF radio to comply with the restrictions on group activities. The VHF radio Murder Mystery, Dastardly Deeds on the Dinghy Dock, was absolutely fabulous and it was Ms Scarlet who dunnit! A VHF radio channel remains open 24 hours for inter-boat contact.
It is now Tuesday 7 April and we had our first complete lockdown over the past weekend, and a pattern of restrictions is now emerging. The curfew restrictions will continue during the week until 30 April, and complete shutdowns will occur every weekend. The coming weekend is Easter and there will be a five day shutdown…all stores and community services will be closed, and only hospitals and emergency services will remain open. During curfew restrictions I can take my dinghy into town for essential services such as supermarket, laundry, bank etc but during shutdowns I must remain on the boat.
It is now Thursday 16 April and the restrictions for all visiting boats have just become tighter. Boats that want to leave, mainly US boats returning to the US, have to proceed directly and have specific marinas where they can stop for fuel. All boats that want to remain have to email their identity and location to the authorities together with their plans for approval. I still want to remain in the Bahamas until my next destinations reopen their borders. BUT all boaters must remain permanently on their boats! The Island Administrator here in George Town is keen to apply the national restrictions AND support the boat community. So food, water, fuel and propane can be ordered and delivered to the boat. A water taxi came around the harbour today to take away waste bags…for $5. I think I’ll remain here until the end of May when I hope that the situation is much clearer.
It is now Sunday 26 April, and the situation remains the same for the boat community in George Town, but for me I’m a year older! I cannot remember what I did on my 26th birthday, nor my 36th, 46th and 56th, but I’ll never forget my 66th birthday in lockdown in the Bahamas! I also realised today that I left school 50 years ago and my 16th birthday was also on a Sunday. The previous week I had bought a Lambretta scooter with money I’d saved from my paper round, and my dad came out with me to ride from Nottingham to Derby and back. Such was his influence I have fabulous memories of my dad.
Well, we’ve had two days of strong winds which have affected many events such as the Annual Regatta. I made it to Chat ‘n Chill beach for the Sunday Hog Roast, but I’m not prepared for the long wet and windy crossing of the bay into George Town in the dinghy!
It is now 4 May, and there are less than 50 boats in Elizabeth Harbour. Many countries around the world are beginning to relax their restrictions, and there is talk of ports opening up to transient yachts in the Caribbean. I have started to think about where I want to be during the hurricane season, which countries may have opened their borders and what is the Coronavirus status in those countries. I have several options, and as this month progresses I believe that my final choice will become obvious.
It is now 17 May, and there’s positivity in the air! I have booked a place in Santa Marta marina in Colombia for the hurricane season, and I will set sail once the 1 June reopening of the Colombian borders is successful. There are now just 34 boats in the harbour and many are also making plans to head south to Dominican Republic, US Virgin Islands and Grenada. Although a depression just north of the Bahamas developed into sub-tropical storm, Arthur as the first named storm of the season, it immediately moved north along the east coast of the USA. The Prime Minister of the Bahamas today announced that cruisers may now leave their yachts to go onshore while complying with social distancing rules…..Hallelujah!
It is now 29 May, and I have talked with the boys on WhatsApp video to celebrate Alec’s 30th birthday. I’m also rethinking my plans for the hurricane season because the President of Colombia recently announced that borders will remain closed until September! I now see my options as remaining in the Bahamas or sailing back to the USA or sailing down to Panama…although sailing down to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala may also be a remote possibility, but there seems to be a struggle with the Coronavirus and developing a protocol to allow cruising yachts to enter its borders.
It is now 10 June, and both South America & Central America are struggling with Coronavirus outbreaks and tighter restrictions. There is not an ideal destination, and in the next few weeks I am most likely to return to the USA which presents some advantages for me. Life in the Bahamas is good and almost back to normal, in readiness for when its borders will reopen to international tourism on 1 July.
I can now explore George Town and after enjoying food, beer and music at the Friday Fish Fry I found St Andrews Church, in the photograph above, on my walk back into town.
It is 21 June and the longest day was yesterday. Last weekend there was a huge thunderstorm over George Town and not only did the boat drag for a quarter mile, the VHF radio and the Chart Plotter sustained some damage. The radio is now on its way back to the UK for repair. A catamaran was hit by lightning and sustained heavy electrical damage. The catamaran is now in Exuma Yacht Club marina awaiting enough repairs to allow Allan & Maria to sail back to the USA to complete the repairs.
It is 2 July, and Bahamas borders are now open to international travel. There is a huge expectation that tourism will increase with hotels and restaurants opening. On Saturday it is American Independence Day, and I’m organising a party on Chat ‘n Chill Beach as the bar reopens tomorrow….I’m hoping for about 12 of us.
The VHF radio has returned from repair in the UK. In the last four weeks the Coronavirus news coming out from the USA is crazy, and I have decided to stay away. There are still no Coronavirus cases here in the southern Bahamas, but there is always a threat of hurricanes so I am renting a mooring ball in one of the hurricane holes on Stocking Island in Elizabeth Harbour. I will also avidly follow the National Hurricane Centre website and Mike’s Weather Page on Facebook for guidance.
There are now only three of the original boats left in Elizabeth Harbour, but as the border is now open there is a steady stream of boats coming and going. Although masks and social distancing is now normal, it is good to see local hotels, bars and restaurants increasing their trade.
It is now August, and the excitement of normal life was sweet and short lived….Coronavirus cases increased rapidly during July, due mainly to Bahamians circumventing the rule for (re)entering the country to go on shopping trips to Florida and bringing the virus back into the Bahamas! Hurricane Isaias also hit the Bahamas and along the way came very close to George Town. The overnight wind and the rain and the noise was insane, and left two boats aground after breaking their moorings. Post hurricane we are now in a two week shutdown as the government grapples with the increase in Coronavirus cases, and the UK is now insisting that visitors from the Bahamas quarantine for 14 days.
It is now September, which is the peak month for hurricane activity in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Last month, and after hurricane Isaias, Tropical Storm Laura was heading towards the Bahamas but diverted south of Cuba which left George Town with just 30kt overnight winds. But just a few days later Laura became a category 4 hurricane which hit the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is now 1 October and the Tropics are behaving well…the second half of September was very quiet for the Bahamas, and the early forecasts for October look positive too. I am certainly enjoying being a member of Mike’s Weather Page on Facebook and learning so much about storm watching.
The fabulous yacht above is Sea Chantey owned by Swiss friends Reto and Stefanie. They recently left Sea Chantey to fly back to Switzerland for Stefanie to give birth to their daughter. Early in the New Year they plan to return to the Bahamas as a family of three to continue their sailing. What a wonderful adventure! My boat is in the background at anchor off Chat ‘n Chill beach on Stocking Island.
Most of my next destinations in the Western Caribbean…Turks&Caicos, Ile à Vache, Jamaica, Cayman etc remain closed to transient yachts or have very difficult entry requirements. Turks&Caicos require a negative PCR Swab test result not more than five days old which may be fine for tourists arriving by plane, but is likely impossible for a sailing yacht.
So my Plan B is to return to the USA. I still have a valid US Visa and would just require a Cruising Permit which I can obtain during the Customs and Immigration entry process. Initially I would stay in Fort Lauderdale to complete some work on the boat, and then sail the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico coastline.