October 14 – October 23 2021; 7145 nm and 946 days after departure from La Rochelle.
As I don’t want to be the reason for an heart attack by any of our dear followers due to my choosen headline – El Capitano is fine! Yet he was indeed tested positive but more about that a bit later.
Once upon a time, a time before Covid19, travelling was so easy when entering another country with a boat! Hopping from one island to the other was just a matter of some little paper work or latterly of sending the needed information via sailclear, the electronic customs and immigration portal, used in most of the Carribean islands. One had to arrive with the hoisted yellow flag (quarantine flag), find an anchorage and the captain went ashore to finish the customs and immigration procedure. Which ment, getting the visa and paying the cruising permit fee. After fulfilling that job, the crew and captain were released to explore the desired country. Period! That was a loooong time ago and only very old skippers might still remember those times…
Nowadays entering a country is different. First of all it is very important to get all the information of the required entry regulations of the selected island. PCR test before arrival or is a rapid test enough? Is it necessary to take another test upon arrival? If so,which days will be offered to do the testing? How long will it take to get the results, how long will the quarantine be? Which is the port of entry? If tested positive, is it possible to stay aboard or would the authorities force one to quarantine in a hotel? Only an example of questions which have to be considered if wishing to enter another country.
Well as you all know, we decided to visit Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Luckily SVG has re-opened a few port of entries. A few weeks before it was still necessary to sail to Saint Vincent, the main island of the Grenadines. Meanwhile Union Island and Bequia were back open for the entry protocol. As we were in the mood of sailing we chose Bequia as the port of entry and not Union Island which was within an eyeshot of Carriacou. The entry protocol of SVG was as follows:
- Asking for permission to enter at least 5 days before arrival. Sending all boat papers, passports etc and vaccination passes.
- PCR test before arrival. It had to be done max.72 hours before departure. The results had to be sent 24 hours before arrival.
- Contacting Quarantine officials via radio just before arrival. A mooring ball was mandatory for the quarantine time (until the results of the swabs).
- When all tests were negative an agent (which had to be paid like the mooring ball) was needed to do the check in.
The health centre L’Esterre in Tyrrel bay only offered PCR swabs Tuesdays and Fridays whereas Bequia quarantine offered the swabs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Which day was the best strategy to do the departure test? Our conclusion was taking the swab on a Tuesday, leaving Carriacou Thursday and hoping to get the results that day. The idea was to arrive in Bequia in the evening to make sure to get the arrival swab on Friday. The Carriacou health center do take the swaps in the early afternoon and take them to Hillsborough/Carricaou where they are entered into the system. From there they are taken back to Tyrell bay for the ferry next morning, hence Wednesday. The ferry arrives in St. Georges/Grenada and the swabs do arrive in the lab late morning, so nearly 24h are already gone until they arrive in the lab for examination.
So we checked out of Bequia Wednesday and left pretty early Thursday morning. Still in the hope to get our results soon and be able to use our Digicel mobile SIM card from Grenada in SVG to send the arrival authorities our negative results. The sail was beautiful and luckily the data connection was still working. Though the closer we came to Bequia – of course the sailing conditions were perfect and we were very fast- the more worried we got. No email from the health centre had arrived yet (remember, we were supposed to send our negative results 24 hours before arrival). We tried to get in touch with them but while sailing the connection broke down all the time. Eventually El Capitano managed to reach them but they only told us that we would’t get the results before Friday anyhow! What??? Now what to do? We couldn’t go back as we already checked out of Grenada and of course we didn’t wanted to. Meanwhile we also got in contact again with Bequia arrival. They told us we could come in and grab a mooring in the quarantine area, but if we can’t provide the negative results by Friday noon we would have to leave again.
Why did it take so long for the results? Our mood was already at a low level, but we were still hoping to get the results early Friday morning. Of course we didn’t receive a mail in the morning! Another issue was we could use the data on our phones but we were not able to call the health centre in Grenada from SVG. Fortunately I remembered, that I downloaded an App a few days ago, which provides to call any number in the world via data. Finally El Capitano got hold of somebody and that somebody confirmed our negative results AND asked wether we would like to have them send via email??? Of Course!!! ASAP!!! We need it!! What the hell do you think we did the test for??? For fun??? Ok, these were only MY immediate thoughts. Fortunately Norbert responded in a more behaved way. Now we finally started to relax. The email arrived within minutes, we send them to SVG arrival and the quarantine team confirmed the PCR test for the afternoon. The nurse as well as Duffadil from the quarantine team told us that we probably have to wait until Monday to get the results as they have a huge backload of swabs.
The time went by fast, we organized our travel to Paris and Germany and did some more research about the entering procedure in Martinique and traveling in Europe. Monday early afternoon Duffodil ordered us to come ashore. As they did not yet had the results of the PCR test, the nurse offered us to do another rapid test to set us free. That was great! Our rapid tests were negative so the agent could go and do the official check in for us. And that even in office hours so we didn’t have to pay over time. But the best part was, that the nurse offered us to get a booster shot. It was the same as in Grenada. The locals didn’t want to get vaccined and the shots couldn’t be kept forever. So we could benefit and got a Pfitzer booster. Boy were we happy that afternoon! We thanked the ladies, payed all our fees and as soon as we got our papers back from the agent we left the quarantine area and anchored at the other side of the bay. Our legs were very much looking forward to getting stretched, so we jumped into the rib and enjoyed our first stroll and beer ashore.
What shall I say? The joy didn’t last long. Tuesday morning Duffodil ordered Norbert to come in again. Strange, as she didn’t say why or if we needed to bring anything. Well, here comes the un-expected bummer. Norberts test result was positive. Shock! Why? How? I mean, we had hardly any contact to anybody the last days and actually weeks. And why am I not positive? Too many questions which coudn’t be answered. El Capitano returned a bit confused as they left him with this information and only told him to go back, stay on the boat, lay low and come back for another test on Friday. That all was very confusing. If Norbert would have been really positive why wouldn’t SVG arrival tell us exactly what to do or how long we have to quarantine or anything? Was I allowed to go ashore? And do I have to do another test? So many questions again no answers. In the end we asked SVG arrival what was the protocol. That was not the best decision we had made as they didn’t know anything about the result. They immediately ordered us back to the quarantine area and we guess that the nurse and Duffodil were told off allowing us at first to stay where we were. That was all SVG arrival did. No much further information, just nothing! It was terrible! We were in a very bad mood and very frustated. What a different it makes when you know how long you have to wait.
However, somehow we managed to cope with our situation with the help of a nice French couple who took our garbage and bought some groceries for us. Friday morning we got a whatsapp from Duffodil that the PCR test will be in the afternoon. Only 20 minutes later she called via radio that all persons in quarantine (there was another boat with 6 people) should immediately come ashore to get the test. It turned out that the nurse and Duffodil were trying to help to get us released earlier. With taking the swabs very early they could manage to send them to the labs already with the morning ferry to St Vincent. That was a very kind move as it gave us the chance to get the results maybe even the next day! El Capitano appologized to Duffodil and the nurse for our email to SVG arrival. He explained that it definitely wasn’t our intention to put them in any kind of trouble. She said not to worry and could understand our situation and worries. Our impression has been that Norberts PCR test result was a false positive and later we heard from other sources that the lab seems to face some challenges in regards to quality. I’s a pitty that you need to face these entry hurdles especially as SVG and the other Carribean countries a very dependent on tourism. On the other hand it’s critical to protect the local people from CV19 as best a possible. It’s a delicate balance act and we all hope that this is soon no longer necessary.
Eventually Saturday at 1pm we got the relieving call that El Capitano’s results were back AND negative! After 9 days of quarantine we were finally free to explore Bequia and the other islands. Yeaaah!