Stranded in St Lucia

Thursday 19th March, 10.30am, on board SV Ecce Diem, anchored in Rodney Bay, St Lucia

What a crazy world we find ourselves in. I arrived here in St Lucia on Saturday morning, having waved goodbye to Gill and John from a small ferry leaving Martinique, to join Al on his 45ft Passport, Ecce Diem, planning to sail north through the islands.

All packed and ready for the early morning ferry
Another farewell from a ferry dock. Waving goodbye to Ben from the ferry in Cadiz seems more than 2 months ago!

However, in the 5 days since I arrived here, the island chain has shut down, as one after the other, each island has closed its borders to all vessels in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

My plan had been to sail north via Dominica to Antigua, to meet up with some long lost relatives, then find a boat sailing back to Europe, but none of that is possible anymore.

Rules and guidelines have been changing on an hourly basis, meaning that some boats have sailed away from one island only to find that they are denied entry at their destination, and the island that they just left won’t let them back in. For some boats, this is not a huge problem – it is essentially not so different from the ocean passage I just made, being self-sufficient whilst bobbing around at sea, but only if you are already provisioned for up to 2 months, or maybe longer. Being stuck out at sea is not a risk that Al and I are willing to take, so now we are here at anchor in St Lucia, allowed to leave but not to return, and unable to visit any other islands.

Al had intended to sail his boat back to the US this spring to get it out of the hurricane belt, but can no longer count on stopping anywhere to reprovison, refuel or top up on water, or even being allowed to re-enter the states. He would need crew from the US (or with a current visa and clean recent travel history), but no one is allowed to fly or sail in to help, so he is now planning to haul the boat out here, ending his first cruising season early and hope that St Lucia maintains its current hurricane-free record for another year.

So what do I do next?

As I see it, I have three options:

1) Fly back to the UK

There are still (limited) flights from St Lucia to the UK, so it is not impossible, but it doesn’t make sense to me to to leave somewhere relatively safe via public transport to a country and region in the grip of the pandemic. There have only been 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 here, both from foreign travellers who were immediately quarantined and no community transmission so far. Anyway, I don’t want to fly, and what would I do when I got home?

2) Try to find another boat still planning to sail home and try to join them

I have been in touch with a boat sailing up the island chain and back to the UK via Canada, Greenland, Ireland and Norway, and had hoped to join them somewhere along the chain. But they now have the same problem of not being able to stop anywhere.

They are currently in St Vincent and the Grenadines, so I could potentially fly down to join the boat, but again, do not want to fly unnecessarily and am wary of leaving one place to meet up with others who can no longer reach me and being stuck somewhere new. So for now, that option is out too.

3) Stay in St Lucia

It’s a beautiful island. Here in Rodney Bay, we are surrounded by wooded hills. Although the border is closed, at the moment the shops and restaurants are still open and well stocked (except for soap…) Everybody speaks English, and there are plenty of beaches, forests and waterfalls to explore.

My view from Ecce Diem (St Lucia Marine Police boat just out of shot – intercepting any new boats entering the bay)

I have signed up to workaway, a website which links up volunteers with hosts who need help with farming, gardening, childcare, building, managing ecolodges etc. Volunteers offer help in exchange for food and accommodation. There are a few hosts here on the island, and I’m hoping that at least one will be happy for me to stay with them a while.

So it looks like I’ll be experiencing the Caribbean from land rather than sea for the foreseeable future. The great joy of having such a vague original plan was that this does not feel a loss in the slightest, but a wonderful opportunity to experience something new.

As confusing and unsettling as the past few days have been here, with the world changing around us, I am very aware of the incredibly fortunate position I am in. There are far worse places to be stuck than on a Caribbean island. And the plus-side (actually one of the many) of having made myself effectively unemployed and homeless is that I have no work to lose and no rent or mortgage that I am unable to pay.

I have so many wonderful friends who are self-employed and being hit so hard by all these closures and cancellations, or stuck at home with their children, and relatives who are increasingly socially isolated, and my heart goes out to you all.

If you can, support your small local businesses, call your friends and families, and share the love (and soap and toilet roll).

When I’ll be back home seems even more uncertain now, but I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and visiting all my friends to buy the delicious food they produce, eat at their tables, and go to their gigs, workshops and classes as soon as I can.

Big love – X

5 thoughts on “Stranded in St Lucia

  1. As usual Mariel, despite your problems, you have come up with a “cunning plan”! You are so resilient and as you say, there are worse places to be stuck just now. It’s very surreal back here in the UK.I hope you find a good placement and keep us all informed as to what happens next on your adventure. Love Jennifer xx

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  2. Hi Mariel

    Sorry to hear you’re stuck – but as you imply, there are worse places to be stuck in! I hope you can get ashore and do some of that work you mention. Take care, look after yourself – and don’t get ill. 😷

    Lots of organised sailing here is being cancelled and I suspect marinas etc. will soon be closed too – so no disorganised sailing either. I shall have to stick to gardening (if we’re allowed out) and DIY.

    When I posted my last comment on your blog I somehow managed to get my password into the user name slot. Apparently it’s not possible for me to delete it, but you can – please could you do so?

    Hope to see you when you eventually get back

    All the best

    Steve

    ________________________________

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