As I say goodbye to 2020, I find myself looking at the options for the winter of 2021 with a whole new perspective and experiences to draw upon. Many years ago, while working as a geologist, I had a VP of Exploration that always had his favourite coffee-stained mug with him – it read: “the time to look out is when things look up”. No doubt many of us believe it couldn’t get worse than 2020 was – so 2021 has to be better, right? Yet the dark skies of the coronavirus still cloud the horizon.
Based upon my first hand experiences last spring with lock downs and restrictions that were placed on cruising yachts, caution seems to be the best course of action. When the independent island states in the eastern Caribbean locked down last spring, many cruisers were caught in very difficult and restrictive conditions – with virtually no options. In many areas they were stuck for months. Therefore, I have decided to only take Oh! as far south as the Bahamas this winter. Typically the winter itinerary for Oh! has been to make a long passage from the Chesapeake area as far south as Antigua. I then spend a few months in the Lessor Antilles before working my way slowly back north to the Chesapeake Bay area of the US where Oh! is hauled out for the hurricane season. With all the uncertainties of a second wave of the corona virus yet to unfold, that is not an option this season.
At least in the Bahamas during the first wave I was still able to cruise and enjoy the March through June lockdowns with relative ease and freedom. Plus, I was in one of the most spectacular cruising grounds to be found. With over 100,000 square miles to cruise, 16 major islands and over 700 smaller islands and islets, the Bahamas are a magical place to sail, explore and, yes, even enjoy a prolonged lockdown.
So…even though things are looking up, with promising vaccines rolling out daily, as a cruising sailor in foreign waters, I still need to “look out”. There is still the possibility that very tight restrictions could return and borders could be shut again. At least in the Bahamas I can cruise with little or no risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Even if the country closes its borders, there are so many amazing places to cruise and enjoy, it would take years to explore them all.
In the meantime, traveling to the Bahamas by air is very low risk. There are direct flights from Calgary and Toronto and everyone on those flights must have a negative COVID-19 PCR test in order to be allowed to enter the Bahamas. So, you are boarding an aircraft with a bunch of passengers that have all tested negative within the past 4 days, with no stops, direct to Nassau. With the recent requirement to be tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding your return flight, the same scenario applies for the flight home – the only real inconvenience is the quarantine restrictions when returning to Canada. Yet even those are not so bad if you can work from home or are retired.
Once you arrive in the Bahamas, you can go directly to a resort or yacht and you are free to enjoy the islands. If you are staying longer than 5 days, you need to get a rapid PCR test on day five that gives results in just 30 minutes. As long as it is negative you just keep enjoying the warm clear waters and the spectacular colours that make this country so very unique. So, for guests coming to join Oh!, they can go straight from the airport to Oh! and we can immediately sail away to enjoy the Exumas. On day five, you would get the required second test at Staniel Cay. The results normally take 30 minutes and you can wait for your results in the famous 007 Thunderball Bar. Life really can be just that simple.
The other remarkable thing about cruising in the Bahamas this season is that everyone we meet on other yachts has also tested negative for the virus – not just once, but twice. Plus they have essentially been self-isolating for extended periods as they cruise throughout the area, so there is no hesitation to stop and mingle, greet other cruisers, or even invite them aboard. It is like living in a giant bubble isolated from the growing list of restrictions and closures people once again have to contend with, as the second wave of COVID-19 continues to grow around the world. It is almost as if the clock has turned back to the freedoms we enjoyed as cruisers prior to the coronavirus and worldwide pandemic. The only noticeable differences are:
- The requirement to wear a mask when ashore
- A huge decline in the number of yachts cruising the Bahamas
- As we cruise the Exumas, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the numbers of charter yachts and super yachts – but it is good to see the Bahamas sailing charter industry is active again.
Spacious Cruising Grounds
In Georgetown, Great Exuma Island, we counted only 12 yachts when we arrived – normally by December there would be well over 100 yachts in Georgetown’s Elizabeth Harbour. So far this year we have enjoyed entire anchorages all to ourselves. It is a real treat to walk those beautiful white sand beaches where the only footprints are our own. When the winds altered there were no scrambles to change anchorages. Most are empty, and you could easily fit all the cruising yachts into just one anchorage if required.
Over the Christmas season, Oh! cruised the Exumas as we ventured north to Nassau to pick up some parts. The plans throughout January to June are to explore some of the less-visited Out Islands of the southern Bahamas. If you are looking for a chance to get away from the northern cold, and want to experience cruising and mingling like we used to do pre-COVID-19, you can contact me through www.cloudstocoral.com. There are still some prime cruising times available. You can also charter bare boats from Moorings, Dream Yacht Charters and Navtours.
Just remember – the time to look out is when things look up…but that also means there may be some fabulous opportunities to pursue and great times ahead. In so many ways, it all depends upon our individual perceptions of risk and reward.
All the very best to everyone for 2021!
Cheers to all from Oh! in the clear blue waters of the Bahamas.