Day #267 – A decision not to cross the Atlantic in 2020

It has been already two weeks since we left Cuba – since we have been ‚thrown out of cruisers paradise‘ (that is another story). We are now with our small flotilla of four boats plus 30 other boats in the anchorage of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Also the cruisers free movements has grinded to almost a complete standstill. Since our arrival, only three boats have been arrived here – or left towards the US or Europe. It is a good place for a quarantine: We get all kinds of groceries, fuel, and we are safe.

A shelter bay, temporarily and under curfew

Isla Mujeres seems to be a hospitable place – but we cannot confirm this yet. In times of the plague all boaters need to refrain -officially- from any fun activities. Padeling the SUP around the boat is such. Snorkeling on the reef and the wrecks, a stone throw from our boats, as well. Kids are not allowed to step on land – no pool, no ice cream, just homeschooling. But I guess this is what everybody has to suffer these days. The priest of Isla Mujeres convinced the Alcalde of the island to put a ban of alcohol in place – no fun for the grown-ups, either.
The bay has very poor holding for the anchors (one feet mud over coral) – it takes a blow of 25kn (which is not a lot) to make two or three boats in the anchorage dragging. Dragging anchor is one of the greatest annoyances for cruisers: Imagine, you have fixed your cupboard with all your books, photos and souvenirs over your bed with excellent fasteners into a questionable wall. One day, out of the sudden, the cupboard starts to move loose… first slowly… and if you don’t notice it early enough, it smashes BAAAMM onto your bed, with all the heavy books and photo frames. During day time, this might create an extra effort for you (i.e. tiding up) but is not necessarily dangerous. But at night, the same event could be life threatening. Why dragging anchor at night is dangerous? Because you sleep while the boat might get lose, starts drifting and might be thrown on a reef, or onto another boat, which cause damages to the boat, and, in some cases, the boat could even sink. Dragging anchor at night ruins your sleep, for many nights, since the trust in the anchor gear, the fastener to the ground, is gone.
In Isla Mujeres, every boat has dragged at least once within the last two weeks. It feels like someone wants to keep us on our toes, speaks to us: „Don’t make yourself comfortable here – you need to carry on, soon… “.
But where to go? Cuba, Belize, Guatemala, South Florida, Texas – closed. The Bahamas and Bermuda – closed as well. The Azores – only refueling and re-provisioning, and then carry on. Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe – in lock-down mode. With no clear signals of improvements within the next three to four weeks. Panama is an option…
Meanwhile, all crews of the boats in the anchorage are hanging in their hammocks, killing time. Every hour or so, a dinghy is speeding somewhere. Some are busy with boat maintenance chores. The board yard close by, which we have asked to haul-out ARGO for a bottom paint job, is closed and remains closed thru end of May.
Other crews update their blogs, CV’s, tax filings or insurance policies. Some boats which are anchored close to the WIFI router watch Netflix. Somebody is taking a swim, improving his stroke. Another person is working out on the deck.
It is sunny and hot, rarely less than 28°C. Not a lot to do. Dull days are passing in almost perfect absence of memorable experiences. We are all waiting for things to improve.

Boats are leaving from Eastern Carribean to Azores

Our Norwegian buddy boat MAGICUS left this week from Puerto Rico, heading back to the Oslo fjord. This is a family with three kids, the oldest is 12 years old on a 43 foot Jeanneau. Boat and crew a quite similar to ARGO.
The distance to sail from Puerto Rico to Azores is approximately 3.000nm. The Azores receive boats for refueling and re-provisoning. But no foreign cruisers are allowed ashore as of today. No stretching the legs in a hike in the mountains. No hanging out at the pool. No visit of the Azores – it is a technical stop over only. After a rest of a few days in the marina one is supposed to carry on.
The weather window on this route across the Atlantic has just opened up since the Azores high is strong and south and will protect them from any nasty front and ugly winds, at least for the next week or so. MAGICUS took a quite early chance, leaving in the early second half of April.
Best time for a crossing on the Azores-latitude (around 40° North) is May and June. The North Atlantic as of today is quite stormy ocean on these latitudes. You can see this on our tracking page, if you zoom out.
By the time of this writing (Friday evening), first yachts have arrived in the Azores. On Sunday, they must continue with tanks topped up and fridges refilled.

ARGO stays put

The departure of MAGICUS reminded us that our departure is coming up, too. But all our plans are out of the window with the World in lock-down. Picking a route and date for an Atlantic crossing West to East is one of the most exciting and nerve-wrecking activities as a cruiser. With a World in lock-down this activity is epic.
These have been our original plans: We planned to spend two months in Cuba, get ARGO ready for the crossing in a marina in Varadero, Cuba. We had arranged crew to join us between Cuba and Spain, with two crew changes underway, since we have good experiences sailing ARGO on long passages with three watches. We had planned one stop-over in Bermuda and one in Azores, not only for crew changes and re-provisioning, but also to relax, enjoy and travel the islands.ll
After the closure of Bermudas in early March we planned to skip this stop-over and sail up to Beaufort, NC, as our starting point for the 2.500 nm passage to Azores. Beaufort is 1.100nm from Isla Mujeres. The Gulf Stream would push us with 1 to 3kn. Our hope was, that by end of May we could fly in a Third Watch to New York or Charlotte. This would require us to leave Isla Mujeres begin of May. Which is next week.
Now, we took the last week a closer look on the situation in the United States. The US remain open and receive foreign vessels. The known ‘EU travel ban’ applies for persons which travel from Europe. Since we have not been in Europe since August last year, plus we hold valid visa, entering the United States, e.g. in North Florida, would be possible for us.
But this can change every day, since the Governor of Florida might take a different approach than the Governor of North Carolina, with regards to cruisers, especially those who are non-US citizens. Sailing to Beaufort, NC would mean taking a chance: we could be pushed out at some places or put on quarantine anchor for several weeks. A seamless travel up North seem unrealistic, as of today.
We always wanted to have a Third watch for the long passages. We can sail ARGO as a family – we have sailed just this year over 2.500nm just the four of us. We could sail to the Azores. But it is much more fun to sail with other people on the long passages, to share the experience, the joy and the work. We would love to have a Third watch for the passage.
To get the Third watch to Beaufort, NC by end of May does not look very promising, either. The boarder between the two brothers Canada and US remains closed thru mid May. Now, how realistic is it that the ‘EU travel ban’ gets lifted by end of May?
A direct crossing from Isla Mujeres to Spain, which is still in lockdown, would also mean to take another chance: Currently, it would be impossible for us to check-in in Cadiz, as planned and then to sail up the Spanish coast. Currently, all movements of private vessels are prohibited. By the time of our arrival in June the situation might have improved, but we don’t know this for sure.
When we arrive in Barcelona, in July or August, we don’t know if we can carry on with our land-life, with schools re-open, being reunited with our friends and family, pursuing our careers. Would this be the main reason to come back home?
To avoid to get stuck somewhere on our way, either in United States, Azores, Spain or any other country, we would need to sail the 5.700nm (or 10.600km) from Isla Mujeres back home to Barcelona in approximately 40 to 50 days nonstop. With two watches only. With no clear perspective, that we can carry on with our land life.
We wont sail as a family 40-50 days into an unclear future, taking a lot of chances while we have still a lot of other options on hand. We will follow the general recommendation and stay put until conditions for cruising and travel improve. This might take some time, still.
ARGO will not cross the Atlantic this year.

Hurricane season

Not leaving the Caribbean this year requires us to come up with a plan for the hurricane season.

The hurricane season starts in June and lasts until October. Hurricanes strike in the Caribbean between 12° and 30° North, roughly. This includes all places we have visited since January (just look on our tracker). Typical hiding places are Trinidad, Guyana, Guatemala, Panama or the US East Cost. For this year, a very active second half of the season is forecasted.
We need to leave Isla Mujeres by June avoid the hurricanes. We can move South or North, or we could bring ARGO into a hurricane hole, for instance here in Isla Mujeres – which is the cheapest, but also the most risky solution.
We don’t want to take chances. The insurance requires us to leave the hurricane zone. We will wait until Guatemala re-opens.

Five reasons for not crossing the Atlantic in 2020

  1. While the World is in lock-down, neither traveling nor cruising is possible, reasonable or enjoyable. All countries are impacted and take measures. We could move with our boat across the oceans, but getting from A to B in the shortest time is for freighters, delivery crews or regatta boats, but not the point of our Atlantic Circle, right?
  2. It is not the time for us rushing home. We talked with our school back home – “normal” in-room schooling over a full year will be possible when a vaccine is available. Until then, the the uncertainty in the World remains. We are already in a good spot and stay put. And healthy.
  3. We handled ARGO ourselves for the most part of our Atlantic Circle. We can sail ARGO as family across the Atlantic. But we have 100% more fun as a family in sharing long distance passages with others, with a Third Watch. We had so much fun sailing from Canaries to the Capverdes with Jens and Eike. Or from Capverdes to Martinique with Rauschi, Stocki and Hannah. We want to sail with Kartsen, Keule, Dünni, Lukas, Jorge and Romy – as planned. Once global travel is feasible, again, we will get a Third Watch for the long passages.
  4. Plus, as of now we have several alternatives to crossing the Atlantic: we can escape for the hurricane seasons to the North or to the South, with Guatemala being currently the most attractive location. We can leave ARGO behind and get her later back over the ocean. Or we could continue traveling for another year. We don’t know yet. All depends on the developments within the next weeks.
  5. We have sailed about 10.000nm and have visited 18 countries. But honestly, this has been quite a rush. We could have done the same distance in double the time. Only since the lockdown, we move slowly, spending days and weeks in the same location. And we enjoy it a lot. We want to finish our Atlantic Circle, in 2021. The sail down to Guatemala or Panama is very promising with many small islands worthwhile a visit. With tons of Mayan history. We have not seen a lot of Cuba. And to sail the Atlantic with Bermuda and Azores open, for a dive and a hike, will complete the circle.

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