What to do for hurricane season?
Updated: Mar 25
"Our other dilemma has been where to spend hurricane season..."
We are unexpectedly in Martinique this week. Up until now we have been hosting our respective families, charging up and down the eastern Caribbean to collect cats and meet people. We had hoped to spend a little more time in the Leeward Islands this year, particularly to visit St Kitts and Nevis. However, logistics and planning for where we would be this hurricane season and as importantly, how we would work to earn the money for next season has to take precedence.
We said goodbye to Luciano’s sister last weekend. She had a long and convoluted trip back to Brazil. This is mainly the fault of the ridiculous requirements by the United States for people of certain citizenships to have a transit visa just for passing through their airports. This is a hugely bureaucratic process and the waiting times to get the visa are long - months. This doesn’t only affect individual travellers, but it is also having a detrimental effect on Caribbean economies. We were told by our guide up the Indian River in the north of Dominica that there used to be many Brazilian tourists in Dominica and now they are very rare. We strongly suspect this transit visa situation to be the cause. It took us a long time to find her a flight to the Caribbean that did not go via the United States. Eventually we found one, but it required her to stay for 22 hours in Panama City airport, not forgetting the other two stops she had in Barbados and Rio de Janeiro to get to the south of Brazil. There are multiple flights via the USA, so why do they require a visa just to travel through an airport - I know of no other country that requires this.
Anyway - she eventually got home and had had an amazing time. We all enjoyed Dominica immensely. Once she had left, we had to turn our attention to future planning. Last year we had flown home during hurricane season to work. This was great in relation to being able to see our families, but with the flights, the cost of flying the cats, rent, boatyard and paying for the cats to be looked after; we thought we could earn more money by trying to work remotely. The topography of the Caribbean means that fast internet is non existent. It would work for me doing online marking or tutoring as I could use a cellphone hotspot. However, for Luciano who will need to operate a machine remotely from the UK and handle heavy graphics files for his visual effects work, it would have been impossible. Step up - Starlink. You have probably heard of Starlink - the low cost satellite internet developed by one of Elon Musk’s companies that has been used in Ukraine. It is now available for campervans and people on sailing yachts are buying this to have fast internet on their boats. There is also a maritime version, but it is not affordable for the average sailor, although it is being used by big ships. It is supposed to be fast, although it works better at anchorage than in marinas due to less interference. Unfortunately we are going to have to use it in a marina as our batteries probably won’t be up to the increased energy usage and Luciano also requires an extra monitor which must be plugged into the mains. We were hoping to order it to Sint Maarten which has no customs charges, but they don’t ship it there, so we decided to head to Martinique to have it shipped here. Customs charges here are 8.5%, so not prohibitive and cheaper than paying a broker.
Our other dilemma has been where to spend hurricane season - we wanted to maximise the money we could save, but also be somewhere where we could comfortably live for 8 months and that has protection from hurricanes. We considered Martinique as this is where the marinas are the cheapest, but there is only one marina that has very good protection from hurricanes and it was fully booked. Plus it is still firmly in the hurricane belt and we would rather reduce our chances of a direct hit. Our insurance wouldn’t cover us there anyway. A second option we had been considering was Colombia - out of the hurricane belt and with Starlink working well there. It iss also city based, at Cartagena, so there would be plenty to do and diverse foods would be much more widely available and cheaper than the eastern Caribbean. However, as we researched the marinas in more detail, we realised that they all had a lot of wake from the constant fast ships that might make it a little uncomfortable to be working there all the time. In addition, while it is out of the hurricane belt, lightning storms are fairly frequent and we were worried about the risk to our electronics. Lastly, the temperature - it is very close to the equator and reportedly very warm. Whilst we could get a fan, it would be fairly uncomfortable for us and the cats, especially for such a long time period. And I have experienced this before - my first time in Cartagena when I backpacked in South America was the hottest I have ever been. I have only ever been that hot on one other occasion, in India. But eight months of stifling heat didn’t seem that appealing. Trinidad is also too hot to stay and work in and is industrial so there is less clean water access for swimming. The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curação), particularly the first two are quite small; So, we have decided to go back to Grenada.
The downside of Grenada is the costs. Marinas are expensive and customs duties if we need to order boat parts or anything else, are high. However, while there is still a risk of hurricanes, it is fairly well protected and the risk is lower than in Martinique or any other island north of it. The temperatures may be a little warm, especially in a marina where there is less breeze, but less stifling than Colombia. The other issue with Grenada is that the south coast, which has a lot of well protected bays and clean swimming water is not well served by public transport. There are no pavements and the roads are dangerous to walk or cycle on. For this reason, we have decided to pay a little more and stay in the marina in the capital city of St Georges where we can get buses anywhere, including to beautiful Grand Anse Beach and the city itself is walkable. There are supermarkets and chandleries available on foot. We will pay more by staying here, but if we are there for eight months, it will be less claustrophobic than being isolated in one of the southcoast bays. Being in a marina will also mean either of us can leave the boat without trapping the other person on the boat (as we only have one dinghy) as we would at anchorage.
So after much back and forth and a little disappointment that we haven’t seen more of the Leeward Islands this season, at least we have made some decisions. For our life onboard to be sustainable, we have to be able to work. We have to wait here in Martinique for our items to be delivered. Including expensive engine servicing kits that have to be shipped from America as our engine is an uncommon one. We really hope the Starlink will work in the marina - this is a lifestyle that has a lot of uncertainties. We have to install the Starlink and will then make our way southwards so that we can be in Grenada by the end of April and start work at the beginning of May. We’ve enjoyed meeting up with a couple we met in the Grenadine islands last year and we’re looking forward to spending time in some of the places we would have liked to have stayed longer last year, such as Bequia in the Grenadine islands.
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