When hurricane season starts to weigh heavily on cruisers’ minds prior to June 1st, most are deliberating what to do and where to go. There are several options but most boil down to: 1) stay on the boat and find a safe place where you can hopefully outrun any storms (i.e. Grenada), 2) haul the boat out, put it in a yard and go visit family, work or travel (take a break), or 3) stay close to a hurricane hole and hope for the best. Each option has its own set of risks and challenges, and some cruisers make those decisions based upon their own set of circumstances (staying in US territories to work, needing to fill the cruising kitty, family obligations and so forth).
As hurricane season comes to a close, many cruisers in the Eastern Caribbean are asking themselves, “What’s on the agenda for our next sailing season?”. There are countless options when you are in the Eastern Caribbean: sail back up the chain and come back down; head west to new frontiers, a la Panama and the Pacific Ocean; head west and then veer north either up the Pacific Coast of the US, or head north up staying in the Caribbean but going to Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba; to name a few.
This question inevitably comes up practically every day in conversations this time of year between cruisers. The response can validate or challenge our own plans as we listen and learn. On the one hand, some people just remain in one place (we have met cruisers in almost every locale with a good grocery store that have never left), many sailors like to stay in the Caribbean and just go up and down the island chain visiting old haunts and exploring previously unvisited islands, others are ready for new locales, and some really adventurous types want to circumnavigate the globe.
This time last year we had sailed slowly through the Bahamas and as far south as St. Thomas, but then we high tailed it to Grenada in July 2016 and stayed in Grenada last season. We were meeting lots of other cruisers along the way, and it was fun to see how many of them actually showed up at Camp Grenada. Then it was fun to head back up north to the Virgins, visiting with old friends again and meeting new ones along the way.
This year many of the people we met along the way have resumed dirt-dweller life as they only planned to cruise for one to two years. It’s hard to see our friends leave and sell their boats, and what’s even more interesting is their reactions to being back on land. There is definitely a part of most cruisers that really miss the life once they “swallow the anchor”. There is a definite tendency to want to stay close to the life for as long as possible; just as when you come back from a long needed vacation, you don’t want to slide back into reality.
Some of our friends have ended their cruising life due to unforeseen events. Some lost everything during the hurricanes as their boats sunk or were tossed around like toys during the two category 5 hurricanes of 2017, Irma and Maria. We have known two families that hit reefs in the scantily charted South Pacific and lost everything. Fortunately everyone is safe, others are less fortunate.
The destruction from the storms is also playing into the “what’s next?” There has been an outpouring from Grenada to assist in the rebuilding and safety of the people in Dominica. Several people we know in Grenada are planning to head north to the devastated islands to help with the rebuilding of the countries and territories. Other friends want to stay out of the way of visiting the islands as to not be a drain on their infrastructure. It’s a catch 22 unless you have a clear vision or plan. Sailing in those waters is also tricky right now. So many boats have sunk that charts are no longer reliable to understand what is below your keel. There has also been a reported danger about sailing in the waters of Dominica, as there was some piracy reported near shore. I believe this danger no longer exists, but with the sheer devastation their country went through, one can never be quite sure.
Some cruisers are just now returning from their sabbaticals, and others are spread out all over the Caribbean and the rest of the world. It’s amazing how small this collection of cruisers really is. When you arrive in a new harbor or anchorage, it’s always fun to look around and see which friends are already there.
So with all of that in mind, we have decided that we will head north again in order to reunite with friends we haven’t seen in a while; return to old haunts (we love Martinique – the food and prices are awesome); spend more time in Bequia and get some cosmetic work done on the boat; and visit some new islands or bays we haven’t been to before. The Caribbean is big enough that I really don’t believe only one season does it justice!