Caribbean cruisers confounded by conronavirus join up with the Salty Dawgs to sail home to the States in a huge, informal flotilla
By Lynn Hoenke
The Salty Dawg Sailing Association is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of sailors and cruisers who work together to make sailing safe and fun. Normally they organize rallies with lots of social and educational activities interwoven. Their big rally goes from Hampton, Virginia to Antigua in early November. During the cruising seasons they have periodic “rendezvous” and dinghy drifts. Then they rally back north in early May and meet up again for a New England or Canadian rally over the summer. It’s a great group of sailors who know how to sail responsibly and how to have a great time once they reach their destination.
But this year, things are different. When COVID-19 hit the Western Hemisphere and governments began to take the virus’ threat seriously most Caribbean nations closed their borders. The first was Trinidad on March 17. This is where hundreds of cruisers take their boats to ride out the hurricane season. Next, all the French islands refused any more boats. The other islands followed in quick succession; Grenada (another island safe from hurricanes), St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, the British Virgin Islands. All closed their doors and instituted stay-at-home orders of one degree or another. St Martin, which is half French and half Dutch, has even closed the border between the two sides. Some islands (like Antigua) are taking it week by week – “The curfew is extended until next Thursday, when we will review the policy”, others (like the BVI) have closed their borders until September. Cruisers who store their boats over the summer cannot get to their chosen island. Cruisers who return to the United States cannot get the crew they need to make the 10 – 16 day trip, with airports closed in the Caribbean.
SDSA to the rescue. This year’s Spring Rally north has been cancelled and the fun social activities have gone with it, social distancing and all. But the Association members, as well as other cruisers, are still in the Caribbean and need a way home. The Salty Dawgs have organized the Homeward Bound Flotilla, a rally-like event but without all the bells and whistles, to help stranded cruisers get to the United States. The volunteers of this cruising community have in very short order arranged weather routing, boat tracking, marina availability, and border assistance, as well as coordination with the US Coast Guard. Over 178 boats and counting have registered to participate in the flotilla. The first group of boats left on April 12 and others will follow every Sunday until May 20th. Many boats are gathering in the US Virgin Islands and other islands, and readying themselves trip. Vessels hail from the USA, England, Canada, Australia, Germany, BVI, Marshall Islands, South Africa, Gibraltar, Finland, St. Martin, and Switzerland. The anchorages are full, the moorings are all taken, and patience is wearing thin, but, by obeying local rules, working with the SDSA, and helping each other, the cruisers will make it back to their homes for some, and safe shelter for others.
The Salty Dawgs have stepped up and are doing an amazing job! The flotilla is open to non-members as well as members and the association has waived the usual fee but is asking for a monetary donation of whatever level people can do. Salty Dawgs – Sailors helping Sailors.
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