Our thought process kind of went like this: St. Vincent and the Grenadines? I’ve always wanted to go. Ah crap, 10-day quarantine required. St. Maarten? Looks like they have a high number of cases. Bahamas? Eh, it’s too cool in winter. Let’s see what the BVI are doing….
Admittedly, it’s hard to believe that you can quarantine on a yacht in paradise. It just doesn’t make much sense – you mean to say that COVID-19 hasn’t stripped all the fun out of everything? But when you think about it, it makes literally more sense than any other sort of quarantine.
Out on a yacht, you’re always outdoors. Your only contact with people is the 30 seconds to pay the $30 mooring fee in the evening. Even then, you’re outside with the wind blowing majestically into your face mask. No risk, unless you like licking money for some reason.
Compare that to staying in a hotel, where you’ll encounter other guests coming in-and-out, cleaners going from room-to-room, and who knows who was in your room last – especially if you’re at a “COVID-19 approved”/gold seal/orange dolphin room. Just wish they had a COVID-19 black light. On a boat, open all the hatches and you’re set. It’s up to you to be the maid, receptionist, mechanic, chef, and skipper.
British Virgin Islands Travel Restrictions: the small print
We were surprised by how organized and thought-out the system has been. There’s a process for every part of your travel, from the time you step off the plane to the time you’re “released” from paradise prison. The government of the BVI have not overlooked a single detail.
Interestingly (but not surprisingly), the best place to find the travel restrictions was on Horizon’s website. Although the website says to fill out the travel authorization form at least 24 hours ahead of departure, you should realistically complete it 48+ hours before.
We waited on our PCR test results until 24 hours before leaving, leaving us no option but to wait until then to submit the form. Waiting for the travel authorization to come in wasn’t the best part of my day. After breaking the refresh button on Thunderbird, I finally received it just 9 hours prior to my flight, right about at midnight.
Here are the places you can get a PCR test results in less than 72 hours so you don’t have to suffer the same fate I did.
Hop On a Jet… Ah Wait, a Turboprop
Unfortunately, the only way into the BVI is via Beef Island’s Terrance B Lettsome International airport. The ferry from St. Thomas is not running because the BVI keep delaying the opening of their seaports.
The test on arrival is done before you go to customs and immigration, and trust me, when they say “deep nasal swab”, they mean it. I honestly didn’t realize my nasopharyngeal passages went that far back. It’s a strange sensation watching a 6-inch swab disappear into your face. It’s like a magic trick, except that it’s awful.
After customs, there are two stands: one to confirm that your gold-seal/COVID-proof taxi is there, and one to cuff on your parole, uh, tracking device. You’ll get a wristband and some USB gizmo, which they will tell you to charge every night. Just a little heads up: just like your boat batteries after a couple hours of playing loud reggae, the tracking device does not stay charged the whole day. Sometimes, we realized this a bit late. Never heard a thing about it.
The Process of Quarantining in the BVI
For the first four nights, you’ll be restricted to certain anchorages. Let’s just say, this is your chance to explore new places in the BVI you never thought of (and never desired) seeing before! On day 0, your arrival day, you’re even more restricted. I don’t really know anyone who has the time to go beyond Peter Island the first night anyways…. Norman if you’re ballsy.
One point to make: we didn’t notice the approved “ABC” anchorages, all on the north side of Peter Island. Wish we had seen that before things started going “swell”, if you catch my “drift”.
The first four days, you are limited to 50 feet from the boat. If you want to hit the beach, better park close. Luckily, that’s not hard to do when there are only 4 sailboats active in the BVI, total.
You’ll need to provision the boat for your first 4 days, so make sure to order some extra rum. That painkiller isn’t going to make itself!
COVID Testing in the BVI: Part Deux
For the day 4 test, you’ll (unfortunately) have to head back to Nanny Cay. You’ll arrange the details the night before, as soon as you receive your appointment confirmation. Once again, this usually (and strangely) arrives after 9PM. Hope that’s not past your bedtime.
You can join a party bus/collective taxi that’s included in your $175, or talk to Horizon Yacht Charters, who will get you a “gold-seal” taxi for a little extra coin. Why would you want to pay extra? It’s simple. If you hit the COVID jackpot and someone on your collective taxi reads positive, you’ll get the chance to enjoy a parallel quarantine with them. I think $24 is worth avoiding that risk.
We already had our brain cells taken out before 10AM, with enough time to have some extra provisioning delivered to us and hit the road to our “approved” anchorage just off of Little Jost Van Dyke.
The next morning (before 9AM), we already had our results and “release from quarantine” statement. The first thing we did was take down that ugly yellow flag on the port side. The second thing we did was… well, nothing.
Hands Up! Says the Police Officer…
To get your tracking device removed, you have to head to the police station. We decided this was a good opportunity to create our own personal Jost Van Dyke tour, stopping at White Bay before turning ourselves into the customs and immigration station in Great Harbour. Unfortunately, I don’t have any mug shots to prove it.
From then on, you’re a free goose. Enjoy the BVI of 30-years past, plus a couple mooring balls and nautical charts. We learned the hard way that this is good and bad. Yay, I don’t have to wake up at 5AM to get a mooring ball at Cooper Island. Aw, the Beach Club is closed. Yay, there’s room at the Bitter End Yacht Club! Aw, they cut all the pendants off and haven’t nearly finished construction. I think you see where this is going.
At the end of the day, sailing is still sailing, and this is about the best sailing you can do. Many things have changed but the wind, the reefs, the sun, and the sea haven’t. Enjoy the 11 days of chartering for the price of 7, enjoy seeing nature unencumbered by noisy tourists, and most of all, enjoy the fact you can still do this in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ll give the BVI a new name: Beat Virus Intelligently.