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Escape from St. Kitts

My partner Sharanne and I have been cruising on our yacht on a part time basis each year since 2013, spending between 3-6 months abroad each year, before returning home to Australia. This season we planned to sail through the Caribbean, starting at St Lucia in early February 2020, with the intention of completing our cruising season in the USA by the end of June 2020. We had planned to winterise our yacht in Safe Harbour, Oxford , Maryland, USA and fly home to Australia. There’s a lot more to the few bullet points below (enough to write a book), but I have excluded these as they are not predominantly emotional and not relevant to the facts.

18th March 2020

  • We were visiting the island of Barbuda, when we received a message from my partners nephew that the Australian government were recommending that Australians return home.
  • We didn’t have a great deal of information on the coronavirus at this time, due to the fact that you’re quite isolated from the outside world when you are cruising, with your focus on what is happening in the location you are in and most of the islands had low infection rates and were considered a relatively safe place to be.
  • After we received this message, we did a lot more research on what was happening. We decided to take the Australian Governments advice and head home.
  • We started looking for a safe haven to leave our yacht and head home. After a discussion with a friend who is a captain of a charter yacht in the Caribbean and has good knowledge of the islands, he recommended Sint Maarten/Saint Martin to leave our yacht.
  • We checked with Sint Maarten, they said the port was open.

19th March 2020

  • We arrived on the island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin.
  • We were very surprised when they refused us entry, as they had closed the border the morning we arrived, things were changing very quickly.
  • We asked if we could come ashore as we were low on food and water and were told not to come ashore and you must leave the island immediately. I told them we would leave when it was safe for us to do so.
  • The Coastguard checked us each day and put pressure on us to leave, even though the weather was very bad.
  • When we explained that we would run out of food and water inside a week, the answer was “We Don’t Care”….this is when I knew that the situation had turned serious very quickly, we were in an island chain of third world countries and people were starting to panic.
  • After making several phones calls to neighbouring Islands, we were told there would be no problems with entry into St Kitts and to head to SKMW (St Kitts Marine Works) on arrival as it was a port of entry, this looked like our best option.

22nd March 2020

  • The weather had been bad for the last three days and wasn’t easing, but we decided to sail across to St Kitts in very rough conditions, arriving around 14:00…Shar had been seasick and had collapsed in the cockpit.
  • The St Kitts Coast Guard, cleared us for entry, but as we pulled up on the lifting bay pontoon at SKMW Marina the local police waved us off and told us to go to the main port in Bassterre, several miles away.
  • After being processed in Bassterre (this took several hours) we were cleared through customs and immigration but placed in quarantine, with instructions to go directly back to SKMW and stay onboard for 14 days.
  • We were told if we left the boat we would be arrested and our yacht confiscated.

23rd March 2020

  • After discussions with a Senior Health Officer (Alexander Riley), we were told we could leave the island only if we could arrange flights, we would then be escorted to the airport by a Health Officer.
  • I arranged commercial flights with Silver Airways and United Airlines , for 27th March 2020. via Puerto Rico, the USA and onwards to London.
  • We had now run low on food and water ……..A young lady from the Health Department (Shani Richardson), who was assigned to keep an eye on our health, shopped for us and brought us some food and drinking water, enough for about a week, we were now reliant on Shani to help us. We couldn’t get and cooking gas, which was also running low.
  • The rest of the population was wary of us and were treating us like lepers as they thought we had the virus and had been placed in quarantine for that reason.

24th March 2020

  • We were told the St Kitts Government was closing the borders probably on the 26th March, so we changed our flights with Silver Airways and United Airlines to the 25th March.
  • Late in the afternoon on the 24th we had our USA ESTA Visas cancelled in a blanket cancellation by the US Government of ALL ESTA Visas. This stopped us from taking the flights on the 25th March ….An exit via the USA was blocked.
  • I then cancelled both the Silver Airways and United Airlines flights on the 25th.

25th March 2020

  • The St Kitts Government closed its borders at 23.59 on the 25Th March 2020.

26th March 2020 – 7th April 2020

  • St Kitts was in lockdown, borders closed, State of Emergency declared and curfews imposed.
  • The curfews restricted movement to daylight hours only with a 24 hours curfew on 6 of the 14 days of the curfew.

27th March 2020

  • I then booked a flight from Antigua (neighbouring island) with British Airways on 28th March, and organised a Charter with a company called WinAir to take us from St Kitts to Antigua, as I was told charter flights were permitted to fly.
  • By 17:00 the St Kitts Government hadn’t authorised our charter flight and WinAir said they were now closed for the weekend, the Charter would not be allowed to fly.
  • I then cancelled the British Airways flight and requested a refund. (as per their 24 hr cancellation policy)…... This was the last flight available out of Antigua, they had also closed their borders.

28th March 2020

  • At this point in time, we had limited internet access with poor transmission rates, relied on WhatsApp to make calls outside of the Caribbean region, as we only had a Caribbean mobile number.
  • We were reliant on our Health Officer (Shani Richardson) for food and drinking water. She bought us a little more food and water, but
  • Being confined to our yacht made it very difficult to make arrangements to get off the yacht and make our way home.
  • We had also made contact with the Australian High Commission in Trinidad and Government departments at home (via family contacts). All areas of Government were giving the same advice as we were getting from the “Smart Traveller” website, no other assistance was being offered, we had to make our own way home as best we could.

1st April 2020

  • After a discussion with the USA consulate in Barbados, they recommended we re-apply for US Visa’s as they will probably be granted. They confirmed the USA Customs and Border Protection did a blanket cancellation of all Visa’s as a result of the proclamation the President had made for visa entry into the USA.
  • We applied for new USA ESTA Visa’s, they were granted inside 3 hours….an exit via the USA was now open.

4th April 2020

  • We were told that the lockdown would be lifted on the 7th April, so I booked the first available flights with Silver Airways on the 10th April to fly from St Kitts to Puerto Rico
  • I also found flights with American Airlines for onwards travel to London, but held off booking these until the 7th April until the easing of restrictions was confirmed.

7th April 2020

  • We received notification from Silver Airways our flights on the 10th April were cancelled by the airline and I requested a refund.
  • The St Kitts Government extended the lockdown until the 16th April 2020, with a partial curfew on the 8th, 9th, 10th.
  • Our quarantine was due to end today, but because of a directive by the “Chief Health Officer”, stating.
  • o All persons on private vessels, must remain on their vessels until they either leave the island on their vessel or can arrange a flight and leave directly from their vessel to the airport.
  • Shani Richardson could not help us with food and water as the restrictions made it difficult for her to shop for her own family with long queues and limited supplies. At this point we were now low on food and had run out of drinking water, we were now drinking boiled non-potable tank water and were also running low on gas.
  • We considered sailing to another island, but as all the islands close by had closed their borders as well, we risked being stranded at sea without food and water and therefore putting our lives in serious jeopardy.

8th April 2020

  • In a final ditched effort, I contacted a charter company, Tradewinds Aviation and asked if they could do a charter from St Kitts to Puerto Rico…..They said they had an opening in their schedule that would allow a flight on the 9th April at 15:00.
  • I asked them to arrange the flight, but only if approval can be obtained for the flight from the St Kitts government before they depart San Juan to collect us. I had to pay for this flight with a friend’s American Express credit card (Alan Balmer), as they only took Amex or Wire Transfers as payment.
  • I made several calls and emails to contacts I had made by phone in the St Kitts Government. They said it was all dependant on approval by the ÇOVID-19 Task force, which was a group of senior ministers in the St Kitts government and approval was unlikely to be given in time.
  • I also booked flights with American Airlines from San Juan (Puerto Rico) to London.

9th April 2020

  • I had been in contact with James Dart (Consular Assistance) at the Australian High Commission in Trinidad… After an early morning call to James pleading for help, a call was eventually made by the Australian High Commission to the Chief Immigration Officer in St Kitts…he gave approval for our Charter flight at 10:50am.
  • By 12:30 the Charter Aircraft was in the Air…we had packed our bags in anticipation that the flight would go ahead.
  • Shani Richardson arranged for transport to pick us up at 13:30 and drop us at the airport, as the curfew was lifted during daylight hours on the 9th.
  • We went through normal exit formalities at the airport, including paying a departure tax.
  • When we finally lifted off, we don’t mind admitting a few tears were shed in relief.
  • On arrival in Puerto Rico, we were fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed by US Customs and Border control and allowed to go to the San Juan Airport Hotel for the night, before our onwards transit flights via the USA to London.
  • We booked a room in the Novotel London Heathrow Airport Hotel for our arrival in London.

10th April 2020

  • Up early for our 07:05 American Airlines flight 287 - from San Juan to Miami, didn’t sleep.
  • A two hour layover in Miami
  • The next leg was from Miami to Dallas Fort Worth – AA2567
  • Another two hour layover
  • We then boarded the Dallas Fort Worth flight to London Heathrow flight - AA50

11th April 2020

  • AA50 arrived early landing around 05:50 GMT into London Heathrow
  • We cleared passport control through the electronic passport control gates
  • As we were unsure of what reception we would receive on entry into the UK we were surprised that there were no Customs or quarantine formalities and walked straight through into the arrivals hall.
  • We then woke up a taxi driver sleeping in the taxi rank, who took us to the Novotel.
  • Once at the Hotel, I booked a flight with Qatar Airways for the following day 12th April from London to Perth, Western Australia departing at 15:05

12th April 2020

  • Taxi out to Terminal 4 Heathrow arriving well ahead of departure time around 11:45
  • Flight QR004 departed and arrived about an hour early into Doha.
  • A two and a half hour layover in Doha

13th April 2020

  • QR900 departed on time at 01:50 …..again we landed an hour early into Perth at 17.20 local time.
  • We were then processed through normal arrival procedures at Perth Airport
  • We were then given a health check and handed over to WA Police, loaded into buses and given a Police escort (including sequencing of traffic lights) to our Hotel in the centre of Perth.
  • We are now sitting in Quarantine for 14 days, locked in our room at the Westin Hotel, Perth.
  • Summary
  • Once we completed our quarantine period on the 27th April and were finally allowed to go home, it was 40 days since this gruelling journey started and we were forced to abandon our plans and head back to Australia.
  • Had we not been able to fly out on the charter flight that I organised, it would be a very different picture for us, still stuck on our yacht with very limited access to food and water.
  • As of the 28th April St Kitts is still in lockdown until 8th May, with likely extensions after this date.
  • I have attempted to cut out the emotional content from this timeline of events, but believe me, this has been a rollercoaster of a ride both physically and emotionally every step of the way. Particularly the final days before our escape, as our predicament became more and more desperate.
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