Thursday, July 2, 2020

Back in the USA

We are safely in Palm Beach, anchored just inside the Lake Worth Inlet. We had a peaceful and uneventful Gulf Stream crossing, leaving at around 7:40 this morning and arriving at 4:15 pm. We covered 78 nautical miles at an average speed of over 9 knots with the help of the Gulf Stream. We had hoped to go further but figured out there were few places to anchor just inside the Port St. Lucie inlet at Stuart, and that going further to Fort Pierce would have had us arriving after dark.

Tourists were finally allowed back into the Bahamas beginning June 15 for private boats and planes and beginning yesterday for airlines. Being allowed in required a negative Covid-19 test performed within ten days of arrival (shortening to 7 days next week) and submitting that test and answering some health questions on an automated website that issues by email a “Health Travel Visa”. You might recall that we were earlier required to get a negative test in May to apply for re-entry which was ultimately never examined because of a backlog of applications. So it’s been a little bit of a hassle, but well worth it to protect this poor nation.

It was good to see Division Belle yesterday after four months. Everything is basically OK although she is a little worse for the wear. The varnish didn’t do well baking in the Bahamas sun, the boat is quite dirty, and both our Bahamas courtesy flag and our Ford Plantation flag were bleached from the sun and shredded by the wind when we arrived. But there are two other issues to be dealt with: the air conditioner unit for the cabin area below doesn’t work at all (making sleep very difficult in this kind of weather), and the watermaker is not producing fresh water because of “high salinity”. Ordinarily I flush the watermaker with fresh water every two weeks, but it sat for four months without being flushed, so we might need a new membrane or other parts to get it back in business. 

Other than those issues, the boat seems fine and we are glad to be back aboard. Bimini has no cases of Covid presently, but many businesses are still closed. Walking around town a little, we did not see a single person without a mask. There have been no new Covid cases in the Bahamas for weeks, and we are hopeful that reopening for tourists does not cause them to have a new outbreak. The Bahamas are totally dependent on tourism.

We sought Customs approval of our re-entry using an app called “CBP Roam”, created for Customs and Border Patrol. For about 30 minutes it said: “Your arrival has been submitted and is awaiting review by a CBP officer.” Then it asked if I would join a video conference with CBP, but when I clicked OK nothing happened. After a phone call with Customs and two more tries, we were cleared into the country and are now called "Verified Travelers", which I think means no more video conferences. This will be a vast improvement over the old system where we had to appear in person at the Customs office, and the old, old system where we had to go to a designated marina and call, sometimes resulting in someone being sent to check us in in person.

We will be heading further north tomorrow.

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