I blame the beer.
And the Sint Maarten Yacht Club’s wifi code.
This is very clever of them: The wifi code is BUYMOREBEER – and you do feel obliged to, sitting on the deck under the Heineken umbrella trying to get to the British Virgin Islands.
The way things were going, It looked as though I might never reach the thousand palm-fringed anchorages and miles of white sandy beaches and some of the best snorkelling in the world. Originally, I didn’t intend to. I was going to Anguilla instead, which is just as nice but has contrived a series of charges designed to dissuade the charter fleets.
In the Virgin Islands, chartering is such big business that many of the vast catamarans in the glossy brochures no longer come with masts at all (if the clients aren’t going to put up the sails, why go to all that expense…)
And so I arrived in Anguilla’s Road Bay after the overnight sail from Martinique. I hadn’t even got the sailcover on when Customs & Immigration called on the VHF to ask why I had not filed my documents at least 48 hours before my intended arrival – oh, and by the way, if I set foot on the beach, they would fine me $200 for not having a negative COVID test.
Martinique hadn’t wanted any of that (and I didn’t even know I was going there until I arrived). So, I pulled up the mainsail again and sailed over to Anguilla’s larger neighbour, St Martin. One thing I have learned is that, the bigger the island, the smaller the bureaucracy.
St Martin is the French side. The Dutch side is called Sint Maarten – another of those lovely Caribbean stories: Apparently, the two nations had occupied opposite ends of the island and, not being terribly keen on fighting over it, decided to have a Frenchman walk from the north coast and a Dutchman walk for the south coast. Where they met, that would be the border.
So far, so good. It was just that the Frenchman was armed with a bottle of wine and the Dutchman with a bottle of Bols gin – and gin being somewhat stronger than wine, the Dutchman lay down for a kip some time before the Frenchman – and so the Froggies got the lion’s share.
Also, it meant I had to row all the way across the lagoon to the French side so I could use my Martinique SIM card. I had baulked at buying a Dutch one (so far I have Lebara from the Canaries, Africell from the Gambia, Unitel from the Cape Verdes and two different kinds of Digicell for the Caribbean – as well as dear old UW from the UK.)
That’s why I ended up on the Yacht Club’s wifi. The trouble was that the longer I spent online trying to make sense of the forms, the more beer I had to drink to keep the connection going – and the more impenetrable the BVIs Health Declaration form became. I had my negative COVID test – acquired from a man sitting in a van across the road – but could I find anywhere to upload it… unless that was part of the SailClear form.
Yes, that worked – except that every time I clicked “submit” a window popped up saying: “You have not uploaded health declaration forms which is mandatory to fill and upload for every individual who is arriving BVI.”
By this time I had downloaded four half-litres of Mr Heineken’s finest – which might explain why I gave up the whole idea and resolved to sail straight back to England in a huff. It might even have had something to do with my falling into the harbour on the way.
I woke up this morning to find dinner still on the table – that portion of it that wasn’t all over the floor.
After addressing the ship’s company on the evils of drink, I returned to the table under the umbrella and ordered something called a “Heineken 0.0”. It comes in a beer bottle but in fact is a fizzy concoction tasting almost exactly unlike beer. The good news is that you tend to drink it a lot more slowly.
Three hours (and three bottles) later, I had dealt with the health forms, confirmed that I had no infected crew members, stowaways, firearms, ammunition, animals or financial instruments and rewarded myself with “The best Bloody Mary on the Island”.
I thought I deserved it.