Bahamas closed to Americans? Not exactly…

Oh Mondays, you’ve been so much more fun this year. And by fun, I mean keeping me on my toes more than I’d asked.

On July 20, the Bahamas announced they were limiting international travel due to localized outbreaks:

International commercial flights and commercial vessels carrying passengers will not be permitted to enter our borders, except for commercial flights from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. This will come into effect as of Wednesday the 22nd of July 2020 at midnight. Private International flights and charters for Bahamians, residents and visitors will be permitted. Pleasure craft and yachts will also be permitted.

Bahamas Tourism Website

This announcement specifies the closure applies to commercial airlines and vessels, private charters and flights will still be allowed.

Keep calm. It’s still on.

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Doing what we can

We’re back! Well, as much as we can be at the moment anyway. Juliet resumed limited charters on June 6 to the Florida Keys, and it was nice to be back out on the water again. The following three charters followed suit with small groups, limited crew, and more Florida Keys – thank goodness the weather was gorgeous, we never get that lucky on regularly-scheduled Keys charters! We thought we might be able to squeak out a trip to the Bahamas when they announced their soft opening June 15, but the testing requirements were logistically not feasible in the time frame we were given. And we were hoping that their official reopening on July 1 would yield an easier window…

But the official word from the Bahamas is that the borders are open and they are excited to welcome tourists again, but until further notice, they will be requiring negative COVID tests to enter the country. All travelers are required to have a negative COVID-19 PCR swab test taken within 10 days of travel, and results digitally submitted to the Ministry of Health to obtain a travel visa. We had our first successful Bahamas entry on July 5 so we can attest that it is doable, and it is so good to be back.

Logically you might question that timeline – so the test was negative on day 7, but what if you then are exposed 5 days out, what then? No, it’s not perfect, far from it. But it is the best the Bahamas can do right now to try to jump start their tourism-reliant economy while trying to protect their citizens from folks coming from areas that have wide-spread COVID-19 community transmission. It is more of a hurdle than a fail-safe, discouraging an unrestricted mass-exodus from the nearby states in the US. If someone does come down with a serious case of COVID-19 while in the Bahamas or transmits it to someone who lives there… their medical system cannot handle a major outbreak. If you’re feeling symptomatic, do not travel.

Yes, we all need a break, but not at the expense of Bahamian citizens’ health and well-being. And even though we as a group on Juliet do not touch land, the captain does, and the captain interacts with all passengers and crew before doing so. So this testing requirement does include us. If you are booked with us on a trip this summer, assume that this testing procedure will be our New Normal until told otherwise. Look into how and where you can get tested, what the turn-around time is for results, and plan accordingly. You will receive detailed information 2 weeks prior to your trip’s departure. If this process is not feasible for you, please reach out to the office and we’ll chat about options.

There may be weeks this summer that we are scheduled to head to the Bahamas and cannot due to local testing procedures, results taking longer in some parts of the country, or some counties not allowing asymptomatic testing to prevent a drain on local resources. Those weeks we might get rerouted to the Keys again. We’ll do our best to get you away, wherever that may be. We’re being as flexible as we can, and we appreciate your patience while we navigate this new ocean. And of course, this is all subject to change – thanks for bearing with us!

Fair winds.

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Making progress!

Signs of life are starting to return to the streets and states around the country are slowly reopening their economies for business in whatever this new normal will be. We’re still on standby but here is the latest update:

Miami is beginning the reopening process with many marinas reopened May 18 along with the bulk of other non-essential businesses. Many restrictions on occupancy are still in place, including limiting charter boats to 10 total individuals on board, and our dockage location is not yet open to commercial operations. Also, according to the emergency order categorization we believe we fall under hotel and travel lodging, which have not yet been allowed to reopen but is anticipated for June 1.

The Florida Keys announced they will be reopening to tourism on June 1. If this lines up with hotel also reopening in Miami-Dade, we could be on track for restarting charters in some capacity in early June with the Florida Keys as the destination to start.

As Bimini went into full lock-down for 2 weeks over recent unexpected spreading of Covid-19, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas announced over the weekend that the country anticipates they could reopen for commercial travel on or before July 1. It is still unclear what that means for commercial boating as flights were the only thing mentioned in the address. We hope to be able to return to the beauty of the Bahamas by late June, early July.

In the next few days we’ll be reassessing what traveling on Juliet will look like as we reopen. Not too much will change – our sanitation protocols were already in line with CDC guidance – but some things will as we adjust to abide by local and federal requirements to open our doors and remain in operation. We ask for your help and thank you in advance for keeping us compliant if you are coming on board this summer.

Thanks to everyone for the kind words, encouragement, and overall understand and compassion these past few months. This virus might be terrible and confusing, but it has shone a light on the good that is in the world through all of your kindnesses.

Fair winds.

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When are you going to open again!?

We are just as antsy as anyone to get back out on the water, and believe us, we are ready to go at a moment’s notice. But there are a few things standing in our way.

While most of the state of Florida is resuming business as usual in early May, the city of Miami is keeping non-essential businesses closed as of this writing until further notice. That puts a bit of a damper on us being able to dock the boat (marinas are considered non-essential), never mind board passengers, provision, etc. Once that is lifted…

The Bahamas has extended it’s State of Emergency until May 30. This means no visitors, sea ports are closed to all private vessels except essential trade, and all hotels and resorts are closed until further notice. They have released a 5-phase plan for reopening the country, and tourism falls into phase 5. There is no time-table set, though some family islands are in phase 1b as of this writing.

If Miami reopens but the Bahamas doesn’t, we can just go to the Florida Keys, right? Not exactly. The Keys will remain closed to tourists and visitors through the end of May at least. Plus Keys trips only work in close-to-perfect weather, which is never guaranteed. It’s a good alternative, not a great only option.

But we don’t touch land, so can’t we go either location because we’re so low risk? Yes, we’re lower risk than most tourism, but if something were to go wrong – we had a medical or mechanical emergency – we would have a long, slow haul back to Miami or risk putting an undue burden on a location that has made it explicitly clear they are not prepared for visitors.

This is hard. This is frustrating. But this will change and we will feel the wind on our face and the salt water on our dive suits as soon as we are able. Hang in there!

Fair winds.

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Stay Safe and Sound – a COVID-19 Update

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe and have a good support system to get you through this event. As you might have assumed, we were unable to run any charters in April this year. The governor of Florida issued a state-wide “Stay at home” order for the entire month of April, expiring April 30. There are also federal regulations against gatherings of 10 or more people through April 30, Miami has shut down all non-essential businesses, and Juliet has been denied dockage anywhere for the duration of the local Miami emergency order due to all marinas being ordered closed, no exceptions. Add to that the Bahamas has a instituted a complete travel ban (tourists and Bahamian Citizens), and south Florida has put restrictions on all recreational boating.

Obviously we are at the mercy of all of that, plus the fact that it continues to be much safer for everyone to stay home and try to reduce the spread to allow our health care systems to keep up. Whether or not any of that will change come May…? We’ll leave that to the experts, and will sit and await that decision. While we’re hopeful we can all get out of the house and out on the water soon but we are also realistic that it may not be an option. If you are traveling with us this May and haven’t already heard from us or your dive shop that is organizing your trip, please feel free to get in touch, our office is open and here to answer your questions.

If you’re curious about where Juliet is now: after returning to Miami on April 3, the boat made the long trip around to the Gulf side of Florida near where the owner lives to ride out the chaos until the world is safely open for business again. Juliet and her skeleton crew (including Rico!) are safe and sound anchored in a protected canal, and have a couple of alligator friends who visit them regularly to keep them company.

We appreciate all of your kind notes, phone calls, and social media engagement, it’s bringing smiles to our faces. We’ll get back out on the water soon, but until then please stay safe and healthy and smart.

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Trying to get home

To our Juliet Family;

We are all well-aware of the global situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. As of right now, we have no plans to cancel any upcoming charters but things are changing daily and we fully expect to reevaluate that plan when the boat returns to Miami after the Repositioning trip.

Juliet and crew are currently on their way back from Puerto Rico to Miami. They will be traveling through the Bahamas to return to Miami by April 3. By then we will have an idea of how the Bahamas is handling the pandemic in terms of international vessel travel, and how the US and Miami are handling US-flagged vessel entries and where the world stands on the pandemic. It also give 2 weeks’ time for things to change, and by now we all know a lot can happen in two weeks – some of us we went from “Things are mostly fine!” to “Don’t leave your house, your entire state is in lock down” in a matter of 8 days. While we would like to hope things will look much better by then, we realize that’s an optimistic and possibly unrealistic expectation.

We completely understand that some of you may be considered At-Risk, you have loved ones at home you are trying to keep safe, you are trying to keep your community safe, and/or you physically cannot get on board due to travel restrictions. If you have plans to travel with us between now and April 20, please contact me and we will do what we can to turn the situation around and get you rescheduled. We are working with folks on a case-by-case basic starting with our first three Bahamas trips in April. If you have plans to travel with us in beyond those dates, we know the uncertainty is painful but we ask you to please be patient while we handle the trips that come before yours.

Thank you for your support, patience, and understanding in these crazy-feeling and uncertain times. Support your neighbors and your local businesses as much as you can while we all wait for the dust to settle, and don’t forget to revisit pictures from your previous diving trips to get out of your own head for a bit and get your mind underwater. We’ll be posting lots of links to virtual aquarium tours and other fun distractions on social media in the coming days to try to help.

Please stay safe, healthy, and sane,
Everyone at Juliet Sailing and Diving

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A September to Remember

September did not start out on a great foot for the diving industry – both locally and nationally. Between Hurricane Dorian decimating the most northern islands of the Bahamas and a fellow liveaboard boat burning to the waterline, it feels like we’ve been in mourning since before Labor Day and not sure how best to go about life as usual when it’s everything but.

The California boat fire had everyone in the community devastated, feeling lost and vulnerable, not the least of which were operators like ourselves. Collectively we spent days wondering could it happen to us? and reassuring ourselves that we have all safety protocols in place. But also we spent the following days reassessing and reevaluating. Yes, we meet USCG safety standards here but we could exceed then an increase safety by doing this, or that. We designed evacuation layouts for all the cabins, are assessing where we can put fire extinguishers inside all of the cabins in case they are needed to escape in an emergency, we are reevaluating the pre-departure safety briefing to make sure we are covering absolutely everything that needs to be covered without being completely overwhelming to those who are new to liveaboards. It’s a balancing act and we’re doing our best to find our way in the dark so you never have to.

Hurricane Dorian hit close to home, both literally and figuratively. Only a few miles to the south and our friends and family in Bimini could have met the same fate as Grand Bahama and Abaco so in that sense we count ourselves lucky, but remembering that there are hundreds of thousands of Bahamians who cannot. We are doing our best to turn our fortune into opportunities to help those who lost everything by sending thoughts and prayers and money and generators and water purification tablets and toiletries and more money.

The sun sets on another day where we can count ourselves lucky but keep in mind what we can do for those who cannot

Hurricane season seems to get busier and scarier every year. Today there is a massive Climate change strike happening all over the world because people are seeing these changes and recognizing that they are causing life-altering destruction and that these changes will soon be irreversible. We see it every day under water and above as we run from storms, notice even small changes in weather patterns or fish stocks and behavior.

For now the world is still here and intact, and we’re going to enjoy it, as well as educate as many people as we can how they can help preserve it. And we hope you’ll make a pledge to do the same. Take time to talk to people about good choices, carbon footprints, plastic consumption, make donations to help those in need (see below). Do whatever small things you can that add up to one large movement against burning it all down.

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Spring Hammerhead Dives

Image Credit Neal WatsonWe’re so excited to announce a new collaboration between us and Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center this April. We get a lot of inquiries about baited shark dives, cage diving with Tiger sharks, and doing Hammerhead feeds – probably because we operate 9 months out of the year in the Bahamas where the sharks are notoriously plentiful! We’ve always had a policy of no-feed shark dives, not to mention that we like to leave the expert diving to the experts. Bahamian operators have been diving with sharks in their native waters for decades and have worked hard to get it perfect. We typically recommend these operators to folks exclusively interested in these kinds of shark dives.

However, we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun! In April, we’re teaming up with Neal Watson’s team to bring you to the sharks on Juliet. Our trips will run as normal – departing from and returning to Miami, diving our usual sites around Cat Cay, Orange Cay, and Bimini. But for one afternoon after lunch, you’ll be transferred over to Bimini Scuba Center’s boats for an experience of a lifetime!

Starting at 1pm, you’ll be briefed on the details of the dive and send down to the site where the sharks will be primed and ready. From there, you’ll dive with Great Hammerhead sharks for as long as you like – until either air, bait, or light runs low. Afterwards, it’s back on Juliet for dinner and a night dive nearby if you’re not completely dove out already!

Contact us to get on board one of these incredible trips! Check our calendar for updated availability in April (trips including Hammerhead dives will be noted).

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Springtime creature sightings!

It’s officially Spring in the Bahamas! 

That means Juliet is back in town – and so are all the creatures. The image above was captured by Divemaster Liz. Captain Nate saw a strange ripple on the surface of the water, and crew and passengers saw a shadow below. Folks jumped in on snorkel gear to catch a glimpse of this very rare sight in Bimini – a “small” whaleshark (size estimates were around 12-14 feet)!

Nudibranch and sea slug are still around, including congregations of sea hares and headshield slugs. One black featureless creature had us stumped, but was identified as the Migaya Felis headshield slug, seen mating in the sand at Grouper on the Head along with the Swallow Tail Headshield slug. If you get bored of the sharks down around Bull Run, GOTH, and 777, stick your head in the sand, you won’t be disappointed! 

We’re also excited to report sighting 3 sets of turtle tracks on the beach of Cay Cay near Kitten Cove! Stay tuned for hatchling watch in about 50-60 days. Kat identified them as Loggerhead tracks based on the alternating “apostrophe” track through binoculars, but do they lead to and from nests or were they “False crawls”? Keep reading for more on Sea Turtles of the Bahamas.

Creatures Feature: Sea TurtlesLoggerhead sea turtle

Sea Turtles are some of our favorite creatures to spot, and spring time is a great time to get some close encounters, especially with Loggerhead turtles looking to find a mate. May is breeding season for this, and other species of turtles around the Bahamas, but these hard-shelled giants tend to get a little up close and personal to tell if that big thing off in the distance is a potential mate or a scuba diver – so be prepared to swim out of their way! 

In the fall of 2014, the Bahamas officially prohibited “the harvesting, possession, purchase, and sale of sea turtles, their parts, and their eggs,” and the difference can already be seen only 3 and a half years later. The population of Green Turtles in the area is booming, and anecdotally, Loggerhead nests in the Bahamas are on the rise as well. 

Did you know? Not all Turtle tracks on the beach lead to nests. Occassionally turtles will crawl up the beach but abandon nesting attempts because of nearby disturbances, ground cover issues and obstructions, or predators interrupting their nesting attempt. The crawl marks seen on the beach at Cat Cay could be 3 separate nests from 3 separate female Loggerhead turtles, or a series of crawls by a single female that may not have resulted in a nest at all. Maybe we’ll find out in 50-60 days – night dive / hatchling watch at Moxon Rocks the end of June anyone? 

Spotted drum Turtle RocksDive Site of the Month: Turtle Rocks

Many of our crew – and passengers – have been diving in the Bimini area for over 20 years, and recognize that while some dive sites are without argument better than others, there are many that are highly underrated and deserve a little more time and attention. Turtle Rocks – AKA Big Greenie and South Turtle – falls under this category, and in recent years has certainly been putting on a show! Conservation efforts and their successes in the Bahamas are evident here, as divemasters used to joke that you never see turtles at Turtle rocks, and that the name came from drunk Bahamians thinking the rocks looked like turtles from afar. No longer, though! Juvenile Green turtles are now seen here regularly, and attentive divers can be treated to all kinds of creatures large and small at this unassuming dive site. 

A ledge system that runs for about a half a mile, Turtle Rocks is a shallow site that might appear to just be a rubble pile and a few tiny coral heads to some. But bring a flashlight and curiosity, there’s much more to be found. Turtle Rocks is one of the few sites you can regularly find both juvenile and adult High Hats, a close uncommon cousin of the popular Spotted Drum (pictured above), as well as dozens of species of Cardinalfish, blennies, and eels beyond the usual green and spotted morays; Chain Morays and Golden Tail Morays are regularly seen in the shallows near the rocks. Attentive divers can also be treated to Spotted Eagle Ray squadron drive-bys, the occasional Reef Shark, or the small and curious Atlantic Sharpnose Shark that may come over from Triangle Rocks (where South Bimini’s Sharklab does regular research) to investigate. 

Take your time, breathe deep, and don’t forget the small stuff! 

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Hurricane Status

As many of you know, this hurricane season has been pretty brutal on the islands and Southeastern US. We’ve had a lot of messages asking us how we fared and what the winter will hold. In short, our status report is All is Well, and Staying the Course. Details below.

Hurricane Irma affected Miami and southern Florida pretty immensely, but we were very lucky that we were sheltered in a great area in Biscayne Bay  – you can actually watch a time-lapse video of the boat through the hurricane here. Since we have 2 generators on board, we were well supplied with power throughout, and no damage to report. The rest of Miami got power back within the week after the storm’s passing, and the Florida Keys is reopening to tourists this weekend. All great news for the local area. 

The Virgin Islands is another story. Reports coming out of St. Croix are all good – some damage to areas of the island, but their airport reopens today to normal activity and they are restoring power to additional parts of the island daily. We don’t expect any change in our plan to return there this Winter, and we are looking forward to reconnecting with our island friends! Puerto Rico is struggling, however, and while we are still tentatively planning on our December 9 trip to Mona we are watching the news reports from the island closely. The airport has had power restored as of this writing, but flights are not back to normal and the rest of the island is still without power. Many are still stranded inland and have much damage to their properties, the roads, and no easy access to power, water, or food. Some of you have asked for ways you can offer help, PBS has a great collection of legitimate venues you can donate money or supplies to here.  

The diving report from the Bahamas is good, and getting better every day. Fingers crossed that we are past the hump of hurricane season and can look forward to more settled weather from here on out. 

Fair winds and following seas.

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