Returning to North America

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The one constant on Dirona is our trip plans change frequently. We’ve been in Europe four years now, COVID is driving up the complexity of cruising here, and there are places we want to visit back on the North American east coast. So we’ve decided to head back to the US this summer as weather allows.

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Frozen in place at “ice-free” Farsund, Norway

Our original plan for 2021 was to spend the summer cruising Sweden. But we didn’t get past Farsund in southern Norway on our trip to Sweden. As we worked our way towards Sweden and were only 160 miles away, Sweden closed their border with Norway for all non-essential travel and it has remained closed since. Closing this border is very unusual and, in this case, driven by fears of the UK coronavirus variant.

When we entered Farsund harbour, we weren’t planning to stay for a month, but ended up trapped in ice for several weeks. So even without the Swedish border closing we would have been at least delayed. Farsund is reported to be an ice-free harbor, but the temperatures were unusually cold and we ended up surrounded in six inches of ice. It’s definitely a bit strange to see kids playing on ice where we had been floating just a couple of weeks earlier. We had a fun time in Farsund but, a month later, the Swedish border was still closed, so we decided we needed to review our travel plans.

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Many countries now require a negative COVID-19 test to enter

We’re finding the pandemic has been driving up the complexity of cruising and crossing borders considerably. Some European borders are closed entirely for non-essential travel while others are open but only in a limited fashion, often requiring EU citizenship or residence, and many countries are now requiring a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within a couple of days of entry. This is both challenging for us to obtain, and increases our personal risk in that we need to travel to a public place to obtain a test. In Norway, for example, only a few testing locations near major airports would provide us with a negative test result the same day. Most of the country’s testing facilities take one or more days to produce a result, and will only provide confirmation of a negative result to those resident in the country and registered in their health system.

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Losing Jennifer’s EU citizenship increases our travel complexity

Further complicating things, we’ve been traveling for the last few years in Europe with the right of free movement because Jennifer holds a UK/EU passport. This right of free movement allows any EU citizen and their family members to remain in the Schengen area (most of Europe) for an unlimited period of time. Without that right, visitors are restricted to a maximum of 90 days in a rolling 180-day period, not just in a single country, but a maximum of 90 days of 180 across all of the Schengen area. This is extremely limiting when traveling by boat. With Brexit, we’re now subject to Schengen restrictions. This, of course, doesn’t prevent any of our plans, but it does further increase the complexity. Our plan was to cruise Sweden supported by a visitor’s visa and explore the Gulf of Bothnia, and possibly the Finnish Archipelago should cross-border travel restrictions ease.

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Attempting to clear into the UK at Longhope, Orkney Islands

We would have loved to stay longer in Norway, but couldn’t due to Schengen restrictions. And after being unable to enter Sweden, we couldn’t find another viable option directly reachable by the boat anywhere from Farsund other than the UK. With COVID restrictions, even that option was open only because Jennifer is a UK citizen. And despite Jennifer holding a UK Passport, we continue to be in a six-day dispute with the Scottish Border Force.

We are very careful to follow the laws of every country we visit, and prior to leaving Farsund we reviewed all the guidance on the Scottish government’s web site to ensure we were compliant. To be extra sure, we called the small-boat reporting hotline to confirm that entering by recreational boat was still allowed. And the Scottish National Health Service has approved our quarantining at anchor, with the proviso that it be two days longer than they currently require. The Scottish Border Force says we are fine to enter the country, but we can’t do it by boat and must enter a hotel-based quarantine program available only through the three major Scottish airports. We’re not sure how Border Force can take a position in contradiction with the Scottish National Health Service or the other government departments we checked with. Cruising during the pandemic definitely is more complex.

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Lowering our courtesy flag as we exit Norwegian waters in the North Sea en route to Scotland

On crossing the North Sea from Norway to the UK, we’ve completed the first leg of our return trip to North America. We next plan to sail south to Ireland, then make the 1,150-mile crossing further south to the Azores followed by a 1,900-mile passage west to Bermuda that will put us 650 miles from the US. Due to the hurricane risk that starts around June, and an insurance requirement to be above latitude 31°N from July through October, we’ll likely make landfall somewhere on the northeastern US coast. Because North Atlantic weather isn’t great this time of year and a constant stream of weather systems are in our path, we’ll need to be patient and choose our crossing opportunities carefully.

We have really enjoyed our time in Europe, but are ready for another big change. We are looking forward to the next chapter of the trip, and to spending some time back on the eastern seaboard.


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25 comments on “Returning to North America
  1. Theo A. W. Le Duc says:

    Sad to read that you had to change plans and go west sooner than initially planned.. but I think you are making the right decision. Europe is not exactly exemplary with respect to “unity” in command. There is no such thing is the USE like the USA.
    We shelved our intention to explore the Malaren (lakes district west of Stockholm) and the Gulf of Bothnia this year…we will potter around 5-6 months in the Netherlands.
    Wish you following fair winds and safe crossing! Watersportgreetings ex Antwerp.
    Theo Le Duc / HMS Ritser / Krogen Express 49

    • Sorry to hear you have canceled your Maleren and Gulf of Bothnia trip plans for this year. We had a similar trip in mind for this summer. We were planning to spend the summer in the Gulf of Bothnia but the Swedish border closed a few weeks before we entered so we canceled as well. Hopefully things will return to normal soon.

  2. Harry Woodrow says:

    As far as ships are concerned are there not laws which while maybe not letting you land require the supply of needed supplies and shelter from unsafe weather conditions. I thought Maritime Law would demand that.

    • Your right, I’ve not read about anyone without food but there are many cases of ships stuck at anchor, not allowed to dock or come ashore for months at a time and in a few cases a year. So the crews are not in survival conditions but they are unable to get home or get time off the boat so it’s a pretty difficult situations for them. This BBC articles gives some examples of what’s happening out there:

      • Terry Gregory says:

        I have been looking at the Covid entry requirements for the Azores, a negative test by a recognized lab no more than three days prior to arrival appears to be the main requirement. This seems to assume arrival by air, it seems a very difficult rule to comply with if arriving by boat. Is this correct and is there a special provision for arrival by sea. I’ve been following your journey for the past four years and i am still in awe of your adventure.

        • For many countries, there is no provision for arrival by sea and it ends up being complex to enter and, in some places isn’t allowed at all. In Azores, the marina has arranged to be able to test on arrival and nobody is allowed on shore until they pass a Covid test.

  3. Timothy Daleo says:

    I am looking forward to following your crossing and seeing you back in the US!

    • Yes, us too. We have had a wonderful 4 years in Europe but we’re ready to return back to North America and the virus concerns in Europe are running high right now making crossing national boundaries without essential worker status somewhere between difficult and impossible. I’m sure it’ll get better latter in the year but it’s challenging right now.

  4. Ioannis says:

    Here is the link from Cruisers forums, and it is about certain areas in the Caribbean that had been security issues with Cruisers.

    • We see reports along those lines fairly frequently on the Caribbean and were particularly aware of them while we where there 4 years back. It’s a bit of a concern but the area remains popular with cruisers. For this crossing we don’t intend to go that far south so it shouldn’t be a problem. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Michael Crofts says:

    James & Jennifer – welcome to our minefield hidden in a quagmire.

    The 4 nations of the UK are increasingly being run as separate countries. Forget the old idea of a “United Kingdom”, it’s become a thing of the past in the last 12 months. The 3 devolved parliaments/assemblies in Scotland, Wales & N. Ireland are making their own laws, and they are nearly all different to each other and different to England.

    Since the disaster started there have been 2 key items of primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) and 403 separate sets of regulations. Some apply everywhere, some only in individual nations. List here: Few of these regulations have been debated by parliament, some have been amended and/or revoked within days of being passed (at least one was amended the day after it was made) and some have been retrospective.

    Government guidance is published separately, different for each nation. There have been divergences between government guidance and the law, which has caused complications for enforcement.

    The result of this mish-mash of incomprehensible law and confused guidance is that nobody really knows what the rules are any more, and legal penalties lurk like mines in a quagmire. I’m not surprised that the Scottish Health Service and Border Force are singing from different hymn sheets.

    Enforcement of the law on the ground is another issue. There have been some horrible instances of the police misunderstanding the law, unlawfully harassing ordinary people, and then being unable to carry through a successful prosecution or even collect on-the-spot fines. Forget the old idea of a cheerful British Bobbie with a smiling face and helpful attitude. Very sadly that too is a thing of the past. The Border Forces are equally “all at sea” (pardon the attempt at humour) and don’t always seem to know what they should and shouldn’t be doing. See this:

    I don’t know what the rules are in Scotland but I do know that if you enter England you may not be allowed to leave. International travel is permitted only for work and your guess is as good as mine about whether getting back to America will count.

    This situation is a real mess, but it’s not your fault, you’re just trying to go home, and I’m sure a solution will be found. There is nobody on the planet more resourceful than the crew of Dirona!

    • Thanks for the additional background. Cruising the world always does bring some challenges but it’s rewarding and, for the most part, we have found the challenges were just part of adventure. However, some aspects of this “normal” complexity have become much higher friction during the pandemic. Thanks for providing some local background into the situation. From the article you referenced, it appears we’re not alone in coming across rigorous local enforcement of legal interpretations in conflict with what was published on government web sites, and doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of the population. I get that what’s published can fall behind when things are changing quickly but someone should be in a sufficiently senior role to be able review and update these legal interpretations. Our guess is some of these regulations were passed in haste without thinking through edge cases like arrival by means other than air transport. Who would have guessed the simple act of “returning home” would become a tough puzzle to crack.

      • Michael Crofts says:

        James, I wasn’t sure whether you would publish my comment. It is a bit outspoken, albeit a lot less so than the first version!
        Your observation about not thinking through edge cases reminds me of when you arrived in (geographical) Europe and found the only way Spitfire could enter the UK directly was via an airport. Clearly no lawmaker in the UK had thought that anyone might ever arrive in a boat (apart from cruise ships), let alone bring a cat with them. One has to remember at all times that all laws and regulations, in all countries, are made by people! who think only in terms of what mass populations might do, or what the lawmakers themselves might do. I doubt there is a single lawmaker in the UK who has ever cruised, and I somewhat doubt that any of the ones I have met would be capable of doing so. So the laws are never made with cruisers in mind.
        I noticed you bunkered and took on stores in Norway. Are you willing to comment on Dirona’s current range, endurance, and limits on heading into known heavy weather? I ask because I am thinking about alternate ports of call en route to the Azores. The Channel Islands would have been good but they are very anti-visitor. Gibralter however might be an option, it’s not in the Schengen area and I think they might be accepting visiting boats. But Gib would require a non-stop crossing of Biscay because all French ports are closed to visitors (we tried to position Coracle in France on 31 December 2020 for tax reasons but they wouldn’t admit us because of Covid).

        • Thanks for your thoughts Michael. You asked about Dirona’s range. We currently have 1,000 gallons on board so have safe, real world range for about 1,500 nautical miles. When the tanks are full, we have a bit more than 2,500 nautical miles of range. And, in those rare times when we are carrying deck fuel, we can stretch that out to 4,000 nautical miles. We’ll plan to take on a load of fuel before leaving Ireland on route to Azores. The hard part of that trip will be choosing an appropriate weather window.

  6. Henry says:

    URGENT MESSAGE STOP. U-2540 has slipped her moorings at Bremerhaven and is in Sector 4B and has been replaced by a polystyrene replica. Don’t be fooled. Broadcasting your intended route is unwise. Repaint Dirona Battleship Grey and schedule Spitfire to crows nest lookout duties. Sleepless nights for all of us as we wish you a safe journey. Bletchley Park on full alert. Remember code: “The Crow flies backwards at midnight”.

  7. Doug Hannay says:

    WoW… read thru the ice expeditions to melt that stuff away in Farsund, and months of your Norway adventures… love your blog & info, it’s great, I really enjoy your adventures & now back to the USA, via the UK. Wishing you guys a safe passage & hoping, someday, somewhere we all meet up & big hugs to SPITFIRE ❤?❤

    • Thanks for wishing us well on the crossing. The European leg of the trip has been a lot of fun but we’re looking forward to the next chapter on the North American East Coast.

  8. WeeFox says:

    You can park in the ice. But immediately put the boat away from the pier for at least one meter. It is necessary to have a sufficient amount of ice on both sides of the boat. In Russia, for this purpose, two wooden planks are placed between the boat and the pier. Then it is safe and the boat will not be piled on the pier.

  9. James says:

    have a safe atlantic crossing mv dirona Jennifer James and spitfire excellent blog about your journey around the world maybe one day we’ll meet

  10. Olle Sköld says:

    So sad you cannot come to Swedish waters again! :( But those change of plans makes perfect sense. We have no idea when things are back to normal here, and since we have our country house in Åland which belongs to Finland we’re forced to go through border checks, something we’ve never done before during all the years of crossing back and forth between Sweden and Åland. These are strange times. Hope to see you in Europe again some time, and have a safe Atlantic crossing!

    • Yeah, we were looking forward to the trip as well. Hopefully things return to normal sometime this year. It was good meeting you when we were last in Sweden. All the best from Dirona.

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