Cruising During A Pandemic

One part of me doesn’t want to make this posting, and hope that someday this pandemic will be a long forgotten memory. Except right now it’s real. And it’s large, and it has no finality at this moment. But we’re hopeful that the scientists and professionals will win and we’ll get out of this and back to “normal life”. Since this blog is about our sailing adventures, and the adventures of our sailing friends, this is a pandemic report relative to those topics.

In early 2020 I was about to turn 60, and we had friends and family coming to Whistler to help me celebrate. I mention that because our friend Val is flying to Whistler for that occasion. Then she’s flying to Seattle in August for our girl’s 10 day San Juan cruise. Then she’s flying to Croatia in September for a 7 day trip with our Cuba crew, sailing on the spectacular Dalmatian coast. Only one of those three will happen this year, and it’s not either sailing trip.

As the world started slamming shut in March and April, the woman who organizes the Croatia trip was convinced we were still going to make it. I knew early on that was not going to happen. We knew locals from here who were in Italy when this started, and I followed their adventures trying to get home, and knew that would be a risk if we had a big bounceback in the fall and the US cases spiraled out of control again. Little did I know at that time that we’d not have it in control before then. So we wrote off Croatia, hoping we could reschedule for the following year (and we have rescheduled).

But we were still hoping the five of us could make the San Juans girl’s trip. Val and Katy had to fly up from California, and Kelly and Linnea were local friends. Eventually we knew, like most other folks, Val and Katy were not getting on a plane just for a vacation. None of us wanted to be in close quarters for 10 days after they had been exposed to all those germs. Again, we put this trip on hold for next year.

But then I thought perhaps Kelly and Linnea and I could still make a trip, just the three of us. So Rob & I took a reconnaissance trip up north while I was working from home. We’ve probably been to the San Juans 10 times in the 20+ years we’ve owned our boat, and this year it was all different.

The Canadians (like so much of the rest of the world) have done a good job of containing covid-19, and their border is closed to us. Our little blue passport has suddenly become “no thanks” nearly everywhere in the world. Every summer there is a massive migration of Canada and Alaska bound boats out the north end of the San Juans. Not so this year. Here they all sat, hoping the Canadians would somehow decide we were safe, and let them get north. Or hoping a San Juan vacation would suffice in lieu of the larger cruising grounds north. For whatever reason, we were all there together. In crowded anchorages, on crowded hiking trails (with not enough masks on), and suddenly dreary towns where social distancing was antithetical to every reason you were there. After two weeks there, I knew the San Juan girl’s trip was not meant to be, and would also have to be pushed to 2021.

That’s not to say the entire to weeks was awful. Quite the contrary. We got our favorite walk in on Stuart Island out to Turn Point Light house. We didn’t see any Orcas that day, but enjoyed the view of the (now off limits) Canadian Gulf Islands. And we spent nearly a week in Sucia, most of it with two of our dearest friends and their granddaughter anchored alongside. It was a social distance raftup because Cindy sells real estate and had been to so many houses the week before – she insisted on keeping a distance outdoors for everyone’s benefit. And my darling kitten Amelia got her first vacation aboard and I have to say she did very well as a boat cat!

But for every person “stuck” in the San Juans Islands, there were thousands of sailors out at sea, either waiting it out somewhere they likely may not want to be, or putting their boat to sea in unfavorable times and/or conditions, that being the only choice they have.

Our friends Jim & Barbara Cole on the Seattle based sailboat Complexity are two who are currently impacted. They had organized a loose flotilla of boats headed up the Red Sea and into the Med for the spring, hoping to enjoy a summer of exploration in Europe. As they sailed toward the Red Sea, Covid lockdowns and border closings began, and they found themselves quarantined on their boat in the harbor in Djibouti. They had two European crew aboard, who were helping them get the boat north. Djibouti was not a good place, but it had allowed them in and they were considering riding out Covid there. We were on the phone with Rob’s sister Lynn at the US Department of State, and on IM with Jim. Lynn’s advice (which we Always listen to for matters of International affairs) was to get OUT of Djibouti immediately. The healthcare system there was not going to be equipped for the pandemic. Lynn suggested they sail south to Kenya, which would be the safest nation in Western Africa to ride out the pandemic. Two days later, Complexity headed north through the Red Sea, with a rest stop in Egypt before transiting the Suez Canal, and now they’re tied up tight at a marina in Cyprus after a 2 week quarantine upon arrival. They’re hoping to ride out the virus there, then still enjoy a lovely summer in the Med. Except now there is a massive crisis in the Eastern Med between Greece, Turkey, France, Egypt and Israel. A foreign policy expert says “Observers around the world fear that any further escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean could set off a Euro-Middle Eastern maelstrom”. I don’t think Jim & Barbara need a maelstrom in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, so we’ll hope this military posturing ends soon and they have a quiet fall and winter in Cyprus.

There are countless stories of other sailors caught off guard at sea and hunkered down in ports all over the world. We’re watching Peter and Ginger sail SV Irene home from Turkey via the Red Sea, and wishing them a safe passage – another long unplanned trip. They’re excellent sailors and Irene is up for the trip, but it’s not a leisure cruise by any stretch of the imagination. Two days ago they posted a pic on Facebook as they got a bit of a cell signal passing Sri Lanka on day 41 of their passage home.

And this puts another kink in the future of our cruising plans. Next time we set sail we’ll have to think about the impact of global warming, and what that does to the weather patterns and ferocity of storms at sea. Now we have to add in the “pandemic factor”. It’s always been the case that we’re very dialed into the politics of a region and country as we sail there (often thanks to Lynn’s help). But now we’ll have to stay dialed into the health of the world, and when we might need to either set sail immediately in an unplanned route to get home, or worse to leave the boat and get home without her.

Sadly, now it kind of begs the question, are we no longer in the sweet spot that is the easy breezy golden age of cruising. When the world economy was primarily stable, global weather was predictable, pandemics were so early last century. But those are worries for another day. This blog is about the realities of now and the impacts of cruising during a pandemic.