By now, most of the world is closed for the duration of this pandemic. As restrictions tighten, the general guidelines are to stay home, off the roads, out of stores, and away from other people. Those of us hunkered down at home must find projects and other distractions to keep busy and stay positive.
Governors of both Maryland and Virginia have made it illegal to be out on Chesapeake Bay for recreation. We are to stay off the water. Period.
How long will these restrictions last? It is anyone’s guess, although current projections are that Maryland will peak, in terms of new coronavirus cases, around April 17th. (See http://covid19.healthdata.org/ for the latest data available for each country and states within the U.S.)
For cruisers out there, it is a changing landscape of uncertainty. Several yachting organizations, such as the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC), now collect the latest government announcements, including mandatory quarantines, as a resource for the cruising community. For the most part, if cruisers are already in paradise, they may stay put, although many countries don’t allow them off the boat, except during very limited times to buy food and other essentials. This is to protect both cruisers and residents.
In other countries, especially in tropical island chains with minimal infrastructure, local officials want cruisers gone asap, by any means necessary, without regard to where these cruisers might go. It is a troubling situation.
Borders are closed around the world. Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand are closed for foreign vessels. So is Tonga, Fiji, and much of the other Pacific island groups. In Thailand and Malaysia, cruisers must endure a quarantine period, then leave the country at once. Across the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, and South Pacific, it is the same. You are not welcome, so please leave and stay away.
Within the U.S., restrictions vary by state and local government. Many marinas and boat services are closed, and when vessels enter the country, mandatory quarantines may be imposed based on where you are. Town mayors have their own rules. In Oriental, NC, for example, the mayor recently instituted a 14-day quarantine. In other state counties, transient cruisers are not even allowed to anchor.
On the East Coast, cruisers wanting to travel the protected Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) will find it risky business, as services, fuel, and marinas are not guaranteed to be available. A helpful resource is the Waterway Guide (http://waterwayguide.com), and its COVID-19 Marina/Service Reports, which lists the status of marina and services on the ICW.
(Seen below: You can narrow down the open and closed marinas by state on hte Waterway Guide website.)
How are cruisers handling this time of uncertainly?
I contacted Emily Whebbe (with whom I shared the OCC booth in Annapolis) about her thoughts on at-anchor living while this is going on. She and her family live aboard their 42-foot sailboat, often secluded in an anchorage. I asked how she and her family were doing and what recommendations she has.
She told me they spent the winter months in South Carolina, just north of Charleston. They look forward to heading up to Maine as soon as the weather warms up. But they will keep their distance from others.
As for suggestions for at-anchorage living, she offers:
“Have a good grasp on your boat’s energy usage and its ability to recharge your battery bank without shore power. Lots of marina boats never get the chance to know their usage during a 24-hour period, nor do they know how fast or efficiently they can recharge their batteries.
“A large battery bank isn’t very helpful if you have limited or inefficient ways of charging it. Solar is helpful (we have 840 watts). Victron Energy has an easy-to-use battery monitor and software that provides data on how much energy is being used and generated from various sources.”
Emily said that having a watermaker is a big plus for isolated living at anchor, although they can still go ashore in the dinghy and refill their water tank if they can’t get into a dock or marina.
A good dinghy is a requirement. Being able to explore and get to shore easily and without getting wet is a good thing. Traveling long distances by dinghy is valuable if one is unable to anchor close to shore or needs to stay out of a harbor due to anchoring restrictions.
Food storage is also important, more so now during this crisis. Having enough food onboard, stored properly, allows them to stay in areas without a grocery store while practicing social distancing. She uses a vacuum sealer to extend food shelf life significantly. And the boat has a dedicated freezer, which is key for keeping meat and fruits/veggies much longer.
As I read the daily social media during this lockdown, I find that food and cooking are hot topics among cruisers right now. There are even groups dedicated to sharing meal ideas. List what food you have on hand and others will suggest interesting and tasty meals that can be made with them. This is very helpful when one doesn’t find inspiration by what’s in the pantry and grocery shopping or going to a restaurant are no longer options.
A lot of recipe sharing involves baking bread. Seems cruisers really miss their English Muffins and Naan bread as those recipes are particularly popular. And cooking while conserving precious propane is on everyone’s priority list.
(Seen below: The interior galley and salon of the Hanse Yachts 388 offers plenty of living space. A 2020 model is on its way to Seattle Yachts!)
Bye Bye Bahamas
Veteran cruiser and friend, Will Heyer, got back to me right away. I wanted his take on life in the Bahamas. Will’s comments:
We have been on a mooring in Abaco (Hope Town) since November 25th. We have enough solar to run everything on the boat.
Food here is plentiful, however, water can be an issue. We catch rainwater easily and buy bottled drinking water at the grocery. We have been able to get bulk water from the local marina as well on occasion. We keep our tank topped up, given the current situation, by filling jerry jugs every few days. This is only possible when the marina runs its generator and watermaker. We are eight months post Hurricane Dorian and there is still no power here in Elbow Cay.
Internet is pretty good in most of the Bahamas but is getting overwhelmed with this lockdown. It is much like Spring break but there is no one here. Best to use it off hours.
While we are a fixture here in Hope Town and most locals know us, residents here and on other Cays have voiced concern and are not welcoming cruisers with their normal enthusiasm. On some of the islands to the south, foreign boaters are not allowed on shore. They have been served written notice by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and provided local phone numbers for food delivery to the dock.
I don’t know any marinas in the Abacos allowing transient boats to dock except to buy fuel, and even that is on a limited schedule.
If we make a grocery run only one of us goes ashore. Stores only allow a limited amount of people to shop at any given time so there can be lines of people. All liquor stores are closed.
While there has not been a single case of COVID-19 here in Abaco there have been some in Nassau and two cases in Freeport. The concern is that there are no medical facilities here or on any of the out islands to handle this.
The U.S. Embassy in Nassau issued an advisory for all US-flagged vessels to return to the States. Given the recent Bahamian restrictions on inter-island travel we will take the next weather window back to the U.S.
We will then battle our way up the ICW or hop offshore to Annapolis.
Will & Muffin
(Seen below: A recent update on Facebook shows the Treasure Cay Marina is still able to sell fuel.)
I checked in with Hugh Scarth, the Canadian cruiser with whom we discussed provisioning for extended cruising back in January. I wondered how Hugh and Maria were doing aboard White Pearl, their Hampton Yachts 55 PHMY. The couple’s plans for the season were no doubt affected by this pandemic and I wanted to hear how they were.
Hugh said they just got back to Canada a few days ago. Their plans to cruise to Grenada at the end of the season simply fell apart as this crisis developed. When things began to sour in the Bahamas their options really dwindled. Going south from the Bahamas was out of the question, and even heading back to the U.S. became more challenging as the days went on and Florida began closing marinas and services. The couple spent “a few long days” traveling from Long Island in the Bahamas to the Lake Worth Inlet in Florida.
Hugh feels they made the right decision. “As we moved along it felt like the doors were closing behind us. Currently the Bahamas are making it difficult for cruisers to get supplies or even move from island to island, let alone get off their boat. The marinas along the East Coast are closing. And fuel and grocery supplies will become less available as time goes on.”
Adding to the stress of the pandemic, with hurricane season approaching, there was no way they could simply tie up the boat in some marina and walk away. Thankfully, they were able to haul White Pearl near Stuart, Florida, and safely return to Canada.
The essential qualities of seasoned cruisers include being prepared with the proper equipment, having enough supplies and food to weather the storm, and remaining flexible in a world they cannot control. I think Emily’s thoughts of at-anchor living, and the shared experiences of both Will and Hugh, should give us a more mindful view on cruising. We must assume responsibility for ourselves and our crew: in preparation, provisioning, and day-to-day living. It is folly to assume there will always be a safety net out there.
From that point of view, I think this pandemic ordeal, however difficult it may be to get through, will make us stronger and more capable cruisers. In addition to other qualities, the ability to live in the moment, with enough situational awareness to anticipate and adapt one’s plans, is the foundation of sensible cruising.
It is also the difference between an experience and a nightmare.
If you have a story about your own cruising or related experiences during this difficult time, we would love to hear from you. Sharing your experience with the rest of the cruising community helps us all.
We are in this together!
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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