We live in unprecedented times, which has all but changed our way of life for now. In only a matter of weeks the world had turned upside down, and many of our benchmarks for normalcy are in question.
I get daily reports of tropical islands shutting their doors to cruisers, and countries blocking entrance of all travelers, whether they come by car, airplane, or boat. Even the port of Ushuaia on the southernmost tip of South America is closed. The carefree joys of vagabond living have been replaced by forced quarantine at anchor, crew stuck on the boat for 14 days. This is particularly trying after completing a long ocean passage. The world is hunkered down to get beyond the current situation. And then we’ll slowly get back to normal, whatever that means.
On the other hand, I heard yesterday that some of China’s boat builders resumed operation on Monday, picking up from where they left off a couple of months ago. Industry is starting up again in China, a sign that there will be an end to this crisis, and that life will resume. I can’t wait.
While I am not suggesting that we disregard the directives of the authorities to stay at home and shelter in place, I do think planning to go cruising again is very much a worthy pursuit. Once things settle down a bit, many will find cruising to be just as effective at self-isolation as being at home, surrounded by canned goods, peanut butter, and toilet paper. The world still beckons, and adventure awaits. But today it requires a different attitude. And in many ways, that is a good thing.
Perhaps we need to get back to basics.
I had a long conversation on this subject with Laura Unsell, manager and broker for Seattle Yachts Florida. She has been in this business for decades and loves connecting people with boats and building relationships that last year after year. She is based in St. Augustine, where she can assist anyone looking for the right cruising boat, whether it is a luxurious Hampton motoryacht, a trawler like a Northwest or Alaskan expedition yacht, or a comfortable cruiser best suited for inland and coastal cruising along the East Coast. She has experience with it all.
Laura agrees that times have changed, and while the cruising lifestyle is every bit as appealing as it has ever been, we need to approach it with a different mindset.
The New Normal
(Seen Above: The new Regency P65 would make a perfect vessel to cruise once restrictions are lifted.)
As country after country closes their ports of entry, the goal is to cut down the number of new cases of the COVID-19 virus. It is all about flattening the curve to not overwhelm our health and medical infrastructure. Those countries that took immediate action hopefully will not suffer the heartache of an infected population in Italy and Spain, where it is proving difficult to treat so many people at the same time.
In the U.S., efforts to implement tough steps to contain the virus is happening at the state and national levels, restricting travel while closing non-essential companies and services. Marinas and boat yards continue to close for the duration. In the Chesapeake Bay area, even fuel docks are limiting their services, offering only fuel, with no water or pump out available. If this goes on for any length of time, perhaps even the fuel supply chain may be at risk.
Clearly, one can no longer make assumptions about what marina or service will be open, or whether the next destination will greet the cruiser or turn them away. And this situation changes daily.
Despite the doom and gloom on the world stage right now, there is still a place for cruising, as we patiently distance ourselves from each other to let the virus run its course so we can restart our lives, our country, and our economy.
If you accept that we can no longer assume there is help around the corner or full services at the next harbor, going cruising today is very much like it was decades ago. A generation ago, cruisers needed to be totally self-sufficient, well provisioned, and capable of dealing with life head on. Franky, there was a satisfying joy in achieving that level of cruising, and it became the measure of what made a successful cruiser. Before there were apps for that.
Cruisers anchored out, comfortable aboard their fully found vessels where a couple could live for weeks or months at a time. These cruisers didn’t just survive, they thrived in their natural surroundings, seeing the world up close and personal. The lines on a seasoned cruiser’s face spoke volumes of his time at sea and dealing with life and its challenges. These men and women didn’t rely on the Internet, Amazon, or cell coverage.
Many of us would agree we would like to experience that again. At least until this is over.
What’s Your Plan?
(Seen above: A Nimbus cruises alone along the coastline.)
When Laura and I discussed the current situation, we wondered what it will be like once the black swan of coronavirus subsides. We both agree that it might signal a return to a healthier and perhaps more meaningful lifestyle, more grounded to the world around us beyond the next resort marina.
Under the threat of infection, we need to prepare ourselves and our boats differently than we did before, heeding the advice from our health and emergency services. I wonder if this isn’t a good thing in the overall scheme of successful cruising. Yes, there are islands and popular cruising destinations that will be off limits for a while, but that should not limit us to remain at the dock. If anything, we should be motivated to go cruising rather than spend the rest of eternity sitting on the couch. When it is safe to do so, we should go out in the world, out of our shell.
Planning a cruise in the near term can mean we explore the many hidden jewels along the East Coast, especially if one’s prior experience have been limited to the magenta line of the ICW. The Great Loop is still out there to enjoy, but slow down and maybe focus on a portion of that trip on its own merit. What’s the rush? If you live in the Pacific Northwest, there are hundreds of charming wonders among the many islands and wilderness areas stretching from Olympia to Ketchikan.
I know cruisers currently in Mexican waters, and who had spent the winter preparing for a cruise to the South Pacific. They have since decided against it because of the uncertainly of the coronavirus pandemic. Most feel this is a wise decision, considering the fragile nature of local island infrastructure and population, unable to handle deadly infections brought in by cruisers.
Whatever your plan, the cruising community will still be there to support you, especially if everyone heeds the advice from our health experts. As Laura puts it, “Boaters Helping Boaters” remains the attitude for successful cruising. Just stay at least six feet apart.
She also insists communications is key. When one is off exploring the world, it is important to be able to communicate frequently enough to keep up with ageing parents, family members, and assure your people that everything is fine on your boat.
She stressed the importance of choosing one person as your primary point of contact, someone who always knows where you are, what your plans are, and any issues you may have or anticipate. Someone who can get the word out if something is amiss or contact is lost.
Does the boat have any communications ability beyond a cell phone? How would you communicate if you could no longer count on the Internet or cell service?
Laura commented that most people don’t have their phone’s contact directory written down anywhere. What happens if the phone is dropped overboard? Being able to contact that one person could be a lifesaver even if you are not off the grid.
A new necessity resulting from these times is to be fully stocked with food and other consumables for the entire trip. One can’t assume there will be provisions at the next place you encounter. And even if that small grocery does have some supplies, you will be taking away what is available for the local community, which creates unnecessary hardship in this time of crisis and slow recovery. Buying food, fuel, and other items from a small fishing community that is struggling like the rest of the world is not exactly the hallmark of Corinthian values.
Have all medical prescriptions refilled before you go as it may be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain them during a slow recovery. As part of your preparations, don’t put off that repair, have the boat fixed now. Your shop may say it can fit you into its schedule next Tuesday, but next week the shop may be shut down or some of the mechanics sick. Will it even reopen for business once this crisis wanes? Again, don’t assume anything beyond your own control.
An experienced Floridian, Laura said to think of cruising in the future as being prepared for a hurricane. Stock up as one does for any emergency, have extra water, canned goods, batteries...enough of everything to weather any storm.
We may have to struggle with this until late spring and perhaps into summer. But it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this wonderful lifestyle. Just don’t tax the resources of others, keep your physical distance, and respect the many communities passed along the way.