This part of “Lockdown” is about Liveaboard- or Cruising-Sailors and the problems they are confronted with concerning COVID-19.
First, let me explain what a “Liveaboard-Sailor” or “Cruising-Sailor” is, so we both know what we’re talking about here:
In general it’s people living on a boat, many of them without a place on land to live in which means their boat is their only home. For some this is their permanent solution for the next years to come, for others it is for a limited amount of time only.
You’ll find everything: young ones, maybe sponsored by their families, on their personal mission to do something special, you’ll find families with their kids who managed to – for example – get 3 years off work and would like to try to sail around the world, you’ll find couples taking off for a year with the promise to get their job back and to see if they like it, you’ll find the ones who just go and want to do this till the end of their days, you’ll find some who feel they have to get away from it all and have a rest, you’ll find people sailing on their own or in loose groups with other sailing-boats, some have their pets with them, and of course many different Nationalities.
Once on the move they all have one thing in common: they don’t spend their life in front of the television, they don’t always have access to internet and many of them don’t follow the news on a regular basis.
And then, suddenly and unexpectedly COVID-19 comes along.
While most Cruising-Sailors didn’t have the slightest idea about what was coming, more and more Governments started clamping down, borders between countries got closed, curfews put in force, Police and Military suddenly everywhere.
Then suddenly cases of people infected with COVID-19 were discovered on cruiseships, carrying the virus to new countries. While some of these ships were quarantined, others were denied entry into ports and sent out to sea again. When I crosschecked all this I was very surprised about the amount of cruiseships mentioned on Wikipedia having problems with infections on board (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_coronavirus_pandemic_on_cruise_ships).
The whole situation started to get confusing when the rules applied to cruiseships were also applied to sailing-boats: they were denied entry and sent out to sea again. While the general idea of “we don’t want any tourists bringing us the virus” is certainly understandable, many of these sailing-boats had been at sea for a considerable amount of time and were heading to port for shelter and to stock up with provisions, water and fuel.
It was around the 20th of March or so that a friend sent me an alarming message. For months he had been staying in the same port in the Dominican Republic when this happened: “We had a knee-jerk lockdown in the harbour today when some sailors ignored the quarantine requirements. Everyone prohibited to go ashore. A warship in the harbour-entrance. Sitting in my cabin scanning the net I see over and over people not taking isolation seriously. Collectively the west can not believe the party is over. Today a Norwegian family of 4 is in serious trouble in Curaçao. The authorities are threatening to tow the yacht, children and all out to sea. Three yachts in Santa Martha Columbia given hours to get out. To where? None cares. Only keep me safe everyone selfishly cries. …. If we have a miracle this first 14 day lockdown will stop the spread in the Dominican Republic, but folks are not being serious. Especially not the gringos who have come here intent on playing (remark: at the time this was written hundreds still arrived by plane). The DR has cases in three hotspots, if isolation fails, and it seems likely, it will be going through serious trauma for several months. No social system to speak of, rampant poverty, already a small but diligent health-system. Everything will be at risk. Fear, blame, hurt, riots waves of repercussion. Trapped. There is nowhere to sail to for, my guess, minimum 30 days. Some small islands will be “clean” but will be very afraid of taking people from an infected zone. Even clean zones will remain closed. … Today my friend we leave cruising and begin survival sailing”
The same day I get a message from a friend with his boat in a marina in southern Spain “Latest news is that they plan to close the marina and tell everyone to leave (remark: this is the biggest marina in the whole South of Spain with around 1.500 boats). Where the f..k would I go? Makes no sense. They also locked the toilets. My friends in the boatyard with 3 children on board could not use the toilet, so together with some of the workers they smashed the door down … “
The 19th of March a distress-signal was launched on a sailing-boat from Scotland en route from Granada to Puerto Rico, but no rescue was launched. The sender stopped transmitting the 24th of March and the sailor is presumed lost at sea (https://boatwatch.org/news/search-for-missing-scottish-sailor-bob-peel-who-has-not-been-heard-from-for-almost-two-weeks/)
Meanwhile another friend of mine was super-lucky. On the 11th of January he left Panama heading for Hawaii, about 4.600 Nautical Miles distant. From the very first day he was writing a blog with entries nearly every day (unfortunately in German and no translate-button: https://7jahre7meere.de/2020/01/11/). They had to deal with adverse weather-conditions, torn sails, an autopilot they couldn’t get back to work so it was steering by hand and several other problems. 40 days out the fresh food had perished or was eaten but they still had heaps of pasta, rice, all kind of tins and pre-cooked and jared anything. On the 18th of March after having spent 66 days at sea they finally arrived in Hawaii. Of course they didn’t know anything about corona-virus, it wasn’t in the news yet when they left Panama. And a more restrict quarantine than being out at sea for 66 days only with your partner doesn’t really exist does it? But: no problem! Lockdown in Hawaii only started a few days later, so they were welcomed and allowed to stay!
The situation in the Pacific started to get very complicated. The boats taking part in the World-ARC and the Puddlejump (for non-sailors: both organized long-distance sailing-rallies for amateurs) had the luck of an organization behind them trying their best to arrange somewhere for them to stop. Yachtingworld has an interesting article about how some of them were struggling: https://www.yachtingworld.com/news/sailing-coronavirus-outbreak-world-arc-fleet-safe-port-125603.
Southamerica, here you can find a first-hand-report from the daughter of friends of mine: https://syspaceoddity.home.blog/2020/04/13/yachts-in-quarantine/.
And a very interesting must-read article from my friend Jill which is also about the people on land and their fears of us cruising-sailors: https://www.yachtmollymawk.com/2020/04/stay-right-where-you-are/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stay-right-where-you-are&utm_source=Yacht+Mollymawk&utm_campaign=ade414a83d-rss-email&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_59132ba2b5-ade414a83d-46009055
But, the subject doesn’t end here. Many of the Liveaboard- and Cruising-Sailors have decided to give up and sail back to their home-countries. Me being me I haven’t got a clue and I’m incapable to explain to you why this has to happen as fast as possible.
One reason certainly is the approaching hurricane-season in the Caribbean. When a hurricane hits, most places are not safe and boats lose their insurance. In the times before COVID-19 people would sail their boats out of the Hurricane-Belt or store them with a lot of extra-precaution on the very limited spaces on land. But right now there is nowhere they could go as everything is in lockdown. Panama is under quarantine and had closed the Canal for vessels under 65 feet (20 m), blocking the exit-route to the Pacific Ocean. To the relief of many it was opened again under certain circumstances (see PDF from the Canal-authorities here: http://www.pancanal.com/common/maritime/advisories/2020/ADV-14-2020.pdf). Or heading towards Europe, hoping the situation will change during the 20- or so day-passage of the Atlantic, and hoping to find a place somewhere to stop.
Update 20th of April: The German Sailing Association Trans Ocean has just announced the initiation of a communal support-action for boats wanting to come back to Europe from the Caribbean. Participation is available for everyone, no matter which Nationality or if a Member of Trans Ocean or not. This whole thing is happening on a volunteer-basis, so people have no “right” to claim anything, and it’s only gonna happen if at least 30 boats are interested. You can find more info here: https://www.trans-ocean.org/Bericht-lesen/ArticleId/6156/Unterstuetzung-fuer-die-Route-Karibik-Europa
It’s not only people currently in the Caribbean desperately wanting to get back to their homecountries.
A Swedish guy ended up with his boat on the beach in Povoa de Varzim (https://www.publico.pt/2020/04/06/local/noticia/veleiro-deriva-encalhou-praia-caxinas-vila-conde-1911121), coming from Funchal/Madeira Island in (it was claimed) an attempt to sail home in adverse weather-conditions.
When things settled a little bit, some countries allowed sailing-boats to anchor in their territorial waters for a quarantine-period of 14 days provided they wouldn’t set foot ashore, which was already something as long as the weather was stable and no storm on it’s way – a solution practiced for example in the Canary Islands and many other places.
And then, what happens after the 14-day-quarantine?
The Canary Islands would allow people to enter a port. But this is not the case everywhere. Just yesterday (13th of April) I had a friend of mine on the phone who had passed his 14 days of quarantine in the Cape Verde Islands at anchor. He had to deal with an urgent repair, so they let him enter the port. 24 hours later he was told to leave, orders from the President. He contacted his embassy, was in negotiation with the authorities, no luck. “Go back to your country!” He’s now thinking of sailing to Gambia and try his luck there.
Luck again in mainland Portugal: sailors are allowed to stock up with fuel and water, they are also allowed to dock, but they are not allowed to leave the boat. If they need to stock up with provisions someone from shore needs to help.
I guess Noonsite has the most up-to-date worldwide information if this is at all possible in these days: https://www.noonsite.com/news/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-special-procedures-being-introduced-in-ports-of-entry-worldwide/
There is of course lots of videos now, but I found this one quite interesting and saying it all: It’s of a young couple with their baby trying to get back to France (the husband comes from Reunion-Island (next to Madagascar) and the wife from Slovakia), which shows their struggle with adverse weather-conditions, closed ports, quarantine and a very nice introduction into how to separate the clean, virus-free-space from the outside world on a boat:
And I quite like this one, which shows a British Family on a boatyard in Spain trying to deal with the situation as it comes:
It will certainly be a while till things start to settle down a bit, and it would be nice if the world would get a better place when this happens. Remember: we’re all together in this!
If you would like to add your own story, have suggestions or news, please let me know!
Take care, stay safe and well, Dody