Pandemic in Paradise - Part 2

Pandemic in Paradise - Part 2

Exchange of reliable information so that stranded cruisers could make their own rational decisions proved invaluable. Armed with the knowledge that they were not alone, they made plans to return home.

By - 27/05/2020

Boats already in the Pacific faced difficult challenges with few options, although there is some hope that the situation may be easing in French Polynesia. Cruisers throughout French Polynesia were being directed to Tahiti where they were to leave their boats and fly home. Hundreds of yachts were now at anchor with cyclone season approaching and nowhere safe to sail to. Our Global Support Network is now working as a team spanning from Panama to French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Australia to help cruisers of all nationalities whether or not they are OCC members. Faced with vast distances to traverse and uncertain situations at arrival, there are few decisions that can be made. Our team is not advocating for casual cruising, only for acceptance of yachts who will agree to quarantine and medical checks even after many weeks at sea. 

Meanwhile back in the Caribbean, we used our Facebook group to put together a list of boats intending to cross the Atlantic, sent an email query to all those on the OCC Fleet Map but not on Facebook, verified that vessels could reprovision in the Azores, enlisted members to set up SSB and SAT communications, and set up ground support for those returning home. The members of the groups have been exchanging ideas and formulating plans. We are seeing an unprecedented return to Europe this year, with most boats not continuing into the Pacific and unable to haul out outside of the named storm zones. This with a more active than normal Atlantic hurricane season predicted. We have more than 175 yachts on our list and many more waiting to make a decision. Already, Arthur, the first tropical storm of the season ahead of schedule in May, caught two single-handed sailors returning to Scandinavia and caused one to divert to the Chesapeake.  

The Salty Dawg Rally has organized a flotilla of about 260 yachts returning to the United States. Some have called it the ‘Escape from Paradise’ sail. Others are still hoping to proceed with their original plans. In some places, the locals were beginning to stage a backlash against the cruisers who were thought to be bringing the coronavirus in with them, not understanding that being at sea for weeks was quarantine in itself.

Signs posted on beaches telling cruisers to remain on board or leave began popping up on remote islands. In the US Virgin Islands, where hundreds of American-flagged yachts congregated at anchor awaiting favourable weather for the transit back, the islanders accused them of polluting the waters and damaging the ecosystems. Yachts that left their moorings to sail out to empty tanks and make freshwater faced returning to a blocked or occupied mooring. In a few places, crews breaking the rules and congregating on beaches, caused severe 24-hour curfews for everyone. Fortunately, there were few such incidents reported.

Yet, in places like the Galapagos, the crews were treated graciously. When word came of a radio marathon to raise badly-needed funds for medical equipment to fight Covid-19, an OCC member organised the few yachts remaining at anchor there to raise $1200 for the islands’ fund which was gratefully accepted in person by the Vice Mayor of Santa Cruz. The generosity of the cruisers was acknowledged publicly and sincerely. When an OCC member read about the Galapagos, they did the same for families in the Bahamas who had lost their jobs, raising more than $2000.

In Barbuda, where five yachts remained at anchor for weeks awaiting favourable weather for a crossing of the Atlantic, they were not permitted into the town of Codrington, but were otherwise welcome to remain, swim, and fish. A couple of boats with children after two weeks at anchor in isolation were able to socialise at a distance. Two boats had watermakers and were resupplying the others. One family of four who were all musicians performed evening concerts in the anchorage for all to hear. The Coast Guard stopped by from time to time to see if everyone was okay but were cordial and kind. It was a memorable time for them all.

As the weather window opened for the Atlantic crossing -- that 6-8 week period during which the gales coming off the Americas moderate and before hurricane season begins on the 1st of June -- yachts began taking off. First one, then three, then the entire Atlantic fleet stretched from Spain to Mexico. OCC volunteers have been monitoring the fleet tracker and SSB nets and coordinating with the Coast Guard on both sides of the Atlantic, SSCA's KPK and Boatwatch, as well as the German Trans-Ocean e.V., working very hard to stay in tune with those on the high seas. 

Throughout this process, it became clear that the OCC represents a truly knowledgeable, giving and exceptionally experienced community. No amount of publicity could have achieved the goodwill toward the OCC that our members have earned. Just being able to share information and resources with the cruising community at large and helping people to reach their own informed decisions in the company of other like-minded and vastly experienced individuals was a comfort to so many. I want to thank every one of our members who are out there helping all those in need in these trying times.

What I have witnessed in 2020, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is that the level of cooperation and support among the cruising community has been extraordinary. In any case, it is likely this will not be over soon, global cruising may be changed forever, and 2020 will certainly be a year to document and learn from. Let’s hope that when it is over, the lessons will not have been too painful.

End. Return to part 1.

Photo (c) Caroline Dobbs. The vessels departing from Antigua (left to right) Nebula, Fathom and Balou, all UK registered and heading home.

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