Diane Tetreault writes about the OCC for the NCMM Newsletter

Diane Tetreault writes about the OCC for the NCMM Newsletter

Diane has been on the Board of the NC Maritime Museum for more than 10 years. They love hearing about the OCC and members who stop in Beaufort, NC where she is Port Officer and asked for a story.

By - 05/07/2020

As we all stay at home, wear our masks, and are constantly sanitizing our hands, I have been dreaming of sailboats, beautiful ocean water surrounding an island paradise, and cocktails with friends in the cockpit at sunset. And I have also been looking forward to greeting the cruising sailors of the Ocean Cruising Club who will be returning or arriving in Beaufort soon for the first time.

During the months of stay-at-home quarantine, it has been easy to get bored and feel claustrophobic. But what if I was living on that dreamy sailboat, hanging out in foreign waters, and was told that those stay-at-home orders applied to me and every other live-aboard boater I knew? What would that exactly mean?

The Ocean Cruising Club, an international sailing organization with over 2500 members, found themselves with hundreds of member sailboats, scattered around the world, unable to move or make plans due to COVID-19 restrictions. Literally hundreds of boats had arrived in Antigua immediately following the 2019 hurricane season. Antigua is one of the two major islands that make up the Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda. Horatio Hornblower actually made Antigua his base of operation in the 1780s. The island is only 108 miles with a population of 80,000, and hundreds of beautiful beaches. U.S. and Canadian sailors leave in the late Fall heading south to warmer weather in the islands. The European sailors head south as well, traveling along the west coast of Africa and then west toward the Caribbean at the same time. These trips cover thousands of miles and can include at least a month of open sea sailing.

Most cruisers have been planning their new lifestyle for years and are finally seeing their dreams come true. Their biggest worry is “will the weather let us sail off to the next beautiful island tomorrow?" You must realize cruising on a sailboat is not all cocktails and sunsets – there is a lot of routine boat work to do – keeping water & fuel tanks full, provisioning (buying and storing groceries), and then cooking in a galley the size of your entryway closet at that home you left behind. But all this (the good and the bad) is why people buy sailboats and head off into the great unknown.

That is until 2020 and the great pandemic! Things began to change and rumours abounded. Most cruisers hoped this would not impact them – after all, they lived on a boat. But it seemed like almost overnight, islands were shutting down and countries around the world were closing their borders. As in the U.S., where each state had differing rules and these were changing almost daily, so did each little island country in the Caribbean, and countries around the world. Everywhere the captains were trying to go, they found they were not welcome. Some countries/islands insisted the boats leave immediately, while others said they were not allowed to leave as there was no place to go that would let them check in. Then more rules came down:

  • No leaving the boat & no swimming in the waters
  • Only 1 crew member could go ashore for 1 hour every 2 weeks to grocery shop. Or, they could call in an order and groceries would be brought to the boat by dingy.
  • Boats were allowed to leave anchorage to empty holding tanks but had to return within 2 hours.

Of course, there was no TV, only occasional WiFi, and no way to even go for a walk. As with us here in the States, the first month was not too bad, but as time dragged on, they too began to worry about how long their confinement would last. However, the cruisers had a bigger worry on the horizon. The 2020 Hurricane Season! As April rolled into May, these Caribbean quarantined cruisers were asking themselves:

  • Will the US open up in time to go North?
  • Should we leave in May to sail home to Europe?
  • When will the world open up to let us cruise again?
  • Will the Islands allow boats to stay during hurricane season?
  • What will our insurance companies say?
  • If we sail west, will the Panama Canal open up again to smaller boats?
  • What if we leave and can’t find a country to let us in?

The stress of the unknowns was extreme and shared by hundreds of boats around the world. Finally, in mid-May over 250 boats scattered around 20 Caribbean Islands began making plans to head NE, NW, South and West. The OCC worked with other organizations, weather forecasters, and the OCC Port Officers to help the cruisers get safely home or to their desired destination. Their hope was that countries would be opening up by the time they arrived. And, of course, they would have already been in quarantine after several weeks of sailing.

Good planning usually works and it has proven to be true once again. Most European countries, the Azores & Bermuda have said yes to these sailors wanting only to go home. Just as some of our cities and states are beginning to open up, so have Beaufort and Morehead City. Over a dozen OCC boats have arrived here since the beginning of May. Most had spent at least 2 months alone on their boats and travelled 10-15 days before arriving in our waters. They were aware of our restrictions and had their masks ready.

They enjoyed walking the streets of the town, enjoyed their take-out food from our restaurants, and the friendly southern hospitality. Most have now left heading further north, but are looking forward to their return in the Fall. There are lots of stories about how these cruisers endured and or enjoyed their time in quarantine and I look forward to sharing some of them later.

Image credit:  PredictWind tracker screen grab showing OCC Atlantic Crossing fleet in late May created by Alex Blackwell

Reproduced with permission of Brenton Eliot Creelman,  Director of Operations,  Friends of the Museum, NC Maritime Museum, Inc.

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