Yachting Monthly has been speaking to cruisers around the world to find out their experiences of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has, understandably, disrupted the plans of cruisers around the world, as governments try to control the spread of the virus by imposing lockdown measures.
Yachting Monthly caught up with some of the sailors who are quarantined on their boats, and one solo circumnavigator who has found the perfect way to ride out the pandemic.
Thom D’Arcy: Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
Thom D’Arcy has spent weeks in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, waiting to cross the Atlantic aboard his Vancouver 28, Fathom.
He completed a single-handed circumnavigation of the world in 2019, and has been slowly heading back to his home port of Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.
He told YM he was hoping to leave Antigua before the end of the lockdown there, although admits it isn’t a bad place to be ‘stuck’.
‘There is a curfew in place. We are allowed ashore from 0700 until 1200 and we have to wear face protection. I am using a neck warmer which is far from ideal for a Caribbean climate. The local shops are all well stocked and there is plenty of fresh fruit on the island so food supplies are fine,’ explained Thom.
‘I was preparing for an Atlantic crossing so I was well stocked up already. There are five of us waiting to cross the Atlantic. It has been fairly sociable with the group getting together for sundowners and beers in our dinghies, so we stay apart and abide by social distancing.’
‘The plan is to cross before Customs is closed. Customs is still operating and you are free to move between anchorages, you just need to let the coastguard know, so the restrictions are better than other countries,’ he added.
Thom plans to sail at the end of April for The Azores, before a ‘quick turnaround for diesel, food and water’. He will then continue sailing for England.
He said at the moment, he is unsure where he will make landfall in the UK.
‘I might stop in Falmouth but it will depend on the freedom of movement with boats when I get there,’ he said.
You can follow Thom via his Facebook page The Voyage of Fathom
Julian and Patricia Morgan: New Zealand
By now, Julian and Patricia Morgan were hoping to have been sailing to Indonesia.
Instead they and their Allures 45.9 A Capella of Belfast are locked down at Marsden Cover Marina, around 15 miles south of Whangarei in New Zealand’s North Island.
‘Subject to our visas being extended, we now anticipate staying in New Zealand until this time next year. All other possible cruising places such as Tonga and Fiji have closed their borders and this is unlikely to change any time soon,’ explained Julian.
‘As we are approaching the Southern Hemisphere winter we would need to leave New Zealand within the next six weeks if we were able to sail to another country.’
New Zealand is currently in a Level Three lockdown which means both Julian and Patricia must keep two metres away from other people and not mix with others, as well as comply with other stringent measures.
The couple, from Fromes Hill in Herefordshire, have been enjoying daily walks and a cycle once a week to the supermarket, which is three miles from the marina.
They have also been catching up with boat jobs, building and installing some new electronic devices including a new bilge water alarm, an intruder alarm and power consumption measuring devices, as well as making nine new cloth fender covers.
‘The lack of time pressure has encouraged us to be more meticulous in how we approach jobs on the boat and allowed us to develop some new skills. We have excellent internet access here so research is not an issue. We plan to make sure that A Capella Of Belfast is as seaworthy and comfortable as possible when we finally leave here,’ said Julian.
They hope when Level Two lockdown is implemented in New Zealand in around three weeks’ time, they will be allowed to do some limited cruising around the islands.
‘Next year, all other things being equal, we hope to sail to Australia and onwards to South Africa for December 2021 and then through the Atlantic towards the UK to arrive home in late summer 2022. It was always our plan to arrive back in the UK then. The major change will be an extended stay in New Zealand and sadly missing out Indonesia and Thailand,’ stated Julian.
Julian and Patricia’s circumnavigation can be followed via their blog: Sailing in A Capella of Belfast
Monika Thomae and Didier Betuel: Jacaré, Brazil
Monika Thomae and Didier Betuel were sailing from St Helena to Grenada when they decided to divert to the fishing village of Jacaré, Brazil to join friends.
The couple managed to ‘slip into’ Brazil the day before the sea borders were closed and are now locked down aboard their 1976 UFO 34 sloop, Harmoni.
‘It was a very last minute decision really. We were initially intending to sail straight to Grenada from St Helena and then a bunch of our yachtie friends decided to break up the passage to the Caribbean by including a stopover in Jacaré, Brazil. We thought it was a good idea and followed,’ explained Monika, 49, who has over 15,000 cruising miles under her belt.
‘It turned out to be a stroke of luck as we managed to slip into Brazil the day before the sea borders closed, so were still able to clear in. And then we heard that Grenada had closed its borders also while we were underway, so we would not have been able to land there in any case.’
The couple bought Harmoni in 2014 and spent years converting her to a cruising yacht as well as reinforcing, upgrading and equipping her for a circumnavigation of the world.
They left Mauritius in May 2019 and have sailed to the Seychelles, Tanzania, Mayotte, Madagascar, South Africa and St Helena.
Monika, who is German born but has spent most of her life in the UK and New Zealand, said all non-essential services were closed in Jacaré, with most people wearing masks both in the marina and in the village.
‘Within the marina we try to be careful and observe social distancing rules, but that’s voluntary, not a requirement,’ she said.
‘There appears to be a conflict in Brazil between the President who wants the economy to continue running and is keen on life to continue as normal, and the regional Governors who are pro-confinement and whose priority is to prevent further spread of the virus. In Jacaré, we are quite remote and, to date, only marginally affected by what goes on in the big cities.’
Monika’s husband Didier, 59, is a professional skipper, and the couple were hoping to work for a season in the Caribbean before continuing west as they ‘are reaching the end’ of their cruising budget.
She said for them, the impact of the lockdown would be ‘devastating’.
‘Before COVID-19 there was lots of work for skippers around. Now the tourist business in the Caribbean has dried up, and there is a huge question mark around when it will start up again. We cannot stay in Brazil beyond our 90-day visa, and most of the Caribbean is closed, with the hurricane season starting in June in any case.’
‘We do not really have a plan right now, other than hoping that the Caribbean will open up again soon and we’ll be able to find some work there, maybe on a boatyard, before we run out of funds. Harmoni is our home, we don’t have anywhere to go back to either. At the moment, frankly, we are feeling a bit stuck and despondent,’ said Monika.
Bert terHart: solo non-stop circumnavigation around the world
One cruiser who is exercising perfect social distancing is Bert terHart.
The 62-year-old, who has sailed extensively along the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska, is attempting to become the first North American to complete a single-handed, non-stop west-about circumnavigation via the five great capes – Cape Horn, Cape Agulhas, Cape Leeuwin, South East Cape and South Cape – using only traditional navigation.
He has just passed his final milestone – South Cape off New Zealand – and is now homeward bound to Victoria, BC, aboard his 1987 Reliance 44, Seaburban, which was refitted before the circumnavigation to endure the Southern Ocean. He left Victoria, BC on 27 October 2019.
Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic during an interview with YM, Bert said he found the situation ‘somewhat ironic’ as normally it is friends and family ashore who are worried about those out at sea.
‘The onset of the pandemic has seen the converse come true. Those at home may very well be at much higher risk than me,’ said Bert, who was taught to sail by his father on a man-made reservoir on the Canadian prairies.
‘There is, however, very little I can do about it. It is one of those things that is completely beyond your control. And out here, any solo sailor will tell you that it pays to know very well what you can and cannot control.’
Bert said when he first learned that the infection rates in Italy were increasing exponentially despite the Italian Government’s efforts to control the spread, he did contact his wife, Nani, to give her advice on how to prepare for the virus.
He also urged people to take self-isolation seriously by reposting an article on his blog: the5capes.com
‘Knowing that firstly you have done all you can do and secondly, that your family and loved ones have done all they can do has greatly eased any concerns I may have had. The fact that they took action early also meant that my concerns were greatly mitigated,’ explained Bert, who sailed Seaburban close to 18,000 miles ahead of his circumnavigation.
He said the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t affected his mood or attitude towards his voyage as ‘you simply cannot let events other than those in your immediate environment affect you in any way’. Instead, his highs and lows are governed by the weather, with calms being particularly frustrating, having been becalmed for close to 45 days.
‘It is imperative that you control your moods and attitudes very carefully when you are so very far away from civilisation and help. The only thing you have to defend yourself against the onslaught of all that nature has in store is the 4 inches between your ears,’ added Bert.
He feels it is hard to equate his self-isolation experience with those affected by the lockdown measures imposed in many countries around the world, especially as his self-isolation was planned very carefully. He also has limited internet access for socialising with family and friends.
Like many solo sailors, he has trusted methods to overcome the day-to-day challenges of cruising, including focusing and solving one problem at a time to prevent being ‘consumed by challenges’.
‘If I keep solving these problems one after another, I continually move forward and soon achieve what seemed impossible beforehand.’
‘Usually the problem immediately in front of you is as simple as putting on your boots. It might seem strange but the difficulty getting dressed to get outside, including putting on your boots, is no easy task when it is blowing 35 knots and the waves are 25 feet,’ added the solo skipper.
Bert hopes people will use self-isolation as an opportunity for self-reflection, to spend time with family, indulge in new hobbies or read important books.
‘Coronavirus will not affect my plan to become the first North American to complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation via the five great capes using only traditional navigational tools,’ stressed Bert, who hopes to finish on 1 July.
Once he has finished his circumnavigation, Bert and Nani, who live in Gabriola island in BC, plan to cruise Labrador, Scandinavia, Polynesian and the Philippines.