Totem’s bow floats high thanks to the anchor and ground tackle that lies on the concrete dock just forward of her stem. The bow looks naked without a chainplate as last of Totem’s original chainplates is replaced. Projects are ticking off nicely as we prepare for April’s departure to the South Pacific.
Here in Mexico, none of the panic-buying of toilet paper or run on hand sanitizer we’ve heard about is happening. The rise of COVID-19 is influencing us regardless.
The wakeup call was more like a strident alarm this week when one of the families we know planning to stop in Galapagos was told by their Ecuadoran agent (agents being the easiest way to access these stunning islands) that boats with crew who had spent a month in Mexico would not be allowed to enter. At the time, Mexico had seven cases, zero serious, no fatalities. It is almost certainly a badly written piece of guidance which intends to prevent travelers through infected areas within the last month, but a sign of the times as borders clamp down and cruisers feel the impact. As travelers accustomed to an unusual amount of freedom of movement on our floating islands, the prospect of constraints has snapped many cruisers to attention.
In a pending issue of Cruising World I have an article that provides a broad overview of how cruisers are being impacted, what they should know, and how to prepare as COVID-19 makes a growing global mark. Here’s how we’re specifically being impacted.
At this writing, there are no additional requirements for cruisers entering French Polynesia. However, other changes to traveler arrivals are in place in the territory: all arrivals in commercial flights are required to have certificates of good health and are given thermal screening upon arrival. In addition, all cruise ships must now enter French Polynesia exclusively through the port in Papeete, Tahiti and not stop any other port prior in the archipelagoes. Although regulations such as these are not yet applied to private yachts, they guide our preparation.
Within a few days of departure, we’ll prepare health certificates to be reviewed (with examinations as needed) and signed off by a medial professional. Knowing a few of them in the fleet (we have at least two nurses, an ARNP, and two physicians here in Banderas Bay!), and having excellent and accessible Mexican clinics nearby – this should be easy.
Onboard health monitoring
The quarantine being applied in other places is 14 days. Sailing this same route in 2010, we transited to the Marquesas in 19 days. It stands to reason that this will be applied towards quarantine time, but may need documentation for that to be accepted. We plan to monitor crew health underway: daily tick lists of key symptoms for COVID-19, including temperature checks.
With both this and the pre-departure certificate in hand, we should be covered in anticipation of similar requirements being made to cruisers are currently applied to air travelers.
The port clearance location, however, could really throw a wrench in plans. If cruisers are subsequently required to enter only through Tahiti, as cruise ships now are, we would face meaningful routing changes. In addition to adding at least 700 nautical miles to the ~3,000 nm route, they are squirrely miles that require weaving through “the dangerous archipelago” of the Tuamotus, where altitude is measured in inches above sea level.
The islands where we hope to spend most of our 90-day visas for French Polynesia – the Marquesas and Tuamotus – would then be upwind and harder to access, and possibly just written off in favor of continuing on to the Cooks and beyond.
I’m hopeful that if French Polynesia does tighten up available ports of entry that we’ll still be able to enter at the Marquesas largest port in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva; we’ll have to watch, and wait, and pay attention.
The single best resource for cruisers is Noonsite. They’ve set up a page which aggregates information for cruisers by region, then by country, with the latest information about port clearances and quarantine. It’s an incredible effort by the editors made possible through active updates by cruisers; if you have news, send to email@example.com, subject COVID-19, with the update and source.
To help stay informed, we recently decided to hire an agent to help with clearance for French Polynesia. While I’m confident we can could manage the clearance on our own, we’ll happily pay for the convenience because now there is a particularly helpful link to changes on the ground, and being informed early. And assuming we are able to arrive in the Marquesas as intended, the agent’s help to access duty free fuel will come in handy!
The one impact of COVID-19 we have already experienced directly is losing the chance for another visit with my father, who had planned to fly down to Mexico this week. His health is good, but in his mid-80s age elevates his risk significantly; departing from an area of the US with a higher number of infections doesn’t help. The wise choice was determined to be remaining at home, and limiting exposure. I’m pretty sad not to get another chance for a round of vicious Chicago Rummy and more hugs.