How Coronavirus is impacting our plans

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.

No run on toilet paper in Puerto Vallarta! Wish you were here? Aussie cruiser Andrew niggling the #codebrown situation friends have at home. photo: Karen Deeley

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.

Health certificates

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.

Route planning

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 extended route means navigating through the minefield of Tuamotu atolls

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.

What we’re headed to: Jamie diving off Totem’s bow; Tuamotus, 2010

Keeping informed

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 editor@noonsite.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.

One week ago, with my aunties: goodbyes are hard, but you get no quarter at the Rummy table in our family!

13 Responses

  1. This is amazing information that most of us landlubbers had no knowledge of. Thank you for keeping us informed!
    Love your FB entries!

  2. Hi
    Thanks for the update. We are in the middle of the toilet stock piling bit. I didn’t know that corona
    gives you the runs all I know is it can give you a headache.
    It would seem a bit negative to have cruisers having to check in where all the cruise ships are when
    the authorities are saying to avoid gatherings. All it would take is a couple of cases and the ports
    would be closed.
    I would stick to your schedule if possible provided no one has come to the other islands that are
    infected.
    Will be following you. Will AIS be available for the passage.
    Cheers

    1. It does seem a bit gruesome, especially as we’ll all arrive in French Poly effectively after a quarantine period; however if that’s the best way to do health screenings, it’s an outcome I can envision. Will see what happens next! AIS for mere mortals uses land-based VHF signal reception and propagation, so we won’t be trackable that way. BUT we have our PredictWind tracking page and you can always see our up-to-the-hour position and speed there.

  3. What each country is doing in real time is critical to all cruisers. I am going to suggest Wally Moran setup a temporary Facebook group for that purpose. I know that one couple want out for a day sail in Hong Kong and was denied reentry.
    Scary times.

    1. Deb, I’m so glad you commented with this because it prompted me to realize I left out a really important source and call to action. Noonsite is already tackling this herculean effort and managing it quite spectacularly. Their resource page for COVID-19 breaks the changes down by region, then country, with links to government sources. They have editors and volunteers on the job, and are grateful for all updates from cruisers in the field. It’s a great resource and one that everyone should remember to read and contribute to – especially now! I’ve added a paragraph to the post (under the pic of Jamie diving off the bow) that includes a link and this information. Thanks!

  4. Hi Behan
    This is indeed a very dynamic situation. As I scanned the news this morning (3/10) I see that the Life Care Center nursing home near Seattle that is the epicenter for CORVID 19 death in the US has no CDC approved test kits for the 65 employees out in the community who exhibit signs of active infection. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-nursinghome-idUSKBN20X01R The facility had 180 employees in daily contact with the dying, none of which has been isolated or tested— consistent with the US unofficial policy of “Don’t Test, Don’t Ask”. Meanwhile South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day and quarantined its population at the level we saw in China. Hopefully those drastic measures will slow or stop the spread of the disease in their country.

    I can’t think of a better place to be right now than on a long ocean passage headed toward the tropics and away from the USA with it’s its dysfunctional public health system! Even if you encounter inconvenient entry restrictions and end up spending too much time sailing to weather your are aboard your own floating time machine, able to search out the more remote and interesting parts of the global oceans.

    The fact that Seattle has become the trigger locus for spread of the disease has impacted my personal plans as well. My goal for the summer and beyond has been to sail to the Fairweather Range (north of Glacier Bay Alaska) and then out to Hawaii in the fall. I’ve looked for the ideal boat for that voyage for some time, and just settled upon the best available compromise when the CORID19 virus emerged. I am not willing to spend a month outfitting it at the North American center of an emerging pandemic while the US economy collapses around us, so my plans are on hold.

    1. Agreed that a long ocean passage may be well timed! What we have to consider is what meets us on the other side. I’m sure sorry about your plans…I’d be shelving for now, too.

      1. If the choice is between overstaying your time on an atoll in the Tuamotos vs a fresh baguette in Papeete it shouldn’t be a hard one!

        Here in the US they just cancelled the entire remaining NCAA basketball season. The Horror!

        Fair Winds

  5. I spent yesterday in a hospital in Australia. There were signs and hand cleaning stations every 60 or so metres. Then the car park pay station with touch screens and keypads and people scratching their heads and noses while trying to work out how to actually pay. We were lucky to find toilet paper at a shop on the way home. Anyone who thinks it is stupid to hoard should get down to their last roll then go to a very large shopping centre to find absolutely zero toilet roll, kitchen roll or paper tissues available. Hand cleanser solutions? Is there such a thing? We haven’t seen any in shops for 2 weeks now. Still plenty of people using the toilets but not the handwashing facilities though.

  6. Hi Behan,
    Great site! Just to let you know I will be monitoring the covid response here in FP on a multiple time basis every day, and will post updates on the FP cruisers page, as well as the Puddle Jump page. I suspect that by April, more constraints will be built into the system…
    Cheers
    Olivier/ SY Mary Ann / AVP

  7. My wife and I are mountain guides and have had the luxury of working in Japan, Austria, and Switzerland just as the CV situation has devolved in each place. We are also starting the process of planning an extended sailing trip with our kids (5 & 8) for all the usual reasons. Like many the primary missing link is sailing experience. With our business shut down for the first time in 25 years we are considering jumping on the opportunity for an extended Spring sail in the PNW. It is nice to be able to glimpse into the parallel universe of the sailing community.

    One thing that has been interesting is how absolutely unaware people are of the situation until it is upon them. After barely making out it out of Austria on March 13 when the valley below our backcountry ski tour was quarantined and then experiencing the surreal trip home through abandon airports, I (my wife was home) arrived in Seattle to scenes of hoarding, as seen in Switzerland a few days before, but a population that appears to be doing little to stop the spread until the wheels come off. Sounds like what we should be doing is laying low, not mingling, and slowing the spread.

    As countries ban entry, close borders, and shut down every imaginable establishment, it seems like there could be some real obstacles to travel unless you actually are set up to be self-sufficient for long periods. Really appreciate your perspective and will be following closely. Of interest there is very “this is a hoax” perception among the more conservative crowd, but having followed the situation in Italy (were we also work) closely, things are getting pretty real. Just under 400 deaths in Italy in one day captured our attention, as does epidemiologists assessment that 50-70% of us will contract this either way. The human and economic reaction would appear to be as damaging as the virus itself.

    Please keep us posted. I am guessing our path will involve necessarily waiting out this situation, but coming it with an enhanced enthusiasm for stepping out of the junk show that the US has become. We very much enjoy reading what all the families are up to. If we can be of assistance to anyone let us know.

    John & Olivia

  8. Hi John & Olivia
    Sounds like you are far more aware than most! As you have no doubt heard, Trump & Trudeau just closed the borders between Canada & the US last night. Time to put Behan’s great advice about provisioning to use regardless of whether or not your boat’s wish list is done. I suspect if the Canadian coast guard stops you north of Johnstone Straight they will kick you out to the North rather than South! Salmon lures, crab pots, ling cod jigs, maybe even a rifle for beach deer, and lots of canning equipment and you can be self sufficient for years in that part of the world. With your families’ youth and health you will likely be survivors even in a world where 70% of humans become infected carriers.

    I am 70, living in a small mountain town in Idaho. Two stop lights and one large grocery store in the county. The major employer was a small ski area. With 24 hours notice the ski area closed, laying off several hundred employees. Most businesses in the towns closed, unemployment went from 5% to effectively 50%, and the supermarket shelves were stripped bare in one day. In the US we are a week away from martial law. Not many alternatives unless you were one of those crazy preppers. Me? I just ordered another 100 rounds of ammo for the elk rifle.

    Fair winds & keep it off the kelp rocks!

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