Vessel Restricted in Ability to Maneuver

ColRegs, the popular acronym for that mouthful “International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” includes in rule no. 3 the definitions for boats restricted in their ability to maneuver. Reading through the described causes makes me want to add another: (g)(vii) A vessel engaged in the prevention of communicable disease during global pandemic. OK, so I’m stretching the intention of the definition but it’s one sign of how Coronavirus infiltrates the way we look at pretty much every aspect of life right now! Here’s a peek into the current situation on Totem, at anchor under highly restrictive terms.

Totem at anchor in the fog; Baja California Sur. photo, Karri Alderson

Totem’s location in Bahia Candeleros is a step along a migratory route to a safer area as hurricane season looms with an eye on government orders to limit the spread of Coronavirus. Staying dialed into changes is important, so one of the reasons for our current spot is easy access to internet, but it also places us under orders which are currently among the highly constrained in the country.

Getting current information

There are multiple sets of regulations for us to adhere to: federal, state, and local. They tend to be progressively restrictive, but not necessarily. While Noonsite is the best shortcut to a view of national updates, the hyper-local nature of our restrictions has shifted go-to resources. Perhaps surprisingly, among the best for us are the Pages on Facebook created by government outlets: governors, states, health ministries, and local townships. Regional cruiser/expat Groups on Facebook surface updates that are most immediately useful, and include helpful interpretation/news from local contacts (such a Port Captain’s intentions for cruising boat movement, which may not be clear in a directive addressing commercial and fishing boats).

Loreto officials bringing regulation news to boats anchored in their municipality

An unexpected source: in-person visits from government delegates! Last week, a representative from Loreto’s city hall visited every boat in Totem’s and surrounding anchorages to ensure we understood the regulations. They were gracious and spoke excellent English. They also provided a handout on regulations. A few days later, the Navy again passed through the anchorage – this time sharing a pre-recorded message (in Spanish and in English) of a similar message. Update: their letter, in English, is added to the bottom of this post.

What we can/can’t do right now

Mexico’s federal government has instituted stay-at-home orders, the closure of schools and paused all activities deemed non-essential. Initially this was through April, but has since been extended to May 30. But unlike many (most!) countries, the border is not closed; there are international flights, international clearances are processed for boats arriving and departing (as long as they declare an open-border country as their destination).

No recreational boating is permitted. What does that mean? It’s OK to progress from port to port towards an ultimate goal of sequestering or hauling, and to transit a port for the purpose of provisioning. Most domestic ports remain open, but not all, and port captains define allowed activity. In, you can arrive but cannot depart; in others, all entry / exit is closed barring extenuating circumstances.

Here in Baja California Sur, one person is allowed out/off for essential activity such as to get food, fuel, or in case of a health emergency. Walking the family dog isn’t an emergency. Getting exercise is something to do to at home/aboard. The governor has instituted fines of 8,688 pesos (about US$400) for infractions. All public events, religious services, and public spaces are closed.

Locally, the Loreto municipality is exceptionally strict. Like a number of Baja communities, they have barricaded themselves off to non-residents. Transiting / commercial vehicles are allowed to pass, but currently, visiting boaters are not welcome ashore.

Sunrise today behind Totem; pelicans arrive from the rookery to fish

Deciding what to do

This isn’t difficult: the #1 concern (after our family’s safety) is to be a good guest to our host country, Mexico. I believe cruisers have a higher burden of compliance. I believe one of the worst things we can do is redefine orders (in the absence of explicit definitions for cruisers) based on what we want to do.

Hearing cruisers who don’t comply talk about the activities that violate restrictions, seeing their posts on social media, is unquestionably the hardest part of the situation for me. It’s like the deep distress I felt last month as boats continued to depart from the Americas for French Polynesia after the country made it clear they did not want boats to arrive. I understand the temptation, I just don’t understand flaunting the choice to pursue activities that are off limits.

Sure, it’s hard. Sure, it doesn’t always make sense. I would love to go for a swim. And as one of our friends pointed out, “I haven’t seen any scientific evidence that would actually support [the ban on swimming/snorkeling].” And it’s true, and we’re in a place where overrun beaches are definitely not a concern, but it’s not the point. The guidelines are being kept simple: aquatic activities are prohibited.  It’s our responsibility to respect the rules, even if we know a swim near the boat doesn’t put us at risk of getting or spreading COVID. And that, I suppose, is the frustrating bit! We aren’t worried about the risk because of where we are, but we’re VERY worried about the perception of boaters who feel the rules don’t apply to them, and the reputation that gives the community at large.

The baitfish those pelicans are after, photographed from Totem‘s side deck

Getting food on board

Last week we were able to provision, nearly six weeks since my last stocking-up grocery run.  This was a little more complicated since we can’t go ashore to shop ourselves. Local services are meeting the need; we placed an order through the convenience store inside a nearby marina (Puerto Escondido, about six miles north). They took our list, shopped it in town, then delivered it by boat. The prices are a little higher than normal, but that’s typical Baja anyway. The delivery fee was a bit eyepopping, but we could share it among four boats – making it palatable.

Food safety was another trick; two of our neighbors are medical professionals, and helped outline a process to manage surface decontamination for deliveries. It might sound extreme to some, but given our extreme isolation of recent weeks…well, why add any unnecessary risk?

It begins with dividing the boat in to ‘red’ (possibly contaminated) zones on our side and aft deck, and ‘green’ (clean/safe) zone in the cockpit. On hand: a five-gallon bucket of water + disinfectant, Clorox wipes, a spray bottle of 70% alcohol, and clean towels.

A fishing boat with arrived with our delivery; their masked crew transferred our bags to the side decks. From there, items were sorted: products in plastic were chucked to the aft deck to let their possible contamination run out the clock (those Ruffles won’t be any different after three days).

Vegetables…so excited to have fresh vegetables! I was most concerned about getting these treated and moved below so they wouldn’t spoil in the sun.  Mairen helped me dunk these into the bucket. Dunk is the wrong word; our health care pros recommended about 30 seconds of immersion. From there, they were transferred to the ‘green’ zone in the cockpit where towels were spread out for them to try.

Priority triage complete, the spray bottle of alcohol and wipes were employed for a round two triage: goods in packaging that had been set aside (like flour, tortillas, and chips) which we wanted to bring below had a spray and a wipedown.

On-boarding complete, we stripped in the head and showered to clean our clothes and avoid any cross contamination.

Fueling with diesel, gas, or propane

As the provisioning delivery might suggest, the marina north of here has been very accommodating. Sure, it’s business, but I suspect they’re also happy to avoid the whiff of recreational boating. Remote provisioning reduces exposure (thus risk) for all.

Propane tanks were collected for a couple of neighboring boats; the marina will get those filled, and have them available for us to collect when we come in for a diesel or gas or can arrange delivery. But without plans to be bopping around the islands (no recreational boating, remember?) we don’t really need fuel. And with our solar oven being put into heavy rotation, our propane should hold out nicely too.

Getting through

This is hard. It’s over 40 days since I set foot on land… 42? 43? Does it matter? I’m going to look like I percolated a pandemic baby thanks to the baguettes Mairen’s baking and the general lack of doing much of anything but sit around! We’re all coping well, but…it’s hard. Last week we had cocktails over Zoom… with OUR ANCHORAGE NEIGHBORS a few boat lengths away. Cruising is exceptionally social, if you choose – and we do choose. To have been un-social for so long, and expecting an un-social future in many ways (it’s hard to know how long, but I expect we’ll be very selective about who we’ll share proximity with, once that is even OK). We’re social creatures and miss the interaction. It’s all very surreal, and while coping is happening in mostly healthy ways.

Complaining isn’t my style, and mostly we’re lucky anyway. It is likely a financial blow; we’ll get through it. We have what we need, we have each other, we have a cushion if necessary; we’ll come out on the other side eventually. We’ll be OK, it’s all just…hard.

Somehow fitting in the surreal nature of our current situation: this morning we witnessed a natural phenomenon for the first time. A “fogbow” – literally a white rainbow of fog – stretched across our Baja anchorage this morning. And with neighbors to share the phenomenon with, over VHF radio and Whatsapp, a social event of the week!

Pulsar under the fogbow; Bahia Candeleros
Letter delivered by Loreto city officials via boat to vessels in the anchorage.

Wishing you wellness, safety, and zen!

Fog tumbling into the anchorage. photo: Jenn Shapiro

29 Responses

  1. Behan, I love your heart. Thank you for stating so beautifully how important it is to respect the host country. Even though not swimming seems like a completely ridiculous knee-jerk edict, breaking it sets a lousy example of disrespect and arrogance.

    Your description of getting supplies and detoxing on deck reminds me of the de-bugging procedures we all use(d) and I know your background makes this a bo-brainer, even if it is time-consuming.

    Love the idea of Zooming with nearby neighbors — we’ve been doing this as well, cocktail hours with the people up the street!

    We love you!

    1. Big love to you both! How fun you’re also Zooming with neighbors. I appreciate how we are pushed to be conscious of the time we have with others right now.

  2. A really stupendous post, thank you for being such thoughtful, eloquent advocates for responsible action: fundamentals as applicable to any community as to our own specific one.

  3. 40 days on a boat (the size of a studio apartment) with no shore access is really, really hard. And it must be hard to see communities that are normally welcoming be so unwelcoming. I understand your POV as visitors in a country but also see the others’ POV that perhaps people shouldn’t accept every rule govts come up with unconditionally. There are some very concerning things happening in countries around the world. If they ask you to stay onboard for 3 months, or 12 months, what then? WA State is going into month 3 now.

    1. It’s hard to be patient for the greater good, but I think it’s important. Eyes open of course? But ever mindful that personal frustration and personal desire really need to be set aside right now.

  4. Just got news of a Cruising boat that departed Mexico for French Polynesia, as you lament, and was denied enrty. They now face a thrash to Hawaii, then on the the Pacific Northwest to home. Makes one wonder, what were they thinking?

    1. Yes, what were they thinking! Possibly they left before FP was closed? At least it’s a good time of year to sail up to HI from FP.

      1. Here in Queensland there are as usual some boats heading north for the winter. You may say “what are they thinking”, whereas on land we are not allowed to travel more than 100 miles from home, how come they are travelling (and documenting it on youtube). Well the government directive makes no mention of restrictions for people who are living on board, that is until you find the small paragraph on its own on page 2 of the Notice to Mariners. Most notices are less than one page, so to find one on 2 pages with no page number on the first page, which seemed complete, was surprising. Understably people are not seeing it and once you get 30 miles out you have no internet on the average yacht. Also when you have 4 state governments and one 2 party federal government all playing politics and bickering and criticising each other as well as having different laws about travel and social distancing, you can understand why people just say stuff it I’m off. So what they were thinking is, we have had zero cases, the prime minister says we should be opening up, the state premier says we shouldn’t and I think anchoring 50 miles out for 2 months in my own home seems preferable to listening to the junior school food fight that passes for politics today.

        1. Pretty gross mismanagement on the gov side, and pretty gross ignorance on the boater side. Neither terribly surprising, both truly a shame.

  5. Chiapas update.
    Still a few boats passing through in your direction, and to USA, the latest being a 100ft maxi sloop 35 years old. Bought in Italy, refurbished and now heading under Mexican ownership to its new home base at Cabo. UK captain and varied young crew.
    Marina here open and have even processed some escapees without Zarpe. Haulouts are starting with people intending to fly home to USA. More adventurous departures are Vancouver direct and departing soon Townsville semi direct.
    The area remains socially open although the on site restaurant is closed and the swimming pool not yet finished. Shopping in town at Walmart is ok and one boat have bought themselves a motor bike for local distressing.
    Summer storage rates here will be $250 a month flat rate. + a small fee for power.
    We have good power, water, wi-fi and shelter, but will still haul and fly to UK when we can.
    Kitty and Brian on Scraatch.

    1. Chiapas is a great place to be for many reasons, and Memo takes such incredibly good care of the customers at his marina. Great summer rates!

  6. Thank you for the news from dear Totem. Sort of reading between your lines is concern for the future of cruising. Will cruising destinations remain restricted or off-limits from here on out? Will destinations permanently require reservations month(s) in advance? Will 14 day or longer quarantining upon arrival become the norm? Might some of these restrictions come to apply permanently to cruising within one’s own country?

    Some of these are within possibility but not likely IMHO. Sooner or later governments & health officials will realise people need to get on with their lives socially, economically and spiritually.

    Am an optimist, as are you. So carpe Deum! Each day is a gift and a test. Cheers!

  7. Behan– I really appreciate your attitude and compliance. One of the hardest things for me is the unusual anger that roils up in my toward people who think they don’t have to comply. I’m working on new ways to control my feelings. We affluent people are not used to postponing what we want for the sake of others. We tend to trust only what we see. There is a desperate lack of reliable witnesses. I think of Jesus’ words to Thomas–blessed are those who believe without seeing.

    BTW have you tried Thieves Household cleaner to use as a disinfectant? There is also a Thieves fruit and veggie wash. We use both of those, make our own wipes and sprays and combine it with baking soda, a little vinegar, and lemon oil for a great scrub that even took permanent marker out of my biking shirt. I don’t know if you can get deliveries……
    (I’m Ann Cornwell’s cousin–we’ve emailed in the past. Check out my biblical paintings and videos on my site.)

    1. Hi Debby, you nailed it: the privileged are not used to being told what to do! I’m not familiar with ‘Thieves’ but this sounds like it wouldn’t be an option for us in Mexico… mail service are complicated unless you’re working with a Mexican retailer.

  8. Great post. We have quite similar condition in Ecuador. We are on the 7. Week of lockdown. It is a long time and I have similar feelings.
    Keep safe

  9. Great post and perspective on an on-going and constantly changing situation. I applaud your efforts to follow the rules and set a good example as a foreign guest in a somewhat unique situation. However, I’m kind of glad I decided to leave my boat in La Cruz and fly back to the U.S. in early April when I did. 40 days on a boat is a l o n g time!

  10. Thanks for the update Behan. Hope you are all well. Here in Queensland they have eased things a bit. We are now allowed to start recreational boating this weekend. There are still social distancing measures and restrictions on gathering sizes. However from what I can see around our neighbourhood, the easing is being regarded as a bit of a free for all. We have very low infection numbers so far, but initially to qualify for a test was ridiculously difficult. You had to have had contact with a person that had tested positive for covid-19. Basically catch 22. The only way to get tested was to be very sick and for a doctor to break protocol. We’re coming into winter soon and hope we can see continued low numbers. Stay safe.

    1. It’s been awesome to see how Covid was tamped down in Oz – well, hopefully it was? The test qual makes me wonder how much could be masked by lack of information (as we are certain is the case here in Mexico). I am sure it hasn’t been easy to be under restrictions for many.

  11. Nailed it, as usual. If we aren’t good guests here how can we expect to be welcome? And yes, the host does define what it means to be a good guest. Things are quiet here in La Cruz. Other than necessary shopping, showers and medical appointments Marie and I have not been off the boat other than to walk Zoe pretty much since you guys left. I am grateful that dog walking on the malecon is still allowed as otherwise Zoe would doubtless be bouncing off the bulkheads. We are still hoping to make Puerto Penesco for a summer haulout and refit but preparing for a summer here if necessary. Stay safe.

    1. I’m so glad you can get Zoe out for everyone’s happiness! We will keep an eye out for you in the Sea, but LaCruz is a pretty awesome place to be too.

  12. This was a really great post, thank you!

    I especially appreciate your comments about all of us respecting the rules of the country and the locals who would otherwise see us as enjoying a situation while they are being told to stay at home and forgo their livelihoods. This has been a hard pill for me to swallow, seeing and listening to others completely disregard that most basic form of respect and regard.

  13. Your very intentional decisions are interesting and reassuring to me. I really appreciate the consideration you give to others and the host countries you visit; good guests, especially impotant in the current political climate.
    I purchased, and have been reading your “Voyaging…” book as well and have the same feeling about it. Take care and be healthy!

  14. Oh come on…you know when know one is looking you go for swims around the boat.

    1. If we’re anchored near anyplace accessible by humans, I believe you have to assume someone IS looking. And if they see us swimming – doing exactly what we’ve been told not to do – what doe that say about us, and about the cruising community? Gringo privilege, rules don’t apply to us? It’s not right.

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