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’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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
Wishing you wellness, safety, and zen!