As the coronavirus spread around the world, landlubbers trapped in lockdown could be excused for envying cruisers. After all, how bad can social distancing be when you are doing it on a yacht in the sun-dappled Caribbean, Mediterranean, or South Pacific?
Trouble in paradise
But when it comes to COVID-19, you can sail, but you can’t hide. The pandemic has had a dramatic and continuing impact on Leopard cruisers. It turns out that pandemic-related restrictions and uncertainties extend beyond the shoreline.
While many cruisers headed for their home ports when the pandemic hit, others, including some live-aboard Leopard owners, chose to stay at sea. As countries began to close their borders to limit the spread of the virus, these folks had fewer places to dock and re-provision.
Laying low and keeping it cool
As the only Caribbean entity without control of its own borders, the U.S. Virgin Islands was nearly overrun by cruisers in April. At one point, the territory had 600 boats moored in its waters, triple the typical number.
“Travel in, out and around the Bahamas became nearly impossible with border closures and lock-downs,” says Leopard owner Glenn Wakefield, who until recently was sailing the Caribbean with his fiance, Trista. “We ended up spending the worst/scariest part of the epidemic staying at remote islands in the Exuma island chain. Dealing with some of the regulations when we needed food supplies was a mild inconvenience.”
While many ports and marinas have reopened in recent months, Noonsite.com’s daily status update indicates that many countries around the world are still closed to cruisers, or require quarantine periods before entry.
Social distancing made easy
A major upside of cruising in a pandemic is the built-in social distancing.
“While we would see other sailors periodically, it was pretty much just the two of us and our cat Spicey, day after day,” says Glenn. “We didn’t come into proximity with other people; and that's about as safe as you can be in a pandemic.”
But not even Mother Ocean can protect cruisers from the same pandemic-induced anxieties faced by those stuck on dry land. Disconnection and uncertainty can take a toll even at sea.
The other side of the coin
“The main stress we had was when we would tune into the news to hear and see what seemed like the world falling apart,” says Glenn.
The couple was also saddened by the cancellation of planned visits by family and friends, most of whom were dealing with strict lockdown protocols back in the U.S.
Watching friends and family shut inside their homes, unable to work, while we were out sailing, swimming, and sunbathing, hiking, paddling, was an [unsettling] experience,” says Glenn.
Season wraps up
The experience of the past six months is some cruisers, including the Wakefields, trimming their sails and limiting their horizons for the coming season. Glenn and Trista left the Bahama’s remote Ragged Islands in May and placed their Leopard in drydock at Key Largo for the hurricane season. At this point, they plan to spend the coming sailing season close to home.
“The whole specter of what might happen again, as well as the likelihood of friends and family once again having to scuttle their travel plans, is keeping us in the Florida keys this next sailing season,” says Glenn. “I have already made long term reservations for the fall, winter and spring at a marina so we can base ourselves there while taking day or week trips on our own and with friends.”
Well, we’ll see about that. Pandemics aren’t nature’s only curveball. Glenn and Trista kept busy during their self-isolation at sea. The couple got engaged and are now expecting a baby. That joyous news was a beautiful capper to an unprecedented time - a crazy passage for which Glenn, like many cruisers, has gratitude.
“COVID has really shined a light on how fortunate we are to have this boat and the cruising lifestyle available to us,” says Glenn. “And if the Zombie apocalypse ever does come, we've had a decent practice run on how to survive it all.”