Traveling during a pandemic means a lot of online research, tests, health forms and days in quarantine.
We actually planned the trip and found the boat before Covid was a thing and did not plan to be impacted by the pandemic’s consequences.
Shortly before most European countries started to close their borders, we caught one of the last flights to England and managed to get the boat surveyed, bought it and Max was able to sail it to the boatyard in Hayling Island just before England went into full lockdown. By the time we had quit our jobs, left our apartments and packed our things, we were able to enter the UK again and spend the next three months living on the boatyard.
We were so focused on getting the boat ready that, to be honest, it felt a little like a parallel world where the pandemic did not really exist. Obviously we would follow general rules like wearing face masks indoors, keeping a safe distance to others and washing and sanitizing our hands regularly, but we were so isolated that we sometimes only realized the extend of the global pandemic when we caught up with the news. The impact on our trip was to become clearer once we started sailing.
Some countries that we would like to have visited were closed to tourists, in others we were only allowed to leave the boat for an hour a day, others had nightly curfews while some were completely open with almost no restrictions at all. Most importantly these restrictions kept changing constantly, making it really hard to plan ahead. Not knowing if we will be allowed to enter a country or if we would have to quarantine up to 14 days also created uncertainty and we had to prepare for all possibilities when we decided to set sail.
By now most countries publish detailed and updated protocols online that you need to follow when entering by yacht. So before leaving a country we do our research (tip: noonsite.com helps you to find the local government websites) and try to fill in online forms and schedule tests in time so it all matches the local requirements.
As a consequence we decided to skip a few countries along the journey but spend more time in one place before moving on to the next country. The main reason was the major unexpected costs of PCR tests to be taken upon departure and sometimes as well upon arrival to a new country. We paid ridiculous amounts of money for all the nasal swabs, one test costing anything between 75 and 200 US$ a person.
We completely understand and agree with necessary measures to protect people and avoid the spreading of the virus. Especially on the islands we visit, it is crucial that locals who might not always have access to good health care are potected and not put at risk. That’s why we were very grateful to have had the opportunity to get fully vaccinated, even as tourists, with the first shot given to us in Antigua and the second in Bequia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
So far we’ve been lucky to not have spent too much time in quarantine. Being fully vaccinated saved us a few days here and there, even though we still had to have our brains regularly tickled with cotton swabs. We were mostly quarantined upon arrival until we got a test appointment and received the results usually 2-3 days later. Sometimes we didn’t plan it too well and had to wait over the weekend until we were cleared in on Monday when offices reopened, making our quarantine involuntarily longer than needed.
You might think that being quarantined at anchor or on a mooring must be similar to being on passages. We initially thought the same, but it’s different. You’re not moving and the boat doesn’t require your attention or steering as no sails need to be adjusted, no course to be held, no night watches needed. You simply need to entertain yourself.
In most countries you’re allowed to swim and paddle in proximity to your boat during quarantine. You are not allowed to go ashore or have close contact with other people. Sometimes we were lucky and in reach of some WiFi signal making days in quarantine appear much shorter. In Carriacou we only had a weak connection on the very bow of the boat allowing us to check messages and European Championship soccer scores from time to time. So we had to come up with other ways to entertain ourselves. Listening to downloaded podcasts and audiobooks or playing games is probably our favorite activity during the day. Watching movies or series or reading a book until we fall asleep at night is another. We usually use the time to scrub Porky’s hull, do small repairs that have been on the list for a while or try to be creative in the galley with what we have onboard. To at least get some exercise we swim, do some stretching and small workouts on deck. We have to admit we also tend to watch our surroundings more closely and observe leaving and arriving boats, just like you would see elderly people leaning out of their windows to watch what’s going on outside.
In these situations we have to sometimes fight boredom, but we are getting better at motivating each other to do something instead of being unproductive couch potatoes all day. And we keep reminding ourselves that it could be much worse than to be temporarily stuck on a boat in beautiful anchorages of Caribbean islands.
All the more we get really, like super, excited when we get the confirmation that we can officially clear in and are allowed to leave the boat. What a good feeling that is! We usually go for a good walk to explore the local town first.
And then we are free to discover the country until the next nasal swab…