Cruising During a Pandemic

We had set the date for our cruising life to begin in 2018 when Robert retired. I had dropped down to working 4 days a week when I turned 60, 3 days per week at 61 with the plan that in 2020, I would switch to consulting only and be cruising during the winters. I gave everyone 2 years notice about this transition.

In the meantime, since retiring, Robert had been spending his time converting Solveig from a weekend, Chesapeake Bay, racing cruiser to a full time cruising boat. He added a freeze plate to turn the aft ice box into a fridge, updated the lighting to LED fixtures, removed the head and added a composting head, added dinghy davits, a riser and solar panels, replaced CNG stove with a propane stove and learned about every system on the boat.

Then Covid-19 showed up. We debated what to do. We ultimately decided that we might as well go. We were pretty much ready so when our dock neighbors at River Dunes said they were leaving mid October, we asked if we could tag along as a buddy boat.

We were very careful heading down the ICW and spent the wide majority of our time at anchor. We avoided visiting larger cities to avoid people. Since Maryellen and Billy on SeaEscape were doing the same, we felt safe to interact and spend time on each other's boats without masks and distancing after awhile. We not only had boat buddies but quarantine buddies!

The Bahamian government had decided to let cruisers in with safety procedures in place. First, a negative PCR covid-19 test within 5 days of entry. We got this accomplished at a clinic in West Palm where we waited for a weather window to open up. Once the negative test was received, we completed a Health Visa Application which included a fee for insurance to get us back to the US if we contracted Covid-19 as well as pre-payment for the second test that was we required 5 days after arriving in the country. When we checked in at West End on Grand Bahama Island they required documentation of all of this before issuing us a cruising permit and immigration paperwork. We immediately began getting health surveys daily that asked about any symptoms we were experiencing or if we were in contact with anyone with Covid-19. We then moved to the Flamingo Marina in Lucaya where we paid to have someone come to us for the 5 day test. Once this test came up negative, we were told we were free to roam the islands. The health surveys continued for 14 days after our arrival.

There were strict ordinances around social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizing with a fines levied for non-compliance. Almost all of the residents we have engaged with have complied with the requirements. The bank and some stores have guards at the doors to allow only the number of people in. I have not seen anyone inside an establishment without a mask and as soon as one enters a store, a reminder to sanitize your hands before touching anything is given.

Some of the Cays we've visited on our migration south were deserted. Other's have a small population. Any time we asked a local, they indicated there was no Covid-19 cases. Nassau had reported a relatively high case count in December and the government quickly instituted a required re-testing of anyone who spent more than 24 hrs. on New Providence Island. Again, we stayed as clear as possible of highly populated areas and when we needed to go in for provisions, took the same safety precautions as we did at home.

I worry about the economy in the Bahamas. First they experienced Dorian, with devastation mostly in the Abacos but also some on the other islands. Then covid hitting in 2020 right in the middle of cruising season had them lose most of last years revenue. We talked to many people who were here last year, stranded on their boats and unable to travel. In fact, not knowing what to expect, we provisioned the boat with 3 months worth of food in case things got worse and we needed to isolate ourselves on a deserted Cay somewhere. Instead, we've found most places open and begging for customers! We've benefitted by paying reduced prices to stay at some places that would have been out of our budget at regular prices and have gladly supported the economy. We've been eating out more too because we want to support the local restaurants.

The anchorages that we were told are usually packed with boats have been largely empty. In past years, it was reported that there are upwards of 300 boats in Elizabeth Harbour and a count given a few days ago said there were 75 boats here. I have to admit it's nice to have fewer boats for our first experience and not have to vie for places to go. Still, the impact on the economy has to be huge.

In general, there's no better place to social distance than on a sailboat. Robert and I have enjoyed time alone, exploring, floating and just sitting and reading or playing music aboard Solveig.

Still, there's lots of opportunity for socializing. Since entering the Bahamas, our comfort circle has increased. First, to Lisa and Jack aboard Shore Nuff, another buddy boat, and then, to other cruisers that we've traveled South with. It's comforting to know that they all have had at least 2 negative tests. I actually hugged my first person (other than Robert) in over a year and it felt soooo good! I sure miss hugs.

When interacting with residents, we comply with all of their regulations. We still prefer the gator type masks but have added paper masks inside as liners. I added masks to all my snap hats which is super convenient! I found that cheap sunglasses with no bottom attached to the lenses keep my eyes protected and don't fog up! I'm learning to keep a mask or two and some hand sanitizer in the backpack in case anyone forgets theirs.

Given the warm weather, it's easy to find restaurants with outside seating. When we've eaten inside on a few occasions, the tables have been well spaced apart and good ventilation was provided.

We have been monitoring the case numbers both here and in the states and are feeling quite relieved to be here. For comparison, in the states, the daily average of cases over the last 7 days has been 101655 with is 31 per 100 thousand in the US. In all of the Bahamas, there has been an average of 6 cases in the last 7 days which is 2 per 100 thousand. There are currently 0 reported cases in Georgetown, which is the closest populated area to where we're anchored.

All in all, I'm glad we made the choice to go. It just feels safer to be around less people, outside, in warm weather. The government seems to act quickly when problems arise. Compliance with safety regulations is much more consistent than we experienced in the States. It may be a false sense of security but we'll continue to stay cautious and see what each day brings.

The lesson for me is to prepare for the worst but plan for the best! We've decided to stay until most of those at home have gotten their vaccines and it's our turn to get ours...Or until we get too hot...Or until we're ready for something different... There's so much to see and do here that I don't think it will happen anytime soon!

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