Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Trying times

We are still anchored in our beautiful and comfortable spot at Big Majors. We've now been here a little over a week. This is now the second uncharacteristic update from the same anchorage, where normally I would have waited until we were back underway to type. But now I don't know when that will be, and I know our family and friends are eager for status with the situation here fluid.

In my last post I shared that we were under some limited restrictions here, but with things seemingly worse back on the east coast of the US, we had decided to wait right here while we gathered more intelligence and contemplated our options. After two weeks in the Bahamas, we had come to the end of our supply of fresh veggies, and with the future a great unknown, we tendered over to the government dock and walked to the Blue Store to stock up. We found everything we wanted, including lettuce, peppers, and milk.

We settled in to a routine on board, with Louise spending time in her quilting studio while I worked on charts, minor projects, and keeping up with the flurry of information (and speculation) coursing through the cruising community. Lots of cruisers still in the anchorage seem to be socializing, mostly in contravention of local orders, and we even saw a bonfire on the beach last night.

Yesterday we learned the PM would be speaking again in the evening, and we got wind that he would be shutting down even more services. We decided to take advantage of what time we had left to go to the Isles General Store, where I was able to pick up a roll of teflon tape, and we replenished our supply of liquid hand soap that had been inadvertently under-provisioned before we left the states. Afterward we strolled around the island a bit, in what would turn out to be our last recreational walk for the foreseeable future.

On our way back to the tender at Isles' dock, we ran into our next door neighbors, Diana and Duane from the motor yacht Bella Donna. We introduced ourselves and had a nice ten-minute chat about cruising and the current circumstance, all while standing the required six feet apart. It was great to have some human interaction, even if we can't follow up with cocktails or dinner as things currently stand.

These fantastic sunsets here never get old.

The press conference happened while we ate dinner on the aft deck; we did not have reliable enough bandwidth to stream it. But afterward I downloaded the transcript, and things were a bit grim. The PM is a medical doctor, and he knows all too well that the country is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic anywhere close to the scale of what's happened in much wealthier and more developed nations, and he put it exactly in those terms.

Consequently, effective at 0900 this morning, the country closed the border to all incoming visitors whether by private boat or any other means, and increased the curfew, which heretofore had been 9pm to 5am, to round-the-clock. All persons were ordered to remain in the confines of their home or yard except to obtain specific essentials such as food, fuel, medicine, medical care, and the like. Bahamians are permitted 90 minutes of outdoor exercise per day, whereas boaters are not to disembark other than to obtain essential items. All beaches, parks, and other public outdoor spaces are closed.

Movement of private yachts has not been explicitly curtailed, and especially they are allowed to make their way out of the country if needed. But the orders not to disembark or go ashore except for essentials means there is no legitimate reason to move save for one of three circumstances. To wit, leaving the country. taking shelter from weather, or moving to obtain essential services like fuel, water, or to discharge waste.

Unsurprisingly, the new orders caused another flurry of activity today at the Staniel Cay fuel dock, which has been a zoo all day if radio traffic is any indicator. Lots and lots of people are confused about what they may or may not now do, and cruisers, especially first-timers here, want more clarity than a government like the Bahamas can provide. As I am fond of saying, ask five officials a question, and get five different answers.

In the meantime, the situation in southeast Florida has worsened considerably. Monroe County, which comprises the Florida Keys, has closed to non-residents entirely. Boats already in slips or on moorings were told to leave the county, and marinas were not permitted to accept new transients. Miami-Dade closed all marinas and boat ramps, and Palm Beach county followed suit, leaving Broward County as the only place south of the St. Lucie River to dock, get fuel, take on water, or pump out waste.

The closures were, in large part, a response to ongoing spring-break-mentality crowds, who, after being shut out of bars, clubs, restaurants, and even the beach earlier in the week, took to the water to continue the party on sandbars and boats rafted ten abreast. Full-time cruisers are the baby discarded with the bathwater, with local officials, seeing all of boating as a discretionary recreational activity, missing the key point that some boaters can only shelter-in-place on their boats. They can't simply "go home" because they already are home.

Another dinner on the aft deck. This doesn't really get old, either.

Any thought that we might have had to leave the Bahamas for the US because anything at all might be better for us there has faded away. Strict quarantine here, including keeping the rest of the US out, means they will know unequivocally in two weeks whether the virus has spread to the family islands. And here we can still get fuel, water, groceries, and supplies, whereas we can't even get ashore in southeast Florida.

We do have enough fuel on board to bypass the shuttered counties and come back in further north in Florida, or even north of the Georgia line. But we have no reason to believe the closures will not continue to spread to other coastal Florida counties, possibly mid-crossing. Miami-Dade, at least, in a moment of clarity and after pressure from full-timers, carved out an exemption to the closures for those who live aboard and for vessels returning from an international voyage. It remains to be seen, though, if those exceptions provide enough traffic for marinas to remain open.

So after careful consideration and much deliberation, we have elected to remain right here where we are until the situation improves. Until our waste tank is full, or the wind shifts significantly, we don't even need to move the boat an inch. We can continue to go ashore on Staniel as needed for services.

Today the needed service was trash. The SCYC wants $6.75 per bag to accept trash, but carrying it to the dump is free, and so I tendered ashore to the long-shuttered Thunderball Marina, clambered up onto the decaying remains of the dock, and walked the quarter mile to the dump with three overloaded trash bags that have been accumulating since Bimini.

This afternoon new neighbors on the sailing cat Koa, Marina and John, came by to say hello. They hovered off our stern in their tender, in keeping with protocol, and we chatted for perhaps 15 minutes. Again it was nice to have some human contact, and everyone here is looking for validation just for being here. They are Canadians who were headed back to the US, but, like us, they've determined it's better to be here right now.

Our decision to remain here is not without consequences. For one thing, we are now 100% committed to staying with the boat. One of the "easy" things about cruising the Bahamas is that you're never really all that far from Florida, and there are enough airports, such as one right here on Staniel, that things like going back for an emergency dental visit, or to appear in person before a notary, or even to travel back to get some critical part for the watermaker or the engine, is at worst a few hundred dollars and an inconvenient round-trip flight. Long-time readers may remember we docked in Nassau for a week so I could fly to a meeting.

The view over the dock of the defunct Thunderball Marina. The island on the right is Thunderball Grotto, made famous by the eponymous James Bond film.

Now, of course, that's not an option. It's not an option for one of us to fly back for a family medical emergency, either, not that we'd even be permitted to see them if one of our relatives contracts the disease. Any trip out of the Bahamas right now is one-way, but, realistically, airlines don't fly empty planes into a country to service one-way flights out. Air travel is, essentially, halted.

In a dire emergency, we can make a non-stop run from here back to Florida. It's a 40-hour trip to Fort Launderdale, and somewhat longer to Palm Beach. Longer still, of course, to Canaveral or Jacksonville or anyplace in Georgia. But it's an option for a medical situation on board, albeit an uncomfortable one -- running overnight through as-yet undetermined sea state.

We don't expect to have to do that, and it would be a last resort for almost anything. Nor do we expect to be asked to leave the country. But we are keeping an eye on our fuel reserves and making sure we have enough in the tank for any serious option, just in case. Conserving our remaining fuel is one reason we are not contemplating moving the boat until some circumstance mandates it.

If anyone reading this still doubts the gravity of the situation in the US, let me share this: I worked in telecommunications and I have many friends still in that industry. They have now received Covid-19 specific credentials from CISA that identifies them as maintainers of critical national infrastructure, so that they can pass through roadblocks and security checkpoints should we get to that point. I hope we don't, but if the continued behavior of spring-breakers is any indication, we can't rule it out.

Restaurants here are still permitted to sell carry-out food (and alcohol), and it is considered an essential service of which we may partake. After many nights on the boat, we're going to take advantage and head over to the hastily-concocted carry-out window at the yacht club this evening for some dinner. I have been told we are allowed to consume it on the patio, with proper social distance. It will be nice to have a change of scenery.


  1. Following your situation with interest Sean and Louise. Our boat is simply stuck in Bimini and I withdraw cash daily from ATM's in the event I can get back there and pay the marina. This is a mess. I say swim with the pigs and just enjoy yourselves until it is over.

  2. I think your decision to stay put is a wise one. As uncomfortable as it might be or get where you are is still better than the situation at home where insanity seems to reign. take care of yourselves and stay well, we will get through this,

  3. PS: my friends who were leading an RV caravan through Mexico was approaching the US border to head home when they had a meeting and decided they were better off to weather out the storm in Mexico which they are now doing. Their situation is similar to yours except they have a Walmart Superstore within walking distance.

  4. We are longtime followers and Canadian RV'ers. We were boondocking in Arizona, kind of a pre self-isolation, self-isolation, but after observing the lack of gravity that the locals were giving this situation we decided that heading back into the Land North of Summer was probably our best option, so about 12 days ago we headed north and our now on our 9/14 quarantine back home on the farm. I hope for the sake of the globe and more specifically our American friends that cooler heads prevail down there, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't relieved to be out of the eye of that particular storm.

  5. We are Snow Birds in Tucson, preparing to head back home soon. But home is the Hot Spot in Idaho, and the entire state is now on a three-week Shelter In Place Order. There was some talk of closing entry into our county via roadblocks, but I don't believe our governor will do that. Sounds similar to what you're experiencing at the docks. Enjoy your scenic vistas and stay well! And say hi to Louise!

  6. You are, perhaps, in one of the best locations you can be. Barring the need to empty your waste; you can sit tight and hopefully wait it out. I think everyone will get a bit of cabin fever, visiting by dinghy and maintaining that separation is a great solution. Take care. I appreciate your update. It's more accurate than the news.....

  7. Sean

    You're way better off there than here in the US. the politicians are in fighting more than ever and have no idea what they are doing. Some places are into a severe power grab beyond the scope of the Constitution in hopes they can hang onto the power when things return to normal. Alone in an anchorage in the Bahamas is the wife's current dream!!

    Be safe, ride it out!!!


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