As I put together this post, I’ve already had to update it three times – the state of affairs is changing that quickly and constantly these days.
COVID-19 is affecting the entire world in some ways that are very similar, and in others that are unique. For those of us in the full-time cruising community, it’s presenting unforeseen challenges, being foreigners in foreign waters.
For us on Clarity, March was already a crazy month before the virus started taking over the news cycle and dominating social media. Aaron flew back home to Michigan early in the month due to a death in the family. A week later, he returned, and I prepared to fly to Chicago two days later to have a massive kidney stone removed. It was a health issue I tried for months to get sorted in Grenada, to no avail. The procedures I required just weren’t available here.
As I flew from Grenada to Miami, and then Miami to Chicago, Coronavirus was picking up steam. I was asked at Passport Control in Miami if I had recently traveled to China, and with a prompt NO, I was allowed through. Two days after I arrived in Chicago, my outpatient surgery was performed, and as I started to recover, the world changed. Rapidly. I followed the headlines as the lockdown in Italy was covered and the death count rose. Back in Grenada, an advisory was issued stating that foreigners traveling from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Germany would be denied entry. As the virus extended its reach to other countries, I watched as the reported cases in the United States grew.
Social distancing became the new normal, then was quickly replaced by “Shelter in Place” ordinances. As I continued to recover, with one small but necessary procedure scheduled for two weeks after the initial surgery, I watched as businesses in the United States shut down, schools were closed, restaurants changed to To-Go outlets. And a week and a half after I arrived, Grenada added the United States to its travel advisory list. I had two days before the new stipulation would be put into practice, after which I would not be allowed in the country, indefinitely.
I would be separated from Aaron and Claire for the foreseeable future.
After calls with my doctor in the States and my doctor in Grenada, I was assured that the simpler procedure could be done on island, and that it could wait. I also called the U.S. Embassy in Grenada – I knew that they were requiring anyone flying in to go into a 14-day quarantine, but would our boat be considered an acceptable place for self-isolation? I was told that it would. So, I booked flights for the next day. I touched down in Grenada less than two weeks after I’d left, 24 hours before I would have been locked out. I immediately went into quarantine.
Unfortunately, it meant that Aaron and Claire would also have to be quarantined, as there’s no way on our boat for me to isolate myself enough that they would not be exposed, if I had the virus. Given a one-day heads up to my arrival, Aaron fully stocked the boat with food, water, cooking gas, fuel, and whatever else we would need to ride out the time. However challenging that time would be, we were relieved to be together.
We settled into a routine for the first week, counting down the days until we could see a few friends. We celebrated my 38th birthday under quarantine, and then Claire’s 8th. She understood that we’d have a party just the three of us on the day, and she’d have a little gathering with her friends on that magical Day 15. BUT. Then, Grenada instituted a soft emergency state. When people failed to comply, they strengthened it to a full lockdown. Starting at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 30, all are required to stay at their homes or on their boats for at least seven days. Supermarkets and gas stations are closed. Small grocery suppliers are allowed to operate on certain days and only during certain hours. There is no hour-long allowance to head to land to stretch your legs and exercise. Stay. Home. Period.
Magical Day 15, the completion of our quarantine, is no longer.
As I type this, all of the Caribbean islands have closed their ports to foreign vessels. For people wanting to return home, airports are closed, and they are forced to appeal to their local embassies to try and organize a repatriation flight, often to no avail. Over the past few weeks, some cruisers made the decision to sail from the island they were at to one that would still allow foreign vessels, only to learn that the doors were closed while they were on passage, and they were turned away.
Still, in some islands, foreign-flagged are now being told to leave with nowhere to go. If you do not comply, the coast guard escorts you out into the open sea. For many, decisions like this are made with immediate effect, no time to plan.
Here in Grenada, we are extremely lucky that foreign nationals have not been required to leave. We’ve thought about whether or not we should put the boat on the hard and return to the States to ride out this crisis. But the situation in the States worsens every day, with the peak weeks or a month away. The Grenadian government has taken extreme measures, but necessary and proactive ones to limit its spread. Plus, our home is here. Aaron’s potential for work is here. We need to stay here as long as we can.
We are also very fortunate that we are already below the required parallel for our boat to be insured during hurricane season. Many cruisers are now panicking, uncertain of when they will be allowed to move south (Grenada’s ports are officially closed for the foreseeable future). Hurricane season is not that far off, and they likely will not be insured, even in these extreme circumstances.
Of course, we have our own challenges – in addition to staying healthy. Aaron’s work is at a standstill. My contract work is still feasible, but it’s a time when clients are understandably tightening their purse strings. Though our bills may be few comparatively, they are still bills that require income. We don’t know how long we can sustain this.
And what if Grenada decides to kick out all foreigners? It’s a small island with limited resources, and we understand the need for them to limit those resources to their own people should the virus spread further here. Nine cases and counting. We are praying that the measures they have already taken are enough.
I don’t share these challenges or perspectives to insinuate that ours are any worse than those faced by most everyone these days. There is not a single person that the novel coronavirus has not affected – through drastic changes to their daily lives, loss of jobs, loss of connection, and of course, loss of lives. With an uncertain future, that bright light at the end of this tunnel is unknown.
So, all we can do right now is try to find joy in our new normal, with the simple fact of being in good health being enough to celebrate. Our days on board are still pretty structured, with homeschooling, daily chores and boat projects that we are slowly but surely checking off the list. There’s also more dedicated family time, reading, catching up on shows and enjoying hobbies. And of course, more boat projects.
Right now, we can also listen. We can be aware of what’s happening around us, be aware of what we’re being asked to do, and we can comply.
All the best to you and yours.