Last March we thought we were headed to the Marquesas. Little did we know how fast the Virus was spreading or how much it would affect our plans… I took notes and am finally catching up on our travels. The next blog will have more photos. Promise.
Now that our last crew member for the Pacific crossing, Simon Garland had arrived on literally the last flight into Panama from San Diego, and the 4 girl friends, Marci, Sarah, Dianimal, and Teri had flown home after scratching plans to visit the old city (who knew when the airport would shut down), I needed to shop for the 3+ week crossing to the Marquesas. Better to shop for a month just in case. That’s a lot of food!!!But we have a large top loading fridge, 2 drawer type freezers, and tons of space for storing dry goods and drinks.
Sharing an Uber with a fellow Catana owner we headed to the big grocery store in town, often located in malls in when abroad. Upon arrival we enjoyed a nice lunch and the owner, a young woman who spoke perfect English served up delicious food with healthy ingredients. Her good taste coupled with a variety of ingredients made our tummies happy. The plan was to split up and meet after grocery shopping to share a cab home.
Truth is I am a distracted shopper with others. It bothers me to have someone with me. I prefer to explore, especially in new countries and stores, take my time going up and down every isle, discovering what is different on their shelves, making decisions on the fly. Yes there is a list, but seldom do I stick to it because I find things I didn’t know were there. More fun to roam and imagine this or that with that or this. My culinary skills are decent, and it’s fun to think of all the possibilities as I can cook most anything on the boat. We tossed the grill out years ago when Eric decided he’d had enough of cleaning the damn thing before putting it away. So everything is cooked indoors and I’ve got all the gadgets. Growing up in 3 generations of grocers, food has always been front and center in our houses. The joke is while we are all gathered and enjoying a great meal, we are planning the next one. My mother taught us how to celebrate with meals, and my sisters take great delight in cooking up amazing dishes that make my mouth water just thinking about them. I am the baby so it’s a tough act to follow but I try.
There was no way for me to finish shopping by the time we had agreed on. Luckily we bumped into each other in the store and extended the departure time. Sadly I was never going to be able to finish provisioning. My cart was filled with dry goods and I had only studied the meats, cheeses and veggies thinking I would return alone the following day and take my time choosing and planning carefully. There were 4 mouths to feed, and a well fed crew is important.
What no one anticipated was Covid restrictions would be implemented that night. The next day only 50 people were allowed inside the store at a time, masks required, and 6’ apart outside while waiting. When I returned the line was around the block. Not being a patient woman I asked the driver to take me to the market that sold fresh produce called Mesca Panama. It wasn’t too far and well worth the extra Uber fare. Imagine Costco with rows and rows of produce, only produce, and imagine 10 of them next to each other. That’s how big this fresh market was. No lines, locals picking out their goods, and my driver was so kind he helped me carry the produce and loaned me $50 as my card wouldn’t work in the local ATM’s. Even he was astonished at how quickly the world was changing in his own country.
Loaded up with fresh things, we were still lacking meat, milk, butter, and cheese. He took me to small Chinese owned stores (they are everywhere on every island in every country) and I was able to go right in and snap up the frozen chicken, sausages, chips, cookies, vodka, gin, and single wrapped butters. It wasn’t what I had hoped for, but I learned my lesson. Shop alone, take your time, and don’t share a cab when you are going to fill it up with your food and drinks! There’s no room for others. Anyway, I was certain we had plenty of provisions as I had stocked up on rice, beans, flour, and other dried goods that would far outlast the fresh things that would be gobbled up first.
Once we provisioned and fueled up, all we had to do was clear out of Panama, head to the Pearl Islands and self quarantine for a few days while exploring a beautiful area. We figured if Simon caught the bug on his flight into Panama, one of us would feel something within 3-5 days. And if we started sailing to Marquesas and someone got sick, we could turn back. We were not counting on 14 days to get sick, more like 10. Seemed like a good plan.
3/17 Our appointment for clearing out is at 11 at Flamingo Marina where our friends on Supertramp are located. They too were excited to sail to the Marquesas. Turns out they are stuck because their dad can’t fly home to England, no one is allowed in, and he needs meds and can’t get them shipped. The local clinics are closed for anything except an emergency. Covid nightmares are starting to become real. We can’t wait to get out of here.
John Forgrave and I ride our fold up bikes to customs and spot a sloth in a tree on the way. I’ve been craning my head up for weeks trying to spot one and it was fitting to see it on our last day.
After the documents are signed we head to the fishing store and notice a message on my phone saying to call our yacht insurance agent. “Urgent!” Our insurance covered us in the Med, the Caribbean, and we thought the premium was going down for the Pacific but we paid extra to go through the Panama Canal, were requested to have a rig survey, $$, and we thought it was all under control. But, now we are told our insurance company won’t cover, nothing we did or didn’t do, the company is changing its policies, and if we cross the Pacific we will not be covered. Wait WHAT?!? It took our breath away. So much planning that I can’t begin to write about it, not to mention juggling friends schedules, our mainsail drama and Panama Canal deadlines, all to be told we can’t go to the party. We were devastated. Then Mad, Then Sad. Then we tried to come up with a solution. Switch insurance companies right? Not as easy as you might hope or think. We asked other cruisers who they used, especially those heading west, and we just couldn’t sort it out. Friends tried to help but to no avail. The hurricanes Irma and Maria had made a terrible impact on insurance companies and as far as we could tell we were stuck. So we threw up our hands as we watched our fellow cruisers head off. It was sickening.
So, the new plan was to head to Les Perles, enjoy them while we self quarantined, then sail north. All countries were closing their borders so we would sail straight through to Mexico, approx. 1000 miles. If we could check in at Chiapas Mexico, John and Simon could fly home to their families who were now worried about them and Covid in general. As you recall, most everyone was in a state of shock and panic in the beginning. And in the days that followed we embraced the new plan. All of us were in shambles, scratching our heads in bewilderment, wondering how did this happen? It was a Toal curve ball but like seeing a big wind shift, you have to adjust your sails and go the right way.
I actually started to get excited. Since the door to the Pacific crossing was closed, we would make the very best of the circumstances. We’d never cruised Mexico. We had however raced there over the years on others boats. I’d raced to Manzanillo with Dennis Conner on Retaliation (1st), had done the MEXORC a couple times, and competed in the Women’s IYRU Worlds in Acapulco 1983 on a windsurfer (3rd). We’d both raced to Ensenada and Eric was on the winning team of Double Bullet to Puerto Vallarta. When you’re racing seldom do you leave the race site to explore your surroundings. It’s all about hanging out with your friends and swapping sea stories. In Mexico this also mean gorging on fish tacos and drinking enormous quantities of tequila. This time we would take our time sailing up the coast unless Mexico went on lock down and closed their borders. El Gato had enough stores, water, and fuel to go all the way home so we were ready for anything. Our water maker was working well and the tanks hold 200 gallons. The fuel consumption can be like sipping when we use one engine, low RPMs, and there’s wind. Eric figured we could go over 1500 miles with both tanks full. We were ready for anything and the boys were willing to sail all the way home if that’s what was needed. Staying 12 miles offshore would keep us in international waters if Mexico closed too. We had a fluid plan.
BONUS! Our permanent slip at San Diego yacht Club was assigned to us in November on the same day I won the Women’s Hobie World Championships! Boy was that a day we’ll never forget. With only 6 out of 600 slips big enough for cats we were fortunate to be at the top of the list when one came vacant. The timing was perfect.
How cool to be home with our yacht, embrace our community, share our stories, see our kids and friends, and wait out the Covid storm in a place that has good medical facilities. The more we thought about it, the better it felt.
There were still uncertainties, but at least we were going in the direction that was somewhat familiar. I speak enough Spanish to get by, and learned in the Med that even without language, we can communicate with others. I’d given our Spanish for Cruisers book to a fellow cruiser in Panama thinking we would not need it. Bad move. And we had no cruising books on Mexico, not one shred of info other than Navionics that now includes Active Captain. AC has been really helpful over the years. People can write comments about the place and leave a marker so when you zoom in on a chart you can read their thoughts and opinions and sage advice. We knew we could get home and would figure it out along the way. At least we still have weather forecasts with PredictWind.
A big sigh of relief as we heard the stories tumbling in from friends who had taken off just weeks and days before us. Sea Bear, who we met in the Canal Islands, and reunited with in Panama, had sailed to the Galapagos only to be turned away. Never was I more relieved about not having spent the time effort and money to make reservations for Galapagos this year. With 4 on board, they had provisioned for that 900 mile passage, not the extra 2000 miles to the Marquesas. So sail on they did, catching fish and rationing food wisely. And upon arrival they were told to stay on their boat. One person per week allowed ashore for food and suppies. No swimming off the boat, no paddleboarding, no nada. Lock down in paradise. I can jump ahead now and say that are happy and cruising again but it was pretty messed up for several months. And NZ is still in lock down. NO VISITORS IN HURRICANE SEASON!
OK So now we are headed to Les Perles with our new Code Zero, our friends on board, to quarantine. We tell our family and friends, and set sail for a 35 mile jaunt to Les Perles. First stop is Isla Contadora. We leave after our new friends on Dualaseas, a Catana 50′, and pass them. Always the racers, we love to sail efficiently. After dropping the hook, we talk on the radio to them because, well, there’s Covid. We can’t do the normal cruising thing and invite them for sundowners.
There are a handful of sailboats here, all waiting for a good weather window to make the big crossing to the Marquesas. A woman rows up in her dinghy to chat. She is single handing her way across and tells us there are 2 other women doing the same. It is exciting to hear as we’d just met a young man who was on his own as well.
Still swallowing our own news, we need to decompress and embrace the fact that we are healthy and blessed. We have food, water, friends onboard, and can make it all the way home if the world comes to that. And that my friends, is the beauty of having a sailboat with 2 engines and full tanks, lots of sails, and fishing rods!
Next blog – Perle Islands.