The last week has brought a mind-blowing change to our lives. (and yes, we know also in the lives of all our friends all over the world). Last weekend we took two wonderful trips from our anchorage on Isabella Island, and swam with sharks and turtles, watched the blue-footed boobies,
and walked through beautiful lava fields.
Then, as we settled into boat jobs on Monday we received instruction to leave Isabella immediately and sail to the main island of Santa Cruz. We understand that there has been a case of coronavirus (a tourist, who has now left) and there may be an elderly gentleman who is also ill. Later we were told everything would be shut from Tuesday and all inter-island travel would be banned, though we had to break this particular embargo to comply with the first instruction.
The islands have been emptied of tourists. A small number who failed to get on flights remain - they form a hopeful queue at the travel agents. Lockdown is taken very seriously here.
A curfew is in place from 4pm to 5am. Only food and drug stores are open. All other businesses are closed. Many wear face masks. Social distancing is totally respected. Hand sanitizer is used liberally. We are expected to only go ashore for essential supplies. At the moment there does not appear to be any shortages, but one must queue and sanitise to enter the store. Other stores are less strict but there is great fear amongst the local population and everything is done at least at arm's length.
The anchorage is something of a carpark, filled with idle tour boats. However, as Tintamarre bobs gently behind the reef we can watch turtles, sharks and an aquarium of fish. There are just six cruising yachts left here. We all face the same dilemma. What next?
Our situation is this: Our visa (autografo) expires on 25th April. If we are not invited to stay beyond this date we have nowhere to go. We had prepared in every way to sail 3,000 miles to French Polynesia, and then onwards from there. But French Polynesia has, as a small island nation, with limited food, fuel and health resources, not surprisingly closed its borders to new arrivals and imposed a regime which no-one would choose. (We have heard that the island supply vessels have been barred from leaving port for the next 30 days). We would likely be forced to abandon Tintamarre to a dodgy anchorage without insurance in a cyclone zone or be forced to sail another 3,500 miles to New Zealand in adverse weather conditions. Except that we believe New Zealand is closed to non-residents. We can cross the Pacific from around Mid May but we don't want to arrive in the storms associated with winter in New Zealand. Perhaps Australia is a better option but their borders are also closed.
There are frequent updates, each one spawns a surge of misinformation on socal media. But generally the restrictions get tighter with the passage of time. We worry for our friends who are at sea heading towards Hiva Oa, the first landfall in French Polynesia,.
If you look at your world map and think we should sail for the South American coast be aware that it is not possible to sail against strong currents and winds. And in any case most borders are closed. Mexico is currently an option, but it would take at least 2 weeks to reach there, and in that time frame there is no guarantee that its borders will remain open. We have read of sailing vessels reaching their destination and being turned away - a nightmare scenario. The general advice is to stay put.
Despite all the uncertainty, we are grateful to be in a good anchorage where the authorities appear to be helpful. We have the company of a handful of other cruising yachts who face the same dilemmas. We are not allowed to socialize on board but we speak to each other by kayaking between boats. We have a virtual quiz night planned, and we have a lively WhatsApp group chat. The island looks beautiful. If we are lucky we may even get the chance to explore. For now, we enjoy watching the turtles and frigate birds from our deck. We do not need much from the island community here. We are self-sufficient in power and water, and we have at least 3 months worth of provisions on board, which we can supplement with locally grown vegetables and fresh bread from the shore.
When we feel down about our position we only have to remind ourselves how much worse it is for others. How bad can it be to be stranded in the Galapagos? No one seems to know what the exit strategy is but we take comfort from the rapid improvement in China, where computers are seen going about business normally and the rate of new cases has slowed to a trickle.