Monday 27 April 2020

Standing at the top of a beautiful ski run. You have spent all day preparing for this descent but the lifts are closing and the fog is rolling in, the slopes are too dangerous to ski on.  The only way back to the Gondola involves trudging uphill and a nasty rope lift that will shred your gloves.

All around you, people are setting off but as you wait you notice a few more cautious skiers are turning back.  It is possible if all goes well to get to the bottom but though enticing at the top the slope is marked as closed.  There are no rescue services and your insurance would be invalid.   What will you do?

We are sitting at anchor in lockdown in a beautiful place, all ready to set off, everything was prepared for the passage across the Pacific, until without warning, everything closed around us seven weeks ago.

From our anchorage in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz we can show you pictures of the exotic bird and marine life that equal any that we have seen from elsewhere. The availability of sun-ripened local tomatoes and passion fruit may sound enticing but the reality is, that like everybody else that we know in the world we are locked down, restricted in our movements, aching to socialize, to get out into the local countryside, to come and go at will, to have some certainty in our lives, to swim further than three metres from the boat.

Pictures of French Polynesia look enticing and draw us on.  News that they are relaxing their restrictions makes this seem even more attractive.  We believe Australia and New Zealand will allow yachts in even if this is not yet certain.   Maybe the restrictions will lift as fast as mountain fog and inter-island travel will suddenly become possible.  We can still wait here no matter how enticing it looks.  Our decision timetable dictates that westward travel across the Pacific means departure by Mid June but this is too late to enjoy the Pacific. It is just the latest we could leave here and have time to reprovision and do some maintenance in Tahiti.  We now think Mid May is the latest we could go West and enjoy the Pacific.  If it is not open by then we will have to look the other way.

Turning Back - Are We Crazy?

Turning back isn’t the first option that comes to mind.  It is bad enough going back to collect some missing items that you need for a weekend away when you have just turned onto the Motorway and have to drive a further ten miles before you can turn back at the next exit.  From here it is a 600 or 1000 mile decision and a delay of nearly a year before setting off again.   The stock of food we have will go out of date, the maintenance we have done will have to be repeated.

We have set off already, we are ready to go but if we carry on across the Pacific and cannot stop in the islands we are trading a "short" sail of 600 miles to Ecuador or 1000 miles to Panama for one of 7500 to New Zealand.   We might miss out on some good island hopping this year if things open up and we set off by the end of May but then we might miss out on the Pacific completely if they don’t open up.  If we go back we can always explore Ecuador if or when that opens up and the Pacific will be there next year or the year after if we have to wait that long.  Perhaps it is not so crazy, turning around now we don’t lose our chance to see the Pacific, we only delay it.

There are downsides though to going East. Panama has some of the worst lightning storms, every day between now and December.  Ecuador has to open for us to leave the boat there.   COVID 19 is rampant in both countries and flights have not opened up.  The journey home will not be simple, even when flights start operating.  On the other hand, we don’t have to rush home on the first possible flight and if we can reach the marina in Ecuador it is in an isolated community. Like French Polynesia, the Governments in Ecuador and Panama have started to publish timetables for relaxing the lockdown, including the resumption of international flights, even if the conditions are very different.  Heading West we escape the virus, going East will be difficult every step of the way, including when we finally arrive home.

Today our decision is to wait with a focus on returning to Ecuador and backup of going West if it really opens up in the coming weeks. But this plan is written in the sand of a beach below the high water mark and things are changing fast.  Tomorrow there will be another tide and we will be forced to review our decision, with new information and a new perspective. One thing is certain. If, like the skier on the slope, we travel further west then it is too late to turn back.  This is the most compelling reason to stay for now and to look East when we are able to move on. For once down that first steep slope, there is no way back.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Decision Update - When do we go? Where do we go?

Timeline to a decision

Our timeline to a decision has not changed but the passage of time brings new options and closes others.

End of April – our official clearance to remain expires.  With no formal extensions granted to yachts, no one has been asked to leave either.   We still hope we will be able to remain here until the end of May and maybe the end of June.  

Mid-June - If we were to go west mid-June would be a good time to leave especially if we can provision safely in Tahiti but French Polynesia is looking less and less like a good place to stop and there are no open ports beyond that.  So far there is optimistic talk of New Zealand opening following lobbying to allow this, but as of today its only talk.  The borders are closed, so are the Australian borders.  Mexico is stopping movements, it is in the hurricane belt and out of reach unless we could motor for up to 1000 miles, which we cannot.

Mid-June technically we can go East to Ecuador, except that that is closed too, even to internal traffic.  We might be able to reach Panama too though that is partially closed.   We are hoping we will be allowed to do this, additional risks of travelling to Ecuador include the severity of the Covid 19 outbreak there and the financial stability of the Government.  Flights home seem unlikely any time soon.

End of July – the last chance to sail safely across the Pacific.  We do not want to arrive in New Zealand or Australia in their winter either so timing will be critical.   If we stay later to go East and this is not possible then we will have to hope we can stay for a year, unable to move out of here from late September onwards because of the Cyclone season.  The boat will need significant maintenance for a safe Pacific crossing, and that is not possible here.

What are we hoping, a safe passage to Ecuador in late May or June.  Perhaps the second best is a safe way to leave the boat here, a great option if we can find a way.  The final fall back is sailing with an approved stop in French Polynesia, otherwise direct to Australia or New Zealand arriving at the end of October.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Galapagos in Lockdown

Here in the Galapagos despite the lockdown and early curfew we have been treated exceptionally well by the community and the authorities. I am sure this is the case in many other locations where yachts are stranded in self-isolation. The question we may all be asking is how to give something back to the community. For us, the choice became easy, when news of a radio fundraising marathon reached us.
With the help of our agent, we were able to enlist the support of the deputy mayor, who prepared a special appeal in English so that we could understand a little better what the community needs were.  
It is easy to forget when surrounded by such beauty that the local community is devasted by the shutdown.  Over 80% of their revenue comes from tourism, the majority of the rest are Government funded jobs.   It is reported that about 3000 Government workers have not yet received their monthly salaries as the Government is prioritising health care.   In addition, there are some very poor communities, already dependent on food handouts.
With the help of the deputy mayor and a clear fundraising target, a near term deadline, a tiny bit of organisation and use of the local WhatsApp group we have been able to raise $1200 from the few boats that are currently maintaining self-isolation in the Galapagos. 
The deputy mayor in Santa Cruz and a deputy in San Chrisobal came directly to each boat to accept the donations and thank us personally. For me, their self-evident gratitude has made this a day to remember.

Meanwhile in this special place life goes on as unusual as always, the relationship between humans and wildlife is as unique as the wildlife is rare.   

Fish Market

Fish market

We are lucky and privileged to have ended up in self-isolation here.