Every summer, Simon Currin and his wife, Sally, spend six or seven weeks cruising. In 2015, they left Scotland in their Swedish-built CR 480DS and in the summers since they have sailed to the Faeroes, north-east Greenland, Labrador, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
When they hauled their boat out in Canada at the end of last year, they thought they’d be back for a leisurely cruise along the eastern seaboard of the US this summer. It never happened, and they’re not sure when they will next be able to get on board their yacht, let alone make longer sailing plans.
“Until the provincial travel restrictions in Nova Scotia are lifted we can’t set foot on our boat,” Currin says.
“We are hoping to get back next June, but with a new six-month semi-official lockdown in the UK I’m becoming more sceptical. Even if we did launch, foreign boats are treated as in transit so we can only sail if we are coming back to the UK.”
Robert Walston’s boat lies closer to home in the UK, but his plan – some two years in the making – to take the winter off and cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean has also had to be shelved.
“I could have gone anyway, but I think our scope to sail round the islands will be too restricted, and it’s all too uncertain. Anyway, my business needs my attention. I’ll think again next year,” he ponders.
Currin and Walston are among many boat owners across the world whose plans are in limbo. Spending holidays on board, or longer, is the whole point of having a yacht. Without that option, what now? Can you really make plans for next year, and what could they be?
‘Can you really make plans for next year?’
As a doctor working in a GP practice and commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC), Simon Currin is acutely aware of how the travel restrictions have impacted cruising sailors all over the world.
He sounds a note of caution about planning for next year, believing that, even with a vaccine, things will take a long time to return to normal.
“There is no end in sight until immunity, which will take years, or a working vaccine and the manpower and infrastructure to roll out to enormous numbers of people, not just in the UK but to other countries,” he says.
“At the very, very earliest we might get a vaccine at the end of this year but then there is the problem of vaccinating 7 billion people globally. Around 20% of my patients tell me that they wouldn’t want a vaccine, and 30% of people at risk who are offered the flu jab each year decline it so that is a common problem.”
Currin is not betting that a vaccine will restore freedoms to travel in time for summer cruising next year.
“I can’t see those of us who spend a large chunk of the year cruising, or who embarked on a circumnavigation between work, leaving the boat in places, being sure to continue. Apart from cross-border issues, we don’t know which airlines will survive and how we will go back to that travel if the infrastructure doesn’t exist as before.”
Daria Blackwell, vice-commodore of the OCC, agrees with this cautious analysis. “Borders are going to start closing again and are unlikely to reopen very quickly.
“I have worked with vaccines for many years so I’ve been following this very carefully and am concerned that people are making plans to cruise widely and normally. I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
There are enough examples of cruisers who got stuck this year to make anyone who had firm plans for 2021 think about a possible Plan B.
Crews in the Pacific have been stuck since lockdown. Only French Polynesia initially opened its doors, while Fiji opened more recently, but with tight restrictions. However, further down the track, New Zealand and Australia have refused to allow cruisers to enter, even to escape the cyclone season. There is no end date to these restrictions, which means that the Pacific is ‘occupied’ and may not empty of last year’s sailors in time for a new season’s arrivals through the Panama Canal. There are currently estimated to be 300 boats trapped in French Polynesia and Fiji.
The US and Canada is also problematic and it’s anyone’s guess how long restrictions will persist for visitors.
“Lots of European boats got as far as Maine and got stuck there because the Canadian borders remain closed. One that did venture into Canada was arrested, jailed and fined,” reports Blackwell.
Sailors in the Mediterranean have been able to hopscotch between countries this season, moving around as borders open and close or quarantine rules vary, but taking advantage of opportunities means being on board for longer periods.
Head for Denmark, suggests Tom Cunliffe. His wife, Ros, and he enjoyed a summer there this year, with “no atmosphere of fear. It was all very sensible and you wouldn’t know there was anything going on.”
The couple spent a lot of time on the island of Ærø, exploring ashore and enjoying the peace once the daytrippers had left (see page 42 for more on his summer voyage around southern Denmark).
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