Early 2020 –
Greetings from Roatán! Today is lock-down day number who-knows on this sleepy, outlying island – one of three “Bay Islands” off the coast of Honduras. We are safe and find ourselves in as good a port as any to ride out this global storm.
Ready for Flight in Guanaja (Another of the Three Bay Islands).
For cruising sailors, the pandemic has been a bit like a game of musical chairs: wherever boats happened to be (not just country or geographic region, but place-where-your-anchor-happens-to-be-down, or dock-lines-happen-to-be-tied) when the global hum of normal life came to a sudden halt last month is where many of us have remained ever since.
Some sailing vessels in-transit are struggling to find a port of call that will let them in, which given most of us aren’t the self-sustaining islands we’d like to think we are (and certainly those of us only a few years out), means that some have had to think on their feet and/or ask for temporary safe harbor, receiving food or boat supply donations where necessary. We feel extremely grateful that we’ve ended up where we are.
Pleasant Surprise #1: Unexpected Community
Contigo Shown Just Up and to the Left from the First Vessel in the Foreground.
Most of our sailing these past three years has felt like a roving caravan, where we meet people along the way, sometimes make quick friends, and then each move our separate ways, occasionally running into each other a few islands down, often not ever again. Some boats do a better job of sticking together – particularly those with children of similar ages or very social people (we don’t check either box) – but otherwise an anchorage is typically a floating village in name only.
And yet, our little pack in West End, Roatán (some members have called it a “bubble,” half in jest, half in earnest) has come together in an unexpectedly heartfelt way. We are roughly twenty boats altogether, a magic number that allows for diversity in backgrounds and opinions, but not so large that we have “free-rider” problems when it comes to looking out for each other and/or sharing information and resources.
Booey Also Enjoyed Guanaja Before the Lock-down Began.
On the second day of the lock-down, a few vessels had their dinghy engines or gas tanks stolen at night, so the anchorage sprung into action and organized a sort of rotating neighborhood watch program, whereby two to three vessels remain awake and scan the mooring field with flashlights and binoculars throughout the night. Our U.K. friends on Blue Velvet of Sark have a military background, including in mission coordination and logistics, so the level of organization has been stellar and greatly contributed to the group’s sense of safety. Plus, the watches have given us all something to do, including looking up at an impressive night sky when we might otherwise have been on our devices or, let’s be honest, asleep. It has been great to see this group of independently-minded and autonomous sailors – many previously unknown to each other – shift priorities towards mutual cooperation.
Aspiring Thieves Beware: This Group is Organized.
As an aside, another fascinating aspect to all of this (of which we are equally guilty), is that in-group/out-group dynamics are in full display. New boats entering through the cut in the reef – and there have been three – are viewed with a healthy degree of suspicion. There are genuine reasons to preserve the sanctity of our little quarantined fleet, and yet… the flavor of “us vs. them” lingers on the fleet’s collective palate long after these “interlopers” have departed. We are finding it tough to maintain a balanced perspective aboard Contigo on what assistance should be provided to these vessels without alienating the local authorities, who have set up a blockade on the island, and who could easily disband our little group and send everyone packing on a moment’s notice. Then where would we all go? Some would be looking at a four/five week sail straight back to their home countries in Europe.
Eyeing Turkish Börek; A+ Dinner Hosted by our Friends on Rambler.
Pleasant Surprise #2 – The Island Remains Virus Free
Roatán is a mecca of sorts for the international scuba diver community, and like other islands in the Caribbean, also gets its fair share of cruise ship tourism. It also lacks many basic medical resources, this being, after all, a small island off the coast of Honduras. As such, the setup would seem ripe for widespread transmission and inadequate treatment alternatives. Fortunately, the island was early to isolate itself from the outside world (mainland Honduras included). To date, Roatán has seen no cases of the virus several weeks into the quarantine, though that may change if the chief of police or one of his six cronies who smuggled themselves back onto the island earlier this week were contagious during their 24-hour stay on Roatán (they refused testing, and were forcibly removed).
In other words, our reality is very different from that of most people on the planet, and for that we are extremely grateful, even though we remain concerned for the health and safety of friends and family in affected places like New York City and London.
Bay Islands Sunset.
Pleasant Surprise #3 – It Only Took Us Three Years to Finally Dial into a Routine
Typically, our attempts at daily routine building are thwarted every three or four days by long (or short) sails to move Contigo from Point A to Point B. It can be a bit frustrating (even guilt-inducing) because we have “all day,” after all, so how come we can’t seem to fit it all in? The lock-down has kept us in place for over one month and counting (you should see the growth on our prop), and suddenly – presto! Our self-care priorities like yoga, meditation and learning/book reading are slowly winning the day against the dark forces of mindless news scrolling and internet consumption. Well, mostly.
Speaking of the news, it’s interesting how “feral” our opinions have become out here. Our sailboat neighbors here hail from diverse professional, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds, so (for better or for worse) a clean consensus around an issue (or even a framing thereof, and then you get to pick a side) doesn’t form as quickly as it did in conversations back home, if at all.
This means we are less susceptible to the social contagion that is sparing few these days, for which we are also grateful. However, the global news narrative is probably easier to process if digested day-to-day and in like company – because from afar, it makes the head spin.
Pleasant Surprise # 4 – The People of the Bay Islands
It feels great to be back in Spanish-speaking Latin America, where we feel more in lock-step with cultural nuances thanks to Karl’s background, and where Conner gets to practice her language skills while engaging in important activities like tortilla procurement. The people of Roatán are very generous and kind, but we were absolutely blown away by those we met in Guanaja. It was here that we sampled our first baleadas, which are Honduras’ corn tortillas topped with re-fried beans and grated white cheese.
A Baleada Master at Work.
In the stilt-town of Bonacca, we met a gentleman named Hugo, who is half Costa Rican and 100% gregarious. He wouldn’t let us pay for anything, day after day, which not only included treating us to coffee and home-made corn cake in his sleepy shop (shown below) but also while guiding us through town in search of fresh fruit and vegetables. As a gesture of thanks, before leaving Guanaja, we donated the lion’s share of our medicine chest (mostly first-line antibiotics, prescription painkillers, etc.) to his wife, who is the town’s sole laboratory scientist. This was at a time when COVID-19 was a curiosity from Wuhan to most of the world, so we chatted with her about the town’s perennial struggles to contain malarial and dengue outbreaks, which, thanks to her hard work, were presently at bay. Roatán is another story though: a sailor in our anchorage is currently fighting malaria and dengue, at the same time!
Hanging out with Hugo.
Pleasant Surprise #5 – We are Holed up Alongside a World-class Diving Reef
The Caribbean Freediving Cup was scheduled to be held in Roatán in early June (since cancelled, of course). As a result, in our floating village of boats is a freediving couple – roughly our age – who are instructors, world-class competitors, and fellow yogis. Karl has been training with them every few days: he recently hit a personal best 33 meters/108 feet under their watchful eye (they are able to freedive over twice as deep!).
There is a massive drop-off just beyond the barrier reef that is only a stone’s throw away from the west edge of the mooring field, inhabited by hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, eagle rays, and even dolphins (though we have yet to see the latter ourselves). In fact, the mandatory lock-down has reduced the boat and diver traffic on the reef, and with it spurred a return in marine life all around us (or so divers who know this reef well say, we don’t really have a point of reference, but it is heartening news). We feel blessed to have access to this sort of nature right now, when so many are unable to leave their homes.
Pleasant Surprise #6 – Connecting with Friends and Family
We are definitely beneficiaries of the rise in socially-distanced video chat. Karl is guiding his sister through daily breath meditation on FaceTime, we are able to video chat with NYC friends on the weekends, and Conner is speaking to her parents in Frederick much more regularly. Paradoxically, the push to online socialization has brought us closer.
Four-Continent Weekly Houseparty: Sezer–Gerchow Edition.
Pleasant Surprise # 7 – This All Happened Year 3, Not Year 1
Sailing for an (unpaid) living forces us to contend with some measure of change and uncertainty on a daily basis. We are shocked and saddened by today’s challenges, but we feel better equipped at riding things out than we might otherwise have been. If this pandemic had happened six months into our departure, we would certainly be thinking about our status – essentially privileged refugees in a foreign country, where locals will be the first to admit that the rule of law could quickly devolve – quite differently.
With so many unknowns, we are sticking with the sailor cliché of worrying first and foremost about “Keeping the Water Out!” We are trying not to do anything just for the sake of action.
As for our sailing (or life?) plans from here, these are up in the air until we gain greater clarity on the border situation and spread of the virus in nearby countries. Basically, every day we circle the “Not Enough Information Given” answer. We can always weigh anchor at a moment’s notice and sail straight up to the U.S., since we are both U.S. Citizens on a U.S.-flagged vessel, though right now that feels to us like charting a course for the eye of the storm. In the meantime, we can only hope from afar that things turn a corner for everyone’s sake.
We hope this note finds you all healthy and safe.
Conner and Karl
Inci’s Home-Cooked Turkish Meal Brought out the Smiles.
PS – We have a whole host of pictures and stories to tell from our travels since our last update waaaay back in Summer 2019/Bonaire, including Mexico land travel during the last hurricane season, and our sailing adventures from the ABC Islands, up to Haiti, Jamaica, and Cayman Islands (our last port before entering the Bay Islands). At some point in the future, we’ll post these as well!