So this wasn’t our year for crossing the Pacific to French Polynesia. We made the decision to put off that trip for a number of reasons, but apparently even if we had been ready to go, the Corona Virus would have had other plans for us. Just today French Polynesia’s president announced that movement between islands would be prohibited except for family or professional reasons and that any person entering the country must be quarantined for 14 days. This mandate is good until rescinded; after all, no one can predict how long this particular armegeddon will last. Whoa. Until this virus shebang is over, it’s definitely not business as usual for cruising sailboats. While I imagine some boats might continue on to the South Pacific and just stay in one place for however long it lasts, others will be discussing a ‘Plan B’ right about now. We are truly sorry for the folks who have worked so hard to get their boats ready and now have to regroup and change their plans. It’s a strange time.
As we move towards leaving Mexico and sailing to Hawaii, we wonder how to make decisions about our next moves. Mexico has begun taking measures to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold here. All the schools in the country are currently closed. The last report I read had 14 cases in the south Baja, where we are, being tested for the virus. All of them are either Americans or Europeans. Mostly Americans.
We saw a few people wearing facemasks here in La Paz, and when we went to a taco place for lunch they had a big bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter. There have been rumors of the Mexican president closing the border with the United States, although nothing has happened yet and we hope it doesn’t. That would be an incredibly big deal. Based on the number of people out enjoying walking by the water on Sunday evening, social distancing hasn’t taken over here yet but it’s only probably a matter of time before that comes to Mexico as well.
We had an interesting conversation with a store owner in La Paz today. She admires their current president quite a bit. She said he puts a video on Youtube every day at 6:00AM to give the entire country an update on the virus and to keep panic from taking hold. He talks about the measures the government is taking, educates the public, and tries to put this thing in perspective. She feels like he is offering very good leadership. What a concept.
So what’s our plan? For now, we are remaining flexible but we still plan to sail to Hawaii. Our concerns, however, are two fold: 1) We don’t want to bring the virus from Mexico (where is it surely being way under reported) to anywhere else 2) We don’t want to get sick in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Both of those scenarios would be, as we say, no bueno.
You can see the implications of these concerns. Do we cancel the trip? Do we hunker down in Mexico for another year? Do we go about our business as usual? We do take this disease seriously, but we want to remain balanced in our approach to dealing with this unusual situation. Every day the situation changes, with more and more measures being taken to try to flatten the curve of the outbreak and keep it from becoming completely devastating across the world. While we realize that there is only a very slim chance we would get this virus, we want to mitigate that chance and do everything we can to play it safe on all levels.
So our plan as it stands now is to finish up our time here in La Paz taking care of some stuff we want to do like getting full bloodwork panels because we can get them easily and cheaply here, unlike at home. We’d like to see a dermatologist for skin checks before we leave as well. Then we will leave the Baja Pensinsula and head to the Pacific Coast, ending up in La Cruz down by Puerto Vallarta. We may get a medical letter saying we are well and have no symptoms. We’ll hang out there and after fully provisioning for the long term, we may decide to isolate ourselves on our boat at anchor for up to a week while on the mainland side to give the virus some time to show itself before we leave. In a recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, most people begin to show symptoms in about 5 days, with outliers developing symptoms as late as 14 days post exposure.
If we are still symptom free at that point, we are sailing to the Revilligigados Islands, a group of islands in Mexico about 250 miles, give or take, offshore. We won’t be allowed to go ashore there and we can’t think of a better place to isolate ourselves and make sure that we are not carryng the virus into the Pacific Ocean or to other people. If we were to get symptoms during our stay in the islands, we could get back to La Cruz if necessary in a couple of days. If no symptoms emerge, then we go on to Hawaii.
Between the self isolating at anchor on the mainland and the two weeks of isolation in the islands, we will be well past 14 days of incubation. That’s long enough to be sure we are not carrying the virus out to sea. If the data on the incubation period changes, we will make adjustments.
Of course, it’s likely other sailboats will be visiting the islands, especially those who are disappointed by not being able to go to French Polynesia this year. If other cruisers are there, we’ll just have to maintain our social distance from them. No cockpit visiting for us. Social distancing is generally much easier for cruisers than for land dwellers. A lot of us are socially distant by nature anyway. But by the time we get to Hawaii, we are going to be very ready to talk to some other people!
It’s possible that we will monitor our temperature during the passage to Hawaii, recording that on time-stamped video, but we’ll be in touch with the Coast Guard before we leave to see what they recommend, knowing that could change. We will also have the ability to contact the Coast Guard enroute by email or text to keep abreast of how things might change for cruising boats.
The big question for us, and for everyone else, too, is how long this thing will last. If Washington State is still basically shut down in June, will we want to go home at that point? Will we hunker down in Hawaii? That’s not a very cruiser friendly state because there are few anchorages and even fewer marinas with space. If I need to isolate myself on my boat, do I want to go home to do that? So even as we prepare to make this jump to Hawaii, we maintain an eye on what’s happening in the rest of the world.
At the end of the day, even though we feel sure that the virus is alive and well in Mexico, our chances of contracting it are slim. We do our due diligence with hand washing, hand sanitizer, etc. and that’s all we can really do to mitigate getting any kind of illness that is passed from one person to the next. I’ve always been pretty aware of being around people who are couging, sneezing, or otherwise obviously ill, so now I’m on a bit higher alert. Not a lot, but I notice a wee bit more vigilance on my part. It’s a stressful time, to be sure, but we are not going to live in fear of this thing. We’ll just be prudent and aware, and we hope you will, too.
Here are some soothing and lovely photos taken at Punta Salinas on Isla San José. The psychotherapist in me knows that we all need to be soothed lately. Be sure you are taking time to enjoy sunshine and beauty, flowers, puppies and kittens, humor, and delicious food and drink. If you are in the United States and you have to hunker down at home, be grateful to have time with your self and your families, and allow that gratitude to exist alongside the stress of uncertainties that we are collectively experiencing. It’s ok to feel both kinds of things simulaneously.
Check in with your neighbors to see how they are doing. Allow this time to be one of bringing people together, not tearing them apart, even as we keep our ’social distance’ by keeping our hands to ourselves. In spite of the suffering, and that yet to come, can we allow some grace to come from this? How can you help make that happen? Share your hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Make cookies and good bread to share. Skype with your friends as they go about their day and you go about yours; just keeping each other company. Be kind to the people working long hours in the stores. It’s not their fault the shelves are empty. And have patience with yourselves when you are frightened and worried. This,too, shall pass. And I’d like to think we will be better people for it in the end.