We’re spending a week at Homer Smith’s Marina in Beaufort, NC obtaining groceries & waiting out windy weather. The town is in lock-down so we’re not to leave the marina property & are taking advantage of various delivery services. As the roads are blocked off with a police check-point allowing only residents in, we are attempting to give the stranded restaurants a little business. We’ve enjoyed some delicious meals, pizza & have even pre-ordered Easter dinner.
Not until having to pass by our favorite stops of St. Augustine, Charleston, etc. did we fully realize how much we used to enjoy stopping, exploring & eating at their great restaurants! This has turned into mostly a “delivery trip” – just moving us & our boat north. In the spirit of helping small businesses we did make a stop in Carolina Beach, NC, where it just so happened the only business we found who delivered was a donut shop – how fortunate!
Our trip continuing north is still in flux & we spend hours checking news from various sources regarding each remaining leg. While many marinas in various states are closed or restricted in some way, Maryland had gone further completely closing off the Chesapeake Bay to all recreational boats, but later modified their policy to allow boats in transient with limited, essential stops only. Just today New York has now forced all marinas to close, which fortunately won’t bother us. However, if Connecticut follows suit we’ll need an entire new plan.
Meanwhile back in the Bahamas, COVID-19 is being taken very seriously, as they have no ability to take care of large numbers of patients. Most of the COVID-19 cases have been on highly populated New Providence (Nassau) & Grand Bahama (Freeport), which are also the only locations of small, yet full-fledged hospitals. While they have a plan in place to fly patients in from any of the other 100+ inhabited islands, one unfortunate woman on Bimini passed away waiting at a clinic for a flight to be arranged – she passed away shortly after arriving in Nassau. This is why they are taking this so seriously. On these other islands there are no ambulances to whisk people to an ICU in minutes. Only a tiny fraction of the 100+ islands even have a clinic or an airstrip, much less an airport.
The Prime Minister has constantly ramped up advisories & policies for limiting transmission of the virus, especially to any of the 100+ “family islands” as they are called. Cruisers have been asked by both the Bahamian authorities & the U.S. Embassy to leave for weeks now & most have. However way too many are staying, even after the most recent, forceful directive to leave. “Do not wait; the time to leave is now. Depart as soon as weather and provisions allow you to do so” “directly to the U.S. without any unnecessary deviation or stops except for essential food, water or fuel”. This directive also mentioned an upcoming 5-day “full lock-down” around Easter weekend, meaning that nothing (even grocery stores or fuel docks) will be allowed to be open, so stock up with food, water, fuel, allow for weather & LEAVE!!!
Nope – this is the AIS (Automatic Identification System) view of boats still in George Town days later. Only some boats have AIS transmitting, but reportedly there are around 100 boats still there! While most may be following the distancing & other restrictions, they are clogging up the only grocery store, which is limiting entry & attempting curbside pickup, while only being allowed to be open a few days/week (there are 3 – 5 days of full lock-downs every week in which they must be closed too).
Except for the very few boats from Europe or elsewhere who may be truly stranded (they would usually be heading to the southern Caribbean now, but can’t as it is completely locked down), 95% of these boats will eventually leave for the U.S. as almost no one stays for hurricane season. There is great fear that if the virus gets to Great Exuma (George Town) in these extra weeks the cruisers delay their departure, some may become infected, then spread it along to the islands they stop at along their 300+ mile return trip over several weeks. In addition, many will stop at Nassau (the big virus hotspot), then make additional stops (especially at marinas in Bimini) awaiting a weather window to continue across the gulf stream to the U.S.
I’ve had to stop reading on-line cruiser’s blogs & postings bragging about how good the lobstering is, how wonderful their great cruisers community support of each other is, how a local administrator says there is no need to leave, how the anchorages aren’t as crowded, how they’re interpreting the government’s restrictions to exclude them because they have a dog, etc., etc.
I’m hoping for the best, but this could end poorly in so many ways.