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What it's Really like to Quarantine on a Boat in Paradise

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

On March 22, 2020, a “shelter in place” order was announced in Dallas County. Residents were given 48 hours to prepare to hunker down (as we say in Texas) until April 3.

James and I looked at eachother knowingly. We live in a neighboring county and it was clear that our local policy-makers would soon follow suit.

We had a decision to make.

We could either sit together on our couch for the next 2 weeks (or longer) or make a mad dash to Florida to quarantine on our sailboat. We chose the latter, and we’ve been aboard for just over a month now.

It sounds like the ultimate escape, but in reality, it’s both boring and challenging.

We set sail for the Bahamas almost immediately and, early on, we were able to island-hop freely. We went from one deserted cay to another, and relished in the fact that we were able to quarantine in such a beautiful and peaceful part of the world.

My favorite part was going to the beach to float during my work breaks.

But over time, the rules applied to cruisers have gotten materially stricter as the Coronavirus continues to gain speed across the globe.

So, what’s it really like to quarantine on a sailboat in paradise? Honestly, it’s probably a lot like what others are experiencing at home, but with less conveniences.

Oh, and paradise is within reach, but just out of touch.

Like the rest of the world, only essential businesses are open to the public in the Bahamas. While our presence and dollars would normally be welcomed in this country where tourism fuels the economy, today we are a threat to the local food supply.

There are reports of boaters heading into the local food markets and leaving with multiple box loads of food, while impoverished locals buy what they can for the day.

James and I are keenly aware that we are guests, so we wait 2–3 days after the food boat arrives on the island before we head to the food market. We take what’s available, in small quantities, to sustain us for short periods of time.

Surprisingly, we’ve been able to snag some vegetables, eggs, and chicken on our visits. But our food supply largely consists of dried pasta and processed foods like hot dogs, chips, and cheese.

What about fishing for our food? Well, the beaches are closed and fish bait isn’t an essential item provided in the food markets. We are currently docked at a marina, and if we did choose to leave to go fishing in the open water, we are not allowed to come back.

Sailors can also forget about having daily happy hours to unwind. Beer & wine is not available at the food markets — only at the liquor stores — which have been closed for weeks. The small amount of libations that we had aboard were used up weeks ago!

There are other cruisers here in the marina too, but the charm of the cruising community has been stripped from us. Even though we are on an island with very few residents and zero confirmed cases of the virus, the local police don’t want us interacting with eachother. We abide.

We practicing social distancing when we do encounter one another, and have to wear masks anytime we step foot off of our boat. Mine is a dishrag that I secure to the back of my head with a chip clip.

So, why haven’t we just turned around and sailed back to Florida?

As the old saying goes — cruising is just fixing things in exotic locations. That doesn’t stop with Coronavirus. Things on the boat still break, and the virus only complicates the process of getting parts.

As I type this, James is installing a new oil line for our starboard engine that we ordered from a marine shop in Florida nearly 3 weeks ago. The starboard engine is the one that powers our water-maker. If we can’t run that engine, we can’t make drinking water!

In the meantime, the marina has been our best bet for accessing clean water, food, and Wifi. It’s also the best place to sit still and fix an engine.

For me, the most challenging part of quarantining from the boat is connectivity. While the rest of the world debates the health implications of rolling out 5G towers, I’m over here rocking 3G and swearing up a storm.

I’m still working full-time and, luckily, the internet is fast enough to send/receive emails consistently. I can login to webinars, but I can’t use the video functionality so I miss out on physical clues, like facial expressions and body language, from clients and co-workers during meetings.

I'm not too sad about the fact that they can't see my grown-out roots, though. While my friends at home can get hair dye from their local Walgreens or Amazon delivery while they wait their return to the salon, I'm reduced to wearing hats.

The lack of connection has been the toughest part; we miss out on seeing the smiling faces of our friends and family when they invite us to participate in Zoom calls. We just don’t have the bandwith to handle multiple videos steams, and binge watching Netflix definitely isn’t an option!