Sailing around the world turns into a year-long odyssey, complete with card games and cockroaches

Australian Guy Chester, alone on the 52-foot GC sanctuary somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, had just finished season six of ‘Game of Thrones’ and really wanted the final two seasons.

Mr Chester broadcast a TV-related SOS. In French Polynesia, where the 58-year-old environmental and ecotourism consultant was not allowed to disembark before going through quarantine, another Australian boat sailed nearby and dropped off a USB key with the missing episodes. “I binge-watched them,” he said.

The sweetness of the hearth

As countries closed borders, imposed quarantines and changed shipping protocols, the waters became choppy for the thousands of sailors who ply the oceans in small vessels. Normally they hop from port to port, following routines based on weather, currents and other things, docking for periods of time to take advantage of tropical islands or city offerings.

Instead, many were forced to quarantine on board or remain in port because the next leg of their journey was blocked. Some abandoned their boats in distant marinas and flew home.

Mariska Woertman’s partner, Tjaart Hoeksema, and her two daughters, Linde and Berber, in quarantine in Galapagos, where supplies were brought to them.


Mariska Woertman

While conditions have eased lately, port and border rules continue to constantly change, forcing boats to navigate detours and obstacles.

“We are sailors. We’re not supposed to stay in one place that long,” said Johanna Vesalainen, a Finn who has been beset in New Zealand with her husband for more than two years because their next destination, Australia, hasn’t started. only recently to allow foreign seafarers to return. dock.

The 48-year-old woman and her husband spend their time repairing their boat, the Iiris, and sailing along the New Zealand coast, waiting for the borders to open and favorable weather. They plan to begin the journey to Australia – stopping first in Fiji – this month.

Phil and Debra Perfitt left their boat in Tonga in early 2020 for a trip to New Zealand by air. Then the pandemic broke out and the borders closed. Two years later, the Canadian pensioners are still in New Zealand, and their boat, the Coastal Drifter, is still in Tonga, which does not yet allow international visitors.

The Perfitts tried to pay a crew to navigate the boat in international waters and arrange a transfer, but Tongan authorities did not agree to the maneuver, according to Ms Perfitt, a former steward in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

For now, they are making the most of their landlocked situation. They keep the house, which in their current home also means taking care of the owner’s three dogs.

Most Thursdays, Ms. Perfitt has a ladies’ lunch with other cruisers stuck in nearby marinas, while Mr. Perfitt, a retired Canadian Air Force technical maintenance officer, plays cards with his male counterparts. .

In December, the Perfitts held a “Cruiser Orphans Christmas Party”—more than 20 people showed up—and held another get-together for stranded sailors over Easter.

The Perfitts now plan to sail to Fiji in June as crew members on a friend’s boat. There they will continue to wait for Tonga’s borders to open.

They received disturbing reports from the local man who was watching their ship. It was first infested with cockroaches. Then the termites took over.

“We don’t know what we will face once we return to Tonga,” Ms Perfitt said.

On the remote west coast of Ireland, Daria Blackwell, vice-commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, and her husband, Alex, have turned their home into a de facto international command center for long-distance sailors trying to divert during the first year of pandemic shutdowns.

Upstairs, Ms Blackwell wrote articles and called on newspapers and governments around the world to raise awareness of the plight of stranded sailors.

Downstairs, Mr Blackwell sat in front of his computer screen, where little dots on a map showed the locations of sailors he was helping to bring home using GPS tracking.

Once Mr. Blackwell’s phone rang in the middle of the night. He was a sailor whose boat was struck by lightning between Bermuda and the Caribbean, frying all electronics except his phone. The Blackwells helped direct him to the nearest port. Another boat called for help when it hit a whale near the Azores and began to sink. The Blackwells alerted a nearby boat which rescued the sailors.

Far more often, the Blackwells have been called in to help negotiate with border officials who won’t let sailors dock because of the pandemic.

“It was more than a full-time job,” Ms Blackwell said. “From the moment we got up in the morning, the first thing we did was check our computers to see if anything [was] pass.

Mariska Woertman and her family have been in limbo in British Columbia waters.

The Dutchwoman gave up her career as a marketing executive, pulled her two daughters out of school and toured the world with her partner in 2018, thinking she would be gone for a year or two.

Mrs. Woertman is baking a cake in the sailboat’s small galley.


Mariska Woertman

Instead, when borders closed at the start of the pandemic, the family was stranded off the Pearl Islands near the Pacific coast of Panama for more than two months, unable to disembark.

They were busy on the 42-foot-long two-masted sailboat baking bread and making the sea water drinkable by desalination. A restaurant owner – for a markup – left boxes of groceries on an abandoned beach for the family to pick up, during quick, unseen shore visits.

They played card games like Uno and rewatched Adam Sandler movies, and had fun with quiz games on the ship’s radio, answering questions about pop culture and science with other ships. blocked nearby. Prizes included a partially used Sudoku booklet or an airplane-sized bottle of whiskey.

Eventually, the family was able to set sail for French Polynesia when the territory resumed inter-island travel for sailors. In the South Pacific, they climbed mountains, snorkeled and ate fruit from trees on islands without tourists. They homeschooled their daughters, now aged 6 and 15.

But then they found the route west blocked due to New Zealand’s no-visit rules. They maneuvered north and east to the Pacific Northwest. The kids spent last Halloween dressed up as witches and fortune tellers, eating their own candy because they couldn’t go ashore to make candy. Eventually they were allowed to make a port on Vancouver Island.

Mrs. Woertman’s daughters passed the time with art projects in the ship’s cabin.


Mariska Woertman

Now the problem is crossing North America. Sailing south to cross the Panama Canal is a problem, as backlogs at the US consulate make it impossible to obtain visas for necessary stopovers en route at US ports, Ms Woertman said.

The plan, scheduled to begin this week: Portage across Canada by truck, then depart for Europe from the Atlantic coast. It will cost you about 25,000 Canadian dollars, or about $19,000.

The goal, Ms Woertman said, is to become one of the few to return home despite the pandemic. “We will return to the port from which we left, and family and friends will be at the docks and wave to us,” Ms Woertman said. “It seems like the best thing for us to do.”

Write to Konrad Putzier at [email protected]

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