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Running from COVID

Greg Yellenik 

Galene
1982 Cooper Seabird 37 Pilothouse
March 11th, 2021

In 2016 we made a three year plan to buy a boat, sell everything and sail away from Vancouver, Canada.  In May 2019, we moved onto our 1982 Cooper Seabird Pilothouse Galene, fulfilling that retirement dream, which we had spent the last three years diligently planning and working so hard to achieve! The first leg of our aggressive schedule was a couple of weeks visiting Gwaii Haanas National Park, a large protected archipelago off the West Coast of British Columbia and ancestral home of the world famous Haida First Nations peoples.  Next up, we sailed north to Petersburg, Alaska to make iced tea with bergy bits of the Conte tidal glacier.  Then came some relaxation time with friends anchored in Desolation Sound, BC. Leg four was the big challenge: open ocean.  We traveled down the Pacific Coast of the United States, taking in some sights and sailing under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.  Our voyage culminated with the Baja Ha Ha Rally southward to the Sea of Cortes, Mexico in the fall. In late November we arrived in La Paz and fell in love with this vibrant, beautiful, low-key Mexican city. Time to relax, our plan was complete, life was grand!

We began planning the next phase of our new life.  Laurie’s father was turning 90 in early May, so we intended to fly back to Canada for a couple of weeks. As part of that trip, we made an appointment with the Mexican Consulate in Toronto to apply for Mexican Residency just a couple of days before our Visitor Visas would expire. We had heard about the tortuously hot, humid Mexican summers, so we had originally thought that we would spend our first summer trekking across Canada visiting friends and family, taking time to do things we previously didn’t have the time for in our rushed career-driven lives.  In between time, with a couple of months to kill, we planned to meet up with a Vancouver boating friend in Bahía Concepción for most of April, and continue on to explore the Baja side of the Sea of Cortes.   So on March 11, after almost four fabulous months in La Paz, we began our new adventure.

Then came COVID-19. At first people seemed to think the Baja Peninsula was isolated enough from the rest of the world, but infected tourists continued to arrive in the Baja despite World governments suggesting not to travel.  The situation changed daily. Many of the cruisers, people just like us, were taking things in stride.  Living on a boat is like that.  You “go where the wind blows”, even if you mostly travel when it doesn’t.  But as the virus impact progressed faster than in a bad fiction movie, airlines were ceasing international travel and governments were recalling all of their citizens. Many cruisers battened down their vessels to return home indefinitely. Most seemed very unsettled and cited “health insurance” or “grandchildren” as their incentive to evacuate. We could not do that because Galene is our only home. Wherever Galene is becomes our home. ‘Mi casa es mi barco’. We were in the process of applying for residency in Mexico.  Bashing back up the coast to Canada just didn’t make sense. If we returned to Canada by air, we would have to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks prior to visiting any friends or family. Little was known about the virus and we didn’t want to gamble with infecting our elderly family members. So our best-informed decision at the time was to ride this out “sheltered in place”.  Now what?

With so many cruisers repatriated and local tourism shut down, we found ourselves sharing pristine anchorages with only a few other vessels.  We enjoyed walking the beaches and hiking trails with only an occasional interaction with fellow cruisers. The weather was spectacular for cruising and anchoring.  Over the next couple of days, our world evolved quickly as word trickled down that all beaches were now closed, no camping, no hiking…no fun. We now knew we were not going back to Canada for the birthday celebration, our Consulate appointment or our summer trek. Maybe we could move slowly north through the many islands and settle in Bahía de Los Ángeles to enjoy a more tolerable summer climate?

March 17 we pulled into the beautiful, isolated and well-protected Puerto Escondido Marina. This seemed like a great location but things were developing so swiftly. Our only news came through sketchy internet and the morning VHF Net each day.  Soon enough came mask wearing and social distancing. Within a few days, the village of Mulege near Bahía Concepción closed to visitors and boats were not welcome in Bahía de Los Ángeles or many of the other small coastal towns. The Marina worked hard to service their stranded guests.  The excellent restaurant was mandated to offer only take-out, but the quality and service did not suffer.  The small store kept good supplies and began to offer custom grocery orders. They stationed full-time attendants at the washrooms to assure a clean and virus-free environment.  There were lots of local hiking trails, a swimming pool and spectacular mountain views – this seemed like a good spot to shelter in place. The only downfall was the lack of cellular coverage and a broken marina WiFi system they could not seem to fix.

At the time we could still enjoy nature in the area, island-hopping and even re-provisioning on a calm day, anchored off the shore of Loreto.  We took advantage of the situation by visiting Isla Coronados (or Corona Dose as I began calling it) and Isla Carmen, where we met new friends at a distance, and discovered the National Park Islands at their uncrowded best. A provisioning trip into the picturesque but now barren town of Loreto was disheartening, as the locals were desperate for business.  The push and pull was evident: tourism money keeps families fed, but it is the tourists bringing in the virus. As cruisers, we feel we are the least likely to spread COVID, living a quarantine type lifestyle. This was a little like being sentenced to an island dream vacation. The weather was awesome and anchorages very quiet.

Galene at anchor in the secret plan D bay of mainland Mexico. If everyone knew about this place, they would all be here!

Then the belt tightened a little more.  Authorities dictated no moving around, no anchoring, parks closed and transit allowed only port to port.  It looked as if we may be stranded in the remote off-line Puerto Escondido moorage for months.  A few fellow cruisers we know were sheltering in place on the mainland and badgered us to cross over.  “It is so much better here,” they said.  So on April 16, a good weather window opened up and we motored 22 hours overnight to join them. Now plan “D” is to stay here, sheltered in place.  The anchorage is well-protected, has excellent cellular coverage and there is a morning VHF Cruisers Net.  We are welcome at the marina dingy dock and allowed to travel through town to access a variety of well-stocked grocery stores and shops.  There is no problem swimming off the boat and we have access to a nearby hiking trail, if we can withstand the sweaty climb. We do wish we could explore the surrounding communities a little more, but are grateful for the freedoms we have.  Some days we get a bit melancholy and have to give our heads a good shake. We are much better off than the majority of cruisers: we just have to avoid worrying about tomorrow and be thankful for what we have today.  As one VHF Net controller put it, “just be glad you’re here, cause you could be there.”

We are part running and hiding and part living the dream. Uncertainty is high because we are in uncertain times, in unfamiliar places and living an unfamiliar lifestyle.  But we are embracing all of it!

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  1. Diane says:

    lovely article, thank you for sharing your experience. Those of us who came back to Canada (or at least some of us) are somewhat envious of your choice. Hindsight what it always is, we wish we had stayed in Mexico as well.

  2. Donna Sassaman says:

    Thank you for your COVID cruising saga! It speaks to what many of us have experienced over the past year with the added stress — and benefit — of being in cruising mode. You sum it up beautifully in your final paragraph: “We are part running and hiding and part living the dream. Uncertainty is high because we are in uncertain times, in unfamiliar places and living an unfamiliar lifestyle. But we are embracing all of it!”

    Stay well, stay safe, and keep on cruising!

  3. Cameron McLean says:

    Sounds like a good spot. Glad that you are there making the best of it and able to enjoy the adventure. Best of luck as you move on to the rest of your dream.

  4. Rita Balaam says:

    Hi Galene.

    I think we were together on Skang Gwaii. I have a picture of you there when we were looking at the Haida dictionalry with translataions of “” passing gas”. .LOL Send me an email and I will send it to you.
    Rita Balaam.S.V. Baraka Bashad. rbalaam@shaw.ca

  5. Peter Christensen says:

    Great article, great attitude! All the best Greg and Laurie. Hang in there I think we are finally seeing the end of the covid tunnel.

  6. Monique says:

    Hey guys thanks for sharing your beautiful story!…Indeed the Greg And Laurie Endeavouring Nautical Expedition will be a hit and a success in the long run but also a very unique and memorable experience that anybody would be jealous of, guaranteed!…Sail on, guys, your lifelong dream continues and it will only get better!…Meanwhile, keep well and safe travels, my friends, I’m always looking forward to hearing from you